Normally I stay far away from all the controversial topics – religion (not to be confused with faith), politics and social justice. I have views like everyone else, but the online world can be a dangerous place to engage these subjects. It’s shaky ground. So here I am, taking a very cautious step, praying the floor doesn’t collapse beneath me. So be gentle friends. This comes from a sincere place.
By now, you’ve likely seen the video or heard the story of Ahmaud Arbery. In February, this young, black man was gunned down in the middle of a Sunday afternoon jog on a quiet, Georgia street. His attackers were two white men in a pickup truck on a vigilante mission to “protect” their neighborhood. Thanks to public outcry and the video, those men have finally been charged with the crime and arrested – 2+ months later (!) – although their fate is far from sealed. Once again, we’ll have to rely on a justice system that has failed every race and gender, despite the commendable efforts of many good men and women with a badge or a gavel.
After forcing myself to watch the shocking video of Ahmaud’s very public death, I am completely shaken. It isn’t that I haven’t seen violent crime before, but the brazenness of this act and the complete lack of accountability are staggering. None of us are immune from random acts of violence. Danger is everywhere. But this crime seemed far from random. So that leads me here with the need to say something, anything, to try and make sense of this completely senseless crime.
Short of storming the courthouse in Glynn County, Ga., what can I do? What can we do? Our outrage and our hashtags are needed, but where is the solution? Where is the remedy to heal the sickness of racism that has been spread – yes, like a virus – from one generation to the next? It may mutate and infect people differently, but the symptoms are the same.
We can’t tiptoe around racist attitudes in our country anymore just because we don’t engage in intentional racist behavior and our friendships extend beyond our own race. Its ugliness continues to shape and stain our country and our collective experience.
If we aren’t willing to face this evil in the harshest light, and own it, it will never change.
I see the best opportunity and hope for lasting change in our children. We have a lot to learn from the next “greatest generation.” My two sons have taught me so much about tolerance in their short time on earth. They’ve helped me recognize my own implicit biases, even when I couldn’t see them for myself. They may not pick up their wet towels or make the Honor Roll, but they are good people who love their friends, regardless of race. That love reveals the most beautiful part of them, and our humanity, because they care.
Because that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? That we actually care about our fellow man, all of them? That we truly love one another as God designed us and demands from us, despite all differences?
When we are honest and intentional, then real change can begin. We have to push back on institutions that insist we are so very different. Our churches, our schools, our social ”playgrounds” and our politics are places that focus on our differences. The establishment of “us” and “them” is not okay.
Over the past year, my oldest son has experienced a radical shift in his personal experience with race. He began his college football career at a large public university in Tennessee after attending predominantly white, private schools his entire life. On the team, he became the minority overnight. I thank God that this opportunity will continually open his eyes and heart wide and give him a valuable perspective – one that I embrace when he shares it at home.
During his first semester of college, he shared a revealing story with us. One night, he went to meet a tutor, but a GPS mix-up led him to the wrong house on the wrong street. When he rang the doorbell, a man opened the door quickly and glared at him. My son retreated, realizing his mistake, and apologized as he safely returned to his car. It was an innocent and thankfully harmless error, but the truth of that moment hit him hard – what if that had happened to one of his black teammates? Knowing that such a small mistake could potentially end in prison or death is something that no one should have to fear in a country that we call free.
Growing up in a small, all-white town in Alabama, I didn’t have opportunities in my childhood to form any authentic relationships outside of my race. I feel cheated that I didn’t know a diverse community until adulthood, but I’m forever grateful to my parents that I wasn’t raised to hate.
It’s in recognizing where we can stretch and grow that our culture can actually change. It’s in our everyday living that we can truly make a difference. We have a moral obligation to examine ourselves, our hearts, our motives, and our actions – even the subtle ones that can leave unintended misunderstandings. We also have an obligation to speak up and share truth. Especially with our children. Because our country will never be truly safe or free for everyone until stories like Ahmad’s are sealed in the past.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” – I John 4:11