January 28, 2015 by The Jailhouse Doc
I wrote this right in the midst of the Ferguson protests last fall, when my feed was a torrent of images and anger mixed with misguided comments focused on the few who were looting. It was a really hard time to be on social media without crying in despair, both at the state of racism and systematic injustice in the US, but also the lack of compassion or even interest in the black experience by people who I know and love, including some family. People who don’t like being told that they are products of privilege, born on third base. People who may be in the generations that were alive during the Civil Rights Movement, who may feel complicit in the injustice, or ashamed for their lack of involvement. I think both apply to my grandparents. And even my parents sometimes. Why didn’t you stand up to racism when you were young or at least care enough to tell me about it? Why didn’t you teach me about the Civil Rights Movement when I was growing up in a way that reached into my heart rather than like a distant chapter in a history book about a people far, far away? Why am I finding out that these issues deeply matter to me and to the God I serve, but were not part of our lives when I was young? Why did we stop at attempting to just treat everyone the same, be nice and fair to everyone? Why is there so much disdain for black poverty in my family? Why having been raised far from the South have we absolved ourselves of responsibility for involvement and activism? Now that I work with predominantly underprivileged black men, these things matter to me. I see the injustice on a systematic and an individual scale. And I am ashamed of my own tribe, and it’s general lack of give-a-f*** about the Mike Browns, the Eric Garners. As if you can lump all black men into the basket labeled “law breaking-violent-thugs.” This is what I had to say at that moment, as succinctly as I could. I obviously have a lot more to say about this, but I will repost what I felt in the midst of it.
If you are more concerned about a burned pizza joint and storage unit than you are about a dead teenager, then I am going to call out your racism via omission: you probably do not have any close friends who are black. Mike Brown is not the cornerstone of the issue of systematic racism in our broken legal system, he is the tipping point. I am not going to argue with a grand jury verdict because I wasn’t there, it may very well be the correct decision based on Missouri Law (I did at least read Wilson’s transcript.) But I would burn down a hundred Pizza Huts to save the life of one of my inmates, because #blacklivesmatter. And #alllivesmatter. Period. You may not be mad, but your kid isn’t dead. You probably don’t worry your twelve year old will be shot to death for playing with an air soft gun. THAT is the evidence of a racially unjust system. My patients ARE Mike Brown. The “thugs” of whom you speak. And I will be damned if I am EVER one more privileged white person who communicates to them that pizza, storage room junk and bags of chips are more important than their lives. It is amazing to me that we ignore systematic racism and overlook poverty and then are aghast that the products of that system don’t protest nicely. Looting and violence are wrong, but it’s hard to learn civility and citizenship when your school is failing and you live in the projects.
Go have dinner with a black family. Ask them how they have experienced racism in their lives. Ask them about their fears for their kids, I guarantee they have fears that aren’t even on your radar because of white privilege. No experiences like that? No friendships with minorities? Then please keep any unsympathetic opinions about Ferguson to yourself. This is not your turn to talk, this is your turn to listen. It is time for all of us to listen, because outside the few destructive knuckleheads, there are multitudes of peaceful activists, pastors, dreamers, community members, peace-makers in action, working their butts off to make lasting change in race relations and the justice system. But they don’t make sexy TV like that burning police car does. I am going to unapologetically ask that if you disagree with me, keep it to yourself, or to your own wall. You probably don’t spend your days talking with poor, disenfranchised black men, so I am going to take their word for their life experiences over your perception of their life experiences. I am not mad about the verdict- I work with the guilty and the innocent all day and I never know who is who. I am mad because we as a nation could do SO MUCH BETTER. And tomorrow I am going to tell my patients that. Right after I tell them that their lives MATTER, and they can do so much better too. They are more than the stereotypes we throw at them. But right now, they are probably mad. Because they are shot at too. And are pretty sure the rest of us don’t give a shit. I have said enough. #prayforferguson. #prayforamerica.
And I did tell them that their lives matter. Most recently yesterday. To a man who has spent 20 years trying to have a wrongful conviction tossed out.