Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dear Longview: You're Not Colorblind. Please Stop Acting Like You Are.

This morning, a police officer shot and killed an African-American man at a gas station in Kelso, the town directly adjoining Longview, where my parish is. Details are still emerging, but it appears the man attacked the officer with a walking stick after similarly attacking the gas station attendants, at which point the officer shot and killed the man.

This post isn't about whether or not shooting the man was justified. So few details are known that any attempt to weigh that decision would, on my part, be a rush to judgment. For instance, I have no way of knowing yet what, if any, bodycam or CCTV footage of the attack might exist, or of any other witnesses who may come forward. So we don't know yet exactly what happened.

No, this post is about the immediate reaction from the Longview-Kelso community, which was galling to say the least. Here is a sampling of comments from Facebook, unedited by me in any way (names redacted to protect the privacy of the not-so-innocent):

good emphasis on the persons color... really Lauren??? SMH 

There was NO REASON to state the skin color of the man shot !!! Bad taste on your part Lauren Bkronebush !!!!

Way to go TDN. Play into the mainstream media that everything is race driven. Hopefully the BLM stays out of the area.

Did you HAVE to say black man? Let's get real!

Apparently it's mandatory to state skin color and play into the race baiting. If it had been a white guy I'll bet his race would not have even been mentioned, but since he was black, it's the first thing the article states

Shot and killed a "black man" way to go TDN. If it had been a white man would you have reported that? I doubt it. It's ok everyone knows TDN blows dick and will do whatever possible to sell garbage.

Maybe this just goes to show: never read the comments section. But this is my community, which I love and have invested myself wholly in, so I did.

And man, it's depressing. First, despite all the #BlueLivesMatter talk, I didn't see a single comment (initally, at least--as more comments roll in, that's changing) expressing even a jot of concern for the condition of the officer, who had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. I mean, if we're people first, as other comments suggest, then lets act like people and actually be concerned for someone who was physically attacked to the point of hospitalization instead of screaming at a newspaper in an effort to defend our inability to understand race.

I'm not sure we can, though, or will, because these comments are among the ones with the most likes on the Facebook page linking the story, too. I'm sure there will be letters to the editor as well reflecting this sentiment. So do we really care about #BlueLivesMatter, or do we simply care about erasing blackness?

Because that would be a sentiment that is unnervingly unaware of our context. Longview as a town has next to no racial diversity to begin with--Cowlitz County, according to 2015 US census data, is 0.9% African-American, 2.0% Native American, 8.6% Hispanic or Latino/a, and 2.1% Asian-American, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. We're nearly 89% white.

That matters. That high level of homogeneity leads to racism even when we claim to be colorblind. A few weeks ago in a Sunday sermon, I conveyed how I had been mistakenly (and not in a good way) taken for an Arab Muslim. The same newspaper being slammed in the comments section has also printed multiple racist letters to the editor from various citizens. I've heard racial slurs and jokes used in casual conversation multiple times. So has my wife, to the point that we won't patronize certain businesses in town because after living here for five years (me) and two years (Carrie), we now know that they are run by racists.

Ironically, I would imagine that many of the same people who are making these comments now, or have written those letters, or have made those jokes and comments, are similarly opposed to "political correctness" as an awful bit of pandering to special little snowflakes who get offended over how race is discussed in America today.

Except that's exactly what you're doing now. You're getting offended over how race is being discussed--by a news reporter, in this case--and are demanding to be pandered to as a result of your sensitive sensibilities being so grievously offended.

So stop saying you're colorblind, or that color doesn't matter. Color absolutely matters. Maybe you think it doesn't because you don't have any friends of color, but if that's the case, ask yourself why that is.

Please ask yourselves why you are so content living in a social world you have made for yourself that is so uniform.

Please ask yourselves why you so desperately want a news reporter to censor a salient detail from a breaking, tragic story when the point of the news is to, well, report those salient details.

Please ask yourselves why a serial liar and adulterer with no relevant experience managed to earn the presidential nomination of a major party largely by appealing to racism, jingoism, and nativism.

Please ask yourselves why it is an immutable statistical reality that people of color are in fact more likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement, are more likely to be sentenced to death in the legal system, and are more likely to be sentenced to life in prison under three-strikes laws than whites.

And finally, please ask yourselves just how outraged you would be if it was your family, and your friends, facing down that sort of deadly statistical reality of your very existence. Please ask yourselves how much you would be willing to move heaven and earth to express that outrage, and how much pain it might cause to see others demand that your identity be erased from news stories like this one.

None of that says you are colorblind. Quite the contrary. So please stop acting like you are. Please show some empathy for your brothers and sisters of color. Say a prayer for them, reach out to them, do something proactive and constructive.And if you don't have any brothers and sisters of color...maybe try to purposely work on changing that in a positive way.

I offer all that advice as a pastor who has been embedded in this community for five years and, despite my criticism here, this is a community I still love and treasure. I want to see it, and us, do better than the comments I am reading and shaking at now.

So let's do better, then. Together.

Thanks for reading.

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