Last night in Ferguson, Missouri, two police officers were shot at a protest set up calling for further change in the police department in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. It breaks my heart to see what is currently going on around the country, the cycle of racism is far too strong, and power that hate has is destroying communities.
So here are five thoughts we can learn from Ferguson:
Racism is not done: Look around the country. Look on any major media feed. “University of Oklahoma students accused of leading a racist chant.” “Atlanta Hawks Owner Selling Team Over Racist Email.” “LA Clippers Owner, Donald Sterling’s, Racist Rant Caught On Tape.” “Newspaper Calls Obama the ‘N-Word’ in Headline.” “Ferguson police shooting ‘heinous.'” It doesn’t end. They just keep going. Racism is not done in America, and the vicious human tendency to judge is strengthened.
Media encourages it: That statement may rustle a few feathers, but I think we can agree that media seems to highlight, glorify and sometimes encourage the corruption. We are not ignorant to the way media pushes its political and financial agendas behind every story. They say what they want, how they want, to get what they want. Any much of society feels educated after reading the news, when the reality is we are sometimes complacent with “educated ignorance.” What can we do to change this? Stop reading news? Carefully select what we read? Read both sides to every story? I don’t know the answer, but I do know we must begin to create habits, put an end to “educated ignorance” and an end to this perpetual cycle of our current culture.
This is real life: This is not a new version of Grand Theft Auto. This is not some online fantasy that you can hide from whenever it is inconvenient. The things we say and do actually matter. We cannot keep thinking that our statements and actions do not have consequences. We must use wisdom on what we say and how we act. It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, we need to edify all those around us, being careful in the way we “joke” and discuss matters. We need to get over the idea that we have to be right and we need to start applying wisdom and make efforts to get to know real people. Not just what they think, but also the context that shaped them. It is so easy for people to gravitate to people who are like them in thought pattern, ideology, interests, and even looks. People like to fit in. So racism is a natural effect of even unintentional segregation. If I surround myself with people who look like me, act like me, talk like me, and think like me, when I encounter something different I will likely take offense to it. This type of wisdom and intentionality with people is necessary in our current context because this is real life and there are short term and long term consequences for each and every word and deed.
Ignorance causes fear: Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear always springs from ignorance.” It is easy to be fearful of what you do not know. An aversion to the unknown is usually safer. And if we continue to avert from new possibilities due to fear, we will never gain anything. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” We must begin to end the fear we have of others and begin to love. Love drives out fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NIV).
We must educate ourselves: The antithesis to ignorance is educating ourselves. But I am not talking merely about book knowledge here- no. In order to end the ignorance, we must go outside of our norms and learn what it is to be in a different culture without the blinders from our primary culture. We need to stop thinking our personal culture is superior, and every other culture is lesser than our own, and we need to start opening our eyes to the history of a person, a culture, and how each developed. Different is not always bad, it is just different. As a white male in the United States, it is very rare that I unintentionally go into a culture that I am not comfortable with. Why? Because the sad truth is the United States, although it is a melting pot, insists on pushing people toward white culture. Every minority group has a much better cultural knowledge because they have been forced to adapt or blend into (even if in only a few settings) a culture that is not their own and they know what it is like to take part in a culture they are not born into. If we continue to see racism as a problem, but do nothing to expand our personal borders and push ourselves outside our comfortable borders or sameness, we will learn nothing, it will continue. But, if we take a leap of faith, lean into the fear of different and actually learn, unity could begin. Yes, it would take a considerable amount of time. But, the beauty of men and women walking together from all walks of life, and from every tribe, nation and tongue, is a snapshot of heaven.