The NAACP has just issued its first statewide travel advisory, for Missouri, my home state, saying:
“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION,” the advisory warns. “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”
In the year 2017, the dozing beast of in-your-face racism has been roughly prodded awake, and the beast is starving and angry.
For over a week, I have been wallowing around in the afterglow of my road-trip vacation. Nearly three-thousand miles, alone, just so I could rest, re-create, and take photos of our North American landscape. It was a huge adventure, and definitely more risky than it was when I was younger, but I never lost my agency. I never expected to lose my agency. And believe me, I was and am, profoundly aware of how many in this country there are who do not have that same luxury.
How did we get to this place?
Have we really been here all along?
Have I really been that blind?
One of my stops was the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For over two-thirds of my life I have wanted to go there and see the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. I knew it would be bad – the poverty, the isolation, the corruption – I’ve kept track enough to know – but when you’re there, and life suddenly steps out of the painting, it’s so much more.
I wanted to go and see the people who were shoved aside to make room for my people – you know, the real illegal immigrants.
I didn’t know what I could do beyond pay my respects, and so I did, but I wanted to look at and know and acknowledge for at least a moment, who was really paying my rent – who was picking up the tab on my comfortable, privileged, lifestyle.
I can move freely between states; I can visit breathtaking sites; eat in local restaurants; stay in local hotels, and know that I’m probably not going to be exploited, harassed, or abused in any way. I take it for granted; it is how I experience my culture and my world, but what gets swept under the rug is how this American culture is built on a flimsy foundation of hatred, insecurity and the highest percentage of juvenile pettiness recorded so far.
I read a story today written by a black woman who was describing her own recent cross-country road trip. She had her kids with her and decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel in Texas for lunch. Well, it kind of scared the hell out of her, so she tweeted something that crossed the radar of the wrong person and it went completely south in no time. (Story here)
As I traveled, I knew that the color of my hide granted me gold card access to wherever I wanted to go. Yes, I’m a woman; yes I’m older, and yes, there is a whole set of issues embedded in that, but for the most part I can move around unmolested. I cannot imagine looking over my shoulder everywhere I go, terrified of who I might encounter. I cannot imagine feeling like a moving target. My problems are not these problems, and truth be told, I learned how to navigate my own challenges a long time ago – because I have that luxury.
It is spiraling out of control again – racism – and I am ashamed. I am ashamed that it is members of my tribe who cause these problems, and I am ashamed that I am safe because of it. I am ashamed of the insatiable greedy beast that my tribe has become, stealing land, stealing bodies, and ravaging souls. I am ashamed of the blind eyes, and the propagandist narrative about bygone days when everything was “baseball, hotdogs, apple-pie, and Chevrolet.”
And I am VERY ashamed of our false nostalgia.
But I don’t have a fix for it – any of it.
I just have my voice.
I have my voice and I have my heart, and I have a seminary education that helped me see the difference between the way of Jesus, and the way of white Christian America.
Show up, point, talk gospel, and love.
What if I screw up?
I have. And I will again.
I have been fed the intravenous fluids of privilege my entire life.
But it’s the only way to get through.
Show up, point, talk gospel, and love….then repeat.