I took the Megabus, Chicago to Nashville a little while ago. I joked on Facebook about how all the Black-Americans on board collectively complained about how freezing cold it was after we had a rousing discussion of Ferguson, the protest then still in its infancy.
On the way back to Chicago, a black man in a short sleeved tee got on the bus and yelled loudly, “it’s cold as f*ck on this bus!” And we all chuckled, the rest of us wearing sweatshirts with blankets and head wraps and such. The man leaves for a few minutes and comes back with an extra t-shirt. Someone jokes about how he should have brought a coat. “I’m finna knit me a sweater up in this muthaf*cka is what I’m finna do!” We all die laughing, but even harder after the woman next to him says, “and it aint finna be NO snugglin’, Ninja.”
Later that night, I’m tell a friend about the jokes and the freezing cold bus and she says, “wait a minute. Are those the same black folks you rode down to Nashville with?” I tell her no. A whole new set of us with the exact same concerns & worries: Ferguson & the temperature of the bus, which apparently is inexplicably climate controlled.
At the first stop, a white man produces a roll of duct tape. Not even kidding. A white man, mysteriously armed with duct tape. He passes it around and helps us tape up every single vent on the back end of the bus. We joke about how our antics will suddenly produce a new message on the Megabus website: “New policy: no guns, knives or duct tape on board the Megabus!” We create a scenario in which the Megabus executives are sitting in a room and one says, “What did the Negroes do?” And another one says, “Um, Sir, they put up Duct tape all over the bus, Sir. Covered every vent, Sir.” We’re all laughing, snorting, clearly enjoying one another. All but two.
A Latino couple. They aren’t laughing at all. They aren’t engaging. I saw them board with their small children. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that they might not speak any English at all until I started speaking English at them. I told her -in English- how I sorry I was that I don’t speak Spanish. I told her how I took it in High School & College but that I didn’t remember even a smidge. I told her how we are mostly just laughing about how cold we are. I told her I wanted to be inclusive & I wished she understood the jokes. And I wanted her to know I was sorry I couldn’t communicate with her even one little bit. She smiled. I smiled. And that’s all we could manage.
I got back to my seat and thought of my white friends -online & in person- asking me what to do about Ferguson. “What should we do, Grace, besides retweet every doggone thing?” “I’m feeling pretty lost.” “Where do I fit in in the midst of this?”
I’ve given some easy answers: ‘Oh, go read Austin’s super insightful post or that plea I wrote 2 years ago calling white Christians to take racial reconciliation seriously,’ but honestly? I’ve been lazy in my response to white people because what I really need to say is something different entirely.
Without even a basic grasp of the Spanish language I couldn’t explain to the Latino couple how much I wanted to include them in our lively conversation. And in the case of Ferguson, not many of you are going to make a real difference unless you speak the heart language of Black Americans.
White people, you won’t make a difference unless deep down in your gut you have a strong sense of exasperation and anger with the fact that black men are killed at an alarming & disproportionate rate in constant discriminatory behavior.
This [GRAPHIC] scene needs to break your heart, it needs to make you weep. If this man -clearly mentally troubled- had been white he’d of been given a warning shot, a tazer, a leg shot, anything else. But he got 10 lethal rounds instead.
You need to feel the fear of being a mother, sister, daughter, brother, cousin or Father of a black man whom you know can and will be maligned, disrespected or killed. And that fear needs to get so close to your day to day that you can’t NOT think about it.
You need to absorb the emotions of being a Black American: being absolutely feared & distrusted everywhere you go. EVERY. DAY.
You need to clutch the awareness of the psychological trauma of your growing suspicions that your life has no value whatsoever. And you need to allow all of that to press in on you every day for a long while. And then, you can start asking, “what do I do? What do I do?” but by then you will likely all ready be doing or saying something.
The first question I ask a white person hungry for justice is, “have you displaced yourself?” And 98.9% of the time, the answer is no. You will never speak the heart language of Black Americans if you haven’t done much to get inside the shoes of what Black Americans live every single day. And if you can’t displace yourself online by reading black bloggers or at the library (or Kindle shop) by reading black authors or perspectives, what makes you think you will make any sort of real difference if you can’t attend an all black Church for 4 weeks in a row or if you actively avoid going to the black grocery store or shopping in black neighborhoods?
If you won’t displace even a tiny bit, you won’t learn anything about how to actually engage Black-Americans in meaningful ways, you may as well acknowledge that you’re too damn afraid or lazy to allow the plight of Black-Americans to affect your day-to-day life. That is your privilege to do so. You can choose to do this and go about your business. Obviously, I hope that won’t but I’ve seen many’o’whites do just this when ‘ish gets tough.
Black Americans are a relatively new people group on the earth. We’ve only been a FREE people for less than 200 years. In terms of people groups, we are in infancy. The entirety of our tenure as a people group has been under tremendous emotional, psychological & physical suffering. We are still trying to figure our selves out in the midst of radical changes to our human condition every 50 yrs. for the past 300.
One thing has emerged with crystal clear clarity besides our obvious strength: the language of pain. Think of the old negro spirituals, think of the birth of jazz, think of our poetry, our rhymes & the pain embedded in rap lyrics. If we are still evolving and stepping into our toddler-hood, still learning to walk after hundreds of years of abusive behavior what makes you think you can formulate a to-do list and get this situation all stitched up in a jiffy?
White folks, I love y’all, but y’all are impatient when it comes to ‘Doing Justice.’ Doing Justice takes time. I know very few whites who are committed to the long-term pain and sacrifice that it takes to hitch your wagon to Black Americans when you don’t have to. It will take about as much time as it would take me to relearn Spanish.
I see your overwhelm and I get your overwhelm. When I think of the increasing numbers of sexually trafficked young women and girls even as an abuse survivor, I can’t begin to understand what it feels like to a homeless 11 year old, passed around from man to man by a pimp. I am left with that same sense of hopelessness.
As a Black-American and global citizen I also feel this way about Syria, Gaza, Israel, Iraq & Iran. I know what it’s like to feel oppressed yet I don’t have the first clue to imagine living in war-torn country. I can throw my hands up say, I don’t understand this, I don’t know what to do, so I’m going back to my every day life. That is my privilege to do so. And at times, I have. I do. I acknowledge my privilege. I stay quiet about things I do not understand. I listen. I learn. I pray. I share. I give. I retweet. I friend. I am not the savior of Syria or all trafficked individuals.
White friends, from a basic to do list standpoint: displace. Sit in the pain. Invest in one relationship. Give. Share. Retweet. Read. Listen. Get to know the heart language of Black Americans. I cannot imagine how different the Ferguson protests would look if even half of the Ferguson police force took this advice.
The ‘doing’ is for those who’ve done the work of understanding & displacing. It’s okay to not ‘do.’ It’s okay for this time not to feel productive.
Sit, listen & learn. It’s truly okay.
This post was originally posted on A Deeper Story.