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  • Writer's pictureBecca Whitham

What I Heard

In my last post, I promised to listen to people speaking out on Black Lives Matter. I need to give you just a little history about me before I tell you what I heard.

The last time racial discrimination was all over the news, I wanted to hear from Black people I knew personally. I didn't know any other than a few from high school I wasn't in touch with. My prayer then was, "Lord, bring people of color into my life," and He did. I can now say I have good friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that I can listen to. So here's what I heard:

1) The sentiment "Black Lives Matter" is different than the BLM formal organization. Saying the one doesn't mean you subscribe to all the tenants of the other.

2) People of color fear the police. In the past, I would hear them talk about how scared they were when an officer pulled them over and approached the car with a hand on their gun and dismiss it because I've experienced the exact same thing. Yes, it's very scary, but it's standard procedure. Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous things officers do, so they are trained to take extra precautions. My husband was an officer. You want some scary stories? Listen to officers talk about pulling a car over and, in a split second, it goes from a routine stop to a life-or-death situation for them. Therefore, I dismissed stories from Black people because they were reading racism into routine procedures put in place for officer safety regardless of color of skin. This time, however, I kept listening and every single person I talked to had a story--either them or someone close to them--about being stopped and experiencing something clearly racist. So the difference between how scared I was when I was approached by an officer with a hand on his gun and my friends going through the exact same thing was I had no fear that--as long as I kept my hands on the wheel where the officer could see them and I talked him through retrieving my license, registration, and proof of insurance from my purse and glove compartment--I would be fine. My Black friends had no such assurance. Even "good cops" feel much scarier to my friends than they do to me. I'm not saying we compromise officer safety to make people feel better; I am saying there's a gap which needs to be addressed.

3) This one is the most eye-opening and hardest to admit: I say I don't believe the media, but when they're telling a story that fits my fear, I listen. Let me give you another bit of background about me: I'm a Christian who believes abortion is wrong. But--and this is a big "but"--I do not stand for anything Westboro Baptist Church has done or may do again. So if I want the courtesy of not being lumped into a radical group that, although it shares some of my beliefs, goes about protesting in a way that's repugnant to me, I must be willing to extend the same courtesy to my Black friends and neighbors. And do you know what I heard? We aren't that far apart. They don't believe every monument should be torn down and every shred of history erased. Most of them would, however, like some taken down because monuments say, "Emulate this person." That's a very different thing than just remembering history. If you go to Auschwitz or Dachau, you won't see statues of German soldiers or swastika flags flying over the entrance even though they are historically accurate. I have been a "preserve history" person my whole life. I've changed my mind. If we're going to have a statue of Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave, let's have the Black man standing beside not kneeling before the White man. It's not just "politically correct'" it's more historically accurate as the fight against slavery was because we are equally human. I've been so controlled by my fear that the rioting, looting mob represented everyone crying out, "Black Lives Matter" (see #1 again), I haven't really listened. God gave me friends--fellow brothers and sisters in Christ--who are telling a different story than the media hyped-up version.

4) People of color have a wide range of opinions. I can always find one who will agree with me. In the past, I've stopped there thinking, "See. I'm right." This time I kept pushing to listen to those who disagreed with me. I'm still holding to many of my previous opinions but not all. Because here's another big change for me... I've decided that my opinion doesn't matter on a wide range of racial discrimination topics. Let me say that again. My opinion doesn't matter. It's the part of "loving my neighbor" I've lacked over the years. I've put my opinion above theirs's MY opinion. I still plan to think critically, to filter what comes into my mind through the Word of God, and to love my country warts and all. I'll always have an opinion, it just doesn't have to be shared with everyone...and I'm not always right.

So this is the last you're going to hear from me on this topic. Feel free to disagree with me. Plenty of people do. All I ask is that you listen--really listen--to the people of color around you.

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