When Michael Brown, Jr. was killed, there were a lot of opinions. A lot of voices. All of them shouting to be heard above the other. I even wrote a post about it myself. You can read it here.
When the verdict came down not to indict Darren Wilson, there were also a lot of opinions. A lot of voices The shouts to be heard were drowned out by the violence that erupted in the streets of Ferguson.
Businesses looted, burned. People hurt, arrested.
Ferguson, a smoldering ruin, a burning symbol of racial unrest in this country.
As I have prayed about this, as I have wept over the divide between people just because of skin color, as I have begged God to bring a solution to all of this tragedy and violence, the one thing I keep hearing is, “Be quiet and listen.”
I didn’t really want to be quiet, to be honest. I had read everything I could get my hands on about the case. I had read testimonials and eyewitness accounts. I wanted all the facts before I made a judgment call on either Darren Wilson or Michael Brown, Jr. And then I wanted to talk about it, to write about it, to hash it all out.
While I wanted to be informed and right when I addressed this topic, what I missed at first is it really wasn’t about the facts of the case. I know, if you are sitting on the white side of the bleachers that’s a little hard to swallow. I mean, what does it mean it’s not about the facts?
The case of Michael Brown, Jr., was a symbol of a much bigger picture. A bigger picture that included a different set of facts, ones that I, as someone who is white, need to really see.
See, no matter what happened or didn’t happen between Michael Brown, Jr. and Darren Wilson, it doesn’t change the indisputable fact that a mother buried her son.
It doesn’t change the fact that a family will go through the holidays with a glaringly empty space around the table. That a stocking will hang empty.
It doesn’t negate the fact that women I call friends are afraid for their sons’ lives. They fear that a misunderstanding could escalate into a tragedy, and in the blink of an eye they too will have an empty space at the table. It doesn’t change the fact that they feel like their sons, their lives are expendable because their skin is dark, and nobody cares because of the perception that all black youth are criminals so they must deserve what they get. That fear haunts them every time their sons walk out the door.
I can’t imagine living with that kind of fear because I’ve never had to. But just because I have never experienced it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t very real for a whole lot of people every single day.
A couple of years ago, I heard Jill Briscoe speak at a women’s breakfast. She said a lot of great things, but the one thing that stuck with me was that others won’t listen to you unless they know you care about them, and they won’t know you care until you take the time to listen to them.
I am not disputing there are issues on both sides of this racial divide in our country. I’m not saying honest dialogue doesn’t need to happen, and there are some hard truths we ALL need to look at.
But, as I’ve said before, I feel strongly that as believers we need to lead in racial harmony. After all, as Paul said, there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, when it comes to the Gospel. The Gospel was all about being multicultural before it was cool.
That isn’t going to happen though, until we are willing to be still and listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to acknowledge their pain and their fear and their frustrations. Until that happens, there will be no peace.
Peace doesn’t come by proving our point or shouting out our opinions louder than someone else. It doesn’t even come by winning a debate. Sure, you may get some facts out. You might even “win” your case, but facts never made anyone feel loved.
So, before honest dialogue begins, we have to start with honest listening and true empathy and compassion. My African American friends should know I care more about them than about winning a point in the ongoing debate of what is the root cause of the racial problems and how to solve them.
Until they know I truly care, they won’t care what I think.
We will never get to the point of honest discussion and move toward a solution unless we are willing to lay aside our opinions, our facts, and our debate points and come alongside those who are hurting, who are afraid, who feel as if nobody hears them at all.
Because that is what Ferguson is really all about – years of not truly being heard. Years of the white community being defensive or telling the black community why they shouldn’t feel that way, that they shouldn’t fear when their experiences have taught them differently.
I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me feel less heard, less known than for someone to tell me how I shouldn’t feel.
At the risk of sounding cheesy and cliched, love really is the only way to make our way through this maze of racial tensions because fear is at the root of a lot of these issues.
As it says in I John 4:8, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
It’s time our brothers and sisters of every color know we love them – enough to shut up and listen.