Never thought I’d agree with Newt Gingrich, but … today he said that “normal white Americans” don’t understand “being black in America” and that they “under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
“Normal white Americans” can and must try to understand more. Trying to understand is not about trying to help black people. Trying to understand is about recognizing that we are all in this together — together in this community, in this city, state, country, world.
Understanding starts with listening —with listening from the heart, with listening from an open mind, with willingness to hear another’s pain.
Listen. Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, wrote in the New York Times today:
“Like you, we don’t all think the same, feel the same, love, learn, live or even die the same.
“But there’s one thing most of us agree on: We don’t want cops to be executed at a peaceful protest. We also don’t want cops to kill us without fear that they will ever face a jury, much less go to jail, even as the world watches our death on a homemade video recording.”
Listen. Michael Kleber-Diggs lives in St. Paul. His mother lives one block from where Philando Castile was killed, his daughter goes to dance lessons one block away. Yesterday he wrote on Facebook:
Good people of America, where are you today?
Do you have the evidence you need now?
Will you close ranks today, or will you begin to stand up to vile and broken authority?
Will you direct your scrutiny toward the officer or his victim?
Will you get lost in every little leaf of the specific tree and miss the broader forest, so sick, so desperate for your care and concern?
Will you get mad about people blocking traffic again, or will you give your heart and body and time and attention to the little girl who watched her father’s murder?
Will you have room in your heart for the woman who saw her lover disappear or the mother who lost her son?
Listen. Diane Binns talked yesterday about her grandchildren. Four of them, she said, have permits to carry guns. “I tell them, you shouldn’t do that. The police will kill you,” she said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I have a right.’ He does have a right. And I fear for his life.”
Listen. Pastor Danny Givens said yesterday, “This is not black anger. This is black grief, black pain, black hurt.”
Listen. Try to understand what Pastor Brian Herron called “all the trauma and madness that we have suffered for so long.”
Yesterday Governor Dayton said that if the occupants of the car had been white, this would not have happened. He’s right. That is what white privilege means.
Listen. Representative Rena Moran told about her son showing her the video of Philando Castile. “When I saw him,” she said, “I saw my four sons. We have no privilege and neither do our kids and neither do our grandkids.”
“If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one.
“Terror was visited on Dallas Thursday night. Unspeakable terror. We are not strangers to terror. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blue-clad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us and say that it was because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough.”
Listening is a first step. Of course, we need to move on to action to change our racist culture, institutions, and communities. But if listening is a first step, it is also the third step and the fifth and sixth steps — we need to continually listen, repeatedly try to deepen our understanding, consistently be willing to hear the pain and grief and hurt of our brothers and sisters.
Listen. Say a prayer. Talk to someone. Take one step today. And know that one step must be followed by another and another and another, on the road to change and justice.
(My next post will focus specifically on making changes to promote justice in policing.)