This has to change

What’s going on in our country right now demands our attention. I don’t know how much my words will help, and I know that I — we — need to do much more than just write and say words.

But words can speak, and I want these words to speak loud and clear.

To my black brothers and sisters:

Your life matters. I am so sorry that for even one second you feel you have to remind an entire society of that.

I am a privileged white male. I will never come close to experiencing the struggles you live with every single day. I will never have to think twice about the clothing I wear or the places I choose to eat. I will never have to worry if I will be safe when I go out for a jog. I will never have to fear what might happen if I’m pulled over by a police officer.

I will never have to worry that I could be presumed as trespassing on a business when I’m really just trying to be a customer. I will never know the feeling of being interviewed for a job only because the company was strong-armed into enacting a policy that requires at least one person from my race to be interviewed. I will never know what it’s like to be born in and grow up in a system that already puts me at a disadvantage before I even have a choice.

I will never have to fear that I might be killed, by a police officer or anyone else, simply because of the color of my skin.

For that, I am sorry, because all of these things actually happen. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t even come close to encompassing the totality of what you endure every single day.

On the surface, the events of this past weekend may seem like clockwork. Every year or two, there’s a high profile incident of an unarmed black person being killed by police officers. People riot and protest, then within a week or two we move on and are back to our lives until the next incident.

But how many more black people need to be killed by white police officers and racist people before we finally decide enough is enough? This weekend feels like it might be that turning point. I sure hope it is.

Virtually every city across America held some sort of protest in response to the George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis police officer. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen cities across the country protest in unison, but it felt bigger this time. At least to me.

I want to go back to what I just said about how we so easily move on with our lives until the next incident happens. The truth is that’s my reality. That’s not the reality for you, my black friends. Your struggle never ends.

While we — white people and any other privileged person — go on about our lives once these protests subside, you continue to fight these battles every single day. In between these violent protests are hundreds of peaceful protests that we either never hear about or conveniently ignore. Or, as we saw with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, we still find ways to be offended.

The truth is that a lot of people don’t like these violent protests not because they’re violent, but because they can’t ignore them. They’re forced to sit with their implications. They’re forced to encounter their own privilege or, worse, their own prejudices.

It’s a whole lot easier to pretend the issue doesn’t exist when the protests are peaceful and don’t disrupt your privileged life.

If you’re bothered by what you’re seeing, consider how it must feel to experience generations of targeted abuse and discrimination. You think these protests are disruptive and inconvenient?

I’m not here to condone the looting and the violence, but maybe if we started paying attention to the peaceful protests, we’d never get to the point where people felt they needed to act out for us to hear them.

I came across a Facebook post from a teacher comparing these violent protests to a troubled student. When a student in class acts out and starts throwing things and being violent, it’s a sign that there’s trauma in their life. Teachers are trained to sit with that student and care for them. Yes, their actions have consequences, but the more important issue is always what’s at the root of the behavior. The behavior will always continue if you don’t address its root.

We need to address the root of the behavior — systematic racism that has spanned generations. The problem is that too many people don’t even stop to consider that. Their short-sightedness only allows them to see these violent protests and riots as actions and not as the result of something deeper.

Even worse, they use it as a license to continue viewing black people as violent, out of control, looting rioters who deserve whatever treatment they’re getting by society. They use terms like “thug” to both dehumanize black people and internally, or outwardly, assert some sort of faux superiority over them.

A white person calling a black person a thug is the equivalent of using the N-word. It’s degrading. Don’t just take my word for it. That’s coming straight from John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University.

This is how the vicious cycle of racism continues in this country. It’s not hard to then see why black people feel they don’t matter.

Something has got to change.

I saw this from Chris Tomlinson, the lead pastor at Destiny Church in Jacksonville, Florida:

For those who can’t understand why people are saying Black Lives Matter, let me put it in a perspective you might hear.

Jesus in Luke 15:

100 sheep, but one goes missing.

Jesus leaves the 99 and goes after the one.

The 99 say: “But…. what about us? Don’t we matter?”

Of course the 99 matter, but they’re not the ones in danger.

The one is.

Sit with that for a minute.

First, let me just say that there are far more great police officers than there are bad ones. I know that. We’ve seen some amazing stories and examples of leadership from some members of law enforcement in a lot of cities across the country.

There was Genesee County (Michigan) Sheriff Chris Swanson putting his helmet and baton down to walk with protesters. There was Atlanta police chief Erika Shields wading amongst the crowds of protesters to listen to their passionate pleas. She looked them in the eye and listened to them, like people. There was a picture of two Kansas City police officers — one black and one white — together holding up a sign that read “End Police Brutality.”

We need more of that.

But we sure are seeing the absolute worst of some of them right now, too. I truly don’t understand how, if they’re paying attention even just a little bit to the world around them, some can continue acting the way they do.

I saw a video of Salt Lake City police officers shoving an elderly man with a cane to the ground when all he was doing was standing there. I’ve seen countless videos of journalists being pelted by rubber bullets and pepper bullets while they’re just trying to do their job. One was even arrested while doing a live television report.

I watched a video of NYPD officers ramming their cars through a crowd of people, then in Louisville a group of masked police officers roll up in an unmarked car to destroy a bunch of milk cartons that protesters were using to treat pepper spray. I read a story about a building in Minneapolis that caught fire and because firemen couldn’t get to it, nearby citizens and neighbors banded together to put out the fire. As they were finishing up, police rolled up and tossed a flash bang grenade at them.

I saw a report of a man shot with rubber bullets by a police officer while just sitting on his porch watching the protests go by.

There are so many more. Are our police paying attention? I truly do not understand how they can continue being so unnecessarily aggressive when that’s literally what the protest they’re working at is about.

Perhaps the most incredibly egregious thing I saw was a police officer kneeling on the neck of a protester in the middle of a road. That’s literally what sparked all of this! I truly do not understand how someone can be so reckless and ignorant.

The police brutality has to end, but make no mistake: this boils down to an ideological war. What we’re seeing from police is not just a sign of obvious prejudice. It’s apparent that some in uniform feel a sense of power and don’t fear that they’ll ever be punished. We’ve seen aggression toward people of all races, gender, and age this weekend.

But our black brothers and sisters continue to be the primary target, and we must band together to champion their cause and equality. Protesting isn’t your thing? No problem. There are so many other ways we can help.

Pray. Look, prayer works. Even when we don’t see God moving, He is. We need to be praying diligently for the most vulnerable and for God to give us wisdom and discernment for how we can best care for our neighbors.

Speak up. Call out racism when you see it, and let’s affirm our black friends every chance we get. When they protest peacefully, listen. Take time to consider what the issue is and what they’re protesting.

Educate. Talk to your friends or your family about these issues, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. We will never see progress if we continue to ignore racism. Examine your own privilege and sit in the discomfort of the realities that our black friends live with daily. Parents, educate your children on how to treat people of different races, religions, genders, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. Racism is taught, and the quickest way to eradicate this disease is to stop indoctrinating our youths into this ideology.

Get actively involved. Join (or start!) an organization that champions the causes of black people and other under-represented or marginalized people. Raise or donate money to those causes. Do something tangible to help provide minorities the same opportunities you’re given.

Vote. Study up on which candidates champion the causes of minorities and fight for racial justice and vote for them.

If reading this made you uncomfortable, perhaps you need to check your privilege and examine why this made you feel so uncomfortable.

I used to be uncomfortable speaking up about these issues, but we are far past the point where any of us can remain silent. Even if you don’t have the words to say, you can still love people.

To my black brothers and sisters, again, I am so sorry that you are still having to endure this. I am sorry that generations of my race (and others) have not been able to get past their insecurities and fears of people who don’t look like or act like them.

I pray that our younger generations continue to be taught that racism is evil, so that our children, and their children, and their children can hopefully one day live in a world where there aren’t nationwide protests like these.

I pray that you know your life matters. It always has and it always will.