A couple weeks back Senator Cory Booker appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to talk about George Floyd and the protests and the reaction. It’s an incredible interview and I encourage you to watch it.
The whole interview is about half an hour, but there’s about a 15-minute chunk that gets away from the current politics and focuses on racism and this moment in America that is just powerful stuff.
Booker and Colbert have been discussing the protests in Washington D.C. and how President Donald Trump cleared out Lafayette Park for a photo opp, and Colbert asks what it’s like in D.C. right now and if this is a harbinger of things to come. Booker launches into a very personal and emotional response that is worth your time:
This morning our family went down to Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed. There’s basically a shrine at the corner of Chicago and 38th that’s blossoming with art and signs and flowers. It felt like visiting the Lynching Memorial, somber and quiet.
We also drove down Lake Street and saw the devastation from the looters.
It’s been a bit wild to see the near-universal condemnation of Floyd’s death and seeing protests erupt in hundreds of cities and all 50 states. It’s like we might actually reach a moment where change happens.
Our family also marched in a protest on Sunday. I carried a sign that said, “No more white silence,” because I’m so tired of white people (myself included) not being outraged about ongoing racial oppression.
But as we’re a week or two removed from Floyd’s death and the violent riots, I’m wondering if I should have encouraged white people to be silent in a different way. I’m starting to see more and more white people speaking up on social media. Some are encouraging, and some less so.
It’s very obvious right now by what people say and what they don’t say where they stand. There are a lot of people who passionately proclaim, “Don’t tread on me,” who have been silent about literal tyranny in our streets. There are people who bemoan the violence and looting, but say nothing about police killing an unarmed black man in the street. And there are lots of white people with plenty to say who have done very little listening to the black community—or at best have cherrypicked a few conservative black sources who reinforce their racist ideas.
We see you.
Look, I don’t have a lot of answers here.
But I am seeing a lot of deeply white conversations about racism, and that’s a good sign that you’re missing something.
Listen to black voices experiencing oppression.
Don’t dismiss them when you find something uncomfortable or an idea you disagree with. Don’t throw out your ‘what abouts.’ Don’t throw up your own offenses—you being offended about the tone of the conversation or an accusation or a metaphor you don’t like pale in comparison to the real injustices the black community face on a regular basis.
This is hard work we have to do right now. I’m amazed at some of the progress we’ve already made—arrests, charges, national protest, etc.—but we have a long, long way to go.
As Ibram X. Kendi says in his book How to Be an Anti-Racist (a hard, challenging read), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”
Or if Kendi is too “radical” for you, how about a fluffier source for the same idea:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” –Bishop Desmond Tutu
What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.
(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)
Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.
Let the People Be Free
The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …
Mr. Policeman I can’t breathe Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me
Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.
The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.
O Minneapolis, I saw you and Saint Paul kiss Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist Never saw a thing as beautiful as this Oh Minneapolis
Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound) I wanna feel the royal rain on me I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi
I’ve written about politics a lot lately. Most of it is hyper-local politics, because I feel like anything else is just noise, but locally I can make an impact. But I’ve been reluctant to write about national politics. It’s just so divisive and I feel like I’m only adding noise.
But I’ll do it now because this is one of those moments.
Before I get into it though, I want to refer back to a post I wrote on Inauguration Day. I talked about how this did not feel like “normal” political division. Trump ushered in something new. I have disagreed with the “other side” before, but I have never felt so alienated in my own country. (That’s certainly a statement of privilege, and I own that.)
So while I talk about current political issues, I urge you not to dismiss me as partisan hack whining that his side is losing. This is something much bigger than that.
If you don’t know much about Fannie Lou Hamer, I encourage you to dig into her history.
Like much of the civil rights movement and the wider fight for justice, it’s many of the same conversations we’ve been having over and over and over again.
Such as standing for the national anthem:
“It’s hard for me to stand up and sing the national anthem. I stand up and I work my mouth, but I don’t always come through with the verses. ‘O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed,’ cuz actually the land of the free and the home of the brave has meant the land of the treed and the home of the grave for so many of us.”
Something I love about Hamer is that she says it like it is:
“This is just a lot of crap that folks talk about the true democracy of this country.”
The news out of Charlottesville and around the country in the past week has been bewildering. It’s bizarre to watch a president struggle to condemn racist hate. It’s encouraging to see people come together and condemn this hate, but at the same time I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place.
We’ve overlooked too much, sat by in uncomfortable silence, allowed injustice to go unchecked for too long.
All this talk of taking down statues is helpful, but we need to be careful that we don’t see taking down statues and condemning groups that should obviously be condemned as enough.
“I will say that there is some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues. … I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation, you know, by taking down symbols and saying, ‘OK, that’s nice. That’s over.'”
We face a real danger if we whitewash our public spaces of any potential signs of racism, but refuse to do the deeper work of ridding our hearts of racism.
It’s easy to condemn slavery and Jim Crow, to look down on the South and the Confederate flag. But racism thrived (and still thrives) outside of the South. When it was founded, Oregon banned black people from the entire state. The 1951 riot in Cicero, Ill., showed that Jim Crow existed outside the South. Even today, Minnesota has the worst racial disparities in the nation.
We have work to do.
We can’t breathe easy just because we stopped some Nazis.
Its time, Beloved. Its time to commit yourselves to learning. Its time to commit yourselves to speaking. Its time to commit yourselves to writing. Its time to commit yourselves to organizing. Its time to commit yourselves to preaching. Its time to commit yourselves to teaching. Its time to commit to understanding American history. Its time to commit yourselves to the work of racial justice. Its time to commit yourselves to love- whatever that looks like at the intersection of your giftedness and influence.
But when I say love, Im not talking meaningless, polite niceties. You can keep that. Im talking about a love that takes risks. A love that requires sacrifice. A love that protests hate.
Its time to unequivocally protest the hate embedded in white supremacy- not just in the events of Charlottesville but around the dinner table, in the pews, in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the board meetings, in the curriculum, in the books, movies, and media in your house, and most of all from within your own heart, mind and spirit.
Ignorance stalks us wherever we go. Stupidity too—it’s easy to lash out in anger or dismissiveness. And maybe arrogance as well, to think that none of these apply to us. To me. We—I—live a great contradiction.
It’s so prominent in the political debate in this country right now—filibusters and sit-ins over gun rights, refusing to consider Supreme Court nominees, etc.. One side decries the other side’s actions, even though the first side has used the exact same tactic in the past. Both sides do it.
And so it goes. And that’s just in politics.
I read a lot. Some might say too much. In that reading I come across portrayals of overwhelming ignorance. Just this morning, in a matter of pages I read about The Colored Motorist’s Guide that told black people in the first half of the twentieth century “where they could and could not sleep, in what towns the citizens would shoot them if they stayed after dark,” and then that “deaf schools banished sign language, declared it backward and a threat to the wholesome spoken word, subscribed to the theory that sign language would encourage the deaf to marry only each other and create a perpetuating race of non-hearers, and swaddled the hands of their most defiant students in thick cotton mittens.” Continue reading How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?→
I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Luther Seminary today to hear Nekima Levy-Pounds speak. She preached.
Powerful words like hers are so needed today and every day.
We are part of the solution or we are part of the problem. Our silence makes us culpable.
We’re living off the legacy of Hubert Humphrey, but we haven’t done the work.
Instead of compassion we’re taught to look the other way and focus on self preservation.
We’re told to trust the law, to rely on the system. But the law gave us slavery. The system gave us Jim Crow. It gives us mass incarceration today.
Public policy changes incrementally or not at all. Sometimes you need direct action to disrupt and get attention.
People are not going to be Minnesota nice when their brother is killed.
We need to personalize these injustices.
So many thoughts.
I think our problem today, especially here in Minnesota, is that we fall back on a lot of excuses instead of engaging in the hard work of racial justice.
We talk about the importance of supporting our police officers instead of acknowledging the disparities in our criminal justice system.
We complain about the disruption of protests and plea for tactics that will bring people together, when those disruptive protests are the only effective way to bring attention to the issues. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was a response to white pastors urging King to find less disruptive tactics.
The reality is that there is very real and justifiable rage in our communities of color. If you don’t know that or understand why that rage is happening, you need to listen and start understanding instead of constantly dismissing.
Many of these protests that some people bemoan and dismiss are the only reason Minneapolis isn’t burning to the ground. These protests are offering productive ways to channel that rage. The 4th Precinct Shutdown protest in Minneapolis after the police shooting of Jamar Clark is a perfect example.
This work of racial justice is hard. It’s not going to be a simple conversation on social media or a blog post. It’s going to take personal investment instead of self preservation and defense.
My favorite story that Nekima Levy-Pounds shared is from the 4th Precinct protest when they were going to shutdown I-94. She was talking about it with her 10-year-old son.
“I might be arrested tonight, are you OK with that?” Nekima asked.
In the past year racism has been in the spotlight more than any time I remember in my life. From Ferguson to Cleveland to Baltimore to McKinney to Charleston, from police brutality to a white supremacist terrorist. It’s prompting some honest and difficult conversations. I hope you’re joining them.
These events and conversations are important to me. The fact is systemic racism continues to be a problem in America today. It’s not overt like it was during Jim Crow. It’s often subconscious. It’s often systemic. It’s often something we (I) don’t even realize we’re doing. But it’s there.
What’s so amazing about this moment right now is that we’re actually having those conversations. I’m completely shocked that the Charleston shooting has turned into a reexamination of the Confederate flag. In some ways that’s getting lost in the weeds, and if we think removing one symbol is going to change much we’d be mistaken. But it’s a small step of progress to recognize the oppression of our past.
People much smarter than I are weighing in on this issue and saying much smarter things than I ever could. So rather than ramble on, I’m going to link to them.
I’ll just close by saying I think we’re watching history happen. Something is changing in America right now. Let’s be a part of making that a change for the good of all people.
Listening well as a person of privilege – Great series on how we need to approach these conversations. If you’re uncomfortable with all this #BlackLivesMatter talk or find yourself getting squeamish or put off–read this blog series.
Confronting the truth – I’ve never endorsed anything Al Mohler has written before, but his article wrestling with the heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention (founded by slave-holding whites) while also trying to repent of its sins is powerful. It may not go far enough for some, but I’m shocked it was said at all.
The cross and the Confederate flag – Another conservative I would rarely agree with: “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”
We need to talk about white culture – “This sickness is the cancer of unacknowledged bias and supremacy. It has been with us since our founding, and civil rights laws, personal achievements and trappings of success for a fortunate few African Americans have not made us well.”
What this cruel was was over – A litany of Confederate quotes showing slavery and white supremacy as their cause: “The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans.”
I doubt I’ve lived this out very well this past week (or even months as this conversation has gone on), but it’s a powerful prayer to live up to:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.