My Encounter with a Black Teenager

posted in: Current issues | 0

He approached me dressed in a patterned white t-shirt, a pair of shorts I’d never pay the money for and a pair of Nike tennis shoes that, unlike mine, probably have no holes worn in the lining where the heel rubs.

I had an incident with a black teenager this morning at exactly 6:53 am while on my morning walk in my overwhelmingly white suburban neighborhood located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

We drew closer, and then it happened. The young man crossed the street. He literally crossed the street to avoid me. He then nervously fumbled for the phone in his pocket, diverting his eyes. The entire scenario was extremely awkward. It was obvious he was uncertain about where this encounter might head next. 

I startled him with a cheery, “Good mornin’!” but I’ve never felt so ashamed that the color of my skin so clearly intimidated this teen because of the color of his.

This week, for the first time in my life, I have wanted to smash every plate glass window I can find. I have wanted to set something on fire and burn it down, like maybe an entire city block. Maybe a whole city. Maybe a bunch of police cars. This week’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis screams for some violent, outward expression of the rage I feel inside.C

In the past, I have been hypercritical of the black community when they’ve smashed up everything in the wake of one of the many George Floyd incidents that have happened across our country, but this week I get it. I feel it. My anger has only been brewing for a few days, I can’t imagine what it would be like after a couple of centuries.

Yes, I know it is categorically wrong to smash windows, burn down city blocks and destroy property. It’s criminal, and it should be prosecuted as such. One wrong never justifies another. However, it has struck me these two days how many whites, many of them Christians, have expressed more outrage over the vandalism of property by blacks than they did over the murder of George Floyd that initiated it.

There is no justification for the explosive behavior in Minneapolis or anywhere else, but whites need to make a concerted effort to feel the frustration of blacks and fully immerse our imaginations in what it would be like to be black and experience constant profiling, harassment, suspicion, fear and excessive violence by police officers in situations where there is no imminent danger to officers, and often where no crime has been committed.

We need to feel what it might be like to be a black delivery driver trapped by whites with no escape route and fearful of what might happen next, or what it is like to have the police called on you for asking a white woman to leash her dog in an area of a park where dogs are required to be leashed.

We need to put ourselves in the Nike’s of a black teenager out for a morning walk in his predominantly white neighborhood and wondering if the big white guy walking toward him is going to question why he’s there, or call 911 and detain him by placing his knee on the back of his neck until police arrive.

We need to feel the frustration of a system that promises justice but often hasn’t delivered. Maybe then we as whites will better understand the explosive communal response of blacks born of frustration that happens when another member of their community is unjustly murdered.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s words are a prophetic commentary for contemporary society. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy…In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

If we want to see change, each of us must work to break the cycle of racism and hatred in our culture and take ownership of OUR part. But let’s understand the true enemy. Racism in any form by any race is ultimately sin. Racism is born from a perverse pride deeply rooted in the human heart, and no man-made program will eradicate such a pervasive evil.

The only cure for what ails us is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians should be so outraged at injustice in all areas of this world that it drives us not to smash windows, but to our knees in prayer for peace and justice, then working toward it for all people regardless of race or economic status. Then our outrage should drive us to our decaying culture to share the life-changing love of Jesus Christ that was extended to sinners like you and me. We need racial reconciliation that is the result of gospel reconciliation.

First, let our outrage drive us to God, asking Him to expose the latent, subconscious prejudice in our own hearts that influence our words and actions. The next step is to seek a better understanding of the challenges blacks and other minorities face in our culture. The final step is to respond in love and do our part to make our society one that truly delivers life, liberty, and justice for all.

And when we’ve done the hard work, then maybe, just maybe we will have a society where a black teenager can walk my neighborhood and yours and feel like it is his neighborhood too.

Other Entries related to the Racism/George Floyd Murder

America’s Front Row Seat to Murder

No Room For Racism in the Christian Heart

Confessions of a White Boy on MLK Jr. Day

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