The Importance of Being Earnest: Being Honest But Hopeful
By Leea Allen
A few minutes into the New Year, I found myself lying in bed, wide awake and unable to sleep. I'd spent most of the evening at home, catching up on old movies before dozing off for a little while. When the sound of fireworks woke me from my slumber, I could not seem to get back to sleep. I was tossing and turning, wrestling with thoughts in my mind about everything I'd witnessed and experienced over the course of the last year. I could not sleep because I wanted to feel a sense of resolution. I wanted to feel closure. I wanted to feel that the end of 2014 meant the beginning of the end of racial injustice in America and the world.
By now, those reading this blog post know that the first few days of 2015 have brought us no such closure. In fact, since January 1st, I've heard more stories of police violence and abuse of power happening against people of color than I'd heard about during the latter part of 2014. Why was this so hard to deal with? Was it possible that for much of my young adult life, I had been avoiding this sort of news? Perhaps I was still sleeping, eyes wide shut to the prevalence of violence, discrimination, and white privilege in our culture.
After the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014, I realized just how far America had to go in terms of addressing and fixing the issue of racial discrimination by law enforcement. This is not a myth. This is real, everyday life, and there are hundreds of studies and statistics to make the case:
1) Black people are arrested at a disproportionately higher rate than any other racial group in the United States (USA Today - http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/18/ferguson-black-arrest-rates/19043207/)
2) Black people are killed by police during arrests at a substantially higher rate than any other racial group (Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics - http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf)
3) Black people are up to 8 times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than Whites (Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics System - http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss.htm)
4) Law enforcement has a propensity to use lethal force against Black people more than White people; they're quick to pull the trigger and less likely to give Black people the benefit of the doubt (Florida State University and MotherJones - http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/ps/racialbias.pdf and http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice)
5) Black people are incarcerated at 6 times the rate of Whites and constitute 1 million of the 2.3 million prison population (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet)
But I don't need to go on and on about the mounting evidence of state violence and discrimination in America. In fact, I don't need to prove to anyone how far deep the struggle goes. Black men, women, and children are being abused, arrested, and killed at an alarming rate that shocks the system.
"How does it feel to be a problem?" This critical question – posed so eloquently by W.E.B. Du Bois in his famous The Souls of Black Folk – is one that some of us have dreaded answering. For years, we've grown up in our own version of privilege by treating problems at home as if they were some distant memory that would eventually dissolve into sub-consciousness. Now, with the truth hitting us hard in the face everywhere we turn, it is impossible to deny the fact that our very existence is problematic. And that is something I fully accepted in 2014. I got honest with myself, with my circumstances, and with my convictions. I rediscovered the importance of being earnest.
Recently, I listened to Pastor Andy Stanley of Northpoint Ministries pose another powerful question. Speaking to a congregation of mostly White, mostly mid-upper class Christians, he asked, "What breaks your heart?" Traditionally, the start of a New Year seemingly revolves around self. Many of us ask ourselves how we can live better lives. For people like me, the question struck a chord buried deep within me. Similar to New Year's Eve, my sleep was yet again disturbed. I had been looking and searching and hoping for the last 5 months to find answers to solving this very real problem, so much so that I did not spend much time reflecting inward. When I finally did some soul searching, I came to admit something very personal:
I've been running from doing the work.
So many rallies, protests, and demonstrations I'd attended. I even coordinated a few efforts of my own with the help of other organizers around the country. I'd read articles, watched videos, attended lectures and forums, all to educate and empower myself to being a better social justice leader. I felt angry and moved by the loss of Black life at the hands of police. But the term "activist" was not something I was keen on accepting...not even 5 months into the game. That is until Pastor Stanley said something incredibly profound: "You have no idea what hangs in the balance of your decision to embrace the burden God has put in your heart." And then it hit me. I was afraid. All this time, I'd watched protesters in Ferguson, New York, and in cities across the country and stood with them in solidarity. I watched a new movement being born. I watched young leaders take the helm of social justice in radical and revolutionary ways. I respected them. I admired them. But was I one of them?
Growing up, I remember hearing elders of the church say that you can't run from God. Was I running?
As you plan your goals and resolutions for the New Year, consider not only what you can do for yourself, but what you can do to make this nation and world a better place. Whether you recognize it or not, if you are a Black person in America (man, woman, queer, poor, youth, mentally ill, differently-abled), you must answer the question, "What breaks your heart?” You have no choice but to see the ugly truth for what it is. You must feel the weight of the burden of social injustice. And at some point, you may be called to embrace it. Why? Because so much hangs in the balance. Our lives, our freedom, our very existence are at stake. The next Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Darrien Hunt, Tanisha Anderson, or Deshawnda Sanchez could be a close friend, a family member...or you.