Now is not the time to make judgments. Now is not the time to glance at recent events and dryly state that justice has been served. Now is the time we listen to those in pain.
We must listen to those who proclaim the injustice against their body and being. Listening is crucial, for in listening to the other, I acknowledge the other. In acknowledging the other, I recognize the validity of the other’s experience and existence. To ignore is deeper than to not hear the other’s words–this is to deny the other’s existence. It is time that those who do not understand the other’s experience should listen so as to learn and begin to understand.
If we do not listen, we do not know. If we do not know, then we are ignorant to the pain and injustice against the other. If we are ignorant, then the pain and injustice against the other continues.
In the wake of the events in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y. and Sanford, Fla., it is time that white people listen to our African American brothers and sisters. Now is not the time to label people as “thugs” and conclude that “justice was served.”
It was a group of white people who claimed the same thing in 1955, in Money, Mississippi–with a dead 14 year old African American boy found with gouged out eyes and a necklace of barbed wire, around which hung a 70-pound cotton gin. Emmett Till’s capital crime: whistling at a white woman. Roy and J.W. were acquitted because they delivered “justice” against the “thug.” That was declared justice.
Rather than listen to the African American voices who declared this an injustice, others either defended the judicial system or chose to be ignorant altogether. Rather than validate the other’s experience of pain, people denied its existence. Because people denied its existence, Emmett Till is dead.
One amazing outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was that it made white people listen to the voices of African Americans, even if they only paid them one ear.
We still need to be listening to one another.
It is because we did not listen to Trayvon Martin’s unarmed struggle that he is dead. It is because we did not listen to Mike Brown’s surrender that he is dead. It is because we did not listen to Eric Garner’s claim, “I can’t breathe” that he is dead. It is because we did not listen that Tamir Rice is now dead.
When I, as a white person, see an African American mother clutch her two sons to her chest and weep over them, for it is a matter of life and death, I know that I must listen. In 1955 in Mississippi, they ignored the cries of African Americans because of “justice.” As we enter into 2015, will we continue the legacy of ignoring minoritie, or will we listen?
It’s time we listened.
Want to start listening and not sure where to start? Check out a couple articles and books that have challenged me:
Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race, Basic Books: New York, 2003.
Eduard Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, 2009.
Michael Emerson & Christian Smith, Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Oxford: New York, 2001.
Taylor Bell is a first-year M.Div. student attending Candler School of Theology at Emory University and is a CBF Leadership Scholar. The views expressed in this column belong to the author.