Most people don’t have their last dying words caught on camera.
Most people don’t have their last breathe squeezed from them by the leg of a man squashing them like a beetle on a sidewalk.
Most people can say “I’m going for a run— I’ll be back soon!” and actually come back home.
But that’s because “most people” are white.
Before I even continue, let me first say, if my words leave you unsettled, angry, or embarrassed by your own behavior, then please lean into those feelings like I have and let it fuel you towards being an ally. A true ally, actively anti-racist. But if, for any reason, you feel like what I am saying is unjustified (and you are white), then I beg of you right now to move along— there is no place for your bigotry here, and I am actively fighting against your own actions. However, I pray to God that if you happened to stumble upon this, you will be willing to open your heart to hear my own voice, one shared from a place of my own personal white-embarrassment and black-anger.
Also, you may not like this part, but I’m primarily going to be speaking to us “church folk.”
Let’s recap the events of May 25, 2020 that led to the murder— yes, it was murder— of Mr. George Floyd of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. With the help of cell phone footage, eyewitness reports, here is what happened (taken from Wikipedia):
When the video starts, Floyd is already pinned face-down to the ground and Officer Chauvin is kneeling on his neck.Floyd repeatedly tells Chauvin: “Please” and “I can’t breathe” while also moaning, groaning and sobbing. A bystander tells the police: “You got him down. Let him breathe.”
After Floyd says: “I’m about to die,” Chauvin tells Floyd to relax.The police ask Floyd: “What do you want?” Floyd repeats: “I can’t breathe.” Floyd continues: “Please, the knee in my neck, I can’t breathe.”The policemen taunt a trapped Floyd to “get up and get in the car” to which Floyd replies: “I will … I can’t move.” Floyd also cries out: “Mama!” Floyd protests: “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts” and requested water. The police do not audibly respond to Floyd. Floyd begs: “Don’t kill me.”
A bystander points out that Floyd is bleeding from the nose. Another bystander tells the police that Floyd is “not even resisting arrest right now.” The police tell the bystanders that Floyd was “talking, he’s fine”; a bystander replies that Floyd “ain’t fine.” The bystander protests that the police were preventing Floyd from breathing, urging them to “get him off the ground … You could have put him in the car by now. He’s not resisting arrest or nothing. You’re enjoying it. Look at you. Your body language.”
Floyd eventually goes silent and motionless, but Chauvin does not lift his knee from Floyd’s neck. The bystanders protest that Floyd was “not responsive” and repeatedly asked the police to check Floyd’s pulse.A bystander questions: “Did they f***ing kill him?”
An ambulance eventually arrived; Chauvin does not remove his knee until emergency medical services put Floyd on a stretcher. Floyd is loaded into the ambulance and taken away. A male bystander says that the police “just really killed” Floyd. Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck for over seven minutes, including around four minutes after Floyd stopped moving.
After watching the footage myself and reading this excerpt, I am aware that any words I say are trite. But the words “I can’t breathe” have been ringing through my ears all day like a siren, alerting me that there is no time to waste. We need to take immediate action. Complacency is not an option. And at this point, silence is supremacy. We have to do better.
I began by writing a small snippet on Instagram because I knew I had to say something, ANYTHING to take a stand. I refuse to be quiet for fear of being misunderstood or saying the wrong thing. I’d rather say something wrong and be corrected than say nothing at all. But the smallness of my voice, the quick tapping of words on my phone just aren’t enough. Allow me to expand upon things you may have already read and share even deeper from my own story.
I grew up in the whitest town in America. Or at least it felt that way. I had one black girl in my graduating class; her sisters were a few years younger. Besides her, there was one black boy who was four years my senior. I remember him because he was known for selling gum and because I secretly thought he was kinda cute.
They were cousins.
There was literally one black family in my entire town.
I always considered Sarah (I’m changing her name for privacy reasons) a friend. We had classes together, talked often, laughed along to the same things from time to time— she was, and no doubt still is, an absolute joy. But we were never close enough friends to, say, have a sleepover. Drive each other to and from school. Or share boy talk. (I sure wasn’t going to tell her about my brief mini-crush on her gum-selling cousin.) I saw her parents at choir concerts, awards ceremonies, track and field meets, and other school events over the years. They were good people. I’d smile at them, they always smiled back. Genuine, happy, proud of their beautiful family, as they should be. Over the years, I’ve thought about her family, particularly on these days of immense heartache and outward turmoil when white supremacy has once again taken down another person of her family’s same skin color.
What if those victims were one of them? It hurts to even think like that, but the reality is, no person of color is living in the confines of safety. It bothers me just as much to know that I spent the greater part of my life being completely and totally unaware of this…
Actually, perhaps saying I was unaware isn’t exactly true. I was aware of some pretty major things.
I was aware that racism was rampant… especially during later years when I finally turned the pages of my memory and realized that those men I saw marching by my house one day wearing, in the words of my husband, “moo moo’s and a conehead” were KKK members rallying in my town— hidden cowards that spoke loud words of prejudice and preached ignorant acceptance of America’s early 20th century eugenic practices.
I was aware that my white town certainly had its own version of bigotry, even to those of a “lower” social status who happened to live on the west side of the village and not in the cul de sac communities across town.
I was also aware of the jokes and the slurs spoken casually in conversation, dehumanizing, degrading, and so obviously detrimental to not only people of color but women in general.
But I just remained silent. Apparently being likable was more important than taking a stand for what is right.
Adult Marybeth wishes to say to the Sarah’s of the world, I am sorry. I am sorry if I ever heard anything racist and thought it commonplace or “just a dumb joke.” I am sorry I lacked the courage to silence the slurs and do the unpopular thing all because I never wanted to give people another reason to make fun of me. I am sorry that it has taken me nearly 34 years on Mother Earth to take a stand and put my big feelings into louder words and greater action— or ANY action at all.
But I am here now.
And I refuse to raise my daughters as ones who would turn a blind eye to injustice– no voice is too young, too quiet. They are learning with me.
On my bookshelf is a copy of one of my favorite novels ever written, one that changed me, spoke deeply to my heart, made me an avid reader and reminds me of the power words can hold.
I first held To Kill A Mockingbird in seventh grade English class when my teacher placed her own copy in my hands, telling me I could borrow it, saying that she believed I was ready for it. I was. And wasn’t.
I had never felt so impacted by a story before. I didn’t know I could feel so many powerful emotions all at once. I adored Scout’s defiance against the social norms expected of a girl. I loved Cal’s hard but nurturing “mothering” after Jem & Jean Louise’s own mama left the world behind. I loved the quirk of little Dill Harris and the sweet southern charm of his auntie who took him in during those hot Alabama summertimes. I admired Atticus and his commitment to the marginalized, knowing full well his service to the defendant was socially unacceptable in their 1930s culture, especially in their region of the South. And don’t even get me started on Boo Radley. I cried for days after reading the last chapters, and the final words of the entire novel still bring large tears to my eyes, leaving me clasping that beloved book in one final hug after I close the cover.
“An’ they chased him ’n’ never could catch him ‘cause they didn’t know what he look like, an’ Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things… Atticus, he was real nice…”
His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Damn it. Here come the tears again.
Since seventh grade, I’ve read it at least seven times.
But the Ewell vs. Tom Robinson case? I was not ready for that. I had not been prepared for that.
Because I am white.
It shook me, left me with so many questions. The answers? Never found ’em. My history textbooks spoke of slavery as a thing of the past. It said racism was, too. I was delusional (and privileged) enough to believe them. I clapped with Rosa Parks as if we were in the same boat— or on the same bus, rather— not realizing that when it really came down to it, I was one of those who unintentionally opposed her. Unintentional or not, opposition is opposition. If I couldn’t even speak up to a bunch of punk@$$ white boys in a small town who made some racist jokes and used the n-word from time to time, what makes me think I would have had the courage to stand alongside Ms. Parks in my comfortable front row seat? I saw photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and felt upset reading about his assassination. But again, do I really think I wouldn’t have quietly taken the escape route of complacency had I been faced with the choice to live or be silenced?
“What’s interesting is that we all think that we would have been huge supports of MLK then because we are now. But that is because it is so much easier to love a dead civil rights activist than it is to love a live civil rights activist, because the dead civil rights activist is no longer a threat to our identity, is no longer a threat to our white privilege, is not longer a threat to status quo.”–Glennon Doyle: The Love Warrior, on Getting Untamed; Episode 3 of The Dissenters with Debra Messing and Mandana Dayani
Questioning things hurts sometimes, but questioning things often begins the most important work we will do. If I follow Jesus, the God-Man, the promised Messiah, the Joy of my life, the One who always stood up for what was right, even in a culture pushing back and conforming to what was easier and more popular– then what in the real hell makes me think silence could possibly be an option?!
The Unsilent Savior,
notorious for speaking boldly
battler of oppression,
making way for women
when all others
showing the religious
friend of the less-than’s,
tender and open-armed
loud with action,
powerful in His words,
Believe me, I love happy Jesus. I love funny Jesus. I love sweet Jesus. But do you know who else I love? Angry Jesus. If you want a picture of Angry Jesus, read Matthew 23. The entire chapter. He’s fighting against the system he was born into. He completely rips the religious Jewish culture apart, calls them out on their oppressive ways, confidently, boldly, no doubt with fire in His eyes like the beautiful, mystical description of Him in the book of Revelation.
Jesus isn’t passive. Loving? Yes. Forgiving? Obviously. But passive? Not a chance.
I am sick of silent Christianity. The kind that thoughts and prayerses the ____ out of Instagram/Facebook posts while not taking action aside from perhaps using a socially acceptable hashtag during the appropriate week.
I am tired of comfortable Christianity. The kind that preaches easy and leaves us thinking we’re doing enough simply by tithing a ten and leaving the rest to people “called” into action.
I roll my eyes at censored Christianity. The kind that tells us we’re ok as long as we only use Scripture verses— whether or not they are in context or culturally relevant— to speak the truth and as long as we’re sure to avoid using colorful language that ALL OF US ARE THINKING ANYWAYS. Tell me I’m wrong.
And I am physically ill by segregated Christianity. The kind that has “black churches” and very white churches and churches unwilling to take a REAL side on issues that matter. Yes, there are sides. You are either with or against… middle ground is dangerous territory. (Thank you CedarCreek church as well as my personal pastor friends across the globe. Your leadership is not afraid to dive into messy, uncomfortable issues and you never leave us questioning where you— where we— stand.)
But above all, I am embarrassed. I am saddened and angry and feeling all the feels that it is just now that I’m realizing the person I’m most truly sick and tired of…
I can do better. We can do better. We MUST do better.
Wondering how you can begin to take action? Here is a list of resources to get you started: