Well, friends, you are in for a treat today: Andrew is a friend and a learner, and like a lot of us, a fellow sojourner on the road toward justice. I appreciate his wisdom and insight, as well as his commitment to continue to learn from people of color. Relish his words today! Also, proceeds from today’s post go to Preemptive Love.
Back in January, I saw a poster in my local bookshop for a series of conversations hosted by the community college in the Season of Nonviolence. Participants would read So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo in and gather to discuss in four meetings.
I signed up for the book group and I got more than what I was looking for, in the best and most humbling kind of way. I walked into the local extension campus of the community college, and found I was the first participant to arrive. College students and a few other staff and faculty trickled in until the room was full with 8 other people. In that circle, for the first time in Central Oregon, I was not in the racial majority. There were two Latina staff, four Latino/a students, a Black college administrator, and one other White guy, the sociology professor who taught classes on race and racism.
I soon realized what a unique opportunity I had to sit and listen to the experiences of people of color in my own community in this safe context where everyone came prepared to do the hard work of talking together about race. Oluo’s book prompted tough, honest conversations about our own experiences of race. I had learned enough about my own privilege to do my imperfect best to sit back and listen. I heard the others in the circle talk about their experiences of exoticization of their bodies, being pulled over for driving while black or brown, differences in behavior expectations in classrooms, prejudice against immigrant families, and more.
“Jose,” a 20-year-old son of Mexican immigrants, told about taking a break from studying at dusk, to walk around the block in our very quiet town where it is so normal to see people walking in the middle of the street. A police cruiser pulled up next to him and rolled down its window to ask if he was alright. He dropped to the ground and put his hands behind his head because that is what his parents and peers had told him to do if confronted by police. The police told him he wasn’t in any trouble and to stand up and enjoy his walk.
I walk and jog in my neighborhood literally every day, often after dark. Yes, intellectually, I was aware of this privilege. Jose’s story brought it home to me on a gut level. I knew I didn’t want young black or brown men in my town afraid to walk or jog. If I could enjoy that, everyone else should be able to also, regardless of color. If only it were that simple.
In April of this year, we all learned the name of Ahmaud Arbery, to add to our file of names alongside Treyvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, and SO MANY MORE. Ahmaud was out for a jog, 2.2 miles from home, when he was executed in cold blood by Travis and Gregory McMichael, father and son. Though the video of this all wasn’t released until April, Amaud was killed on February 29, when Jose’s story was fresh in my mind. Running is my thing – three times a week, training for an ultramarathon this month. I love to run. It’s how I stay sane, clear my mind, inhabit my body. Ahmaud was doing the same, and he was killed. So many of my Black and Brown brothers are too afraid to do it freely like I do. More so now after Ahmaud’s death. Nobody should be shot for running. No one should be afraid to jog in their own neighborhood. Please, let’s not even argue about this.
I had more listening and learning to do. Thanks to my friends at Global Immersion, I engaged in a series of webinars on seeing my own whiteness, the work of deconstructing and decentering privilege, and being the right kind of ally and accomplice. I listened and learned from new teachers, Andre Henry and Osheta Moore.
Wow, I have such a long ways to go in my own journey to justice. Double wow, there is so much injustice, systemic racism and white supremacy to work against in America. I was challenged to whole new level when I followed a recommendation from those webinars to watch Rev. Otis Moss, III’s sermonic video “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery.” So intense and challenging! Listen and learn, y’all. We can do no less.
All of us who choose to listen and learn, especially when hard and uncomfortable, are on the journey together. Don’t stop listening or learning. Don’t stop doing the work. We have a long ways to go and we are on the journey together.
Rev. Andrew Hoeksema is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Redmond, Oregon. He loves to hang out with his wife, run, bike, read and learn. Did I mention coffee?
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