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Listen before you judge

By Sean Sele | Contributor

Photograph provided by Justin Ormant

Photograph provided by Justin Ormant

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In such instances as the Ferguson, Baltimore and Dakota Access Pipeline protests, it’s important to consider that the specific incident sparking each riot does not constitute the entirety of the cause. Oppression experienced by modern people of color is executed differently than when people were dragged onto slave ships and hauled across the Atlantic. Racism today doesn’t look the same as when Jim Crow laws dominated society and the KKK wore pointed hoods. But racism still thrives, and it thrives off ignorance.

It’s altogether too easy for a privileged person like myself to forget about centuries of enslavement, segregation and systemic oppression. I’m able to file away those histories as mere stagnant information, detached from my personal experience. So when one person is killed unjustly and thousands take to the streets in anger, causing even more death and destruction, I easily rush to judgment.

Peaceful protests, rather than violence, should always be anyone’s first choice. And for people of color in America, it has been. Rioting was certainly part of the Civil Rights Movement, but the vast majority of that movement involved peaceful protesters being beaten up by white civilians and policemen. Despite law reforms that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, American history has since continued on a bloody trail of race-motivated violence, systemic redlining and gentrification. Martin Luther King, now an icon for justice across all aisles, was not supported by most white people in his time. Historically, completely peaceful protests from people of color has often led to the protestors being martyred or to their message being ineffective.

When members of Black Lives Matter protest peacefully, I hear fellow white people accuse them of being whiny and petty. When protests turn violent, white people say they’re monstrous and senseless. Neither method is considered legitimate in the eyes of the world. NFL player Colin Kaepernick recently chose to protest peacefully and is now the most hated man in the NFL.

When violence becomes the only way for a people group to be heard, society should hold responsible those who first robbed them of their voice. Humans robbed of their speech have an infallible right to justice and to being heard. Rather than focusing our judgments on oppressed people’s desperate actions, we should turn our attention to disease rather than the symptoms. We, white people, need to mend our own twisted perceptions and give power back to those who’ve been robbed of it.

When Jesus overturned the money tables and drove the merchants from the temple, I’m sure there were property damages. It probably hurt some small businesses and the vendors of sacrificial animals who were just trying to get by. But we, as Christians sympathetic to the cause of God’s kingdom, don’t read that passage and angrily calculate the economic impact of Jesus’ violence. We consider the source of his anger, his pain and the wrong that had been done to him and his heavenly father. If we’re truly sympathetic towards the cause of God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom is sympathetic to the poor and oppressed, as demonstrated by Proverbs 17:5 and Isaiah 10:1-3, then we should take into account their pain and the wrongs inflicted upon them, their fathers and their fathers before them.

I don’t understand what drives a person to protest violently. However, I also am a straight white man who attended a decently funded white grade school and am now attending a qualified university with mostly white students. I simply do not understand, and that is my point. If you do not understand someone, then the only appropriate response is to be silent and listen. Immerse yourself in a deep awareness of God’s love rather than in cultural identities of the flesh, which aren’t eternal.

It’s shamefully sad when cars are set ablaze, shop windows are smashed and people are injured in a riot’s mayhem. However, it’s an even weightier shame that America, at its conception, single-handedly executed the largest genocide in recorded history. It’s sad that generations upon generations of African American slaves only preceded their descendants’ continued suffering, whose grandchildren today are more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white people, although white people are statistically more likely to possess drugs in the first place. And it’s even worse that Christians in positions of societal comfort, including myself, are more prone to judge than listen.

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