race & ferguson & what might be swirling around in our heads and hearts

this is gong to require a lot of us

It’s been an interesting paradox of a Thanksgiving week. The joy of having our kids all home for the holiday and not wanting to think of anything other than being together, contrasted with the reality of the painful events in Ferguson and what it means for all of us.   

As a white woman of privilege, I’ve been thinking about some of the thoughts, feelings, actions or non-actions a lot of us seem to be wrestling with right now.

I’m wondering who might relate to some of these thoughts & feelings swirling around in our heads & hearts this past week?

Feeling terrified to post anything on Facebook for fear of who’s going to say what in response.

Reading comments on other people’s Facebook pages and beginning to feel sick to our stomach as we see how ugly it can quickly get.

Feeling bad for posting fun Thanksgiving pictures amidst others’ pain and grief.

Confused by the conflicting responses about the grand jury evidence and don’t know what to believe.

Feeling guilt for our white privilege.

Not sure what to do or say because we don’t want to offend the realities of our black brothers & sisters.

Uncertain about reading almost any and all media coverage because it is all feels inflammatory.

Realizing that even though we want to believe we’re not racist, we know we must embrace we actually are and that our racial biases have contributed to the brokenness.

Wanting to honor the work of police officers and the way they protect, serve, and put their lives on the line every day. 

Desiring to get involved and show our support but don’t want to appear like a Ferguson band-wagon person who only joins the wave when it’s popular.

Completely overwhelmed by how big the problem is and don’t know what we’ve got to offer or even where to start.

Wondering where the safe and healthy spaces are to actually talk about this, to listen, learn, and reckon with our real fears and feelings without it devolving into an ugly debate.

Filled with a deep desire to be a participant in change but not sure how.

Do you relate to some of these?

I do.

Last Monday night Jose and I were down in Denver at the Shorter AME Church for the announcement of the grand jury indictment. We went to listen and learn and stand in solidarity as best we could in that moment, not knowing which way it would go. I felt so nervous walking in. We had never been there before; I honestly had no idea who was coming or what it would be like and was happy to see a mix of young and old, black and white, men and women, and a few dear friends from around Denver. It was intense, painful, filled with grief and reality and passion. We listened to many amazing men and women and youth sharing perspectives that needed to be heard and said. To me, one of the most powerful moments was the 4 1/2 minutes of silence right after the indictment and then a time of prayer with all the clergy present, a mix of different denominations, shapes and sizes. After a few stories, anyone between the ages of 15 to 30 were asked to tap the faith leaders out and replace us up front. Yes, the youth will lead us on this one. Our job is to step aside and support them as they step into their leadership. And there’s a lot of work to be done.

On the way home, the four of us processed together and felt the heaviness that many are feeling right now. The reality of broken oppressive systems. The reality of the pain of brothers & sisters whose lives aren’t mixed up in ours in real life. The reality that we live in a predominantly white middle+ class conservative neighborhood where there are strong beliefs different from us. The reality that even though Jose is Hispanic and our kids are brown, we are comfortably distant from a lot of this daily reality.

But not anymore.

We all know something has shifted through Ferguson, things have tipped, and “comfortably distant” is thankfully gone for the USA.

It’s time.

Real change, real peace, real healing, real equality will be a bumpy, brutal road, one that was started a long time ago and we have the privilege of participating in today in new ways.

And oh, this is going to be rough.

The deep grooves of racism in this country are built on generations of division, oppression, and fear. They are not going to go down easy. Take a quick scan down the comments in almost anyone’s Facebook posts and it’s apparent how deep the division and differences are and how terrible we are at non-violent communication. “The church” is all tangled up in it, too, a huge conscious and unconscious perpetrator of division and separation instead of the healing and break-down-all-the-walls-between-us force it’s supposed to be.

There’s just no way around all of this feeling uncomfortable. Vulnerable. Hard.

And because we’re humans we usually want to find some kind of short-cut, an easier way, a simple surface solution.

But there’s no short cut or avoiding pain on this one.

It’s going to require a lot of us. It should.

It’s going to require a lot of grace for us, too. We are going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. 

But I have hope, too, that over time we can indeed become participants in justice in small & big ways in the kinds of ways Jesus calls us to.  That we won’t let our fears completely paralyze us. That friends & allies & advocates & community cultivators will be born and re-born all over the place.

That we will let our discomfort, our confusion, our lack-of-knowing-what-to-do-next be okay because it’s all part of learning.

God, you know our hearts. You know we have a lot to learn. Please teach us & show us the way forward.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

11 Comments

  • I wanted to add one more thought and feeling to your mix. And this is about my reactions to being assaulted by a group of young black kids. Long ago, my friend and I were jumped, thrown to the ground, hair pulled, heads pushed into the cement and sat upon. My mother told me I should understand that they come from disadvantage. That I was over reacting. What about my feelings? Don’t they count in this mix? And yes of course I have countless of great interracial experiences as well. But at some point we need to be able to speak up and tell our stories without appearing biased or racist. The truth is what needs to be told. Nothing censured. Good and Bad. There is no point in only trying to find evidence for one agenda.True connection and healing can not take place until everyone can tell their truth. And when we can all be treated as individuals and not part of a tribe.

    Anyway, thanks for having the courage to talk about this subject. At some point it is hard to keep ignoring this problem.

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing a piece of your story. it reminds me of just how truly important it is to have safe spaces for all sides to share. this is no small task and oh, it will take so much relational work around tables and in groups and over a long long period of time. i really appreciate your honesty.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your kind response Kathy. I hadn’t shared the story in over 40 years and it was good to air it all out. Funny how the good experiences don’t warrant as much air time. It is the forbidden stories that fester. After writing my story I remembered that when my mom said I should “understand” it was because she was coming from her own teen experiences . She was a teen in France during World War Two. She had witnessed Germans doing far worse to the Jews and to this day won’t talk about it. I wish she would. She might have been able to pass on a little compassion to me during my time of need.

        Reply
  • This is so disappointing on so many levels. If people cannot openly and objectively say what they mean and mean what they say, either due to a perverse misplaced guilt or anger and hurt run wild, we will never know peace or get any closer to God. God save us all.

    Reply
    • thanks for taking time to share. i wasn’t sure what you meant by “this”. did you mean this blog post or this situation in the wider community right now?

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  • This is so helpful, Kathy. And summarizes a lot of what I’ve been feeling since that awful day when Mike Brown was shot. I hope you’re right – that NOW is the time. I am sure it will be a rough road, but man alive, it’s long overdue.

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    • thank you for sharing, diana. i do believe now is the time and that as deidra said, it’s a long long road but i like what brian mclaren says “we make the road by walking” it’s time for real change…

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  • Thanks for this, Kathy. The image of the younger kids tapping the adults out, and the adults giving way and making way is something to hang onto. This next generation? They are brave, and they’ve got grit. Thanks for reminding us to give them space to lead. May we be the best kinds of encouragers for them.

    I’m sure many people have heard lots of quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lately, but I don’t know that I’d ever heard this one before, until a church service held in response to the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” And then, later, I read a blog post that reminded us this is going to take awhile. She told us to put on our comfortable shoes for this one.

    We’ve all got to give up something if we’re going to get to the other side of this. All of us.

    Reply
    • thanks so much, deidra. i really appreciate your thoughts here and i don’t think i saw that MLK quote before, either. so good. “sacrifice, suffering, and struggle…and tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” there’s a lot of walking ahead. peace to you from here to there.

      Reply
  • I appreciate this post, Kathy, and I can certainly relate to some of the statements you listed. I think our culture will truly struggle with this conversation because we are such an individualistic society. We have room for understanding A racist or a tragic injustice against A person. But we often do not have access to a collective lens that helps us see systematic injustice or biases that influence our society as a whole. Sometimes I feel like there is a lot of time wasted on defensiveness and judgement when I wish we could come together and tackle the broader issues with an eye to the how institutions, history, and movements affect the whole. Thanks for writing this post!

    Reply

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