I left St. Louis on Friday morning, barely missing most of the protests. I briefly considered staying and marching, but was afraid to do so.
I don't know enough about the area, don't know how to be safe in a protest, my husband would freak out to have me in danger, I didn't have a group to be near...you know how the excuses flow when you're avoiding something scary.
Someone I was talking to about the protests voiced what I was feeling--I didn't know if, as a white woman, I would be safe in such a protest.
I was afraid of the protesters.
Afraid of what might happen if I was there alone, and protesters around me started trouble.
There was a sense of "plus, I don't know what the police might do, if the protesters start trouble and I'm THERE."
I wanted a safe group of peaceful chaplains to walk quietly with. I would have joined that group. Because, ideologically, I align with them but also because that would feel safe.
But really, let's be honest.
I've never before felt afraid of police officers. And I didn't want to lose that privilege.
* * *
One of the videos that came out of St. Louis last weekend included a black man walking in the protest, carrying what I perceived as an assault rifle (I don't know guns well). He made sure the person filming knew it was loaded.
And I felt terrified.
And I realized that I felt far more terrified by this one black man carrying a rifle than I had felt of all the Nazis in Charlottesville carrying rifles. I felt disgusted by them, I felt angry, and incensed, and repulsed. I did not feel afraid. That one armed black man made me feel afraid.
We will not fix this problem until people--"good white people"--people like me, who WANT to be allies but don't know how, or don't REALLY care enough, or are too afraid, or don't ACTUALLY want to lose their privilege are willing to be honest.
If I'm being HONEST, I will admit that black men scare me. I know all the statistics, I know the history, I know all the reasons in my head that this is ridiculous and racist and unfair. If I wasn't quite so self-aware, I would tell you I have no problem with people of color, and I have NO reason to be afraid and blah, blah, blah. And I know that. In my head, I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it
But my BODY is afraid. It's in my blood, for some reason. And I have to admit that. YOU have to admit it, if it's true of you. WE have to admit it, if this is going to change.
* * *
My grandfather used to tell me stories of Boston in the 1960s. He would tell me about the protests that happened every weekend, and how he'd go down to watch. He was a biker at the time; big beard, long hair, black leather, big ring in his nose. He was probably too busy drinking and smoking pot (and whatever else he was doing) to care passionately about the issue the gathering was protesting, but he liked to go down and watch.
He told me you learned pretty quickly to spot the undercover cops. The FBI officers who had infiltrated the protesters. He said you knew when it was time to leave the protest and get home as quickly as possible. It was time, when the agitators started throwing things.
And the agitators were ALWAYS the undercover cops. They'd wait, he told me, until the RIGHT time, and then they'd start yelling at the police and they'd throw a rock or break a window, and then the cops would have an excuse to come in and break up the protest, and make their arrests.
Today, I'm thinking, maybe I should have believed his stories more.
Today, I'm realizing I'm afraid of the wrong people.
Today, I'm ashamed of my fear, and aware of my own racism, and where it comes from.
Today, I want to be honest.
Today, I'm giving myself permission to be where I am, and to keep working to be where I want to be.
Today, I pray for justice, not peace.
* * *
This article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was impactful in my writing of this blog post. One of the comments on the below article mentioned that it seems to be highlighting primarily white voices. People who were arrested, who are white, who experienced violence. While I think there can be some benefit to this, I find it very problematic that it would take white voices telling white stories for us to finally begin to get what our black brothers and sisters experience all the time, at every protest and every day in their lives.