Recently on the train, there was small group of black people being rowdy, listening to music and rapping, gathered on one side. On the other side of the train, where I stood, more white people began to gather along with all the black people who weren’t rowdy. We all got on the train at the same time. It was happenstance that we were segregated from one another. The black woman closest to the rowdy group eventually got frustrated and further distanced herself from them. One of the men from the group got upset and called her “horse face” and told us all on this side of the train that we were white. He assumed the three of us assimilated to white culture, thereby disregarding our identities as black people. When he and his friends exited the train to participate in the Ferguson protest on Michigan Avenue, an older white gentleman sat down and told her, “No wonder the police shoot them. I’m sorry but that’s just unacceptable.” He assumed, she wasn’t one of “them.”
I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Like my fellow rowdy people of color, I was deeply angry. For me, it wasn’t okay that they were rowdy, but I understood. Just as I am not proud of the riots, but I understand. Last week, mass media kept reporting the surprise at the outbreak of riots and the anger people of color showed after the non-indictment against Darren Wilson. The patronizing, victim blaming report of, “the people of Ferguson did this violence to themselves” reinforces the stereotype of black on black crime. There was little attention paid to the National Guard and militarized police failure to even attempt to protect black businesses.
MLK said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I believe he is correct. Peaceful protests are tools designed for people to actively listen and create change. I was hoping an indictment would be a sign of some sort of acknowledgment of violence done to people of color. Not only of police brutality towards people of color, but also of the historical and very present violence of racism. Mike Brown was shot and lay on the pavement dead in the August heat for 4 hours. And mass media was surprised at how angry people were?
And now we find ourselves just a week later with the non indictment of Eric Garner. Again, I’m not surprised at his murder or the lack of indictment. As a person of color the lack of justice is normal. However, that doesn’t make me any less angry, sad, or frustrated. Anger, sadness and frustration are healthy and normal responses to police murdering people of color with impunity. Of course we will protest, of course there may be riots, of course it will be another momentary spectacle for all except people of color.
Especially in times like this, as a person of color it feels like my life and other people of color’s lives don’t matter. It feels like white people are more comfortable with the normalization of our deaths, than with doing anything about the racism that inherently exists in white privilege. It feels like many white people stand in solidarity with people of color in theory, but are complacent in practice. The fact is racism is an oppression. It’s systemic. It only benefits white people, the same way heterosexism only benefits straight people. It remains clear to me; people of color are expendable. Mike Brown was no more than a drop in an ocean who was “lucky” enough to be named and given attention. I have always felt this way, far before Mike Brown. It is a hard, but truthful reality all people of color do not have the luxury to ignore. I am naming a reality which mainstream media, society and churches still refuse to name.
We as created beings are all connected. Part of our beauty is a recognition of this unity. Christ called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. In order to do that we must first love our self. So my call to action and reflection for white people is this, do you love yourself enough, to care about the kind of person you become when you are complacent?
Annanda Barclay (MLP Board Member) is in the ordination process under the care of Mission Presbytery. She obtained her M.Div. at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Annanda is a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. She is a 2012 Fund for Theological Education Ministry Fellow. Currently Annanda, is continuing pastoral formation as a part-time student chaplain at a local area hospital. She believes the Church is not a silo, but is called to actively advocate for the welfare of all God’s creation. She serves and works with various groups to strategically advocate for intersectional justice, love and kindness. Annanda, her partner M, and their two dogs reside in Chicago, IL.