The slow education of Dan Thompson

It is a hard read. We, as white people, have nothing on the line. George Floyd, in “our book,” is over. We read a couple of books by actual black authors a couple of years ago. So… why read another “hard book?”

Danté Stewart’s book Shoutin’ in the Fire is a hard read. It is a necessary read. We, as white conservative evangelicals, have little bandwidth for it, but it occurs to me the last vestiges of Judah had little time for Jeremiah as well. They would have done good to listen to that guy…

Stewart tells his story, and he is still young, but his quick awakening coincided with my very slow awakening. And one of his early conclusions is reflective of my very late conclusion:

“I was done talking about unity. I was done talking about coming together. I was done with it all. It was time to talk about white supremacy.”

My slow education was in my context as a pastor in Minneapolis. The first confrontation I had with what the Black community was suffering was the shooting of a man named Jamar Clark. It happened in North Minneapolis. He was drunk and belligerent and holding up an ambulance from driving away. Minneapolis Police rolled up on him and within 90 seconds, Jamar Clark was dead.

I had my standard safe white answers. The county attorney had investigated. He wished the law was different (or so he said), but the law didn’t allow him to prosecute poorly trained police. I related my very safe answers to two new friends I had at the time. Bill, an older Black gentleman, was a very kind friend. He listened to me and said very little. He continued to be my friend and over the next few years I realized his gentleness and my foolishness.

Christian was a young Black student and her and I talked a lot. She was from the neighborhood where Jamar Clark was killed and she wasn’t going to let me be safe. She explained more about the county attorney and the precinct in that neighborhood and anything else she could get in as long as I would listen.

I began to process things differently. Especially grief. I didn’t understand grief in the Black community.

Then came July 5 and 6, 2016. I had read of the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5. When I opened my news feeds on July 6 and saw a headline about a video of a shooting, I assumed it was the one of Alton Sterling. I had heard there had been videos, so I wanted to read more and watch the video.

It wasn’t Alton Sterling. It was Philando Castile. It was the video his girlfriend had posted on Facebook Live moments after Philando was shot and was bleeding to death as she got on Facebook Live to record the incident in a way that couldn’t be destroyed later.

Again… my slow education. She had the awareness to go LIVE because she knew just recording it on her phone may take the risk of getting erased if it was confiscated by police. My slow white brain didn’t understand at the time that Black people had created instant reactions to record events because no one believed their simple testimony.

My wife and I were stunned by the video. Crushed. For the first time in our lives we went to a protest rally. It shook us. It changed us.

When we tried to enter into discussions with people we thought we knew, we were confronted with normal safe white replies. Even with evidence mounting that this was a bad stop on the part of that officer… the excuses kept coming.

And rage filled me. I was tired of the excuses. I was tired of not listening… and when I listened I was tired of other white Christians not listening.

I am a slow learner. My education has been at a glacial pace. I carry that grief. And I continue to say in as many ways as possible: I can’t sit still and I can’t stay quiet any more.

“I was done talking about unity. I was done talking about coming together. I was done with it all. It was time to talk about white supremacy.”

To my white conservative Christian friends… I am still here. I am still thinking about all this. I am still inviting you to please read these challenging books. I am still inviting you to listen. Not just to the Black people who affirm your echo chamber. Listen to those who will challenge you as well. Hear their stories. Don’t jump in with your thoughts. Just … listen.

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