I have never been a black man.
I suppose that is not much of a revelation to offer you, but I feel like it is a statement that needs to be made. I live in a rural area where the population is majority white. I suspect (though I do not have data on hand to back it up) that there are more people of Hispanic descent in my hometown, than there are people of African American descent. My experience of other races of mankind is fairly limited. For the past 4 years, I have been to Haiti for one week each year, and to Nicaragua for one week out of each year. It is only during those 2 weeks each year, that I am considered a minority by the people around me.
During these two weeks each year, I am treated well by those around me who are in the majority. We could argue that this is because I am in a group of people who look like me, or perhaps it is because our financial situations are so disparate that I am treated with respect. I suppose you could also argue that since I do not speak either Creole or Spanish, that I may be unaware of discrimination or disrespect directed to me. You could probably also make the argument that I do not feel harassed, because I AM NOT harassed. I have not experienced racially based hatred directed towards me.
It is this lack of experience that has thus far held my tongue in the matter of Ferguson Missouri. I felt that I had no right to offer my thoughts on the matter because I felt I lacked the appropriate experiences to do so. In my mind, I told myself that I could not possibly relate to what the majority population of Ferguson was experiencing because I had not been there myself. As the debate about the circumstances of Michael Browns death and Darren Wilsons actions continued, I found that I would often discredit the words and opinions of others who looked like me. I felt that they too could not possibly understand what it must mean to be black in the suburbs of St. Louis. I can not remember seriously considering any argument made by a white man or woman during the whole of this debate, simply because I dismissed their thoughts as invalid.
To me, commenting on Ferguson seemed as silly as it would be for me to teach a professional wide receiver how to catch a football. I have no place trying to teach someone something I do not understand. It would be far wiser for me to listen to what the wide receiver would like to tell me about catching the ball, then for me to give him my top ten football catching tips (you’ll never believe simple tip number 9!). Essentially, I sought to ensure that I would not be considered racist, by refusing to enter into the debate. It was not my place.
So it was in this folly, that I perpetuated my own ignorant racism.
I have never been a black man.
I say it again, because it is still true. I am, however, a man. I belong to the species known as man, and have belonged since I was born. While I have not been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I have been discriminated against. While I have never been pulled over “driving while black” or followed around “shopping while black”, I have been pulled over simply because it was late at night, and my dilapidated car seemed out of place. I have been followed through stores, because my lumberjack beard and camouflage field jacket didn’t fit in with the personality of the store I was in. I have been made to feel like I do not belong, or was not wanted in many situations.
I am a man. I breathe a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. If you prick me, I will bleed. If you tickle me, I will want to punch you in the face. If you poison me, I will die. In these ways, I am exactly like every person who doesn’t happen to have the same skin color as I do. I have every right to speak into the situation in Ferguson, not because I am black, but because I am man.
As a man, I have a responsibility to my fellow man. I have a responsibility to ensure that I do everything in my power to remove my racist tendencies from my daily interaction with those around me. I can not sit on the sidelines of a worthy cause because I don’t look like the rest of the team. I must rally behind the cause of justice, even though not everyone will look like me, and I may not understand everything from their perspective. I may speak where I wish, simply because I am a man.
The evidence presented to the grand jury in Ferguson seems to have indicated that Officer Wilson was justified in his shooting of Michael Brown. I have not investigated the evidence personally, but the long established legal process has been followed, and there are currently no indications of deliberate perversion of justice by the grand jury. I do not feel a need to investigate the circumstances further. I also feel no need to comment on what Michael Brown may, or may not, have been doing in the hours leading up to his death. Michael may have been a wonderful person who made tragic mistakes on a fateful day.
I feel that in choosing this event as the standard we advance under, we have hurt our case for justice.
There have been many times in the short history of the United States that those who are around us are treated unfairly because of something beyond their control. People are mistrusted or denigrated because they were born with a different color of skin, or have disabilities that make them odious to us. Whole people groups have been denied justice in cases where those who can affect the outcome choose to remain silent. The Native Americans, all of the slaves of the past, people of Asian descent during World War II, people who believed in communism, the homeless and the chronically poor have all been persecuted in the short 200 years of our nation.
So the question is, what will we do about it? We, mankind. We have a responsibility to punish those who abuse their power, AND those who loot stores and burn buildings. We have a responsibility to seek justice in each case, regardless of irrelevant circumstances such as race or social status.
I have always been man.