Ferguson: From a white, educated, middle class woman’s perspective

I have debated if I should write this post or not. I am sure some people will agree, some will think I am a nut case. Do I even have a right to have a perspective on this? As a human, I believe I do, because I believe this is a human issue. Is race a part of it, yes. Guess, what people of different races are still human. We must work together to find a solution. Do I know what the solution is? No, but I wish I did. There are few things that I would like to address, and please, if you have a different perspective, share it (although if there is any name calling or hatred, I will not allow it to be posted as that does not serve a purpose in my opinion) as I would like to learn from various perspectives. To further frame my perspective, I was out of the country in August when this all happened and was hearing about it very distantly. I do not know all of the details, and I likely never will. I have a doctorate (which doesn’t mean I have street smarts, but I do understand a lot about human nature) so I am educated. I am western European white (extra white as I am often referred to, as the only color I have is freckles and blushing). I am from a middle class family, raised in the country, and went to private schools. Most of my friends are white as I live in a very monochromatic area of the country, although I do have many friends of many skin tones and nationalities. I love to learn from them, even if I don’t understand all of the nuances of their life experience. So, that is my background.

Further, I recently took part in an online seminar of the root causes of poverty, which I believe is a large portion of this situation in Ferguson. Why is it about poverty? It is about poverty because the root of poverty is broken relationships. Fractured relationships of people to four areas: God (note: If you missed my blog title, I am a Christian, too), self, others, and creation. When a study was done (sorry I do not have the source on hand) and people around the world were asked, “What is poverty?” the response from middle class was a resounding “a lack of material things.” The response from the poorest of the poor was more along the lines of “helplessness”, “hopelessness”, “lack of security”, and “humiliation.” The definition of poor, had very little to do with not having things, it was not having a way out. Material poverty is a symptom of the fractures relationships. I will touch on each area a little bit.

POVERTY OF BEING

This is a broken relationship with your self. People are broken, we have depression, self-doubt, and anger issues – this is not only people of one skin color, this is part of humanity. The interesting part of this is that in most cases we are not born broken, we learn it. We must learn to accept each other and ourselves. The situations we live in often prevent that from happening. When we are sick – in mind or spirit – we cannot care for or accept ourselves fully. If we do not have self-respect we cannot have respect for others. There is also another kind of poverty of self in which people hide their inner self. They live a lie, often so well that they begin to believe it.

POVERTY OF STEWARDSHIP

This is a broken relationship with creation. We live in the world. When the world is damaged, we are damaged. Without clean air and water we are not healthy. One of the first ways (by no means the only way) to help alleviate poverty in much of the world is to provide a sustainable clean water source. By provide, I mean assisting a local team in water locating, well building, and well maintenance so that they can then help their neighbors.

POVERTY OF SPIRITUAL INTIMACY

This is a broken relationship with God. I believe that a relationship with something greater than yourself is a benefit. Would I like for everyone to agree with me? Yes, but I know that is not going to happen. Because I do not want this to turn into a spiritual debate, I am not going to focus on this today. I will note that it was with the arrival of religious leaders that things began to settle down in August.

POVERTY OF COMMUNITY

This is broken relationships with others. This includes friends, family, enemies, and strangers. This includes communities, governments, educational systems, and so much more. This is the area that I would like to focus on for the discussion of Ferguson.

The situation starts with Michael Brown, a black eighteen year old (note that depending on the source, he is either called a man or a teenager – in our American society it could go either way) that comes from a community with a history of brokenness. My understanding of the events are that he was an individual preparing to go to college, hoping to improve upon his life, but was shot while walking to his grandmother’s house. When confronted by, Darren Wilson, a white police officer an altercation took place and the black man was shot. A portion of the report indicates that Wilson received a head injury during the altercation prior to the shots being fired.

There are already at least two areas to look at here. Both perspectives, I believe are valid. Brown lived in a world that the police were not considered your helpful neighborhood friend. He lived in a world were the police were often feared. Wilson lives in a world, along with other law enforcement officers, in which you put your life on the line to protect others. Have we seen corruption in law enforcement? Yes. Specifically against people of a different ethnicity? Yes, but that does not mean that all law enforcement officers are bad. Have we seen black individuals involved in violence? Yes. Specifically, against police officers? Yes, but that does not mean that all black individuals are bad. Yes, both come from a perspective that they had been conditioned to fear for their lives.

Once he had died, there was no bringing Brown back. The decision was made not to name Wilson initially due to concerns that he and/or his family would be targeted. In all honesty, I believe that this was the correct thing to do initially as tempers and emotions ran high.

Protests began peaceably the night after the shooting, but then turned to violence. I do not know what switch was flipped in the minds of the protestors or if it was just a group of people who used the shooting of Michael Brown as convenient excuse to loot and vandalize. This is not something that only happens after a shooting, mob violence happens many times when a large crowd gathers and emotions run high. This happens when there is not respect for people and business in that area. Was it local people who looted and vandalized? Was it people who came in to cause trouble? I do not know. I do know that when things escalate, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to de-escalate the situation. Sometimes that does not go as predicted. I also know that the entire situation encouraged the perceptions already held by some that “black people are violent” and that “police hate blacks.”

Yesterday, November 24, 2014, a grand jury made the decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Despite the request of Michael Browns family to respect his memory with peaceful protests, the crowd turned violent again. Looting, vandalizing, burning the very stores and businesses that provide employment, services, and goods to the community. The police once again responded with tear gas and riot gear.

The quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. that I saw a lot of today was, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” (Interview with Mike Wallace in 1966) Dr. King did not condone rioting or violence, but he did recognize the cause. In this case, I do not know that the voices were unheard. Sometimes, the answer to those voices is no. Is it the right answer? Not necessarily, but I was not on that Grand Jury. I did not have access to every document and every testimony. Do I think that it is fair or just that Michael Brown was killed? No, I do not. Do I think that Darren Wilson will ever be the same person that he was before the night of August 9, 2014? No, I do not.

To me it appears that the unheard voice was the voice of the family requesting peace. Their son’s name will now forever be linked to violence, not just in the act of his death, but also in the actions done in his name. This is incredible sad to me.

So, where does this leave us? I know I am still confused. I am confused as to why Michael Brown was shot. I am confused as to why his shooter is not being held accountable. I am confused as to why some people think that looting and burning helps. The root, as mentioned above, is brokenness, but I am lost on how to fix it.

I don’t know if these ideas will fix things, but I at least do not think they will hurt.

1. Involvement – People have to get involved in their communities. People have to get involved in their children’s lives. if you don’t have children (or even if you do), get involved in the lives of families that need help with  their children.

2. Education – Stop cutting education spending at federal, state, and local levels. If you don’t want increased spending and want the spending cut, then I expect you to be in that school volunteering your time to help out in overcrowded and understaffed schools. When students do not have the support at home that need (someone to help with homework, someone to listen to their problems or concerns, someone to make sure that they are safe and not involved in drugs, alcohol, and gangs), would it be great if parents did this? Yes, that would be best, but it isn’t happening. We can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that children don’t have what they need and expect things to change.

3. More education – This time education of the history of specific areas and relationships with in those locations – in Ferguson, we are talking about race relations. In other areas it is religious relationships. In many places it is a combination of many relationships and they are intertwined, but you can’t understand it if you don’t try to understand it.

When a doctor fixes a broken bone, you have to know where and what type of fracture it is (there are many types), you have to find a way to put the broken pieces into as close of alignment as possible, find a way to keep the bones in position, and then you have to stabilize the joints above and below the break. It is not easy. It takes time. It takes skill. And even after all of that work, the person that has that limb attached to them still has to take care of it so it can heal. A thick callous forms over time. There is always evidence of that break, but the limb can return to function. I believe that as a society, we can do this.

3. Love – Love your neighbor and yourself. When you truly love and respect them, you want to help them. You build them up rather than bring them down. Start with one small act a day, turn that act into a habit. Add another act, turn that into a habit. Hold the door open for someone, not just the elderly person or the adult with more children than hands attached to them, but for the healthy appearing adult or teenager.

4. Talk – Talk to people and truly listen to them. Learn their story. You may find that you have more in common with someone than you ever thought. If this is hard for you, start in your neighborhood or with a coworker. Go to a community or volunteer organization. Find someone in a different social, economic, and/or cultural background. You can each learn from each other, it is pretty cool.

5. Don’t jump to conclusions! – Yes, you will have a gut reaction to something that happens, that is normal. Temper your response though until you have more details, remembering that you may never have all of them. Try to see the perspectives of others. Remember that no one is perfect.

6. Offer grace and forgiveness  – Forgiveness is generally not for the person you are giving it to. It is for yourself. When you hold onto anger, it poisons you. It does not affect the person you are withholding it from. This is not to say that you forget the action or situation, learn from it, but as Elsa says, “Let it go.” If you can’t let it go, then allow it to be the instigator for change. Good things can come from pain if we take the energy that we put into anger and sorrow into constructive actions, you can have constructive reactions. Just look at Amber Alerts and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children – they did not come about from good things happening.

I am sure there are many more things that can be done, but let’s focus on repairing relationships.

 

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