Sunday, August 24, 2014

Loving My Neighbor As Myself

The vast majority of us, Christian or not, are familiar with what Jesus called one of the two greatest commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself. I suspect few people take the time to think about what this really means and how truly difficult it is. The commandment truly is great in that to do so is a great challenge and has great consequences if truly put into practice.

My heart has been aching in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, the John Crawford shooting in Dayton, OH, and so many others, in a way it never has before. I have been aware of racial discrimination and the systemic racism inherent in our systems of governance and "justice" for years now. But it's never felt personal to me like it does now. What has changed? About 8 months ago, this white woman who has lived her entire life in a very white bubble moved into a neighborhood where about 90% of her neighbors are African American. No, I didn't do it on purpose to try to prove how color blind I am or what a good white ally I am. No, I didn't do it as an experiment or for material for a good blog post. I simply wasn't familiar with the city to which I was moving.

I have had Black friends for most of my adult life. But there is something very different about having Black friends within the framework of your very white bubble where you are still the majority, as opposed to being in a place where you are now the minority, feeling so uncomfortable and so conspicuously white, seeing the funny looks you get as you walk down the street, having teenage boys call you "snowflake" when you walk by... essentially occupying the space of 'other.' And while I may stick out like a sore thumb and be so far outside my comfort zone it's almost comical, I can say that I feel safer in this neighborhood than I have almost anywhere else I've lived in the last 10 years. My neighbors have, for the most part, been kind, friendly, and gracious. My neighbors.

MY neighbors. This, I believe, is why I feel the pain of what is happening to the Black community at the hands of law enforcement so much more deeply and personally than I ever have felt about racial injustice. Because it's no longer an abstract idea--it's my community and my neighbors. I experience the fact that, despite how nice the neighborhood is, the grocery store doesn't carry a lick of organic produce, and there's an armed security guard in a bullet-proof jacket guarding the entrance/exit. This isn't abstract anymore. It's not academic or even trying to do or say the right thing. It's my community, my neighbors. Once a week I volunteer at the abortion clinic down the street, escorting women into the building, shielding them from protesters. Women of all races and backgrounds come to the clinic, and many of them are African American. But almost all the protesters are white men, hurling racially targeted verbal assaults at them, and I can only imagine the pain and trauma being inflicted. And I am angry. Because these are my sisters. These are my neighbors.

It's pretty easy to love your neighbor when they look like you and experience the world in relatively the same manner that you do. It's a lot harder when you are a white person living in an inherently racist society, living in a shelter of white privilege (yes, even poor whites have white privilege), to really get the whole "love your neighbor as yourself" thing when it comes to what is happening in Black communities all over the country. I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing a DJ from the St. Louis/Ferguson area who had opened the airwaves to callers after the Michael Brown shooting. At one point in the interview, he made the observation that so many of the (white) officers who are policing communities like Ferguson are not actually a part of the community. They live somewhere else, presumably in the comfort of their white suburban homes and neighborhoods, then suit up to police communities that are not their own, communities filled with people who look different from them, and whose experience of the world is very different. They come in to enforce the law on those they perceive as "the other," and the other is always lesser-than.

I feel in my heart, more now than I ever have, what I have known in my head for a long time: We are One. Please understand, that doesn't mean I claim to understand what it's like to be African American. It doesn't mean I'm claiming to be color blind (and please don't tell me you are). It means that I care deeply, in a way I never have before, what happens to people who are different from me. Because even though we look different and have different experiences, we are all human beings. We are neighbors. We are connected to each other through community, and on a deeper level, through the cells in our bodies and the Spirit living through us. We are One. I feel the pain of injustice. I take it personally. Because you belong to me and I belong to you.

I encourage everyone whose experience is of that of the privileged majority (whether that be white, straight, male, wealthy) to go within and ask how you might move outside your comfort zone to expand your circle of love and compassion on a deeper level, to make "the other" your neighbor, so that we might, one by one, live ourselves into a world where we truly get that everyone is our neighbor, and more fully love and care for all of humanity as ourselves.

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