Tag Archives: White Allies

Why Be Present in the Midst of Chaos? part 1

My Brothers / Sisters are There

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The protests in Minneapolis over the shooting of Jamar Clark have entered the third week. Since the beginning (see photo above) I have felt the need to be present as a ally, as a witness, as a participant. In the past weeks several of my white friends have reached out to me to ask me why? I feel as if others have pulled away from me, some have joined me and a few have accused me of participating in riots and violence.

Before we begin, let me get this out in front:

  • I do NOT defend or support the actions of SOME of the protesters who chose to engage in physical or verbal violence.
  • I do NOT believe that ALL COPS are evil and I know some who do excellent work in a very difficult setting. I am thankful for them,

However, evidence and the experience of millions show that there is a serious problem with the system of policing and incarceration. Brutality and abuse is common, trust and respect have eroded to a place that without significant changes we will experience greater and greater conflicts and crisis. Change must come for peace to take root.

This is an attempt to explain my beliefs and motives which, I believe, demand that we join our voices in this cry for justice. I am there for the following three reasons:

  1. My Brothers / Sisters are there

  2. Injustice is here

  3. Jesus Would be there


On the first night of the protests I walked toward the crowd with some 2015-11-15 19.37.12caution, not quite sure what I would find. Then above the music and the chants I heard my name being called out by a friendly voice. Two sisters, that I had known since they were babies, were standing off to the side and opening their arms for a big family-style hug. We had been part of the same church community for years. Their parents have been family friends for over 25 years and played a leading role in helping my wife and I adjust to living in this multi-racial community. From that moment on, every connection with the protest was an engagement with my community; friends, former students, fellow church members, neighbors, and with the many new friendship that have formed. But this level of connection did not happen easily nor by accident.

When I first moved to North Minneapolis in 1990 no one was talking much about the implications of racial privilege, power and the role of white allies in the fight against racial oppression. The critical analysis of race has thankfully come along way. While I was not aware of these nuances I was aware that I had to silence my opinion in the face of experiences I had never known. I had to begin to trust my new sisters and brothers whose experiences and perspectives were quite unlike mine. I had lots of experiences as a white male from rural Iowa, and they provide valid life lessons; yet they cannot silence or be seen as superior to the experiences of people of color.

In those first years I had to learn fight against knee-jerk reactions to defend the police when a friend of color would tell of a negative experience with the cops. I had to ask myself the hard questions as to why I would trust this person with my children, with my car and as a partner in life, and yet not trust their account of racism from the police or a store clerk. I began to realize their experiences of racism threatened my sense of identity which was deeply rooted in my American Whiteness.

As I began to see my own identity rooted in the ethnicity and cultures of my ancestors, I could begin to critic my own ethnic identity, the good and the bad. When I could own and understand my own story, within the racialized history of our country, I was able to move from the extremes of white defensiveness or paralysing white guilt and embrace my place as a European-American brother who gets it (as best as I can and alway open to learn more).

It was as if I had been living in a world of only two dimensions and my sisters and brothers of color helped me to see the world in 3-D. I could tell you story after story that demonstrates the reality of racism today, and the resilience of people of color to overcome these obstacles. Yet much of popular culture tries to silence and discredit these voices. I am ashamed that I grew up in a culture that tried to assassinate the character of everyone from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela. These leaders and the work they did threatened the white power structures that my ancestors’ world was build upon.

It is liberating for white people to learn that one can be proud of aspects of culture and family without clinging to the racism that formed the foundations of our shared past. I can commit to helping destroy these foundations and help lay a new foundation of justice. But I can ONLY do that by having significant relationships with people of color whom I can learn from, listen to, and follow is a key part of this journey. Here is an example;

On the third day of the protests, Black Lives Matter MN sent out a message that they needed people to get to the precinct as soon as possible as the police were moving in to evict the protesters from the entry way and possibly from the whole block. Jose and I were working in the area, snow and rain were beginning to fall and I felt I needed to be present.

Since I didn’t have a heavy coat with me we went by Jose’s house to get his jacket and then he dropped me off. As I walked up, assessing the conflict, I prayed to know what to do and where I should be. I noticed a black pastor I had met before who was standing between the protestors and the police. I worked my way up towards him and asked him how I could best help, he said “just stand here near me and keep an eye on the people and on the police”

Some of the most troubling videos from the protests (where some protesters are verbally abusing the police) were filmed at that time. People were agitated, the police were beginning to put on protective gear and at least one gun for launching tear gas was present. Nekima Levy-Pounds (president of the Minneapolis Chapter of the NAACP walked up and in a commanding voice yelled out to the protesters,

“There is way too much demonic activity here, we need to pray, NOW”

She silenced the protesters and with the police right behind us she led in a lengthy “in Jesus name” prayer seeking peace, protection, truth and justice. After the prayer she focused the crowd in chanting for justice for Jamar Clark. Shortly after that she realized that I’m loud, so she encouraged me to help chant and then to keep the rhythm by beating on a bucket.

bucket drummingIt was then I was captured by photographers on both still and video. While being loud and in front of a crowd is something I can do well, I was not primarily there to do what I wanted to do. I was there to support my sisters and brothers, to aid as they saw fit and to be a witness of what was happening and to be a peacemaker as best as I could. Peaceful change comes, not by inflicting our will on others, but as we align our abilities and passions into one will.

I’m directing this blog to my friends and others who can NOT understand or accept the validity of these protests or of the issues that prompted them. Many of you do not live in a multiracial community, or have a community of people of color with whom you can engage and learn. BUT you do have an online community, you can listen and learn from wherever you are.

Hopefully by humbling ourselves and listening to others we can begin to glimpse, in the midst of chaos, the opportunity to build a beloved community. More than once in the past week have I seen it, in the cold and in the bonfires’ smoke down on Plymouth Ave. and in the peaceful community marching and standing in unity.

We each have the ability to be peacemakers or to allow more fuel to be thrown on the fires of conflict. Which will you do?


part 2 – Injustice is Here

part 3 – Jesus Would be there