Monday, June 15, 2020

A Posture of Listening

Last night, I attended a Black Lives Matter protest in my little township. Where I live is a majority white area, and there was some negative and fearful feedback to it from some community members leading up to it. Many have digested only the images of rioting and looting and rejected the rest, which only adds to the overall racist stereotypes causing people to miss the message of the movement.

As worried as I was becoming about the possible backlash, it also reinforced in me that I needed to go. As I wrote in my journal last night afterward, being a white ally involves showing up for the people who are most at risk.

There was marching. There was chanting and singing. There was prayer. There were many cars honking in support. A few speakers shared their experience of what it's like to be black in America. And we observed 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, during which one of the organizers read George Floyd's last words.

I was there as an ally, and also as an observer. My posture as I understand it in this movement is to be one of listening, and of helping to center those who need to be centered.

Back during the height of the protests in Ferguson, I wrote:

As a white male, one of the options available to me is that I can try to ignore these cases. From my place of privilege, maybe I could express offense at how uncouth the protesters are acting, or clutch my pearls at the news that Brown might have been high at the time of his death, or try to justify his being shot a half dozen times because he might have stolen some cigars. 

Or I could listen. Not take in a few token soundbites from protesters, not encourage residents to calm down and be nice first. I mean listen and really hear, and brace myself for how uncomfortable I in my position will be made to feel. 

I could really listen to a story that spans back decades and centuries and across states and continents of a people who have never truly experienced safety, freedom, and opportunity in the same way that I have. I could really listen to a story that includes righteous anger and broken trust. And I would have to realize beforehand that it's not my story and it's not my place to try to take it away from the storyteller, or at least try to get them to soften the edges to make me feel better.

As I continue to figure out how best to be an ally to the black people I know and love, I find that the best default is to listen. This isn't about me; this isn't primarily about white people's comfort. It's about showing up for the people who are most at risk, and listening to how best we can help.