Do you wonder when the killing is going to stop? The killing of black people and the killing of police officers? Do you feel powerless . . and shed tears for where we are as our America? I have these past few weeks. It’s similar in some ways to when a friend has a death of a loved one and I want to comfort them in some meaningful and not superficial way… and there just are no good words.
My black friends are exhausted. I imagine my police friends are as well. It feels as if in many ways we are in a state of constant pain. Generations of racism in America serve as the all too real backdrop for that pain. Just maybe this is to be our country’s continued natural progression in our unnatural journey America towards taking on systemic racism and the evils it produces. Living in the pain without answers is hard to accept as where we are at. But it feels more honest to me.
My pastor talked several weeks ago after a tragic shooting and turmoil that had touched our congregation that we are an Easter people. My heart gently surrounded and embraced that hope as I wondered how this country we of so many colors and backgrounds love, would respond. Then there were more shootings of black men by police, and police by a black man.
As I write this post the Republican National Convention (RNC) is now just wrapping up in Cleveland. There was talk of a focus on security and how law enforcement folks were prepared for up to 1,000 arrests per day at the convention. Who were these 1,000 people? Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors? In the first two days there had been approximately 5 arrests.
One of the daily themes at the RNC was “Make America Safe Again.” Safe for who? White people who are afraid of black people and immigrants? Immigrants fleeing persecution and looking to make a new life? That’s how it came across to me.
What about Make America Safe “from now on,” for all Americans, including black citizens who continue to be shot by police officers at alarming rates under extremely troubling circumstances. With their presumptive presidential candidate polling at 0% among black people, yes, 0%, the hopeful part me wished the RNC had reached out to blacks in our country. And they really don’t get to claim they did that by having former presidential candidate Ben Carson speak, and actually rail against transgender folks.
What if the RNC had reached out to invite one of the BLM leaders to speak? Yes, seriously. What that would say is we’re interested in listening. Perhaps Ta-Nehisi Coates could have spoken about the subject of his book, “Between the World and Me,” his letter to his son growing up as a black teenager in Baltimore – and what it’s like to be afraid 24/7. What if the RNC leaned into the discomfort to learn. . . to get curious and find out how they can help make America safe for all its citizens, including its black citizens? Not talking about it speaks volumes by the silence. It says we don’t really want to listen to you or engage in real dialogue to actually start to try and improve circumstances for black Americans subjected daily to systemic racism.
This discussion needs to happen for real action and change to eventually have any meaningful chance in our broken country. We can support both BLM and police officers. Let’s make America safe, not again, but from now on, and for everyone. We must be able to find a place for and embrace nuance. Nobody has all the answers. All police officers are not bad. We must be willing to come to the table and talk. Protesting is designed to get the attention of those in power. It’s designed to get them to discuss the systemic racism that permeates America. But if there is no real interest by the powers that be, largely white middle aged men, then what? Telling black Americans to follow the rules and the justice system in today’s America is a non starter. That response is part of the problem, not the solution. Not being willing to come to the table to talk because you still don’t trust police does not advance the cause for black Americans and is also part of the problem.
Part of what makes America great is our capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time, to multitask. We can choose to find creative ways to be safe and still be welcoming to those immigrants looking for the dream and better life for their families. Donald Trump’s America is dark, fear based. That’s not the America I know. When my grandfather came through Ellis Island over 100 years ago from Norway, it was as a young boy, with his family, looking for the better life promised by America. Times may be different, but what’s living in people’s hearts is still much the same.
What’s in our hearts? We’re more alike than different from those looking to come to America for a better life for themselves and their children. We let those touting fear and hate have more power than they should and then conveniently forget our own family histories that makes us part of the melting pot we profess to be proud of and love.
Perhaps we can all take a deep breath and then listen more generously to others and our own voices, describing this country of ours, that we lift up so often and proudly as a beacon of real hope to the world. Let’s make America. . . who we tell others around the world we are.