Thursday, October 23, 2014


There are things to be said - 
and they will be said imperfectly, 
of that I'm perfectly sure.

There have been articles of late which have stated
that opinions from people
who have been 'blessed' with 'white privilege' 
are invalid.
I reject that.

Every person is formed, 
and informed, 
by circumstances over which they have no control;
gender, race and family of origin among them.

Yet, if all lives matter -
and I believe they do -
then all opinions matter as well.
We'll never make progress toward seeing each other as whole persons 
unless we hear the experiences and concerns 
being expressed by all
and recognize their validity;
not necessarily as 'the truth'
but as perceptions of their own reality -
which, of course,
is all we can really offer each other anyway.
if by 'white privilege'
you mean
being from a family as broken and dysfunctional
as any found in any 'minority' community, 
then, yes, I was 'privileged'.

If you mean
being the first one in my family to ever go to college
and having to work multiple jobs
to pay for it myself,
then, yes, I was 'privileged'.

If you mean
being left by a husband when I was 2 months postpartum 
and having to raise two children on my own;
being their sole support, 
with no extended family assistance, 
either emotional or financial,
then, yes, I was 'privileged'.

And, oddly enough,
I consider that I was....
because as a single mother, 
I was able to buy a house,
have a stable, though difficult, job
and raise two terrific kids
with help from God 
and a faith community 
who became our family.

I recognize that not all my sisters
who are parenting singly
can do that.
I was privileged.

Just know that "white privilege' doesn't look the same on everyone,
any more than 'being black' is a homogeneous experience.
But there's no denying I'm white.
I come from a family so pigmentally challenged
we're about two standard deviations away from being albino.
We're practically neon!

(Except for my Native American great grandmother, on the far left; 
and, btw, if anyone wants to talk about the governments overt and explicit attempt 
to exterminate a whole race of people,  
just talk to any Native American!)
Despite closing my eyes 
and refusing to see what was going on in the picture above,
I more than made up for it in my later years;

here are some of my recent observations, 
for what they're worth.
In 35 years of working in a pediatric hospital emergency room,
I never once had a police dispatcher ask,
when I called 911,
what race a child was,
before sending an Officer over
to assist in protecting a mom
or her children.
I've seen men and women, 
of all colors,
 spit on, attacked, called vile names and hated
just because they wore a blue uniform.

I've seen those same people in blue
protect those same people who just cursed them 
with their previous breath
when they cried for protection from an attacker 
with their next breath.
I've stood as silent witness 
at countless death bed scenes
over the bodies of black teenagers;
their bodies covered with gang tattoos
and riddled with bullets 
as family members denied,
with every breath they took, 
that their child had been involved in 'the street life'.

I'm not saying these kids weren't worthy of being loved or mourned
by their families no matter what lifestyle they had adopted.

I'm saying that until a community acknowledges that it's losing its young 
to a life that embraces violence and guns,
 it won't have a prayer of changing that reality.
I'm also asking why a black life is more worthy of being lamented
 when its ended by a white person in blue
than when its taken by any other person
of any other color?
For the past 4 decades, 
I have loved people whose skin tone is not the same as mine.

They are family;
they are perfectly wonderful 
and they are as flawed and broken as any of us.

That has nothing to do with the condition of their skin;
it has everything to do with our shared human condition.
And when one of our own made destructive choices 
that earned him a sentence in prison for armed robbery,
I never once heard family blame it on the pigment in his skin.

Poor impulse control, 
a distorted need to belong to something larger than himself,
naivete and loyalty to those unworthy of it - 
Skin tone - 

We didn't stop loving him;
family didn't stop worrying about him in prison for 7 long years;
family did everything they could to give him different options when he got out
 but we refused to be blinded by love
as to what his realities had been and were.
I've also heard those same beloved family members talk about being bullied 
for being different;
not by white kids, but by other black kids -
for 'not being black enough' -
for caring about grades, 
for studying, 
for speaking correctly,
for being on the swim team,
for not 'dressing ghetto'...
for refusing to be placed in a box
every bit as confining and oppressive 
as anything the 'white community' could impose on them. 
I feel I have skin in the game.
Do I want all  'the littles' in my family to have the same chance of returning home safely 
when they go out at night 
or are walking home from school
or to the store?
 Of course!

But, at what point do people take responsibility 
for their own choices;
to bear the consequences
of their own behavior?
I'm hearing a lot about 'rights' during these protests
and next to nothing
about the responsibilities that come along with them -
like voting,
taking advantage of a free education,
getting a job,
paying taxes -
you know, the things most of us with 'privilege' do!

To say you can't get ahead
or can't make something out of your life
because of the color of your skin
feels like slap in the face to every one who has!
If you chose to live outside the norms,
if you chose to break the law,
if you use the threat of your size and strength to steal something,
aren't you, at least,
in part,
responsible for what happens
as a result?
One of the folks recently arrested in Ferguson was Dr Cornel West,
reportedly a learned and influential man regarding race relations in America.
I'll admit, I'd never heard of him
 but my son tells me he's a big deal.

I heard him quoted as saying he didn't come to Ferguson to give a speech,
he came here to go to jail.
Which to me,
means he came with intent to provoke and to escalate
whatever situation he found himself in;
he came with the intent to break the law,
to push the police into a confrontation;
to entrap them.

To me,
that doesn't make him a leader, a hero,
or a big deal;
it makes him a fool.

What exactly does that accomplish?
It says nothing about either the law
or those who enforce it;
it does, however, say a lot say
about his judgment and decision making capabilities.

So he spent a few hours in lock up,
so what?
to what end? -
other than padding his own resume
for having 'been in Ferguson'.
A few of my ordained friends,
clergy I know to be good and faithful servants,
have also been consumed by the recent activity in Ferguson.

I have no reason to question the sincerity of their motives.
I believe them when they say they want to be support
for people they feel have been disenfranchised.

I spent my whole career doing the same thing for children.
I get it.

But I do question their judgement about some of the pictures they posted
when they were arrested.
(I mean, if you had your cell phone with you in lock up,
how bad could it have been?)
I was appalled when I heard that, before their arrests,
 they approached police,
as they stood doing their jobs
in the face of unrelenting hostility,
and asked them to repent for being part of a broken system.

How arrogant and superior that seems to me.

Not that aspects of the system aren't broken,
but please tell me you also issued the same call to repentance to the protesters;
please tell me self examination is not an activity exclusively reserved for any one group.

And then please tell me
you never intend to call 911
next time you're being threatened
and need help.

After all, why would you want to use such a 'broken system'?
I'm not saying police can do no wrong,
but I lean to the side of being willing
to give the benefit of the doubt
to someone who gets up everyday,
wanting to make the world a safer, better place,
walks out the door -
to face God knows what
during a 12 hour shift -
 and is
willing to take a bullet for me.
I think confusion,
and I'll admit it,
 about motivation
is at the heart of my conflicting feelings
about recent events.

I know what motivates most police officers.
I've stood side by side with many of them in the ER;
all of us trying our damnedest,
in the face of pretty terrible odds
and at personal risk,
to protect the most vulnerable.

I can't say that concern for the common good,
rather than self interest or self aggrandizement,
 is what's motivating the protesters.
One of the complaints coming out of the protests in Ferguson
has been that the police force
doesn't reflect the racial makeup of community.

Not only is it naive to think that a police force that reflects the general community
magically has a better ability to police that same community.
(Just look at East St Louis, IL 
with its all black force
where even IL State Police won't go in after midnight
to disprove THAT notion)

but, at this point,
who in their right mind would even consider police work,
no matter what color they are?!
Everyone is a self appointed expert at your job;
everyone can do it better than you
and everyone is your self appointed supervisor -
all from the safety of their couches -
and all in hindsight!
This whole situation feels crazy to me;
and you just know
its going to get uglier and crazier
before its over!

God help us all.

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