We don’t live in a “post-racial” society.
I was saddened and disappointed by the verdict in George Zimmerman’s case; I wasn’t surprised. It makes me angry that I wasn’t surprised. That says to me that we white people who are upset (and there are a lot of us) haven’t done enough to be allies. We haven’t done enough to effect real change. We haven’t listened well enough.
That said, I was also disappointed by the response I saw from a number of people. Oh, of course there was the usual racist garbage, usually followed by “but I’m not racist!” That was to be expected as well. What bothered me was the reaction from my fellow Christians who typically don’t spout that kind of crap.
There’s this thing in a lot of Christian spheres where grace is reinterpreted to mean “don’t get too angry.” I was shocked and appalled by the number of Christians exercising this principle and fretting about angry mobs and people going ape-shit over the verdict, rioting and burning things to the ground. This is disturbing on a number of fronts.
First, it’s racist. Yes, really. The assumption that Black people who were justifiably upset and angry were at high risk for violence is a cornerstone of racist thinking. It reduces people to savages who can’t control themselves in the face of bad news. Naturally, white Christians, with all the talk of grace and mercy, are precisely the people to be the saviors of the barbaric brown world. You know, even if the thought occurred to you that there might be riots, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself instead of jumping all over people who express their anger. That is, if you don’t want to be considered racist, anyway.
Second, I have no idea why anyone thinks angry tweets and Facebook statuses are some indication that riots are imminent. Seriously? Ask yourself this: Are you personally capable of being angry about something without rioting? If you answered yes to that, then perhaps you should give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s the same slippery slope argument that logically fails to win arguments. One thing does not necessarily lead to another.
Third, posting pictures of protests is not the same as posting pictures of riots. Again, protests are not equivalent to riots. This third thing probably falls into both of the other two categories, but I decided it deserved its own space, given the sheer volume of tweets and statuses referring to the peaceful demonstrators as “mobs” and claiming they’re seeking vengeance.
Fourth, things like “No matter what side you’re on, let’s exercise grace” and “But we don’t know what really happened!” are not helpful. They don’t further the dialogue, they don’t express compassion for those who are hurting, and they don’t serve any purpose except to make the people writing them feel like they’ve done something. Honestly, if you’re worried that people might become violent, is tweeting, “Don’t be violent!” actually going to stop them? It may not be intended to silence the oppressed (though that’s debatable), but it sure does come across that way. The first thing to say to a person who is angry about racism (or sexism, ableism, classism, etc.) is not, “Don’t do something you’ll regret!”; it’s “What can I do to help stop this oppression?”
I feel the need to say something here about the anger people are expressing. It’s relevant not only to this situation but to any time people talk about oppression. This is not the same as being angry because someone ate the food you were saving or borrowed something without asking and put it back in the wrong spot. This is not the same as being angry with your kid for getting in trouble at school or your spouse for totaling the car by rear-ending someone. This is not the anger of misunderstanding between friends or of unmet expectations at work. Anger over oppression does not need to be monitored on the Internet because of some bizarre urge on the part of certain Christians to play Sin Police. In fact, anger over oppression is the very thing we Christians should be angry about right alongside the oppressed.
I am not condoning violence, though I do understand where it comes from. I just want to make it clear that it isn’t our job to keep tabs on Twitter hashtags to make sure that everyone knows that violence is wrong. Sometimes, when we don’t have anything to contribute, it’s just better to stay back and allow people with a vested interest to express their grief and anger. It’s not necessary to preemptively chastise people because you’re afraid of what might happen in the future.
This is a time to mourn with those who mourn. If you can’t muster righteous indignation, then at least have the decency to pour your energy into compassion for Trayvon Martin’s family. That’s a more productive use of your time than chasing strangers on the Internet to tell them you’re worried they might do some unspecified wrong or violent thing out of anger. And if you can’t even manage that much, then just stay away from the subject. That’s what the block button is for.
If you’re thinking of coming on here and tone-policing or word-policing me or anyone else, please restrain yourself.