Can We Talk?
Published: Friday, December 5, 2014 at 05:31 PM.
In my younger years I was cruising way too fast near the N.C. State University campus and a Raleigh police officer pulled me over for speeding. We discussed my speed and then with some sophomoric smart talk I was able to wiggle out of the ticket. As we parted the officer said “You’d better drive more carefully on ‘my streets’.” That was ironic! Recent news reports revealed that because of the increasing rise in the cost of living, most of Raleigh’s police officers lived in Garner. So I bit my tongue as I thought about the fact this “his streets” were most likely in Garner while “these” streets had been “my streets” for two decades. Both of us failed to see how “we” could live together in the city.
Years later I witnessed a friend of mine being treated as an outsider on another college campus. As we parted company after walking from the Theological School to the Student Center of Drew University a member of the campus security continued to follow him to his dorm. Later in the week I noticed this happening again.
Now my friend Noel was a big man! He was 6-feet 4-inches and must have weighed 275 pounds, but that was not why he was being followed. He was being followed across campus because he was an oddity at Drew. He was not odd because he was a theological student or even that he was a Baptist at a United Methodist seminary. No, Noel was simply a big black man out of place among the mostly white coeds of this small liberal arts college.
I asked Noel how often this occurred and he shrugged as he said “I’m just ‘walking while black’ and this happens constantly. I asked Noel what could be done about this. When he replied, “Nothing,” that made me mad. Noel was (and still is) my friend. He had been elected the president of the predominantly United Methodist theological school student body even though he was a “Baptist.” I made an appointment with the dean of the theological school and then the president of the university. I expressed my outrage that somebody the theological school trusted to represent us in every situation was being treated this way. Then I went to the head of campus security and handed him Noel’s picture, informed him of Noel’s status as a student, and demanded that he tell his team to back off.
Noel was able to walk without being followed by campus security from that point forward, but only on that campus. In the real world he is still subjected to “driving while black” and “walking by black” stops by police officers. And he pastors one of the largest churches in the city where he currently resides.
Recent news events have me bothered one more time as the tension between police officers and the communities they serve are being strained. The strain is rooted in an “us” and “them” mentality. As Marilyn Patrick, director of ICOR, recently reminded me. We have to remember every time we have a conversation with another person that “we” have to talk. “We” can talk, but “us” and “them” can never get together to talk (we only shout!). So I invite you to continue learning how to listen to the other person in the conversation. (Remember that LISTEN split in half and the letters rearranged leads to the spiritual practice of being SILENT). Then I invite you to speak in the first person plural about how “we” are going to mend “our” ways rather then lapse into all to familiar patterns of talking about “us” and “them.” In God’s eyes “them” is “us” when “we” are talking about being God’s children.
Allen Bingham is the Pastor of Queen Street United Methodist Church and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.