My friend and colleague Latasha Morrison, who started the non-profit Be the Bridge, got a call from a friend yesterday. Her friend’s friend – we’ll call him James – was on his way to another friend’s house in Baton Rouge when he made a wrong turn. When he stopped and turned around in someone’s driveway, the homeowner came out of the house with an AK-47 and called him the N-word.
We can have a conversation about guns and the 2nd amendment if we want to, but I think it would keep us from having a more pressing conversation: Why do we fear and loathe the “other” so much? Let’s assume for a moment that the man with the AK-47 — let’s call him Ted — has the right, or the freedom, to protect his property and his people by bearing arms. Let’s also assume that James has the right to drive around and make wrong turns without being unexpectedly threatened by a semi-automatic assault rifle while being degraded by a racial slur.
Neither man is free. Ted may be exercising his so-called Constitutional freedoms, but he’s actually in bondage to fear and prejudice, which led him to make threats against an innocent person yesterday and, if left unchecked, could ultimately lead him to commit murder. And James isn’t free because he lives with the constant awareness that at any moment, his life could be abruptly snuffed out by someone — cop or civilian — who assumes the worst about him just because of how he looks.
Of course, the stakes are far greater for those in danger of being murdered than for those in danger of becoming murderers.
My husband and I were at a restaurant recently when I spotted a young black man wearing a T-shirt with the words “I am harmless” on the front. Those three words on a T-shirt capture the fear of most of my black male friends and those of us who love them, and to a good extent the fear of my black female friends as well.
Wherever a society lacks love, that’s precisely where it lacks freedom. Sometimes that lack of love is expressed in the laws of the land themselves (since laws are written by fallen and empowered people who often don’t love well); other times, it’s expressed despite the myriad of laws that are meant to guarantee freedom. That’s because freedom does not precede, nor can it produce, love; it’s love that precedes and creates freedom. For all.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:18
We should remain vigilant about the fact that on social media, anger, fear, aggression, blame, sarcasm, and judgment are amplified exponentially compared to love, grace, long-suffering, self-reflection, and self-restraint. In this day and age, makers of peace have to be committed to not dehumanize, “take down,” or villainize anyone, even as we battle great evil, injustice, and abusive ignorance. When we attack one another, people tend to double down on their positions, and it derails us from our true battle against humanity’s common enemy. My friend, author and speaker Deidra Riggs, often reminds us, “We have one real enemy, and it is not each other.”
Work on loving your neighbor today, especially if s/he is still your enemy. If you don’t know where to begin, ask God to show you. Because without love, none of us are free. No love, no freedom.
Categories: Culture/Social issues, Race/Ethnicity, Uncategorized
Judy, thank you for your post. I agree we must be vigilant to break down stereotypes that erect barriers between us. This issue is so complex because as a black woman I too am acquainted with the same fear that led to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The other night I was at CVS with my two sons and an African American male was approaching my car. I am ashamed to say I hurried my kids into the car fearing that he, an innocent man might , had another motive than just minding his business. Now I wasn’t going to shoot or shout a racial slur but that seed of fear was the same. Profiling is so ingrained in us that it becomes difficult to see people as human beings. But I am too aware that this is just a smoke screen and we have a much bigger enemy. So I am praying and trying to deal with the wrong thinking in me that is also part of the problem. Be blessed! – Kia
Thank you for your comment, Kia. I meant to respond to it months ago. Profiling is deeply ingrained in us. As women, though, we also have the additional layer of fear related to actual gender violence. It becomes very difficult to tease out legitimate fear, conditioned fear, and prejudicial fear. They overlap. Last year, I was part of a Be The Bridge group that met twice a month. One of the white women shared her experience from a few years ago of clutching her purse to her side as she walked by a black man on the sidewalk. He noticed and said to her, “I’m not going to do anything to you.” And she thought, “Oh, sh*t! I’m that person.” One of the black women at the table said, “Let’s be honest. We do that too,” and one of the other black women vocalized agreement. It was a great opportunity for us to unpack all the layers of that together. Everyone brought unique perspectives from their backgrounds.