Years ago I had a nemesis. My counterpart positioned himself as a white knight type of character and was basically there to harass anyone too fond of the religious tribe I was born into. He knew the group, he had been a convert and was now an ex-member, who classified us as “an ethnic church” dismissing what we said about our conversion experience.
Now that I’ve left the group there is no reason to continue to guard the ideas left behind and that includes the notion that my own participation had been completely a choice. There are doctrinal reasons for this denial of the obvious. I mean, if you believe that conversion is a personal choice, a rational and unbiased conclusion, then it really gets under your skin when someone says that you’re more or less a product of a religious culture.
We were, in our own eyes, a sort of remnant church. And then also had to deal with the awkward reality that many, like us, were so inbred that they had distinct genetic disorders. And, unlike our radical forbearers, we had no cultural relevance besides being the quaint old fashioned people who dressed like it was the 1800s and called this non-conformity to the world. So, obviously, the fact that everyone who shared our views happened to be genetically related was the source of cognitive dissonance.
It is for this reason that converts, the more exotic the better, were clung to and even given special treatment. We would say it was out of Christian love and yet some of this had to do with our own insecurities. They were our validation. They were the proof that we were more than just an ethnic cloister, more than a bunch of cousins of a particular European heritage claiming that our own brand of religion represented something universal and relevant to the times.
Those who come into this group, visibly from the outside, are often treated both with mistrust and also with a special adoration as well. They can never be fully accepted, they’re always both more and less than equal, coddled or spared normal rebuke from some to keep them from leaving, and yet also can sense that they’re just the tokens being used to prove a point rather than being treated as people. Sure, they may form real friendships with some, but they themselves are often misfits from whence they came and still remain stuck in no man’s land.
Now that I’m in a church that both spans continents and is mostly converts locally, I don’t have as strong an urge to collect tokens or evidence that I’m not just a product of my ethnocultural roots. I mean, sure, I still want to be right. But the pressure to bring the Gospel to all people is off my shoulders. The Church didn’t take long to spread into Asia or Africa, early Christians didn’t dress like Europeans from a generation ago either, there may be some times to chase down Ethiopian eunuchs in their chariots, and yet there’s also a time to acknowledge that the fullness of the faith has never left Africa.
Evangelicals, of all stripes, have this desperation for relevance. They think that they will win more converts by being more cosmopolitan, and by painting a picture of superficial diversity and inclusion, but Jesus said that his message would make the world hate us and even divide families. If we have the truth, if we know the truth, we are no longer bound to ethnic quotas and, instead, simply love people, especially of the household of faith, as we are commanded. Jesus preached to his own tribe first, his converts were mostly other Jews, like him, and that was perfectly fine.
Writing tributes has become one of those things that I’ve done. It feels right as a way that I can give back to those who have positively contributed to my life. It is said, “a person dies twice: once when they draw their last breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken.” So, by writing, I feel like I’m extending the legacy of those whom have lived as an example and deserve to be remembered.
My thoughts were to do the same for my cousin Uriah. To honor him as someone who was there for me, as the brother who selflessly cared for his special needs siblings, as the young man mature beyond his years looking to contribute to society in a positive way, as a listening ear and true friend during some of my darkest days, as someone who never complained about being dealt a very nasty card and had every right to the question God.
So far I’ve collapsed under the weight of the task. There is simply no way to put into words or adequately describe the loss of a close friend. The other tributes I’ve written were for those who had basically lived a full life and, more importantly, cases where I could take a step back from the subject to capture their character. I’m simply not skilled enough as writer to give a summary of someone who meant so much to me.
But, still, since his death is something that occupies my mind and since grieving is a process that most have experienced, I’ll write about my own experiences with him and the feelings that I’m currently sorting out. I’ve decided to talk about death and despair. And not with anything glowy to offer as an alternative either. And yet also not as someone who is defeated or ready to succumb to hopelessness. Yes, I’m battling with some depression, but down does not mean defeated.
Anyhow, the blog from here will be in two parts. First the events of the past couple of years from my own perspective. Then, after that, going back a little further for some additional stories about my interactions with Uriah and why this has brought back some of the identity related questions and traumas that has been the overall theme of Irregular Ideation. It is relationships that define and show the depths of what a person is. Hopefully by sharing from my own eyes it will be easier to understand what manner of man Uriah was.
The Strange Lump On Uriah’s Ankle
After finishing up at Bloomsburg University, Uriah decided to enlist. I’m not sure why exactly, he was always up to a challenge, the National Guard was a way to serve his country and give back, and it was always something to put on the resume. I’ve always flirted with the idea, despite being raised in a conservative Mennonite culture that preached against military service, the structure appealed to me. But, unlike me, Uriah followed through.
He excelled in basic training. He was motivated and willing to put in the work to be at the top of his class. One testament to this tenacious spirit was that a painful lump developed on his ankle. Uriah, unlike a ‘normal’ person, decided to continue with his training rather quit to get immediate medical attention. He reasoned that it was better this than to repeat basic and simply endured. I’m doubtful this made much difference as far as the final outcome, but it did mean that he was active duty military during the fight and received the very best care possible.
It was when he came home, over the winter, to visit family and get this lump checked out that I first heard about it. I decided to visit over this time and it was definitely concerning. Still, I was optimistic, I had had a lump removed from my shoulder area before, my sister had a tumor in her abdomen removed, and there was no reason to despair about this. We would wait on the results of the biopsy and pray for the best in the meantime.
We would soon find out that this tumor was malignant and when chemo didn’t do enough, the choice was given: Allow the to cancer spread or amputate. Uriah elected to do the unimaginable for most young and active people. He had his leg removed below the knee. This was hard enough for me. I couldn’t possibly imagine having to make this kind of decision. To go from runner, weight lifter, and athlete, to having to learn how to walk again!
But Uriah, for lack of a better expression, took this huge setback in stride and committed to physical therapy. It felt very fortunate too that he was in the military, Walter Reed is a prosthetics leader and he very proudly showed me the attachments available that would eventually enable him to run again. Besides this, he also had the wonderful Shanae in his life, and knowing my lifelong struggles in the romance department, this was something significant for me. Lumps, and loss of limbs, life goes on.
The Terrible News, Moments Bittersweet
A little over a year ago, and about a year after losing his leg, soon after Uriah’s new normal began to slip from my daily prayers, came the awful news: The cancer was back, this time it was in his lungs and the prognosis was not good. My heart sank. And tears flowed. Uriah would not be with us for much longer and there was very little that could be some about it.
Still, I would not allow this dark cloud plunge me into despair. If we couldn’t save Uriah then we would give him a most glorious send off imaginable. My imagination ran wild with ideas, a day that would be unforgettable, with my brother flying him and faking an emergency landing in a nearby city where us cousins would be waiting to whisk him away in a waiting limo, maybe a mock car chase with him in the passenger seat of my Shelby, with police in on the fun in pursuit around the closed airport, me yelling “we only live once!”
Alas, that was never meant to be. Uriah needed medical treatment more than a memorable adventure, the pandemic shutdowns followed soon thereafter (briefly changing the mood from: “Oh no, Uriah’s going to die” to “Oh no, we’re all gonna die!) and then his marriage to Shanae. That last item being a far better send off than this bachelor and a bunch of crazy cousins could provide.
The last year with Uriah served to highlight his bravery even against these impossible odds. Uriah, even with late stage lung cancer, refused to stop living his life and made time to be with those who loved him most. On multiple occasions, when the restaurants were still open, we dined out together. Me and him or joined by friends and cousins. These are some of the most beautiful and cherished moments of a very stressful and emotionally draining year.
However, of those moments, one shines above the rest. Uriah, probably only because he was Uriah, asked me if he could come visit my church sometime. Of course, I was thrilled by this, that he would think of this, and soon the arrangements were made. Nobody seeing him that day would have guessed he was terminally ill. He looked as strong and vital as ever. The highlights when Father Seraphim, who I had ambushed together with Uriah, agreed to anoint him and pray for healing. I also had the opportunity to take Uriah on one more ride in the Shelby on the way home.
In the week that followed the anointing something amazing happened. A text message from Uriah with the first good news since his lung cancer and prognosis were revealed. The tumors had shrunk! Could it be possible?
But this relief would only be temporary and the next time I would see my cousin he was no longer looking so invulnerable.
Over Thanksgiving Uriah, his condition already deteriorated, became infected with the Covid-19 virus. He was not doing bad from what I had been told. Unfortunately, after walking into the hospital, he was soon put on a ventilator and his loved ones told he would likely never be taken off of it. Still, my courageous friend had yet one more trick up his sleeve. He ended up, at some point, ripping the ventilator out and was breathing well enough on his own. It was fantastic. I prayed he would be able to go home and he was going home.
My optimism remained until my last meeting with him. I figured as long as he was fighting I would keep hoping for that miracle.
I had not been able to see him for months, partially due to my own bout with Covid-19, and also because he was under the care of his parents and Shanae. I may have missed the opportunity to see him entirely had it not been for my cousin David declaring that he didn’t think Uriah wanted visitors. I thought to myself, “we’ll see about that,” and I sent a text message soon thereafter. Uriah told me he wanted to see me and directed me to Shanae, I asked if David and another friend Derek could accompany me. We planned for the next Saturday.
I had known, with the cancer spreading throughout his body and now unable to walk because of diminished lung capacity, that Uriah wouldn’t be an image of health. Still, actually seeing him was a little jarring, he looked rough, and I realized that, even if the lastest longshot treatment option would work out, there was irreparable damage. It was a struggle for him to breath. But he still ate a slice or two of the pizza that I had brought. It was their wedding anniversary and an honor to be able to be there despite the circumstances.
When David and Derek said their goodbyes, they offered a fist bump. But it did not seem appropriate. I offered a hand shake, I wanted to clasp his hand and look him in the eyes. My last words to him were to tell him how proud I was of him. It was only a few days later that I received a phone call during the day from David. Uriah had passed away that morning. We had done we could, he fought like a true warrior, never complaining or falling to despair. He died short of his twenty-fifth birthday.
The Time Uriah Asked Me For Advice
I am a good bit older than Uriah. I can’t remember exactly how and when our relationship took off. But he had his own unique version of the Moyer cousin humor and a rare determination. I recall him out running, as teenager, with bricks in the backpack he was wearing. He wanted to be the best at what he did and put the work in too. He was a decent athlete, played basketball and soccer, and I knew he was becoming a man when I could no longer take him in a wrestling match.
When Uriah enrolled in Bloomsburg University, I had very little doubt in his abilities. He was extremely intelligent, someone mature beyond his years, and thus it came as a bit of a surprise when he reached out to me asking for advice. We met at Weaver’s for some pizza and ice cream. And when there he expressed his doubts. He was thinking about dropping out and wanted to get my opinion.
Of course, as one who has long struggled with feelings of having buried my talents, having quit college before obtaining a degree, to open I urged, “don’t be like your loser cousin!” I went on to explain the lifelong benefits of a degree, my own regrets, and encouraged him to continue on pursuing his dreams.
Uriah would go on, finish that first year, and continue through the next year. He was on the Dean’s list, evidently a good student, and would graduate with his criminal justice degree. It was something that made me immensely proud, especially that I had a small part in his success, and it seemed as if even the sky wasn’t the limit for him. He had done the thing that I failed to do. Not only that, but he had met Shanae while on campus and there was a budding romance between them.
As I look back my feelings are mixed. On one hand, my advice came with an assumption that he would live a long life, that his degree would open career opportunities. Uriah never did get that far, he never had an actual career, so what was the point of all that hard-work and discipline? My nihilism creeps in. As the book of Ecclesiastes begins: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” But, on the other hand, and as if to throw a wrench in my despair, had Uriah quit he would not have Shanae to accompany him during the last two years.
The Friend That I Didn’t Want
I’m a very idealistic person and loyal too. I remember my plans, as a child, to eventually live with my brother Kyle. I mean, we were peas in a pod, we understood each other, why would we ever go our separate ways, right? But, eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that my siblings, including Kyle, are very motivated people and were destined to have their own lives away from me. Our childhood together a passing phase and not permanent. It’s tough, yet necessary for progress.
However, having learned this, I was not prepared for what happened when a close friend, a wingman for many years, got married. I’m not sure what happened, but right after his wedding he basically disappeared. And, after the first efforts to reconnect failed, I decided that he simply didn’t need the relationship anymore and had moved on. To this day his wife is the only person who has shown any interest in maintaining a connection and it truly is baffling to me. Is this normal behavior? Should I be concerned?
Anyhow, this friendship of over a decade that vanished overnight left me wondering what friendship really is? It also made me wary of making such an investment ever again. If someone like this other friend could completely abandon our relationship, effectively ghost me, was it truly worth becoming connected at this level again? I almost felt lonelier having lost a friend, my romantic life wasn’t helping that, and when someone else started to emerge as a friend (Uriah) I wrote the following in a journal:
Uriah is a faithful something. I suppose he is a friend, although I don’t know if I want any friends really, not after [omitted]. I feel antisocial, I am sick of people and yet would not fare well alone. Last weekend proof of that.
I was dealing with many things at the time, in rehab and off of work because of a knee injury, and still reeling from the loss of a friendship. Once bitten, twice shy, right? I was reluctant to allow someone else to become close. I felt better to be in control, to keep some safe distance between myself and other people.
Nevertheless, a stronger bond did continue to develop between Uriah and myself, he was capable of intelligent discussion, completely trustworthy, and never judged me. My ideations, given the feelings of betrayal, were extremely dark and it was safe to express them with him. He helped me to not take them, or even myself, too seriously and provided a bit of a reprieve. And when I holed up he persisted. There were times we sat quietly together. I knew that he cared.
When I left the Mennonite church many of the people that I spent years with made no attempt to connect. There were so many relationships pursued and never reciprocated. Or, when there was relationship it was forced, a part of their religious duty and not real. Uriah was always genuine, like I try to be, and was never going to be a fairweather friend like so many others. That’s what makes it so especially hard to lose him in a manner completely unexpected.
He’s the friend that I didn’t want because losing friends is too painful. In the weeks following his death my desire was to withdrawal, avoid intimate relationships, and protect against future disappointment. Of course, avoiding pain and risk is not a way to live and in the intervening weeks I’ve started to force myself to reengage. I can’t bring Uriah back, he’s gone. But there’s no point in joining him in the grave.
The Questions That Cannot Be Answered
The hardest part of Uriah’s death is where it leaves his parents. Ed and Judy are two of the hardest working and most dedicated parents I know. And for reasons we’ll never know three of their four children suffered terrible seizures. Renita Gail, I carried out to the cemetery on a cold day many years ago. Uriah’s two remaining siblings, Aleah and Isaiah, have not developed beyond a certain point and require constant care.
It goes without saying that there were many hopes that evaporated with the passing of Uriah. He was the strong and healthy son, someone more than willing to help with Aleah and Isaiah, and now he’s gone. It is unfair. There is no way to understand why misfortune visits some. Perhaps that is why the book of Job was written? To put to end this notion that people get what they deserve only good things happen to good people?
There is nothing I can offer that will come close replacing a young man who was my better in so many ways. It would be silly to even try, he was one of a kind, tall and handsome. He got the intelligence and work ethic from both of his parents. He had the compassionate heart of his mother and quirky humor of his father. He was their legacy, the one who was supposed to carry the Derstine name and support them in their old age.
Being a pallbearer for Uriah was a great honor. However, carrying that casket up that icy hill, like I had with Renita many years before, came with the burden of the many unanswerable questions. I won’t even attempt to answer. But maybe if I have another son, I’ll name him Uriah Edward and tell him someday about my cousin, my aunt and uncle. I have not heard one complaint from them Uriah’s parents. They feel the loss more than anyone else and yet their resolve to trust God is encouraging to those of us with our many questions.
Dealing with death isn’t easy, especially not when it is someone so undeserving and special. I’ve been battling against depression and despair over the past few weeks, despite having a year to prepare, and I suppose it would be strange to feel nothing in such circumstances? But I don’t plan to linger here. I acknowledge the feelings, I lost a friend, a rare kind of individual. There will never be another Uriah. There are no easy answers. But I will try to carry the legacy of Uriah as far as I am able.
My own family situation was unique. As many good Mennonites do, my aunts and uncles, like my grandmother, adopted and there was no child left behind. Of course what this meant is there was some additional shades of color at family reunions and it had always seemed like this wonderful idyllic thing. And it certainly did help in the regard that it gave some children the privilege of a stable home and also likely helped us other cousins to humanize those of different color from our own.
But with this also came a negative side. Believe it or not, good little Mennonite children can also be vicious racists, being of a different skin color did indeed make that a focal point of conflict and I wonder how many seeds were planted then that fed insecurities that we all deal with and yet would be felt especially acutely by those adopted? My own feelings of not belonging did not have that one focal point, that specific thing that could be identified as a source, and yet I was still the “black sheep” regardless.
Still, I had the opportunity to talk to another self-identified “black sheep” of his family, my cousin Isaac, who like me, had a foot in two different cultures. He would spend most of the year with his white family in rural Pennsylvania, his parents my first cousins, and would also spend time with his black family in the inner-city of Philadelphia during the summer. Of course this gives him a very unique perspective on racial issues and definitely a voice worth listening to. So, when we started to argue about recent events, both of us talking past each other, he called and this is the result.
My Voice Doesn’t Matter
Taking a step back, Isaac and I are a different generation. I’ve been struggling, over the past few years, with feelings of betrayal for having embraced the ideal of racial equality and all that nonsense (which isn’t actually nonsense) about judging each other by the content of character rather than the color of their skin. Racism always seemed silly to me. What did it really matter what skin a person wore so long as they treated me decently, right? And that’s just how I would assume that most rational and sane people think. Unfortunately things are more complicated than that and that is what is creating conflict across this great nation.
My grievance started years ago, with something that I witnessed over and over again and maybe is best captured in a story from my school years when a mother, black, got on to the bus and screamed in the face of our bus driver, calling him “racist” and “redneck,” nasty things. Why? Well, he had had the audacity to apply the same standard, established for the safety of her children as much as all of us, but apparently the only thing she could see was that this white man (now beet red) was somehow mistreating her perfect darling angels for trying to impose a little order. The rest of us sat in stunned silence, the poor farmer working for a pittance was not a sophisticated man nor equipped for this kind of conflict nor were the rest of us.
That was one of many similar incidents where us polite people had to simply keep our mouths shut as some other folks got a free pass for their misbehavior. Polite culture means we avoided causing a scene, that we look the other way when the impolite people fight and basically do whatever it takes to avoid conflict. Conflict over the slightest perceived insult was the realm of bullies and other insecure people. We did not wish to be browbeat and berated ourselves. Our own grievances with this mistreatment would be mocked and belittled anyways, so we kept our heads low and did whatever it took to accommodate those less polite.
A few years, during the Obama presidency, many took issue with the massive expansion of government called by the misnomer Affordable Care Act. Of course, as a consistent fiscal conservative and one keenly aware of the costs, along with unintended consequences, of expanded government power, I was opposed. Many Americans did peacefully protest and yet, almost immediately, they were branded as racist by the media. I was appalled. But at least a black friend, a progressive, with a good education, would treat my own concerns as valid, right? It ended up being one of the most disappointing conversation of my life. A man, who already intimidated me for his advantages, dismissed my points with personal insults.
It was in that conversation and several others, after Obama’s call for dialogue about race, that I found out my own voice and experience didn’t matter in this ‘conversation’ about race. If I did not accept everything on their terms then I wasn’t understanding or lacked in empathy, which is absurd and definitely not terms that I would ever agree with in any other discussion. Nevertheless, it was what was, my skin color automatically disqualified my opinion, my attempts at consistently applied principles didn’t apply to their grievance, and I’ve always left feeling unheard. That’s the experience for many who don’t go 100% along with the protest narrative. Our voice didn’t matter.
A Time When Silence Is No Longer An Option
Over the past few years I’ve become a professional (yet hopefully harmless) agitator. After years of being a polite person or at least trying, wanting to go along with the Mennonite program, and finally it had just become too much. I had been told I was respected, affirmed in many ways, followed the rules, mostly, or to the best of my abilities and felt the other side of this social contract wasn’t holding up their own end of the commitment. My grievance had become too much to bear any longer and thus began my blogging here. It eventually boiled over and led me to leave my Mennonite tribal identity behind or at least to the extent that is possible.
But this emancipation was not complete. There was one topic, given past experience and potential loss of friends, that I avoided as much as possible. The politics of race, meaning the discussion of things related to measuring out justice and governance, is a third rail for those who wish to think outside of the established and acceptable narrative. As oppressed as some claim to be, the oppressed sure do dominate conversation, they have governors breaking their own shutdown orders to march, celebrities speaking out in solidarity and big corporations affirming their message without any word about the accompanying violence. If only I could be so oppressed.
It was with cities burning, small owners being beaten for defending their livelihoods, with my polite friends seeing “animals” and a growing number people dying in the violence, that I decided to take off my own filter and say enough is enough!
Everyone up to President Trump himself had acknowledged the injustice of George Floyd’s death. We had an opportunity for solidarity against police brutality, the officer was charged, and yet, after what seemed like a full validation of the concern, the protests only picked up steam. I might be a polite person, who avoids conflict when possible, but I don’t want to be beaten to death on account of my skin color more than anyone else and certainly was not going to wait untill the violence had reach my own doorstep to speak out. No, nobody asked me to mediate or broker a conversation. I knew that those on the ‘other side’ would likely tune me out, maybe even unfriend or unfollow me, and started my own form of protest.
The racially divisive narrative was a lie. Police brutality is a problem. The death of George Floyd is, by all appearances, an injustice. I have no problem with those who, on their own time and dime, without violating the rights of others, wish to protest. I know well the reality of racism, both historically and in the current year. And yet to frame everything of what happened in Minnesota in terms of race simply ignores reality and this sort of assumption about what happened will lead to anything but justice. If we were allowed to have an intelligent discussion on matters of race, if I had a partner in that discussion willing to see another perspective, I could explain.
Anyhow, it was in the midst of speaking out that someone with connection to me since childhood decided to speak back. That being my cousin Isaac. And it went predictably, online, as one would expect, I was “missing the point” and this first round came to a stalemate, with us moral posturing and might have ended there had Isaac not reached out with a phone call. It didn’t feel, at the end of an hour or so, that we agreed on too much. We had our times of animation, talking over each other, and emotion. But the reality is that we accomplished far more in our willingness to engage and so I did want to summarize a little of what I saw as significant, what I heard, where we agreed and where as diverged.
1) Not About George Floyd
The one thing that Issac and I seemed to agree on is that that this was not about only the death of George Floyd. In his view, this is about racial unjustice and draws upon his own experience of finding out what it means to be black as a teenager. He spoke of the fear that black (presumably men in particular) have in their encounters with police, the profiling he suspects when entering into white communities and some of the racist language he has encountered.
The circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death, that being his violent criminal record, his being on drugs and passing forged currency were inconsequential in his opinion. And I agree that this doesn’t make any difference as far as the guilt or innocent of Derek Chauven and the other officers. But where I diverge from Isaac is where he claims this death makes him equally vulnerable, as a black man, whereas I believe that criminal behavior and repeat negative encounters with law enforcement are going to dramatically increase the chances of dying at the hands of police.
So we agreed that it is not about George Floyd. But I see the only reason that we are talking about this case, as a nation, is because of Floyd is black and not because of the injustice.
2) Black Lives Is Not About Black Lives, But All Lives?
Isaac took issue with me saying that this was all about black tribal identity and racial solidarity, but was actually about police brutality and justice for all people. But, while saying this, he also defended the “Black Lives Matter” description and claimed it was a movement to respect all lives.
However, if this were truly the case, I postulated, why do we only have protests, riots and looting when it is a black man involved?
Why didn’t millions of Black Lives Matter protestors take to the streets and demand instantaneous prosecution of the black officer, Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Justine Damond, an unarmed 40-year-old white woman in July of 2017?
Timpa cried out thirty times, as officers pinned his shoulders, knees and neck down, and joked over his body as he slipped away in 2017? Why no outrage over the officers only being charged with misdemeanors and then having those charges dropped?
His killer was acquitted, even briefly reinstated as a police officer just so he could receive a pension and nothing burned. Nobody said much of anything.
I know what my own answers to that series of questions is. My answer is that these deaths did not fit a racially divisive narrative. If this were truly about making all lives matter and police brutality, then these three cases would be an excellent opportunity to bring many people into the fold. No, that doesn’t mean that Isaac is insincere, not at all, but I do think the “Black Lives Matter” moniker is alienating and, frankly, insulting to those of us who have spent our lives treating everyone of all colors and creeds as if their lives mattered.
So, my point is if this truly is about police reforms, not racial tribalism or divisive political posturing, why not find descriptive language that matches that intention? Why not “All Male Lives Matter,” since most who are killed by police happen to be men, mostly white men, not women? Or maybe “Police Brutality Must Stop,” a title that would describe the actual mission if it is about change and reform of police violence? The point is that words also matter and I would much sooner jump on board a movement that didn’t falsely present the issue.
Isaac would likely disagree with everything I just said, that’s his right.
3) Isaac Wants Change, I Do Too
The real crux of the matter comes down to a difference of perspective. Isaac (who has friends who are in law enforcement) sees a “broken criminal justice system” and wants a change. I agree that there needs to be improvement, but also that there’s an elephant in the room not often talked about and that being that we aren’t actually being honest in our discussion about race or getting to those things that lead to more violent encounters with police. And that’s not blame-shifting, we can both hold police officers accountable and also get to some of those root issues shaping black outcomes as well, but there first needs to be some acknowledgement of that difference.
As things currently stand, polite people are forbidden to talk about things like black on black crime, we are not supposed to notice when public officials, journalists and activists downplay the ongoing murder and mayhem in the name of justice. We are not supposed to believe our own eyes when we see people, many of them black, with armfuls of stolen merchandise. Sure this may be a small minority, but let’s not pretend that this is only a few “white supremacist” infiltrators. It is time to stop this racism of lower expectations and have zero tolerance for using one injustice to excuse another. Again, that would restore some credibility and help accomplish the stated goals of the protests.
And we need to talk about this double standard. The polite people are fed up with being treated like second-class citizens and silenced based on their skin color. They are tired of being villainized or ridiculed for their peaceful protests of other forms of government oppression, equated to terrorists, when actual terrorism is being ignored and criminals lionized. We need to talk about this because even polite people won’t respect those who do respect them. If the goal is to eventually achieve equality (which is my own hope) then the pandering and patronizing must end. To achieve the change we need to be the change and to be the change we need to treat others as we wish to be treated.
Ironically, I believe some of the reason why many white people tune out is because they don’t feel heard themselves. Many, like me, feel unappreciated in a system that expects them to be polite people and then celebrates when their minority counterparts act out. It’s almost as if the minstrel shows have etched in this expectation that the black folk are supposed to sing, dance and keep us entertained, riot occasionally, that black people are unable to control themselves or their emotions and thus can be exempted if they are more aggressive, etc. But this is utter nonsense, there are many sober and serious black people, many emotional and expressive white people.
I do agree with Isaac, we should not hold police to a different standard than anyone else, they must be held accountable for their actions like anybody else, and I support the push for reforms. Where we seem to diverge the most is our perception of what’s important to consider. He would prefer a more narrow focus, on the problem of police brutality, where I am more interested in doing more to address the cultural issues that lead to negative outcomes and would improve the image of black men in particular.
4) I Want Appreciation, And As An Individual
It is not fair that Isaac, as intelligent and well-rounded as an individual that he is, gets lumped in with the crimes of any other black man or is even the defined in any way by his skin color. Likewise, I don’t want to be judged or held personally accountable for sins I’ve never committed as some are trying to do. It is absolutely absurd to me that some white people are out literally kissing the boots of black men. Please stop this insanity! Let’s just all learn to appreciate each others as equally individuals, okay? Fight prejudice in all forms.
I would also rather we start from a position of appreciation for the criminal justice system that we do have. It is far from perfect and yet I know first hand what happens where it doesn’t exist. The killers of uncle Roland, in the Philippines, despite many leads, have not been brought to justice and that’s simply because there’s not the law enforcement resources to bring to bear. It is extremely easy to criticize any system and yet we should also study what is working and why as well. The key to fixing or improving any system is having an intimate knowledge of how it works or why it was designed in a particular way.
I think that’s where Isaac and I differ the most, and also why we must talk, he wants change while I’m geared for caution and constraint. He protests for justice, now, immediately and on his own terms, while I ruminate about foundational principles and think about past incidents of mob rule. Neither of us are right or wrong in our approach. I understand his orientation towards action. He probably gets more done while I brood and ponder philosophies. We make perfect sparing partners. He knows enough about me to keep me honest and I know enough about him to do the same.
I appreciate that Isaac, while passionate, did not attempt to pigeonhole and treated me with respect, like an equal. As Scripture says, “iron sharpens iron” and I felt quite evenly matched. It was definitely a conflict, yet I never felt threatened, as I have in other similar attempts at honest dialogue and efforts to bring the racial divide. We ended up expressing our love for each other, something that I don’t think we’ve even done before given there is a whole multitude of cousins on my dad’s side, and the whole experience was cathartic for someone like me who cares deeply and often feels helpless to change anything given the complexity of everything.
It also inspired me to write this and help get our combined perspectives (albeit obviously biased towards my own perspective) out there for your consideration. But the more important take away is that we not ignore uncomfortable topics, that we not shout each other down rather than hear, that we engage in there types of true conversations, with two sides given, and find our common ground. I feel strongly that God brought Isaac and I together for a reason and the reason is to be that bridge between people. But Isaac deserves most of the credit, he didn’t fire shots and run, he was willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue.