“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed … When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy ...“Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go!” — Matthew 26:40-46 NIV
I am a disciple of Christ’s love; yet, I fell asleep. I am also a disciple of anti-racism; yet, I fell asleep.
As a white female therapist working with a diverse group of clients – including men and women, black and white, and many sworn police officers both black and white – I genuinely saw myself as someone who supported equality for all, the way Christians are taught to love. These last several days, however, I have learned something about myself that is difficult to admit, yet it is necessary to own and to remedy. I fell asleep.
I did not wake up at the cocktail party when someone mentioned how disappointed she was that her granddaughter was dating (insert hushed tone) “a black man.” I excused myself politely from that conversation, yes, but I said nothing. I said nothing when an acquaintance told me how much she was looking forward to the neighborhood she was moving to because there wouldn’t be so many (again, insert hushed tone) “black people.” Later, I discussed my shock at hearing these remarks with a friend but never with the person who actually made the comment. I said nothing when I did not fulfill the commitment I made to myself after the Charleston massacre to more actively support organizations such as The Jesus Movement and Christians for a United Community.
When I did finally open my eyes, an African American man by the name of George Floyd was dead. He was murdered by a white man with a badge while other men with badges stood and watched. I was horrified.
My father served as a law enforcement officer in California for 15 years. He went on to become chief of police in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. One of my father’s partners in California was a man named Jessie. I loved Jessie. When I was about 5 years old, I remember Jessie coming over to our trailer. His head almost touched the ceiling. When he picked me up, I giggled because I had never experienced being that tall and feeling that safe. My understanding is that Jessie was one of the first African American officers to serve in our county, just a few hours outside of Los Angeles. Jessie went on to guard Charles Manson. I’ve thought about Jessie a lot this week. Jessie was a good, kind, compassionate officer and he was black. My father was a good, kind, compassionate officer and he was white.
Right now, though, none of that matters, because I fell asleep. I let my focus get distracted by the comfort of not ruffling feathers. I avoided uncomfortable conversations because I was lured by the coziness of silence.
I’m awake now. My eyes were opened this weekend when I was reintroduced to the vile, insidious nature of racism and the abuse it perpetrates.
As a mental health therapist, I’ve studied in depth the physiological impact that trauma has on a person’s brain after years of emotional and physical abuse. More to the point, I understand that a part of that trauma is created by the people who knew the abuse was going on and said nothing. I understand what happens to a brain when, even in good times, someone is constantly looking over his or her shoulder to see if the abuser is close by.
So I am here to acknowledge to the black community that there were absolutely times I could have said something and didn’t. I am sorry … but I was asleep. You asked me to have your back because I told people I was not a racist … but I was asleep. After every murder took place and every unfair housing scandal and health care accessibility issue came to light, you asked me to stand up with you, but I didn’t … because I was asleep.
Last Sunday I reached out to two different women, both African American, to ask how I might stay awake for them. One was returning home from the store to cook dinner for her family; another was with her father listening to their favorite preacher. Both times I broke into tears describing my confusion, my regret and my promise to do something different. They were both very gracious and held space for my pain. But that was not their job. I took the focus off their pain and put it squarely on my own. Two black women seeking calm, gathering their thoughts, spending time with their families to make some kind of sense of yet another attack on their community, and I, as a white woman, interrupted their healing. I fell asleep again. Doing the very thing Jesus asked us not to do.
In accordance with what Christ did ask, I will adhere to this plan for not falling asleep a third time. Transparency. One of those light-filled women I spoke to gave me this word. She said what we want is transparency – for the black community to really see, and the white community to acknowledge – what really goes on behind the scenes where decisions are made. I also take that to mean a demand for equal African American participation at the decision-making table.
Like most of the police officers I know today, my dad considered it not so much a job as a calling. I also understand from my mom that Jessie took a lot of flack from guys he grew up with for becoming a cop. But it was a calling for him as well. It is with them both in mind that I continue my support of the good, kind and compassionate police officers who serve this area today. I truly believe the majority of our community’s guardians are just as horrified by Mr. Floyd’s death as you and I. So I want to stay awake for them, too.
If my words speak to any white reader’s experience, then maybe you will stay awake with me. Maybe we can start to take our direction from the people who really experience the trauma of racism. We can listen more intently, with more curiosity, when our black colleagues and friends say, “I’ve had something terrible happen to me.” We can cry with them and ask them what we can do to help. We can start making their pain our pain. We can challenge the hushed tones during thoughtless cocktail chatter. And we can support our law enforcement people as individuals who are trying to come home to their families, too.
Let’s all rub the sleep from our eyes and walk beside love to confront the hate that threatens our freedom and our humanity. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he asked us to stay awake with him.
Rise! Let us go!