I was sitting in a hotel room with my family when the verdict was announced. I had the TV quiet enough not to wake the children as I read the subtitles over the paired videos of President Obama calling for peace on one side and watching Ferguson completely unravel on the other side.
As tears filled my eyes, I longed for heaven.
I'm waiting to see how we will respond to the Ferguson verdict. Makes me eager for the day when all peoples gather around the throne as one.
— Travis Agnew (@TravisAgnew) November 25, 2014
We had taken our family on a surprise trip to the Great Wolf Lodge. The week of Thanksgiving, we packed them up in the minivan and told our kids that we were going on a surprise adventure. A few hours later we were enjoying the ecstatic jubilation as our children realized where we had taken them.
That Monday, our family of 6 enjoyed ourselves so much that we were all water-logged.
While there are many things to look at it in the Great Wolf Lodge, I was reminded again that my family is different by the unique stares that we received.
You see, my family looks very different to people.
Surprise family trip to the Great Wolf Lodge was quite the hit! I adore my family! pic.twitter.com/5mgEztfEAW
— Travis Agnew (@TravisAgnew) November 26, 2014
As people would stare at our family, I would reckon they were noticing how beautiful the three ladies are in my family. Maybe they were thinking how handsome my two sons are. And then I would remember again: we don’t look like your “typical” family.
We weren’t trying to be confusing, but sometimes as we would split up as a family, I would be walking with my black son, my daughter/sister Tammy would be walking with my white son, Amanda was carrying Gloria, and I think one guy’s eyes went crossed just trying to figure out how all this had happened.
When I look at my family, I don’t see race distinctions. But I suppose it is natural for others to see the differences. I just don’t.
I tend to believe that who someone is on the inside is far more important than his or her skin color on the outside.
You may think I am naive, but I just think I am being realistic. Race is a part of who you are. Ethnicity and heritage do mean something, but they do not compose your entire identity.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Gal. 3:28
The whole experience was so ironic for me. As I sat in an indoor water park with my family (66% white, 33% black), I watched our entire country unravel before my eyes. It was more than what was on the news stations that night. It was also the flood of insensitive rhetoric that filled every social media outlet that broke my heart.
Social media allows a megaphone for everyone. The very fact that you are reading these words reveals that someone as insignificant as me can obtain some type of platform and can be heard literally all over the world.
Social media gives people a voice like never before. Communication used to be one way. The experts would tell us the facts and their opinions and we could talk it over in our living room or by the water coolers. Now, we can argue, offend, and curse anyone and everyone. All you need is a mobile device now and you can interject yourself into almost any conversation in the world.
I watched how many blacks felt angry and fearful.
I watched how many whites spoke out against the protest without any apparent attempt at empathy.
And then, I would read how some people just did not understand the gravity of the situation.
— Travis Agnew (@TravisAgnew) November 25, 2014
I had to eventually unplug from the conversation for days. I couldn’t handle the amount of insensitivity towards others on all sides. I knew that if I said what I really felt in those days it was going to make a lot of people angry from all sides.
In light of the harmful rhetoric I still see out there, I want to stop all of us from making unhealthy and untrue generalizations. There are some things that I believe need to be cleared up:
- Not all whites are racist towards blacks.
- Not all blacks are racist towards whites.
- Not all white police officers target black men.
- Not all police officers are bad.
- Not all black people are criminals.
- Not all protesters are simply looking for a fight.
- Not all protests are unhelpful.
Now, that I’ve got that off my chest, let me explain.
It is unhelpful for a white person to criticize a black person for being disappointed, fearful, or angered by the Ferguson verdict. Whether or not we choose to believe it or not, racism exists. And with certain people in certain areas, stereotypes have caused black people to be distrusted, apprehended, and accused of things they did not commit. It is not widespread. It is not an ultimate statement concerning every situation, but that does happen. Fact. I have dear friends who are as law-abiding as they come who have been profiled due to their race. It’s not right. It’s not every situation. But it does happen. And as a white person, I need to respect that I haven’t been on that end of that type of racism. I have experienced racism, but I haven’t experienced that, and blanket statements towards blacks do not pacify the situation but only heighten it.
It is also unhelpful for a black person to assume that all white people are the enemy. I don’t know the pain and frustration associated with that type of racism, but it will not aid the cause if we continue to foster more racism on top of the racism we hate. There are many scars from history, but we need to try our hardest to abstain from making more. You have a right to speak. You have a right to be heard. You have a right to be passionate. But do not assume that white people are the problem – racism is the problem.
Don’t respond to another’s racism by your own version of racism.
Other races are not the problem – our sin of racism is the problem. And until we address it as a spiritual issue, we will not make any progress.
A Perfect Plan
If I was the devil, I know exactly how to stir up racial tensions in America. Create a situation that isn’t simple. Make it complex. Provide so many layers that right and wrong become subjective opinion rather than objective truth. Make the situation so layered that it can flare up all sides.
Think about it – isn’t that what has happened in recent days?
- The case would have been so much more simple had Brown had a gun.
- The other side could have made their case more compelling had Brown not just robbed a convenience store.
- If only Brown would have had a more checkered past or grievous charges against him, the rhetoric could have died down.
- The autopsy did make things more complex in light of varying testimonies.
- If the testimonies on both sides would have been more trustworthy, we might could have gotten to the truth as to what had happened.
But it didn’t happen that way, did it?
The Ferguson situation was crafted in such a way that regardless of what the verdict was, somebody was going to set something on fire.
The case was layered enough that we are not closer to reconciliation than before.
White cops will be more jumpy around young black men.
Young black men will be more untrusting of white cops.
White groups will huddle together and name-call blacks.
Black groups will huddle together and name-call whites.
But I refuse to do that.
Be the Protest
As I turned off the TV and walked over to my children, I prayed over them with tears in my eyes. Just by the hue difference in their skin complexions, each of my children will be treated differently in their lives. If you place my two sons (14 days difference in birthdate) into certain situations in their lives, they will be treated differently. That is simple fact. My black son will experience racism in his life. He will encounter things that my white son will never experience. My white son will also experience racism in his life. He will encounter things that my black son will never experience.
Our family has already experienced the insensitivity of racism on all sides. It doesn’t always come from where you would expect it.
Instead of allowing it to cause us to be bitter or isolationists, we choose to be a difference. We will embrace those of every skin color. If God doesn’t look at outward appearance but looks at someone’s heart, who are we to do any differently (1 Sam. 16:7)?
I believe in the power of protests in Ferguson, New York, and wherever else they may be. But there is one protest that I commit to more than all others: I am the protest.
If you want to make a protest regarding racism, be the protest.
Love and trust someone of a different color. Stop making blind accusations. Cease from using blanket statements and tactless depictions. Become a part of the solution instead of just bemoaning the problem.
One of the greatest reasons I long for heaven is to experience the demise of racism.
I have a dream of that great day. We may not experience it completely upon this earth, but I do believe I will see it one day. It will be a glorious day.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… -Rev. 7:9
Laws, rallies, conversations, and protests can only take us so far. We need the gospel of Jesus Christ to break down the dividing walls of our hostility towards those different from us (Eph. 2:14).
And while I long for heaven, this is what I pray for, what I personally commit to, and will work tirelessly for:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. -Matt. 6:10
I will live today as a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20) and I choose to see all people as made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). I will not allow the sin of racism to corrupt my soul. I pray you can join me.