My White Privilege and Ferguson

In Social Justice by Jonathan Williams

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I believe that Ferguson, Missouri does not want my sympathy. I believe that Ferguson does not want my outrage. Ferguson couldn’t care less if I shake my head at the photos of that small American town turned into a war zone. Ferguson does not need a barrage of twitter posts expressing my stream of consciousness. Ferguson does not care if it’s the next Breaking News Story. They don’t want to become the subject of debate. They want something other than the murder of Michael Brown and the actions of Darren Wilson to define them.

Because Ferguson, MO comes to us as the newest Sanford,FL, which was the newest Pasadena, CA, which was the newest Brooklyn, NY, which was the newest case of an unarmed black man being shot by those who are paid to protect and serve. My sympathy and outrage for Ferguson changes little about this much bigger problem of systematic racism and prejudice in our world. A quick search will show you the story of oppression that goes way beyond Ferguson. It’s a story of legal oppression. It’s a story of educational discrepancies. It’s a story of economic disparity.

Long after Ferguson leaves our collective thoughts we may still have learned nothing. We’ll wait for the next town, the next unarmed man, the next protest, the next newsflash, and I’ll have to shake my head again and express to my church the disdain I have for injustice. Maybe in the future I’ll have an important fifteen-minute conversation about this injustice, but likely I’ll ignore it and go to brunch.

Unless I do something about it. Unless we do something about it.

What will I do? What will we do?

I will tell the story of my own pain right along with the story that exposes my inherent bias.

I have prejudices. They’re subtle, but they’re there. If I stop watching, I can miss it: the vast majority of my friends look and act like me. Sometimes I forget that I was born on 3rd base.

My actions speak to my inherent biases. I hit someone’s side view mirror with my car. I pulled over scared of what was next. When two minorities exited the car, I felt relief. When I realized they spoke English as their second language, I knew I had the upper hand.

I watched a young black man hail a cab and then watched as it ignored him and stopped in front of me to take me to my destination. I did nothing to stop this. Sadly, these aren’t my only stories of shortsightedness.

This is my story. I’m a white man with white privilege. What are you? What’s your story? Are you willing to acknowledge your story?

Not only will I tell my story, I will listen to the stories of others.

Prejudice happens when we ignore someone with experiences foreign to us. When we close our ears, we say that we don’t value people as children of God. They’re aliens, nothing more. My good friend Chris Travis says this about the lost art of listening:

Recovering the lost art of listening could transform our society. Imagine, as an example, how American politics might change if we were as good at listening as we are at making ourselves heard. It feels so good to be listened to that we’re all constantly trying to make it happen for ourselves, and therefore seldom experiencing the real thing.
 Listening cures narcissism in us. When you truly listen to someone, you implicitly say, “What you have to say is more important than what I have to say.”

Our ability to listen to the stories of others will implicitly say, “Your experiences matter more than my experiences.” Whose story will you hear? What new perspective will you gain?

I will pray for the courage to tell the story of diversity.

I want to grow into a place for honesty, a place for racial reconciliation, a place where I am willing to ask hard questions. As the Pastor Jonathan Brooks says in his excellent piece,

(some) “will never be able to truly understand what it is like to live as a minority in America but you will get a small microcosm of the feeling when you become the only person in the house challenging everyone’s misconceptions about prejudice and discrimination. You become the strange one who always brings up race conversations whenever you’re around, you’ll be the weirdo who turns off the news when you see racist propaganda perpetuated about low income communities, you’ll be the one to introduce everyone to the various literature, art, politics and life lessons that informed you. Get in their face and don’t let them ignore the truth!”

What will you do? How will you open up this conversation about diversity? How will you bring racial reconciliation?

I believe that Ferguson, Missouri does not want our sympathy. Ferguson does not want our outrage. I believe that Ferguson wants us to share our stories. I believe that our country wants us to share our stories, and to begin the long process of restoring peace to God’s people. It’s asking us to bare our souls, recognize our limitations and biases, so that God can get in and start something new.

Go across the street. Go listen to the stories of your neighbors. Change your perspective. Be vulnerable. Share your story. Listen to theirs. Begin the process of bringing peace to God’s Kingdom.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Trevor Cummings

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Jonathan Williams

Jonathan Williams

After teaching 5th grade in West Philadelphia for 7 years, Jonathan took the logical next step and decided to start a church. Jonathan and his wife, Jubi, moved with their two young daughters to New York City where in 2011 they started Forefront Church in Brooklyn, New York. Jonathan is currently the senior pastor of Forefront NYC, where he oversees Forefront Brooklyn church as well as Forefront's sister location in Manhattan. Jonathan and his family reside in Brooklyn where they spend much of their time rooting for the New York Mets, chasing pigeons, and feigning knowledge of Indie bands known only to those who live in New York.
Jonathan Williams

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