I have been married to a proud African-American man for nearly 25 years. So I have witnessed (and even experienced) the mistreatment and discrimination, not to mention the rejection and pain, he has dealt with from the justice system, from the law enforcement community, in the work place, and even in the church.
I have felt the sting as we tried to find housing in Flint, Michigan – one of America’s most segregated cities. I have been in the passenger’s seat (and even the driver’s seat) when we were stopped by a profiling cop (even on Thanksgiving Day) in several cities. I have stood next to him as he waited to be served at a jewelry counter while people who came to the counter after us were immediately waited on. I have watched as sales personnel drop change and bills into his hand so they don’t risk touching him. I was with him when he drove more than a hundred miles to meet with a new employer (with whom he had only spoken on the phone) after being told the night before that he had the job. How else can one interpret being told by the receptionist (after she spoke to the boss) that the job had already been filled (evidently between 5:00 PM and 8:00 AM). What could I say as his heart and pride were broken one more time?
Therefore, I understand the turmoil over the Grand Jury’s decision in Ferguson, Missouri not to prosecute the policeman who shot an unarmed Michael Brown. I can even empathize with the hopelessness of young blacks that perhaps fueled the chaos and destruction last night. My step-son was one of them; he died in prison at the age of 22.
And yet, even though the vision of the Watts and Detroit riots were fresh in my mind, last night still took me by surprise. I watched in tears as the flames grew – and as my husband shut himself off in a room of anger and disappointment and the ghosts of the past.
This morning I read this sobering but hopeful quote by Pat Farrell, OSF, who speaks the truth in love to situations such as Ferguson – and to the Bables household.
“What does non-violence look like for us? It is certainly not the passivity of the victim. It entails resisting rather than colluding with abusive power. It does mean, however, accepting suffering rather than passing it on. It refuses to shame, blame, threaten or demonize. In fact, non-violence requires that we befriend our own darkness and brokenness rather than projecting it onto another. This, in turn, connects us with our fundamental oneness with each other, even in conflict.”
As the Christmas season approaches, we all need to take another look at our willingness (or unwillingness) to “befriend our own darkness and brokenness” and then connect with our “fundamental oneness with each other even in conflict.” That’s how the person whose birth we celebrate acted every day of his life. How can we venerate him and do any less?