I remember when I first relocated.

My husband and I moved our college-educated, middle class white selves into the thick of an under-resourced African-American neighborhood in the most racially segregated city in the U.S.

Because we wanted to help.

I, specifically, wanted to fix it.  Because that’s what I do, I fix things.

Our first task, as prescribed by the church we work with, was to listen.

No programs, no plans, no nothing for six months.

Listen first.  You have a lot to learn.

I was mortified.  I had just spent the last 22 years of my life learning and listening.  I had a college degree!  Wasn’t it time to do some work now?!

But I shut up.

And I listened.

And three years later, I’m still all ears.

Because I don’t understand, nor do I have all (or any) of the answers.

Especially when it comes to this great beast of race relations in our country.

But I do think it’s safe to say that it is high time we all do a great deal more listening.

********************************************************************************

I wasn’t there on the evening of February 26th, 2012.

I wasn’t in the court room.

I didn’t hear the arguments and testimonies.

I’ve never been to Sanford, Florida.

So I really don’t know anything that someone else hasn’t told me.

But this I do know:

That as our African-American brothers and sisters cry “no justice for Trayvon,” they deserve the respect and decency of our listening ears. 

Because racism is not dead in the U.S.

It’s not.

It’s ingrained in our very psyche.

It goes without saying.

Alive and well like fuzzy-headed dandelions waiting to crop up in new, frustrating ways every day.

Are you listening?

Do you hear the mothers crying?  Crying in grief over a young life lost.  Crying out of fear for their own sons lives.

Do you hear them?

Just them?

Without your own internal commentary.

Are you listening?

Do you hear the teenagers shouting?

Crying racism and injustice?  Calling out publicly what they experience everyday as they are kicked out of parks and followed around stores.

Do you hear them?

Just them?

Are you listening?

Or did you cross to the other side of the street, like the privileged religious of Jesus’ parable did?

Are you listening to the parents who must tell their sons, while they are still young enough to cuddle teddy bears, about the “black man code” and how they will be perceived as a threat, even if they are not?

Are you aware that psychologists have seen that we perceive black men to be a threat and white men to be safe?

Do you hear that within yourself, because it’s there.

Are you listening?

Just listening?

Or are you listening and sifting…

Listening while formulating your response…

Scripted…

Careful….

Comfortable…

Are you listening?

Because whether or not you agree with the jury, there is so much to learn here.

Even if you don’t understand the outrage, the grief is deep and the pain is overwhelming, and we are to weep with the weeping and mourn with the mourning.

Are you listening?

Really listening?

With no other agenda than to learn?

With no other response than sharing in the pain?

Are you listening?

I wish we all would.

Because we (white people) will never understand.

What it’s like to be perceived as a threat everywhere you go…
What it’s like to walk into a store and have security follow you around…
What it’s like to get stopped on your walk home because your hood was up and your skin was of a certain shade…

We will never get that.

But we can listen, because we have much to learn.

It’s time to listen.

To shut up, admit we don’t have all the answers, admit there is still a problem,

…and listen.

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