Sunday, July 10, 2016

When will things change for African Americans?

I went to church to pray today.  I prayed for the change that is so desperately needed in these challenging times.  As I settled in for prayer and listened to the readings of the day, I was struck to my core by the homily that Reverend Sean Lanigan had to say.  It echoed a sentiment that I have carried with me throughout my life.  In his homily, he addressed the issues of the day...the senseless killings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas.  We have all lost something in these events.

White American may feel like they lost something in that five white police officers who had taken the oath to serve and protect lost their lives doing the very thing that they have sworn themselves to do.  African Americans lost yet two more lives to senseless violence at the hands of the very people that have sworn to protect us.  There is a sense of outrage, fear and frustration as we move forward into the aftermath of these events.  Many of us are at a loss as to what to do with the emotions that churn within us.

But what Reverend Lanigan said was a message directed at white people.  Although you are not directly responsible for the loss of life that occurred in Louisiana and Minnesota, you can do something.  Feeling guilty is not the answer, for to feel "white guilt" is to give yourself a pass to do nothing.  What he meant by that was if you as a White American allow yourself to feel guilty over the circumstances that have been in place for many African Americans for centuries, then you are in essence saying that, "I feel guilty, which makes me better than the person that feels nothing...and because I feel guilty, that is an excuse to take no action at all."

I walked up to Reverend Lanigan after service and told him that as an African American man, I have been the victim of  passive racism (if there truly is such a thing) for most of my adult life.  That racism came in the form of being stopped by police officers in New Jersey for doing nothing more than driving a nice car, to being passed over for promotions because there was always a more qualified "White" constituent who could do the job better than me...to being told by a supervisor a few years back that I should be happy that I have a job when I was given the promotion that I was due, but the raise that came with that position was given to someone else.

This is my personal reality...a reality that may of my white brothers and sisters will not understand because it is not a part of their reality.  The fairness that all are entitled to is not experienced by all.  And the undercurrent of racism is so entrenched in American culture that it is easy to overlook if you are not the victim of its practices.

Racism is not as overt as the tragic killings that occurred in Louisiana and Minnesota.  Most experiences of racism is actually difficult to prove...but if you are on the receiving end of it, you know it when you see it.

I don't blame all of my trials and tribulations on racism in America, but at the same time, I am smart enough to know that many of the issues that occurred happened because I simply did not fit into a demographic that would allow me to move forward with ease.

And now, I think about my commute to work.  I think about my three younger brothers who are all good, law abiding men and yet I know that they will always be seen as "black" men first.  And honestly, I don't know what that means anymore.  If I say the wrong thing or move the wrong way too fast or too slow, will I be accosted and thrown into jail?  Or worse, will I be shot because my actions were somehow perceived as a threat, even if the threat was only in the mind of the person that stopped me in the first place?

I think about my mother as well as all of the African American mothers out there who have sons and had to groom them for a life that they knew would present challenges for them. They knew that being black in this country is not always an asset.  And this is something that some white people will never understand.

A white mother does not have to prepare her children for the likelihood that her child's life will be made more difficult because of the color of their skin.  Some white people may not want to hear this...but simply because they don't doesn't make it any less a fact

Right now, millions of black mothers are in fear for the safety of their sons and daughters.  My mother is one of them, even though one of her sons is a police officer.

What happened in Louisiana and Minnesota was tragic.  What happened in Dallas was just as tragic.  One incident does not outweigh the other for to say that it does means that someone's pain is greater than someone elses.  Pain is pain.  Hurt is hurt.

Tears that falls from a mothers eyes, regardless of the race of the woman still reflects a broken heart.  Now is the time for a serious dialogue and then the appropriate action to follow behind it.  People need to understand that there is not a need for "White Privilege."  And my white brothers and sisters need to understand that it does exist.  As I said earlier, it is so entrenched in American culture that if you are not on the receiving end of it, you would not be able to see it; and if you can't see it, how will you know that it exists?

I'm not telling you that this is a problem that will be eradicated overnight.  The problem did not appear overnight and it will  not dissipate overnight.  It will be difficult.  The reason why it will be difficult is because many of my white brothers and sisters will not acknowledge that there is a problem and would like to see things remain status quo.  Honestly, if I were part of a demographic that had an edge simply because of the color of my skin, I don't know how quickly I would want to give that up either.

What is needed now more than ever is someone who will lead us with power, peace and the love of God.  We need prayer.  We need to see past our differences.  We truly need to learn how to love and accept one another for everything that we are as well as everything that we aren't.

Because at the end of the day, all lives matter!!!

~ J.L. Whitehead


  1. while I understand the focus on WHITE people I think it is the WRONG focus = they believe they are RIGHT about us. We kill more of us than anyone else. Black churches have failed us-our men are seen as weak-unable to control their own communities. Every time you try to explain to a white person what the problem is between them and us- you are saying THEY alone have the power to fix it. FIX us. Then why should God listen to us?

  2. Good Evening Ms. Avant
    I agree wholeheartedly that African Americans as a people need to fix themselves...however, that was not the topic of this piece. The issue at hand is race relations and this is my response and thought process regarding the rash of senseless killings that have gripped out nation.
    The reality is that white people are part of society and therefore some are part of the problem. Ask any African American who were adults just a generation ago and they would agree.
    Getting our people together for one common cause has not occurred since we banded together to claim our civil rights in the 60's. Maybe it's time to have history repeat itself.