Friday, June 19, 2015

Colorado Response to Charleston Shooting - #OnlyLoveCanDoThat

"You cannot banish hate with hate - only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The tragedy at the AME Church in Charleston was another in a long line of senseless gun violence and racial hatred in this country. There will be much soul searching as society responds and reacts to the situation. And, of course, any time a politician acts in response to such issues, the action is in some ways politically motivated. But, that shouldn't diminish the positive response and reporting of Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston's "letter of love and support for the AME Church in Denver."

Johnston "felt compelled to get out of bed in the middle of the night" and tape a note to the door of the chuch. After doing so, Johnston posted an image of the note on his Facebook page and urged white America to “ ... blanket these churches with such overwhelming expressions of love that no one could walk through the doors of an AME church without feeling a flood of love and support from white men whose names they don’t know, whose faces they can’t place, but whose love they can’t ignore.”  He also noted his understanding of white privilege and never having to be "an ambassador for his race" or answer questions to justify actions other than his own based simply on the color of his skin.

Johnston's actions can certainly be seen in a political way, but it's nice to know that he did something. He reacted in a meaningful way, which is far more than many leaders who wring their hands and consult their advisors and wonder what the right thing to do is. This tragedy, like so many, demands that we reflect and question and search. And hopefully some of us will gain new perspective and personal growth from this public loss.

As a white man I have never been called on to be an ambassador for my race. I was never the only person who looked like me in a college seminar when the room uncomfortably waited for me to speak up on behalf of my people, I have never been the one at the cocktail party confused for “the help.” And when America met Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kascinzki or Dylan Klebold I never for a minute worried that their illness said something about me.

Tonight is different. When a white man walks into a church full of black folks deep in prayer at one of the nations historic AME churches and begins shooting, it has the catastrophic power to reignite a racial stereotype centuries in the healing: the seared image of white man as racial predator. I imagine that if I drove through the parking lot of any AME church tomorrow morning I would inspire the locking of car doors, holding your children a little tighter, faces paralyzed with fear, and for good reason. 

That was why I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. The history is too long and the hurt is too raw.

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