Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Forest and Trees

Today, I want to speak to my fellow white people, particularly my fellow Christian white people.

Many of us are missing the point

Yesterday, an innocent man, Terence Crutcher, was shot. He was an innocent man inspecting his own car. He was tazed and shot because he did not immediately follow instructions. He was unarmed. He had his hands up and visible. Now, investigations are ongoing and this article has a fairly good summary of the due process that needs to be followed and the confounding legal questions, but the shooting is not what I want to highlight.

I want to highlight our response.

You see, Mr Crutcher is a black man and, unfortunately, he is now the newest name in a growing list of black men killed by police. He is now the next name on a list in the argument against police brutality and social injustice. You would think that, after such a tragedy, there would be mourning as a community in response. No, no. I only heard about the shooting via my wife. I saw nothing from any of my white friends except a post which showed how there are good relationships between black men and police.

Yesterday, in Langa, a peri-urban settlement (lit. a shack town) in Cape Town, South Africa, inhabited almost completely by poor black individuals, was in the midst of a protest against poor services delivery. The only word I heard from any of my SA friends was from one person who had to drive through the protest, recounting the shock of riot police, guns, and the smoke of burning tires, praising God and thanking the police that she made it through safely. My fellow white people, I am ashamed. You are focusing on the minutiae, the trees, when the problem is with the forest.

The protest of police vs black violence is not about shaming the police. It doesn't require you to defend the police or discredit the victim and find opposing evidence - there will always be evidence to oppose anything, provided the inclination is there. The issue is about respect and fair treatment under the law, something assumed by many of us white people, but still being fought for by many of our fellow black men and women.

Service delivery protests/riots, while terrifying, are happening because of a real problem. While we recount the horrors and fears experienced as an outsider passing through, let us remember that what many white people have and take for granted, our black brothers and sisters are fighting to obtain - and not because they cannot afford it, but because it has yet to be delivered.

Just because we, as white people, are not immediately impacted is not a sufficient excuse to dismiss the injustice surrounding us in society. When Christ gave the parable of the good Samaritan, he did not say that our neighbour extended only to those who looked/spoke/thought like us. No, the whole point of the parable is that loving our neighbour means seeing the hurt, the maligned, the needy, and doing what we can to help.

And that help? I'm not advocating at all for the White Messiah complex. For help to be actual help, it must be the right type of assistance/aid/support, given in the right manner, at the right time. To make a comparison, if someone drops on the floor, having a heart attack, you don't begin scolding the individual for any habit he/she might have that contributed to his heart attack; you administer CPR or find someone who can. When social injustice is shown, you don't tell the victims they're imagining things or that they've contributed to their own issues; you stop and listen, giving a willing ear and a heart willing to understand, and, should the opportunity present, take some measure of appropriate action.

Are we not called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? What would it hurt to take a moment to empathise - to place ourselves, our families in these repeated cycles of injustice? Would it hurt to turn to a black friend, relative, or colleague and simply say, "I heard about what happened. I'm so sorry."? Take the initiative. Put yourself out there in love, seeking to understand or support. Make that connection. If nothing else, it's a start.