This Can’t Keep Happening

Two more horrible images of racism were added to the national lexicon of our racial divide this week. Both have made my heart hurt this week.

The first was the killing of a young, black man in Minneapolis by a policeman who persistently ground his knee into the man’s neck as he lay handcuffed and gasping for breath on the street. How in the world are people like him still on a police force in America? Who doesn’t yet know that you can’t treat another human being this way? This. Is. Reprehensible. Yes, he and his partners should have been fired, and I hope they also stand trial for murder. Another young life is lost, and I hope we all mourn this horrible tragedy and demand better from our authorities. And I really don’t want to hear from my white friends that we have to be careful and not jump to conclusions until all the facts are in. There is no possible fact that would justify what I saw in that video. None. You can be a supporter of law enforcement and call out bad police work at the same time. In fact, you have to. What happened in Minnesota is bad policing and bad humanity. It feeds the fears of so many people that our society doesn’t care when a young black man is killed or the presumption that, of course, he must have done something to deserve it. (And if you want to find out just what kind of man the victim was, you can read about George Floyd here.)

The second image came from a lady walking her dog in Central Park. Her dog was off-leash in the Ramble, which is against park rules. When she comes upon a man bird-watching, he tells her to leash her dog. As the confrontation heats up, the man records the engagement on his phone. It’s a good thing he did, too. The lady is obviously offended at has actions and demands he turns his camera off. She even moves aggressively towards him when he doesn’t obey her. He pleads with her not to come closer. She responds by telling him she is going to call the cops. He tells her to please go ahead and do so. She warns him that she will tell them an African-American man is threatening her life. He tells her to go ahead, and she does. The video causes her to lose her job, her dog, and possibly her right ever to go to Central Park again.

It’s easy to hate on the Minneapolis police and young woman. They both made horrible choices, one costing a young man his life, the other didn’t have the same grave consequences, but grows from the same root. Before we choose sides and mount our soapboxes to eloquently argue from whatever side of the racial divide we find ourselves, perhaps it would be better to pause and see if we can learn something. It would be nice if these were just the actions of a few “bad eggs,” but the incidents themselves and how our people react to them, belie an ugly underbelly of American society where all people are not yet treated equally.

When another young, black male is killed by the outrageous actions of a police detachment, can you feel, even for a moment, what that does to the mothers of young, black men all across this country? Can you imagine what a young man feels when he is put in cuffs by the police, especially if he knows he’s innocent of their presumptions? They don’t see this as a tragic accident, but the result of a systemic unfairness to people who aren’t white. Many have already taught their sons how to be compliant and nonthreatening in the face of a police presence. They know it is likely that their sons will be treated differently than a white suspect, and often to tragic ends.

The lady with the dog in Central Park may be a fine person most other days. She was simply doing what many dog-lovers do. I’ve done it. I’ve had my dogs off-leash on mountain trails so they can have a moment to run free. I only do it when no one’s around. Occasionally, however, I’ve gotten caught by an unexpected person coming up the trail. I have always apologized profusely and leashed them quickly. I’m sure she wishes she had done that now. Instead, her life has been ruined by her willingness to use her whiteness to falsely accuse another human being based on the color of his skin. Watching it escalate, my heart hurt for her. She’s in the wrong, and she knows it. To compensate, she gets all uppity about the fact that he is filming the incident. Her racism gets unmasked when she takes a superior tone with him and rushes forward to try to put him in his place. Thankfully, he doesn’t back down, and she goes from embarrassed to feeling violated with his camera, to threatening him in hopes of gaining power in a situation where she had none. 

Maybe that’s how we need to see racism. It is not only about white supremacists with hate in their hearts. Racism, at its core, is about power and what we are willing to do to gain or maintain an advantage over someone else. It subtly dehumanizes “the other” so we can treat them in whatever way is most advantageous to us. Even by making this woman a villain, we don’t have to look for the subtleties of racism in our hearts or how we might treat or perceive someone differently based on their skin color. 

After losing her job and her dog, even the man she threatened has come to her defense, saying that none of us deserve judgment for the worst moment in our life. You’ve got to love his generosity when he was being judged for no reason at all. Wouldn’t it have been incredible if this had stayed a human engagement, where she would have learned something about herself and the video would never have gone viral?

I know it is difficult for many of my friends to talk about racism. We are quick to discount race and want to pretend it had nothing to do with the incident in Minneapolis. We want to pretend we’re color blind and that society is now equitable for all. These situations unmask that lie. It isn’t race-baiting to acknowledge it, nor falling in step with the mainstream media. The African-American, Latino, and Asian friends I know tell me of the situations they are presented with frequently that I’ve never had to concern myself with. They continually deal with injustices that never make it into the news. We can do better. These kinds of tragedies have to end, and they won’t if we can’t face it, learn from it, and get to know people on the other side of the racial divide so my erroneous presumptions can be dismantled.

Last week, I was in a Zoom conversation with the coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation and a diverse panel talking about our society’s reaction to the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia. It lasted two hours as we listened to how circumstances like that affect families that aren’t part of the majority culture. I had one woman write to me afterward, sharing what she had gleaned from that conversation. 

I thought so many good points were raised as the individuals felt safe to express truths that came from deep within. It struck me when Arnita said we need to tell our children that it’s wrong to kill someone because of their skin color. Just the fact that she needed to say that speaks volumes in terms of how far we have to go. I remember one man saying that his daughter asked him why they “always have to be the ones to say, ‘Sorry’”. That one got to me. The man who expressed the idea of whites giving up power by having a black person actually occupy the leadership position and how that leads to true diversity, resonated with me. Perhaps the comment that impacted me the most was from the African-American woman who shared that she knows that hearts can change because she experienced it herself. She had wanted her sons to marry girls who looked like them, but when she got to know some of the bi-racial girls in her program, her heart changed. Wow! I wanted to thank you for your part in this movement. This work is much needed, and I hope, greatly valued!

These conversations are changing me, and I’m genuinely grateful. They are the greatest joy of my work on A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. We wanted to put a tool in the world that would encourage people to move beyond their comfort zone and embrace those who don’t think or look like them. We’ve got to bridge the divisions in this country, especially where we can  help to create a more just society for people who are being unfairly marginalized. 

So, instead of reacting to news like this that reinforces our biases, maybe we could pause and learn how we can be a more generous person in a broken culture.

16 thoughts on “This Can’t Keep Happening”

  1. i’m right with you Wayne…my heart hurts every time another “incident” occurs. i get frustrated how my friends can’t see it, or better said, won’t see it. it’s hard not to be frustrated with the direction this country is heading especially with the political divide, and how obvious it is that white people (i am one) and white evangelicals (i used to be one) are supporting candidates and policies that help keep them in power…
    on the other side, i cringe when the media seems to get joy out of scapegoating someone even if/when they are in the wrong. we have become a society of social media shame experts, and i don’t think that will end well for this world. i just don’t see what’s so hard about loving god by loving our neighbor, and until we learn this truth, the world will continue to spin out of control. appreciate your post…sorry for the down attitude…thanks for letting me vent my frustrations…in the end, i know that love will win and that gives me comfort.

  2. You Americans do not have the stronghold on Jesus. He loves all of us. You American Evangelicals have lost the plot. Return to your first love. Jesus

  3. If he was white it wouldn’t have happened. Your president supports it. We in the rest of the world see. You all let it happen. Because you get money and power And even your religion likes that. It suits you. Jesus says ….love

  4. Jesus loves. He is love. Love speaks and prays. Love says do not kill. Do not kill black people. Do not be self righteous. Do not be self righteous. Do not be American .Christ is lost in that. He is lost and you win. You reign over him. Jesus is above all that. He is above all that. He us above.

  5. “And I really don’t want to hear from my white friends that we have to be careful and not jump to conclusions until all the facts are in. There is no possible fact that would justify what I saw in that video. None.”

    I love you man and I always will but just saying this closes the door to discovery through discussion. I fear there truly is no place left for people to discuss honestly and openly, with or without bias (and we all know we all are biased to some degree). There are many facts which are missing, and now because a person would be shamed and guilted as a less than humane individual by the “morality police” for voicing certain points, certain points will not be heard and a discussion and resolution requiring an equation of balance and understanding will never happen. Only morality, morality, morality, as if people are really playing by the self-justifying rules of “morality”. Because if morality and doing the right thing was truly at the heart of all this…cops wouldn’t be necessary (and I wish they weren’t,). There is so much to discuss and I’m truly sorry that we aren’t allowed to, as less than half of the common denominators can be mentioned or one would be accused of being a racist. Am I allowed to say that I think it best for people who protest and announce on bull horns how they care for their people in times of crisis, to care for their people everyday, walking beside the youth as friends? Am I allowed to say that I find the word “minority” when describing any human to be quite offensive? Am I allowed to say I also find it offensive when a someone (I hear females say it the most for some reason) says, “pretty good for a girl”? Am I allowed to say that all lives matter, and if you truly believe it, go out and be the best version of you that you can be regardless of things like gender and race…like the guy who became the 44th president of the United States of America, or my daughter who got a raise and a promotion at work during this corona deal? I hope I haven’t crossed any of your lines with my comments brother, and if I have please shame me gently. Thanks.

    1. Hi Kevin. We don’t do shaming here for anyone, so I’m not sure I understand what your real point is. I do allow all points of view on my blog, which is why I get some goofy comments like the one I spoke about above. That “I don’t want to hear” is different than “people are free to express”. However, my experience? Those who say you can’t jump to conclusions until all the facts are in aren’t generally looking for a discussion. That’s their “mic drop” line. Legally, all the facts will come in before this man is judged before the courts. I even read yesterday where that kind of choke hold is approved in Minnesota, even though using it to kill isn’t. That’s a systemic problem Minnesota will have to address. I can’t imagine a system that would approve that anyway. I’m all for open discussion about all this stuff as we are truly learning together. We are all free to say what we find offensive and what we don’t, and people are free to respect that or not. This is such a minor subpoint, however, to a man being killed or accused of racism. If cameras wouldn’t have been present at either, we would have different stories in the media because the dog walker would have been believed above the bird-watcher and the police would have lied about how the man died. The same was true for the killing in Georgia a couple of weeks ago. There’s a bias in who we believe in the absence of video evidence. Thank God for cell phone cameras! They may be the best tool yet for racial justice.

      1. Thanks Wayne, I had hoped you’d be gracious as most aren’t these days. I’m possibly a bit naive in that I honestly never jumped to a racial conclusion with the Minnesota death. I saw a cop who was over zealous, using a very typical (in their world) submission technique, and the dude HORRIBLY died. What a horrible day for everybody, I was sick inside as I tried to watch, and listen to the bystanders. But I never saw the color in it. I guess there must have been some racist history here with these cops or there were racial slurs being uttered, but I never heard that. I’m interested though in equality for all and I hope that comes through even though I try to look at things objectively and try not to get caught up in the emotion. I personally believe solution lies in the undressing and setting straight of the narrative’s. We generally aren’t allowed to speak to all of them and I believe that is a major stumbling block. What are all the narratives which fuel racism (all, not just the ones which are easy to talk about) ? Which are true? Which are not? And how might ALL of us in all communities and of all race and gender contribute to change those narratives which fuel the horrible notion of race superiority? I would try to communicate these narratives but my experience tells me that I could not do so without the one dimensional thinkers becoming unglued. And thus, here is where the great problem lies in my opinion, the inability to critically assess from all angles in order to re-SOLVE together. What does the average guy do to improve dialogue this stuff? Thanks Wayne.

        1. In the “white” world where we rarely, if ever, face discrimination it’s hard for us to believe that so much is going on toward African-Americans, Latino, or Asians in this day and age. But if you actually know families from those groups where you have a friendship that allows conversation about race without people getting offended, you’ll discover just how much racism they face every day in far simpler ways. A suspicious look from a store clerk, a woman who holds her purse tighter, a job going to a less-qualified candidate because of his relational ties to management that you don’t have, all speak to that same thing. To them, almost every interaction is laced with racial overtones still. I don’t think talking about racism fuels conflict near as much as ignoring it does. It’s not divisive to wrestle with why black families have to instruct their children about interactions with cops that are overly differential because of the color of their skin. Yes, we need to talk about it. My thoughts on this have moved significantly in the last three years because I am talking about it with lots of people.

          What does the average guy do? Try not to defend the white experience and really, really try to see and understand this from the black, brown, or Asian experience. Watch a roomful of people and notice how whites treat each other and how they treat “the other.” It’s eye-opening. It’s not necessarily overt racism, but just an enculturation to gravitate toward those more like us, and to be somewhat affected by the large number of mug shots we’ve seen of blacks or Latinos looking mean and scary. That has shaped how we view the whole race whether we want it to or not. I’m sure that woman caught in Central Park playing the racist card didn’t think of herself as a racist the day before. She probably knows black people, works with them in NY, but when push came to shove she used her whiteness to advance her position at the cost of a black man and his reputation. It’s a good thing he had a camera rolling. In Minneapolis, we do not have ANY pictures of policeman doing the same foot-on-neck hold for white people. And white people don’t have the same fears that getting into a police car in cuffs might just spell the end of their life. No, it mostly doesn’t and I am convinced MOST cops are trying to do a difficult job in a fair and honest ways. But a few of these really bad experiences colors the entire experience.

          Talking about this is good. Finding answers is good. It’s going to take some time, though. And that’s sad, because for them it has already taken too long.

          1. You are absolutely correct when you say that in the white world we would not know or experience discrimination, and so really a guy is lost when it comes to understanding how it feels and I would never claim to remotely understand how it might affect me. And I agree that “a few of these really bad experiences colors the entire experience”, from all angles it appears. I remember a number of years ago when I was working in telecom and I just had a sense that I should do the best job that I could, to try to do perfect work. This created a bit of an inner conflict since the company I worked for really didn’t care if I was great, they just wanted it done good enough and fast enough to make good money and no one would notice or care either way, I told myself. A voice in my head said “someone will notice”, and so I proceeded to attempt to be the best technician I could be. Someone noticed. A contractor consultant to the hospital, where my project was taking place, saw the work, located me, and hired me to run his operation, for much more money and a much better work environment. Within six years I went on my own and I haven’t looked back since. I was a nobody that no one had even heard of but my change of heart, however that happened, changed the course of my life and I’ve been a respected person in the business community ever since.
            I don’t respect races of people, or segments of society, or institutions, but I respect individuals, and I think the solution to something such as racism in a society, successfully, and naturally, follows those same lines. Isn’t it respect that people are looking for? Don’t people just hope to “fit” in and feel like one with their surroundings and their society? Do we fit in by standing out, or by acting out? By protesting? By making new laws “demanding” respect and equality? Or minority hiring mandates? For what might that accomplish with someone who would be a real racist? What might that approach accomplish with those in the middle who have had a “negative experience” but aren’t hardcore racist? What experience does it present for someone who is not racist? I see no place where an “organized” response would actually accomplish the said goals. Sort of like religion, maybe. Do we want to see behavior change in order to humor a law or fulfill a moral obligation, or is it a heart change for and of individuals that we’re looking for? One is slow, quiet, and effective, and the other appears loud and flashy but has no heart. I know this is a complex issue but I just can’t see organizing or planning our way out of it. I think it’s a slow, methodical, and mostly individual endeavor/lifestyle if it’s to be truly effective .You are obviously right close to the heart of this, so I would love to know your thoughts.

          2. Just keep in mind, Kevin, that one of the things you haven’t had to overcome are people’s biases against your skin color. Would the same opportunities have been there for you if you had had brown skin? It’s hard for us to say. Those who are, say that the same opportunities are not there in the same way. Many of them start out with disrespect, remember. They teach their kids they have to be twice as good as a white person to get the same opportunities, because it its true.

            You are right, the real change must come at a heart level, but they can’t wait for that when their children are being killed by the police and by citizens trying to conduct a citizens arrest. There’s been way too much of that, and though those incidents are just the tip of the iceberg, it inflames the sense of injustice they feel every day by getting extra scrutiny when they walk into a story. I see the difference I get when I walk in a room that isn’t always given to people of a different color. For too long, the white community has been left out of this discussion about race. We want it to be over; we would rather “hope” for equality for all than face the fact that it isn’t here yet.

            For the first time, I’m seeing many of my white, conservative friends have an awakening about the injustice blacks suffer in a daily way, not just the big-ticket items. I’m seeing enlightening conversations emerge that are helping people appreciate the perspectives of “the other” on both sides of this and I’m encouraged by it. You can see a couple of them here: https://www.alanguageofhealing.com/blog. That’s what will help with a heart change. The protests help, too, honestly. Not the violence and destruction, which most protestors abhor, but people confronting our culture with the bias and discrimination that is hurting people who are not part of the dominant culture, and having white people join them in understanding their pain, even if they may not agree with all the fixes they want. Understanding and empathy is the beginning of change, not always agreement.

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  7. Good explanation Wayne, thank-you. Sure would be nice if everyone were able to have a friend of a different race and culture, it really shows a person that we’re not all that different. We take that for granted I guess when lifes paths have brought us into friendships from any and all cultural and racial backgrounds. Best of luck with your awareness plans!

  8. I totally get what kevin is saying and have said same myself.

    My experience is that even those that claim want open discussion, don’t really mean it and it will come out with them, one way or another, they shut out yhe other side.

    It often comes across as them using openness (or whatever the goal) as an excuse to further their agenda. I won’t put everyone in the same box because God sees the heart, but how it comes across to me.

    I agree with kevin. There aren’t many places one can truly speak without biases and self-agenda getting in the way. Many that claim to be really aren’t.

    One comment and that horrible death, i also saw no evidence of racial discrimination in that incident. I know it is prevalent, but i will not judge these officer’s motives without evidence.

    I also saw enough evidence in the video to say a horrible crime was committed by the police.

  9. I also believe that a behavioral answe to discrimination is to see everyone on an individual basis instead of throwing them alk in the same box.

    This is also often done with christians. If you go to church or believe in structure to some degree or some variable, you are thrown in the box of being legalistic, and ditto for the other side, being thrown in another box. This has to stop if discrimination is to stop.

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