I am angry. How can we not be right now? How many more times must we watch a person being murdered because of the color of their skin? How much longer must we endure being told, “It’s getting better”?
Just exactly how long is this arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice? When do we get to the end?
Michelle Obama has it exactly right when she cries that she is “exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop.” And she also has it right when she says, “If we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it.”
Tempting as it is to stew in our anger, to stop from exhaustion, to give up the struggle, WE. CANNOT. STOP. We have work to do. And now by “we,” I mean everyone. Every single American. Police or citizen, of color or white.
For police and law enforcement: surely after the most recent killings by police of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, you must realize that actions taken so far are not enough. You really have a lot of work to do. Conflict de-escalation training and racial sensitivity workshops are good and necessary.
But the problems run so much deeper. The whole culture of law enforcement in this country must change. Start at the beginning: don’t hire racists in the first place. Stop giving rogue cops second and third and fourth chances. Don’t let police unions be run by racists. Put more black officers in positions of power.
For white people: thank you to those who are allies and to those who join us in our struggle. But white people have so much more work to do. Where to begin? The privilege of being white in our country is still not acknowledged enough.
The privilege of being able to group all blacks together while compartmentalizing the bad actions of whites. The privilege of being able to march into a state capitol with assault rifles and rocket launchers on your shoulders and having the president thank you. The privilege of being able to walk into a store without suspicion. The privilege of not having to worry about walking through a neighborhood, jogging down the street, picnicking in the park, or even just sleeping in your own bed without being gunned down.
The privilege of being able to rely on the police for protection and not for harassment and worse. The privilege of not having to pray that a camera was rolling to prove that we were doing nothing wrong. Do I need to go on?
“Right now, it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on,” Michelle Obama said.
“But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us — black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own and ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.”
Suffice to say, black people are not truly full and equal citizens in America. And in some cases, the progress of the last 60 years is being reversed. We are tired and we are angry that we must still work to even have that acknowledged.
Which leads me to black people, who have the hardest work of all ahead of us. Because we are the ones who must continue to fight for our rights and for true equality, in the face of government indifference and all too often societal opposition, and even while watching men, women, and children being murdered simply for being black. But continue the fight we must.
There is a saying in the Jewish texts: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I would have hoped that after all these generations, our work would in fact have been completed. But it is not, and so we must not desist. We have work to do.
I conclude as Michelle Obama concludes: “I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.”
Pastor B.T. Rice is pastor of New Horizon Seventh Day Christian Church.