By Norris Burkes June 14, 2020
These past weeks, our nation, even our world, was consumed with the tragic news of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed when ex-policeman Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck during an arrest.
As a columnist, I would like to voice my strongest protest of what can only be described as murder. However, as a person of faith, my protest must begin by searching my own heart with the psalmist’s prayer:
Examine me, O Lord, and prove me;
Try my mind and my heart (Psalm 26:2).
As I recite this prayer, I confess that I haven’t the slightest experience with oppression. However, I do something about the unearned privilege given me by society.
For instance, in my patrolled subdivision, being a white man means that I can jog in my Baylor hoodie without any fear of my intentions being questioned.
I can – and I have – trespassed two construction sites on my running route. There are plenty of cameras in my neighborhood, but I was not pursued as was Ahmaud Arbery to be shot and killed by the self-appointed neighborhood watch patrol.
If I return from my run to discover that I’m locked out of my home, I can climb through an unlocked window. I have no anxiety that a SWAT team will handcuff me in my own foyer as they once did Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
I take my grandson to the hardware store and pull a soda from the refrigerated cabinet. I open it so he can sip while I shop. So far, no one has demanded we pay before checkout. No one dares accuse this old white guy of shoplifting.
If I speed on my way home and find flashing lights in my rearview mirror, it’s likely to be an officer from my own culture and color. It’s doubtful that the officer will frisk a graying pinkish man or even require a publicly embarrassing sobriety test.
If it weren’t for unearned favoritism, the officer would find two felonies on my record. That’s because my college friends and I impersonated law enforcement to make a, publicly witnessed, prank arrest on a friend. While a young pastor, I was stopped for reckless driving for gliding through four stop signs. These incidents should have left me without a military or chaplaincy career, but I was never charged.
People of color regularly see their lives ruined for so much less.
While I enjoy the privileges that society stereotypes afford me, I must acknowledge that they come at the expense of others. The stereotypes of the black man in the hoodie – as a gangster, a perpetrator of violence – flood the media.
Alas, even our president famously touted his privilege during a 2016 Iowa campaign stop where he mimicked firing a gun with his fingers. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”
This month’s events should remind me and every president that the preamble of our constitution begins with, “We the People,” not “We the privileged.”
That’s why I call all of us this week to assume the kind of kneeling inspired by the psalmist’s prayer. Let us search our hearts to ask what part of George Floyd’s death can be attributed to we-the-privileged.
As we continue our search, let us join the psalmist with his benediction from 51:10
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
Note: The most compelling book I’ve recently read on racism is Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon of the Wall Street Journal. My books are available at www.thechaplain.net. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.