Why I Can’t Stop Talking About Race

Why I Can’t Stop Talking About Race 849 557 Corey Leak

No one in the history of humankind was born to be a person who speaks out about race. I’ve never heard a first grader say that they want to be an activist when they grow up. People admire revolutionaries like Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Malcolm X, but no one wants to BE them.

When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a doctor, and by the time I got to high school, I just wanted to grow up and be rich. As a junior in High School I knew that I was supposed to be a public servant of some sort. In my Christian tradition we would say I got the “call” to ministry. I knew I was destined to share good news with the world about the benevolent nature of Divinity, but I also didn’t want to be poor. Little did I know that some day clergy would be some of the richest people in the world. Go figure.

Even though I knew I was uniquely wired for being a religious leader, I would never have imagined that I would be in reality or perception – an activist.

I’m not sure there is a day that goes by that I don’t have at least one conversation about race or racism, and I wouldn’t say that’s an enjoyable place to be. Perhaps you’re thinking: “Why don’t you just stop talking about it?” That seems simple enough. I could choose to not bring up race at all in conversation, in my podcasts, or in my writings, and that would….

Wait… what would that do? Would it eliminate race from being a topic of discussion for me? Let’s see… If I stopped talking about race today…

I would still have people asking me about race and racism. I would still have friends, family, or otherwise cracking jokes about me being the “radical race guy.” I would still have black children who come home and share their exhaustion with being black in the suburbs. Lastly, I myself would still be a black man in America. The luxury of being insulated from race conversation is simply not afforded to me.

Talk to any activist, civil rights leader, or clergy person of color about why they are outspoken about race, and they will tell you that they have no other choice. The bell can’t be un-rung. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Racism/Injustice is a menace to society. We who recognize it as such know that it is not only an existential threat to us people of color, but it is a threat to all human beings – privileged or not.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Dr King

There are lots of reasons I started and continue to talk about race and racial injustice. Here are three of them.

  • We still live on unjust soil.

If I were to sneak into your house in the middle of the night, take the only pictures you have of your parents off your walls, eat all your food, and dump all the medicine in your medicine cabinets in the toilet – leaving you sick and one of your children dead, how often would you talk about that? How often would your surviving children? How would you feel when you saw me or my children healthy and thriving out and about?

America’s most vile racist acts of injustice are not in the ancient past. People who are alive today witnessed and experienced lynchings, segregation, and state-sanctioned assassinations of Black leaders. These actions happened here on American soil, on the streets we live on, in the hallways of the schools our children attend, and at the hands of people still alive today.

  • Society screams “White Power”

I’ve talked with several black people who work in corporate America. Every one of them has told me that they are the only black person in the room over 90 percent of the time that they are in high level leadership meetings. Each of them face micro-aggressions. Each of them have felt that they had to work twice as hard due to being black. Each has been passed over for promotions by less qualified white people with lesser performance ratings.

Think about the wealthiest, most influential, and powerful people in the world. Are most of the names you’re thinking: Bob, Bill, Mike, Chris, Steve, Rich, Don, Frank…? Why is that? Do you believe that is coincidence? Is it a benign happenstance of natural selection?

I would argue it’s the result of an intentional strategy that has been successfully doing its thing for generations. And, as long as we have the construct of white power, none of us will live in a just society.

  • The source material for my faith is justice themed.

Evangelical churches don’t talk about race that often. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical church that talks about justice. I sat in, volunteered in and worked for many an evangelical church not realizing that justice was the central theme of the Bible. I thought that when the church talked about a social issue like race, even tho I am in fact black, the church was diverting from the Bible to talk about society.

It wasn’t until I went on about a 3-year journey into the context and history of Biblical texts and narratives that I began to realize how central justice is to the ideas, poetry, stories, and principles of Biblical literature.

After realizing that the Bible has a historical context and that that context has strong political, social, and ethnic implications, I began to feel like I had Divine backing to engage in social conversations. And not only did I have backing – I had a moral obligation to use my platforms to lift up the plight of the marginalized in society.

I guess you could say I’m fulfilling my “calling” after all. It is exhausting to talk about race and racism. It is not fun. It does not often feel very rewarding, but those of us who talk about it know that if we stop, future generations will suffer for it.

I wish we lived in a world where racism wasn’t a systemic issue that plagues the primary structures of our communities. I would love to live to see a time where no one talks about it because there is no need, and I’m doing my part to get us there – one conversation at a time.

#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story

#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story 1200 800 Corey Leak

We’ve heard this story before. We’ve witnessed the National story of an incident between two people with no eye witnesses that ended in the tragic death of a young black man. The last time we saw this story unfold a murderer was treated like the hero, and the victim was portrayed as the villain.

George Zimmerman was not detained after police arrived and found him standing over the lifeless body of Trayvon Martin whom he had just murdered in cold blood. Trayvon Martin was minding his own business walking through a neighborhood when he was accosted by Zimmerman. We’ve heard the audio recording of Zimmerman being told not to engage Trayvon by the 911 operator he’d called. It seemed like there was no way he would not have to answer for the injustice of shedding Trayvon’s innocent blood, but in the end, Zimmerman was found innocent of any crime. Trayvon’s murder was ruled by a court in Florida as a justifiable homicide under the “stand your ground” act. The moral of the Trayvon story is: Trayvon was in the wrong because he wore a hoodie and looked “suspicious”, and that’s why he was killed. George Zimmerman was the good guy and Trayvon the bad guy.

Image result for trayvon martin and george zimmerman

Today, five years after the shocking plot twist where Zimmerman was found not guilty, we have a similar story unfolding out of Dallas. Again, there was an incident between two people. There are no eye witnesses to what happened (there are witnesses who claim to have heard parts of the incident), and there is another young black man dead.

Nearly a week ago, Botham Jean was in his apartment minding his own business when he was shot to death by an off duty police officer named Amber Guyger. Apparently Guyger, who lives in the same apartment complex, mistakenly tried to enter Jean’s apartment believing it was hers. She entered his apartment, and shot him dead because she thought he was an intruder in her home.

I’m sure we can all identify with a person mistakenly walking up to the wrong apartment. Mistakes like that are common. Just today I brought home someone else’s egg white bites from Starbucks. There were two mobile orders under Julie, and the barista gave me the other Julie’s food with my Julie’s coffee. I’ve watched people open the passenger side door to the wrong car in the parking lot before. I’ve nearly done the same thing a few times. Mistakes happen. Sadly, so does injustice.

Amber Guyger’s original story was that she tried her key several times to unlock the door of what she thought was her apartment, and it didn’t open. She then dropped the things in her hands and kept trying to get in the door when Botham Jean opened the door. She withdrew her firearm and shot him, believing him to be a burglar. 

Amber Guyger was not taken into custody at the scene of Jean’s murder. She was arrested 3 days after the shooting, and later released on bail. During her time being interviewed by Texas Rangers about the events that lead to Jean’s murder, it seems that she has been coached on how to tell a more compelling story that would help her case.

Today her account of what happened is different than her original. In her most recent version, she is the hero, and Jean is the villain. She went to what she thought was her apartment and found the door ajar. She entered and saw a large shadow in the dark apartment. After giving verbal commands that were ignored, she fired her weapon twice, striking Botham Jean in the abdomen. She then called 911 and turned the lights on. Only then did she realize she was in the wrong apartment. For the record, her story that the door was “ajar” seems hard to believe from people who live in the complex.

Once again, there is a hint of accusation for an innocent black victim in a murder case. She said Jean failed to obey her commands. This plays into the same narrative of almost every incident involving the killing of an unarmed black man. That narrative is that somehow, some way, the black man was responsible for his own death. If he would’ve just: been compliant, stopped resisting, not stiffened his legs... he would still be alive today. It seems as though black blood is never innocent, and white crimes against innocent black victims are too often deemed appropriate.

Image result for botham jean

Like Trayvon before him, Botham Jean was unarmed and completely innocent of any wrong doing. Jean had a job with a accounting firm, he volunteered his time in the community and lead worship at his church. He was in HIS apartment when he was shot and killed. The insinuation that he failed to act responsibly is an injustice to him and his family. I’m hopeful that this tragedy will end in justice despite the striking similarities to Trayvon Martin’s story that did not and the reports out of Dallas that this story is trending towards Guyger walking away Scott free. Only time will tell, but it’s important that we start to recognize the malicious pattern of demonizing the innocent in these stories. We cannot allow ourselves to let subtle unjust rhetoric go unchecked. When we allow justice to be distorted long enough, we lose sight of what actual justice looks like. 

The blood of innocent black men cannot continue to spill in the streets without repercussion. We are all responsible to resist that injustice. It’s outrageous to think that a man could be killed in his own home and his killer exonerated, but that may be an all too familiar reality as this story continues to develop. What’s more outrageous is that even after such an injustice people will still be burning their nikes and boycotting football because they can’t believe an athlete would have the audacity to kneel in protest. God help us.

What do you believe to be the just outcome of Botham Jean’s story?

Why do you believe that to be a just outcome?

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