I didn’t want to, but I made myself watch it a few weeks ago.
The video showing the attack and murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
It shows two white men driving a pickup truck stopped and waiting for Arbery, a young black man who was reportedly out on a morning jog. Then Arbery is attacked. And killed. In the bright Georgia sunshine.
The murder happened Feb. 23. The damning video debuted and ensuing arrests of the two white men involved only happened this month. In May. The video (shot by another white man who has since also been arrested), has led to a social media frenzy, including posts of folks taking symbolic runs for Arbery, age 25, who wasn’t able to finish his.
Of course, none of us on this side of the computer and phone screens know all the facts. But they will come out. Sadly, regardless of facts, justice may or may not prevail — excuse my pessimism. Same song, different verse it seems like.
Because in America, it’s apparently a crime to jog while black.
Or wear a hoodie while black.
Or to drive while black.
Or to birdwatch while black.
Christian Cooper, a black man, was bird watching in Central Park this week when he saw a woman with a dog off-leash. He asked her to put the dog on its leash, which is the rule of the park. The interaction ended with her calling 911, claiming she was being threatened by an “African American man.”
He stood silently filming the interaction as she devolved into hysterics.
I read a well-intentioned meme a few days ago saying we shouldn’t hate someone based on the color of their skin. Very noble. And true. I’d argue that most white people, the ones for whom that statement is directed, don’t hate people of color. But many white people are fearful of them. And suspicious of their behaviors — or maybe more accurately suspicious of their very existence.
Because skin color, life experiences, and cultural nuances make us different. Different is scary when that is what you’ve been taught.
And fear and suspicion in these cases turn out to be just as bad, if not worse, than seething hatred, if for no other reason than the people harboring those feelings are reticent to admit or recognize them.
As a former journalist, I like cold, hard facts. I like data. Things that are irrefutable. But as a Christian, I am also looking for truth in the light of faith. If it’s faith that orchestrates my life, often, there’s no “proof” for this truth, but that doesn’t make the truth less true.
Because truth becomes real to each of us as individuals.
And racism — the truth of the matter — is real.
What’s the truth in the story of Ahmaud Arbery? That the two white men thought he was a burglary suspect and attempted to make a citizen’s arrest — and will be vindicated and exonerated somehow? Or that Arbery was simply out for a daily jog on a sunny day and was accosted by two white men full of fear and suspicion? Or worst case — full of overt racism and hatred?
I don’t know.
Truth is, this shouldn’t have happened. Ever. In no moral, spiritual, ethical, or legal storyline should an unarmed man be shot and killed by two other men while another one films it.
But it happened.
Do I even have to mention the episodes of police brutality that continue? George Floyd, a black man, died this week in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him, handcuffed, to the ground by digging his knee into Floyd’s neck during his arrest. Breonna Taylor, an African American EMT in Louisville, was shot and killed inside her home in March after a botched no-knock warrant was served — on the wrong individual. The only one arrested? Taylor’s black boyfriend who used a gun to defend them both from the attacking police.
As a white person, how do I respond? First, I can publicly condemn the racist actions. I can fill myself with righteous anger. And then I shut up for a minute. White folks have had the floor for a long, long time. If we’re not willing to use our privilege and platform to dismantle systems of racism and injustice, then we need to relinquish the pulpits and the podiums to those brave enough to do the work for us.
It’s time to listen. To hear. To search for truth. To listen to stories our friends of color can tell us of overt racism as well as micro aggressions — actions that white people (or others) commit without even knowing they are prejudiced or racist.
I make sure I hear the stories — truly listen to the pain and the brokenness caused by people who look like me, and maybe committed myself.
I repent. Of my own actions, and the actions of those who aren’t willing to repent of theirs.
It is only when I can sit in solidarity with the broken, abused, and bruised bodies, minds, and souls of those around me that I can dare to speak.
It’s why I’ve been intentional in seeking out these videos and stories. I needed to watch and listen at a time when I could pay complete attention to the issue. I needed to hear comments, and commentary, and hear the pain and concern and fear coming from the voices of my African American friends. I continue to educate myself.
It’s why I’m hesitant to even publish this. I’m not done learning. I’m not done listening. I’m not done overturning all of MY prejudices.
But I’m trying, and recognizing that while I want to be a part of the solution, in my privilege I am part of the problem.
To my white friends in denial that they’re part of the problem, or that racism doesn’t exist, consider this:
Racism hasn’t ever stopped. It’s just being filmed now.*
Join with me in recognizing our privilege, repenting of our fears, and responding accordingly, white friends. And to my friends of color: I’m listening, and grieving with you.
*I saw this quote on social media, but couldn’t verify it’s source, so I’m not including it.