Last night I watched with horror as my city, Grand Rapids, was devoured by hatred and violence. What started out as a peaceful and powerful protest for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others who’ve lost their lives for no legitimate reason were being honored and celebrated, turned dark and evil when the sun went down. Protesters left and rioters moved in. Buildings and vehicles were burned. Glass was shattered. Livelihoods were crushed. Tear gas was used.
Last night, I was so sad…sad for Grand Rapids, sad for those who worked so hard to put together a peaceful and purposeful protest that was quickly squashed by rioters and those who simply wanted to be destructive. Sad for my neighbors and friends. Sad for my children and eventually their children.
I Know I Have Privilege, But I Want to Understand More Than That
I’ll be honest, as a white woman I know I have privilege. Not because I’m wealthy or have a job of influence, but simply because I’m white. I have been discriminated against and harassed countless times simply because I’m a woman, but I do not know what it’s like to look over my shoulder constantly as I walk my dog, or exercise outside, or while I shop or pump gas, fearing someone will be uncomfortable with me and call the police because I’m making them feel “uncomfortable.” I do not know. I will never know. Yet, I am so lost—I want to help, but I don’t know how.
My children are 17, 19, and 21. The conversations we’ve been able to have about race the past few months have been powerful and full of different perspectives. What I’ve realized is my children are in the world. They know there is a problem. They see this problem first hand with their friends. They, too, seek to be a part of the solution. But how? What do we do? They challenge the status quo and they question why racism is so strong in their lifetimes. They, too, seek a way to help.
How Relationships Help Move Us Past Perceptions
When my family moved into our home almost four years ago, we moved from a wealthy, mostly-white, suburban community to a city/urban neighborhood with people of all races, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. We moved on purpose—we didn’t have to move—we chose to. Shortly after we moved in, the woman across the street, a single mom with three children, approached me (we had multiple conversations, but all surface-level neighborly conversations). She said, “You are the nicest white family we’ve met in awhile. Thank you for not making assumptions about us.”
I was speechless. Huh? (First, I was offended. I don’t want to be the nicest “white” family; I want to be the nicest family, no adjectives.) Since then, we’ve shown up at her sons’ “grandfriends’ day” at school when others couldn’t. We paid her son to take our trash to the curb—just because he had a great idea to make himself some money so he could buy a NERF gun. (Every nine-year-old needs a quality NERF gun, right?) My husband taught her five-year-old how to ride a two-wheeler. We love this family.
But, I’m stuck. I want to understand what she feels when she sees us. I want to know what she tells her daughter and her sons as they walk down the street to their friends’ houses with a hoodie on. I want to know how she keeps a broader perspective on humanity than I have right now. I want to hug her and ask. I want to know.
But will she deny me a conversation and tell me I’m asking questions there are no answers to? Will she laugh in my face and shut the door? Will she stop being my friend because I want to know? I want to know what I can do to make it better. I want to know and don’t know how to go about getting the answers. I’m scared of offending her and making her think all I see when I look at her is her skin color.
We Must Step Outside of Our Comfort Zones
I want to have strength to get out of my comfort zone to ask these questions, to learn, to grow, and to create change. I want her to be honest and strong and committed. But it has to start with me…I have to get uncomfortable first. I have to push myself to have the conversation—even it takes repeated attempts on my part. She deserves my efforts, her children deserve my courage to at least try.
One thing I’ve learned in my 40+ years of life, people are all inherently the same—we all want the same things—love, happiness, security, health, and peace. Last night in my community, all of those things were severely lacking. Race is a topic that divides and separates. I want it to bring us together. I want to have the hard conversations, ask the hard questions, and figure out what a simple person like me can do to make a difference.
It Will Require Grit and Grace to Heal the Wounds of Race
I don’t have a job with a platform or a family situation that puts us in a better economic position than my neighbors. We aren’t wealthy. I can’t throw money at this—and frankly, money won’t help. This is going to require work—heart work. I truly believe we can make strides to repair the brokenness and divided song of our country, our communities, our neighborhoods, but it starts with us.
It starts with those of us who’ve felt the pain of watching things play out on live television or replayed through the media. It starts with us wanting to change things. It starts with those of us who understand that our own skin color puts us in a position to push for change in a way others cannot. Change is necessary and the conversations will require grace, lots of grace, to get it right.
We’re going to make mistakes along the way, it’s a given, but we can get it right, we can! I don’t think we have another choice. God created us all in his image, and he also commands us to love each other. The greatest way we can show love to each other is to walk the walk and talk the talk. Let’s come together and share our lives with those around us—no matter their skin color, economic situation, or anything. Let’s appreciate humanity as it is—burying hatred so deep it can’t surface again. We have to try.
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