For days I’ve been struggling to find some meaning, some perspective, some rational understanding that will help me make sense of the Ferguson tragedy — which is really just a reincarnation of countless previous tragedies that continue to repeat themselves in some senseless cyclical pattern.
I can’t escape this overwhelming feeling that as a white male I’m engaging in a pointless and fruitless endeavor. I’ve never lived a day as a minority black male in the United States. Sure, I get the condemnation of the violent protestors, but I also wonder have I, or any of us wagging the finger, felt the frustration, the hurt, the disrespect, the suspicion, and numerous other emotional burdens these people may be carrying? How can I know?
I never lived as a black man in the Jim Crow era, but I do know a little about the unspeakable atrocities that were committed against the black people; but my knowledge is only 2nd hand, and just the tip of a giant iceberg. I also know our nation had a long history of treating African-Americans as nothing more than property–like a chair or a cat. If a black person was killed the only legal consideration was whether damages might be owed to a white owner for loss of personal property. Other than that, it was a no more serious offense that running over a cat in the driveway. Minority blacks were not considered “persons” in the legal sense.
I also know the Civil Rights bill changed the laws, but did not change the hearts of many Americans. I also know that FBI data from 2010-2012 shows that black teenagers are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than white teenagers. That’s a staggering number. Given the long-standing US history toward minority blacks, the not-so-rare lingering racial animosity that still exists in America, it’s hard to understand why cops who use lethal force against unarmed civilians don’t always have these incidents put to trial in a court of law, especially when there’s a possibility of a racially motivated crime. How can the courts allow these cases to continue to be swept under the rug, just like they did with rape cases for so many years? It’s hard to understand.
And so, I find I really can’t understand it–not really. Martin Luther King said that rioting is “the language of the unheard.” So what are they saying? Why are they so angry? What’s fueling all this raw emotion? I may understand a bit of it, but I don’t think I can ever fully grasp it.
Then I ran across this open, honest, and deeply insightful collection of thoughts by Ben Watson (former Patriots, now Saints, tight end). He says what I could never say because he understands the issue in a way I can never understand it. What he has to say is powerful and soul-searching, so I think he deserves to have the last word:
Well said, Ben. Thank you for your perspective–the only one that really matters.