This summer, as you are assuredly aware, was something of a mile marker for the status of racial reconciliation in America. It was a mile marker in the sense that we know now where we stand on that road to racial equity and justice. The events in Ferguson, MO was the focus of intense national attention for a few days, after it had taken over Twitter several weeks earlier. There have been other high profile incidents, such as the shooting of John Crawford in a Dayton, OH Wal-Mart. The death of Mike Brown was something that captured my attention, not simply because it was tragic and many of my friends and former colleagues are people of color, but because I am also going to be living and working 10 miles away from Ferguson beginning this winter. It was surreal to see future neighbors of mine struggling on national television and social media to be heard, to be listened to as equals. I am white, and by no means am I equipped to fully understand the heartache and struggle of ethnic minorities, particularly blacks, in America. I can come to as close to an intellectual, textbook understanding as I can get but because of my status as a white male in America I will never truly understand in my heart what that means. The best I can do is read of others’ experiences and speak to friends. The best reflections I’ve encountered, and I would encourage you to check out are here, here, and here. All three of those writers are far wiser than I am and I’m lucky to consider two of them personal friends.
For me, though, I was able to maintain some emotional distance with the events in Ferguson, mostly because I am white. It took place nearly a thousand miles away from me, and while it stayed on my mind it didn’t weigh me down the way it should. I felt a modicum of guilt for this, in that my heart didn’t break the way it should. Here, millions of Americans were crying out for justice, and I struggled to engage with what was happening.
Then last week something happened close by. Last week in Fuquay-Varina, a town near where I grew up, only a few miles down the road something briefly caught national attention. A young black man named DeShawn Currie, who is in a foster home in Fuquay had the police called on him for a supposed breaking and entering. Neighbors reported what they thought to be suspicious activity. Never mind the fact that he had been their neighbor since the summer. Or that the home security alarm didn’t go off. Or that anything was removed from the property. Or any number of things. The truth is people who had been living on the same street as this young black man called the police for entering his own home and he was subsequently shot with a taser. Police claimed he was being belligerent. Wouldn’t you if police tried to arrest you in your own home? They said his ID didn’t match the address. Well, you know what, neither does mine right now. Racism is alive and well, and it’s in our hometowns. Fuquay doesn’t exactly have a strong record of race relations, either. Up until a few years ago there was a “Majority Prom Queen and King” and “Minority Prom King and Queen” at Fuquay Varina High because students of one race couldn’t abide voting for students of another.
I’m sad to say it took an incident like this happening in my backyard, so to speak, to get a rise out of me. When we see images of unarmed people, often young black men, being harassed or attacked, our hearts should break and it should induce a righteous anger within us. We should be furious that our neighbors are being treated this way. We should actively seek out equity in our neighborhoods, in our towns, in our states. We should cry out for justice, for the oppressed to be lifted up. We should be condemning a society that sees one in three black men in prison during their lifetimes.
I want to reiterate I am not someone who knows the answer to these problems. I am not someone with troves of wisdom on this issue. I am not fluent in public policy related to race. I do not have any antidotes for society’s ills, but I would encourage you to actively seek out people of color in your life and listen. Ask them what they are enduring. And listen. There may be some anger or sadness, but we need to give them our time, our ears, and our hearts. They are our neighbors and when our neighbors hurt, we should too.