Dear white people

First of all, allow me to apologize for the awkward title. As a person lacking melanin, this post might as well be headlined "Dear me." My grasp on the hurt and anger in black communities across our nation is feeble at best. I was raised in the suburbs - and one that was closer to rural pastures than the inner city (my high school was nicknamed Cow Pie High for a reason). The struggle of growing up in the American ghetto is as foreign to me as the Tibetan alphabet.

Ever since #Ferguson first became a trending topic, I have watched live streams of the riots and protests. I have read countless articles from people both directly and indirectly involved in the controversies. I listen to of hip-hop. I follow Shaun King on twitter. All of what I've learned over the past few months confirms one thing: I will never truly understand what it is like to be a young black male in America. For me to presume that I know what's best for them, or to instruct them on how they should act and respond to crisis, or to claim any superiority over them is summed up in one simple word: arrogance.

While watching news reports, reading editorials, and surfing through my facebook and twitter feeds, I see more arrogance than anything else. More arrogance than compassion. More arrogance than understanding. More arrogance than problem solving. More arrogance than introspection.

As a white person, my perspective is and always will be skewed. We are all a sum total of our life experiences. Mine are that of a kid that came of age during the grunge explosion in a conservative Christian home somewhere north of Seattle, and now lives in an area that is 93% white. My history belongs to a theater nerd, a movie and music junkie, and a religious student. In my experiences with police, I have generally been given the benefit of doubt. I have rarely (if ever) been viewed as a threat.

However, as a Christian, I am compelled to say something. The level of arrogance I see is appealing. I believe in a God who hates it and promises to put an end to the arrogant. I believe that my God does not show any preference or favor based on skin tone. I believe that, as an adopted child of God, a black Christian is as much my brother or sister as is a white Christian; that in Christ we are all equal. And finally, if we are all family - regardless of race, then I believe that when one member of that family suffers, we all share that suffering and we should all care for each other.

My faith creates a paradox. From the perspective of my race alone, I lack understanding. But my faith requires that I see past my own skin. It demands that I sacrifice my self for the sake of others. I am compelled to provide comfort to those who are hurting. And - as I mentioned in my previous post - I believe that we are called to mourn with those who mourn.

With that perspective, I will climb onto my soapbox for a moment and as lovingly as possible share a message for all who share my paler pigmentation: Shut up. You're not helping.

Now, I must clarify a few things. I am not asking you to apologize for being white. I am not asking you to feel ashamed of your heritage. That is a unique part of the way God made you and should be celebrated as an aspect of the diversity in our world.

In respect to recent tragedies crossing news desks this summer, I have no desire to pick a side. I do not want this to be an "us vs them" debate. Individual events that happened in the microcosm of those communities only reflect (and possibly magnify) greater issues present in our culture.

I am not trying to make anyone a saint or a hero, nor am I willing to vilify anyone. I recognize that Michael Brown was a flawed individual just as much as Darren Wilson is a flawed individual. As with the majority of officer involved deaths, I believe that mistakes were made on both sides of the badge. I do not want to make any declaration of guilt or innocence for either the victims or the police officers. To judge any of them is far above my pay grade.

What I do know is that the African American community is grieving. I don't have to understand how or why they are hurting to realize that they are. It is my duty to stand with them and say "your pain is my pain." In this way, I follow the example of Jesus who wept for the loss of life. I honor my God who longs to heal the brokenhearted, who keeps track of our sorrows, and paid the price for our wrongs.

My admonition is not to provoke or anger anyone. It is a sincere request to think before you speak. Words have power and the words you contribute can either heal or harm. And if you choose the latter, please shut up.

"But they're more likely to be killed due to black on black violence. Why don't you talk about that?" True. But white people are more likely to be killed by another white person. So shut up, you're not helping.

"Yeah well, here's a news story of a white kid that was shot and killed by a white suspect. Where's the riots and protests for him?" Was the black suspect a police officer? No. Shut up, you're not helping.

"Police kill more white people than black people." And white people are still 62% of the US population. But comparing white deaths to white population and black deaths to black population shows you don't understand how ratios work. Shut up, you're not helping.

"The police are human too." So are the people they killed. Shut up, you're not helping.

"They're thugs, they deserved to die." Are you saying that stealing a pack of cigars is worth a death sentence? Does illegally selling a tax free cigarette deserve being choked and suffocated as a penalty? Should kids be shot for holding an airsoft gun? Shut up, you're not helping.

"This is just victim mentality. They need to stop playing the victim card." Statements like this enforce the feeling of being victimized. Shut up, you're not helping.

Any time you toss out comments like those in quotation marks above, you're telling an entire group of people that their feelings are invalid. You're saying that they're not allowed to experience their grief and sorrow. You're denying their right to be outraged. Now imagine how you would react if someone treated you that way. What if you were mad or sad and your emotions were completely rejected as irrational? That is called empathy.

Empathy is a funny thing. You don't have to agree with someone, or even like someone to demonstrate it. Empathy opens doors to civil and productive discourse. Empathy erases mistrust and discord. Empathy heals emotional wounds. Our nation needs more empathy.

Please consider the weight of your words. This is a time to build bridges, not throw Molotov cocktails. This is a time to ask "What could we do differently?" Not, "What should you have done differently?" The goal should be preventing more shootings like Mike Brown's, not blaming Mike Brown. We need reason, not rhetoric.

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