I’ve felt an urge to speak out about all that is erupting around the nation, but also want to be careful for a variety of reasons. I am a white woman, so I don’t feel like I have the right to speak for the experiences of Black people in America. I don’t really feel like what I have to say is all that profound or amazing, but there is some pressure to say something. I’m also aware that many of you reading this will disagree with me, and that’s fine too, I know that we all come from a variety of backgrounds and this is just my perspective and this is also kind of my point. I am a pastor, so as a person of faith, as a person who believes in a God of grace and love and that we are all created in God’s image, I probably should say something.
So my maiden name is Lindsay, and while I’m very proud of Scottish heritage, our family has actually been in the United States since before it was even a country, so in some ways it’s silly to be so proud of it. In my background I have several of the well known Virginia names, Byrd, Carlyle, Walton. My dad is interested in genealogy so he’s tracked all different branches of his side of the family tree throughout the southeast and across the ocean. When I was in middle school we had to do a project on our family tree/heritage, and I remember that I always sat next to a girl with the last name Lindsey. We were friends, but I had never been to her home or anything, but since we had a similar last name we always sat next to each other. I remember making a comment to her about how if only our last names were spelled the same we could do the same project, obviously we both came from Scotland originally. She said, “well actually my ancestors did spell their name Lindsay with an a, but it got changed along the way. However, my dad is black, so we can’t be related.” At the time I didn’t think much of it, though I still remember it now. There, of course, could be a chance we could be related even with her dad being black, but there’s also a big chance that someone in my family may have owned someone in her family a long time ago. Now from talking to my dad and looking at our genealogy, the Lindsay part of the family did not own slaves, they were abolitionists, which I can be proud of, but also know that that doesn’t let me off. My experience my family’s experience in the United States is vastly different than an African American’s whose family has been here for the same amount of time as ours. I write this knowing that I come from a white privilege, that I’m as guilty as anybody else, if not more so. That doesn’t mean we’ve haven’t had hard times over the years, but we have had a privilege in this country due to our skin color. White privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t have hard times, it simply means that your skin color doesn’t contribute to those hard times.
So all that to say, there is a systemic racism in this country that goes back centuries and still affects us today. It may be hard to see as a white person going about our daily lives, but from what I’m hearing, black people live it every day. When the story of Ahmaud Arbery came out, the man who was shot and killed while jogging by two white men who didn’t get charged until the video went viral two months later, the shock of that story to my system was all too familiar to many of our black brothers and sisters. When the story of Breonna Taylors, killed by police while she was sleeping in her home came out soon after, I was outraged, “how could this happen? How is this ok?” And many of our black brothers and sisters weren’t surprised. But then George Floyd, killed by a police officer, who held his knee on his neck for 8 long minutes, in broad daylight, in front of a crowd people and seemed to feel no remorse. George Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe, he cried out for his “mama,” the most human response to pain. The outrage from that was widespread, even worldwide, it seemed to shock even the unshakable. This was a week ago. The same day a story came out about a woman in Central Park calling the police on a black bird watcher for telling her to leash her dog. This week has been a long one. But George Floyd’s story is too familiar to many people in this country and that is the problem. People are outraged about his murder, even if they don’t know him personally, because it also points to a greater and wider problem that is so engrained in our system that we don’t even notice it most days.
So people went to the streets to protest, to demand better policies and to hold the police accountable. And we watched that most of last week, it was peaceful. I imagine most people wouldn’t have a problem with what most people said from a microphone or shouted while marching with signs. Then over the weekend it got violent. There were small groups of people who started to loot, to vandalize, some angry about George Floyd, some angry about their circumstances, some antsy because they’e been cooped up for 2 months, some opportunists, others who hate the police and jumped at this opportunity, and even worse, some who torched cars and started fires because they wanted to make the protesters look bad, or start a war against the police or whatever other reason they did it. These riots are what is making the news now, what’s forcing curfews, what’s dominating the conversations. “Can you believe about these riots?” Many people are saying, because that’s what is catching the attention, that’s what’s causing destruction. In some places we’ve seen an excessive use of force by police, dispersing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at peaceful protestors. Some places we see protesters and rioters attacking police, vandalizing buildings breaking glass. But we also see protesters stopping rioters, trying to make sure people follow the law. We also see police kneeling before the protesters, which almost always calms down the crowd.
In fact, I’m glad I waited to finish this post until today because we saw hope last night in our own city of Fayetteville. Just before curfew as the protesters were gathered, a line of police all took a knee, showing the protesters that they heard them and wanted to do better. That’s what it really takes. A moment to listen, a moment to strive to do better, whether you’re a police officer, a citizen, white or black, we all need to strive to do better. To hear our neighbors and acknowledge them as human beings children of God.
We live in a broken system, and it is not anything new. It is not going to be easy to change but we can do simple things to help it. Becky Walker went to Fayetteville on Sunday morning and saw and participated in one way to help change it, cleaning up the mess, giving messages of hope and love and grace. From what I understand, many of the small business owners whose places were vandalized wanted to show that they shared the message of the protesters, that their businesses can be fixed, but the system is more important to fix. That responding to destruction with love was way more effective than hate. They emphasized that lives matter more than property.
So we can be helpers, by cleaning up the mess and by listening to our brothers and sisters. By showing the love and grace that God gives us. We can be helpers by teaching our children that love and grace, that all people are created by God and children of God. We can be helpers by recognizing that everybody has a story, we just need to hear it to understand them. We can be helpers by knowing that love comes first above all else. We can reach out to people we know in places of power, that can do something about it on a systemic level. One step at a time.
Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC has undertaken a 21 day challenge to learn more about equity, this began on Pentecost Sunday and was prepared before George Floyd was killed and the nation erupted. Their website says that this challenge was put together by their adult education team, “In doing so you will be exposed to voices and perspectives different than your own through articles, videos, and podcasts. Each day you will choose one way of engagement and reflect in a journal.” This challenge is called “better when we’re back together.” I think we become better by hearing more than one perspective. We may not always agree, but that’s ok too, it makes us better. Some of these resources may make you angry, others may make you think, others may just confirm beliefs you already have. I encourage you to try reading and watching some of the resources they mention, maybe even join the challenge yourself.
Again, I am aware that some of you disagree with my assessment of what is happening in the world, and that is ok, your experience has taught you something different than mine has taught me. I’d love to hear your opinion, but I hope that you will be kind, and approach all of this with grace. Remember that we worship a God who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and strive to love our neighbors the best we can.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Meg Lindsay Dudley