Month: November 2014

Protest and Privilege

Last night, we sat in front of the television and watched the announcement of the Grand Jury decision from Ferguson, Missouri. From the time the broadcast started, there was a split screen, one camera on the crowd and another on the DA who was reading the lengthy statement. For a while, we watched the people straining to hear what he was saying on their radios and phones. Then, when he got to the point and announced that the Grand Jury had voted not to indict the white policeman who shot Michael Brown, we watched the people process the information, at first in stunned silence. Then the protests started. Even as I write that, just like the camera crews, I realize was expecting them to begin almost on cue. We were waiting. So, I watched them start up, then heat up, and Sarah tracked them all over the country on Twitter.
Then, at around 11:00, we called it a night.
That, friends, is one example of what is known as White Privilege. I had built my evening tv viewing around the press conference and coverage of the “event.” After about the second round of teargas had been shot into the crowd in Ferguson, Sarah looked up from the string of protests starting in every major U.S. city and said, “I think I’m just going to sit here in my white privilege.” I, caught up in the unfolding story, asked her what she meant. “I don’t HAVE a riot outside MY door.” I can be thick as mud sometimes.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Ferguson is the 21st Century version of “Selma,” a cry for justice that in one word captures the collective voices of the disenfranchised. And last night, for me it was there for my viewing pleasure. A few weeks ago, Pastor Kim preached a sermon about it; I shook my head, wrung my hands, and felt sufficiently bad, but not bad enough to stay for the continued Sunday School discussion the following week. That’s part of my white privilege too: I can join up with a church committed to social justice and have the audacity to think that I’m “covered” just by signing the roll. When really, PUCC is a place for me to re-charge and build up my strength to go, to do, to live justice.  Thing is, I don’t really know specifics on how to do that, or maybe I do deep down, but the White Privilege is that little voice inside me that tells me that I don’t—or that it activism can be terribly inconvenient.
I’ll tell you what I couldn’t look at last night, still couldn’t look at this morning when I was seeing all the posts on Facebook. I couldn’t look at the pictures of Michael Brown’s family in what I understand as pain at hearing the verdict. I do not get to share in that pain, don’t get to try to empathize and feel it. I don’t get to feel it because my White Privilege means I can conveniently shut the feelings off whenever I want to. And not just feelings—if I wanted to, at least until the awakening of the Just God, I could live my life for the most part without ever encountering injustice based on my race. I have for half a century, after all. In all likelihood, my son will not be shot by a policeman when he wears his hoodie or has his hands in his pockets. And if that ever happened, I would not be expected to be a stately presence on tv who represents all White mothers everywhere. So, to me, I don’t get to look upon my Black sisters’ and brothers’ anguish now, although, to me, I MUST hear what they are saying. It sounds to me a lot like what Jefferson said 200 years ago. Tremble, country, for God is just.
I’ll end by sharing link to a blog post entitled, “12 Things That White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson.” Ferguson is now, like Selma was in the 60s, a complicated and contested issue. But if “doing” is what is needed, and I believe it is, then here is a “do-able” way to start. The link is
http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/. Anti-racist activist Tim Wise (see www.TimWise.org) points out that racism hurts everyone, and that until White people understand that, we will not really become invested in living for a world that is just for everyone. This is a hard knowledge, not a warm fuzzy one. But in the end of this church year, where we have fallen short of the promise of peace on earth, good will toward all people, it is a realization we might—no, must—seek.

Finding Free: The Atlanta Freedom Bands and Coming Full Circle

When I was in fifth grade at Littleville Elementary School, something magical happened. One day, our teacher announced that the band teacher from the nearby high school would be coming to Littleville to talk to kids and their parents about joining the band. It was 1973, and resources for extra-curricular activities–heck, resources for curricular activities–were limited. I remember in previous years, our musical exposure at school had been the on the rare occasions when our teachers had brought out a box with mostly percussion instruments and let us play with them, mostly trying to keep time while a record was playing. This was different. This was band. I could hardly wait for the meeting. When the evening came, the band director, Mr. Wright, brought a variety of instruments so that we could try them out and, with his advise make our selection. I realize looking back that, of course, he wanted a well rounded group of instruments, which is probably why I became a flute player. From that point on, I was in love.

I went to high school in a football town, and a football town doesn’t scrimp on its band. We were the Marching 100. I remember the day I was issued my uniform. I remember band camp and big, chartered band buses, chocolate sales and Homecoming parades. I can still remember how to play The Horse–if you have ever marched, you know The Horse. I remember our signature parade song–a marching mix of China Grove and Smoke on the Water. I still remember–and feel–lining up on the sideline for the halftime show, and I can feel again what it felt like then standing on the field, horn up, knees slightly bent, leaning back to hold the last note until the crowd stood and cheered. And they did. Every time.

I quit the band just before my senior year for a very, very bad reason. It’s a story for another time, because this one is about joy. But I must say–for the rest of it to make sense–that over the next thirty years I had recurring dreams about being back. Sometimes, they would let me join them again for just one performance. Sometimes, in my dream, it was entirely acceptable for an alum to join up years later. Whatever the scenario, I slept happy. Then woke. It was not unlike dreaming of someone who has passed then waking to sadness when you realize it was only a dream.

So  when I say how happy I am to find the Atlanta Freedom Bands and to sign up to march with them, you get some idea of how much it means to me. I’ll write more about it later no doubt, but this post was prompted by a conversation I had with my new band friend Mitchell. He  mentioned that during the recruitment drive at Pride this year, one new member was telling him that finding the AFB was like coming home again–a feeling not unlike ones I have been having. I bet I’m not the only one, either, or that new fellow. I bet a lot of band members feel like this is both a musical and community home. I bet a lot of us thought we might not ever have that kind of home again. Of course it’s also a helluva fun group that throws a mean party. Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I know the “Freedom” in Atlanta Freedom Bands has rich, multiple meanings, but certainly for me–and I bet for others–it is a home place that sets me free. I am awfully glad they have taken me in.
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