I have never been a very political person. I trusted my husband’s advice when it was time to vote for anything. I used to jest that whatever was going on wouldn’t change the fact that I still got up every morning, showered, dressed, had breakfast and went to the same job that I went to the day before. If a soldier showed up to explain that things had drastically changed, well then I would pretty much do what I was told – because that would certainly change my morning routine.
I know my attitude was as wrong as it was cavalier. It was a blatant insult to the suffragettes who had sacrificed comfort to confront those who stood between them and the best option they saw to have a future that considered the beliefs, needs and values of all women.
It’s not that I am unintelligent. I have been, however, ignorant – by choice. It’s not that I don’t like a good discussion. I am always willing to change my views, even if they require changing my more values. But the information I base my views on had better be sound. It’s certainly not because I am unwilling to argue tenets. I love a good debate, but it had better be as close to a true debate as possible. Don’t ask me to entertain mere emotion, at the loss of reason and evidence. If you see a problem, show me what you consider a solution. I will patiently listen to you and expect the same respect from you.
That said, during the current racial protests, I’ve educated myself a bit. I freely admit that I do not know a lot right now, but I know more. And what I’ve learned is disturbing and heart-breaking.
The other day, I watched Pastor Michael Todd’s sermon from Transformation Church in Tulsa, OK. I was interested in hearing what this young Christian man of color had to say about the protests. He was pretty calm as he addressed that very subject, but was honest enough to eventually admit, “I am a Christian and I’m pissed!” Sounds fair enough to me.
He mentioned the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. From May 31 to June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The attack on “Black Wall Street” destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the wealthiest black community in the U.S., ultimately leaving about 10,000 black people homeless with no reparations made for the loss of businesses, homes, inventory or personal property. All those successful businesses and 10,000 Americans of color displaced, because of what one unidentified man may have done to a white woman – no one had time for a trial. The details horrified me.
I had no idea.
This riot started exactly 99 years after the Black Wall Street Massacre. I was checking out Facebook and kept seeing comments that used the words “tragic” and “sad” and “angry” and finally a name – George Floyd. A quick Google search and I understood. Within a few minutes, I watched something I’d never seen – a man died as I was watching. I couldn’t reconcile what I had seen – a man taking his last breath and laying completely limp beneath the knee of another man. I actually watched a man die. What followed since then has been an outpouring of anger and hate, a demand for a pound of flesh – a single match thrown into a vast pool of gasoline.
The protests throughout the country started in Minneapolis, MN, only an hour and a half’s drive from where I live, in a neighborhood I’d driven through often on my way to the hospital there. However, it just so happens that here in New Ulm, it’s rare to see a person of color. It makes it so easy to sit in the comfort of my whiteness, with the respect and safety it affords me. And that absence of people of color also makes it easy to think my story is everyone else’s story, and my story doesn’t include the anxiety of seeing a police officer, or knowing there is no point in applying at a certain company because I was the wrong shade.
The current racial situation is scary because I am white. If rioters were to come to New Ulm, they wouldn’t see my heart. They wouldn’t take the time to ask me how many friendships I’d had with people of color. They may not be willing to see beyond my skin color.
People of color have a history of being unheard, unseen and overlooked that I understand only on a very personal basis – not on a regular basis by people who don’t know me, and certainly don’t want to get to know me. Still any one of the violent rioters could see only my color, and I could feel the full impact of their anger over a history I wasn’t part of and, frankly, would have had nothing to do with and would never condone.
But I’d be white.
And to take your anger and frustrations out on a total stranger because they’re not the same color as you isn’t fair, it’s not right. Right?
“Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals.“ President George W. Bush, 2016