I watched the news out of Baton Rouge with my 15-year-old son, who is considering a career in law enforcement. When the reporter upped the death toll from two police officers to three, I turned my eyes from the TV to my son. Nearly two years earlier, I had watched him just like this, watched him watch Ferguson burn.
Ten days ago, at a peaceable Black Lives Matter march, a gunman shot and killed five Dallas police officers, wounding several others. One of the murdered officers used to escort my daughter-in-law from the Dallas theater where she worked late shifts to her parked car; she loved his sense of humor. The young man who killed him grew up in the town in which my two oldest children spent their elementary school years. Had we not moved, they’d have gone to high school together, my oldest son a grade ahead of him, and my daughter, a grade behind. As is, we have friends who knew the killer.
When Ferguson burned, I begged my youngest son to reconsider his future career, saying the world is too dangerous and that I’m afraid for him. His response was, “Imagine how dangerous the world would be without police officers.” As Baton Rouge unfolded, he said nothing. He just stared.
My family is now bi-racial, thanks to my firstborn’s excellent choice of a spouse. In February, they will have their first child, and I’ll become the grandmother of a sweet, little angel with darker skin than my own—a child who will carry a history on his or her shoulders that I have never borne.
Do black lives matter? Yes. Do all lives matter? Yes. Do police lives matter? Yes. Every decent human being understands this.
I move in religious circles, having friends of faith from across the spiritual and political spectrum, and I wish I could say I hear only love spoken regarding the turbulence in American race relations. But I can’t. In fact, what I see on social media from religious peers often amounts to mud-slinging, side-picking, name-calling, and worse. Much worse. The memes are enough to make a person weep, but not because they’re moving. Because they’re hateful and hurtful, myopic, as well as destructive and demeaning.
Make no mistake, we participate in raising racial tension anytime we promote angry, inflammatory language or ideas that depict any group as all-of-this-evil and none-of-this-good. If we are tempted to say, “They just don’t get it,” the chances are high we are also missing something important. Usually what we’re missing, I think, is a clear grasp of how manipulative politicians and activists can be, how much it benefits them to divide us and how harmful it is to our souls to let them. We must never forget that every group is comprised of individuals with their own history, both personal and shared, and that most people are good. No crowd is faceless. Rather, each is a compilation of unique faces, each wanting to be seen, each with a voice that yearns to be heard.
Mormons, in particular, should understand bigotry and denounce the voices of confusion that encourage it. Though certainly not on the same scale as slavery, historic oppression is hitched to us, raising dust as it drags behind. The religious persecution—the expulsion, the extermination—that our ancestors endured is part of our psyche even though we didn’t experience it, even though our neighbors didn’t inflict it on us.
Unfortunately, the detritus of that by-gone era remains part of our existence. I’ve lived in the Bible Belt most of my adult life. I know what it is to be shunned and to have my children misjudged. Maybe some Mormons who live elsewhere don’t have these experiences. I can’t say. But I suspect most Latter-day Saints understand what it is to be on the receiving end of prejudice. We, however, have the option to hide that which makes us vulnerable to bigotry.
My future grandbaby will not be able to hide. The dust of his or her racial history—slavery, disenfranchisement, immoral and unlawful persecution—will be in the eyes of all who can see. We can’t erase that any more than we can change the hue of someone’s skin. The world is not colorblind, nor should it be. My grandchild’s psyche will be infiltrated with an awareness that people who look like me once enslaved people who look like him or her. My psyche will be infiltrated in reverse. These are perspectives that we should bring together, not fear, hide, or dismiss. I look at my white son and his black wife, and I think how much stronger the world is because these two histories have discovered they can love one another.
And I look to my 15-year-old. I know his heart, know his desire to do something good for the world—to serve, to protect—and I know he is now questioning whether or not he is willing to risk his life when the good people of any race seem more inclined to promote division than to build bridges. I wonder as well.
I realize evil will always exist, but there are days I wonder if good will. So much of that depends on the voices good people listen to. Will we hear the inner voice that quietly whispers the love of God, or the worldly voices that seek power by dividing us?
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39
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Photo credit: Johnny Nguyen