Student calls for new normal after fatal police shooting in Charlotte
“What does God mean when a police officer whacks you over the head because you are black?” I got chills as I read James Cone’s words for my theology class. Did he really write those words back in the 1970’s? How is this still happening?
Charlotte was a scary place these past few weeks. But for many of my black friends, it’s often been a scary place. I’m learning that racism isn’t just the way I feel about a person – it’s black people struggling in a white America – a white America that makes me feel safe. Cone describes America in stark terms: as “a nation demonically deceived about what is good, true, and beautiful. The oppression in this country is sufficiently camouflaged to allow many Americans to believe that things are really not too bad.”
My theological education is meant to open my eyes and wake me up! It is meant to shake me to the core – to disturb me. I must confront the ugliness of my racism as painful as that may be. When I began teaching first grade in Charlotte I’d check the list of my prospective students – looking for race and gender – hoping for a smaller number of black boys. Before I even knew the child, I had assumed things about them.
I must listen to black voices – listen to their fears and anger. My friend Barbara, who is black, was reading her bible outside of a police station for a theology class assignment. She shared how nervous she felt and scared that someone would come out and question her being there. This was not even the main point of what Barbara was sharing with the class – But I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said. Police stations seem like the safest place in the world to me –a place where I’d never be questioned. I often tell my children to ride their bikes down to the city hall parking lot by the police station. Would Barbara tell her teenage son to do that? Not only must I wake up, I must stand up. I must stand alongside my black friends to support them and learn from them.
I texted my friend Gail, a black seminary student theologian, and asked her what the church can do. She wrote: “The white church can talk about race and racism and how much the church has denied it and downplayed it and has thereby condoned the bad behavior of racists. Confess complicity. Talk about this stuff regularly. Then stand in solidarity with those who are fighting for justice. Acknowledge the wrongfulness of so many of our churches, the silence. Keep talking. Keep listening. Don’t talk about black on black crime. Talk about racism and fear and silence.” This is exactly what I needed to hear.
I’ve keep hearing people in Charlotte, news reporters, and even pastors – talk about the hope for things to get “back to normal.” The last thing our city needs is to go backwards. Things are being “uncovered” here in Charlotte (and in my heart) and I don’t want to go back to normal because “normal” isn’t good or just. Normal is my black first grade students who will have a very hard time getting out of poverty. Normal is school system that is broken and unfair. Normal is more black men getting shot and killed. Normal is a deep rooted anger that has been ignored and hushed. Normal is my blindness to my white privilege and majority.
No, I do not want normal. I want a NEW Charlotte – one that is just for all.
B. Mitchell is a Master of Divinity student at the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary and a first-grade teacher at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary in south Charlotte.