Three years ago, during the height of the protests against the murder of George Floyd and the reemergence of Black Lives Matter, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about race at the home of one of our church leaders. There were a dozen of us around the table that evening and the conversation had turned toward the Confederate statue in the city park across the street from our church building. One man at the table claimed there was no racism in Amarillo. He told us he had lived in Amarillo most of his life and there were no issues there related to race. He said any controversy over the statue was fabricated by the media, that before Floyd was killed and before BLM began making noise, there had been no problems. It’s all made up. He’s had several black friends over the years, and none of them have ever complained about the statue.
To which I replied, “Who would they complain to?”
I then described a potential scenario to the group:
Let’s say there’s a Black guy living here in Amarillo and he’s poor. He’s always been poor. His great grandfather twice had his home burned down and his property destroyed. His grandfather never finished grade school because he had to work to support his family on somebody else’s ranch. All four of his grandparents were segregated by school and residential zoning policies, in public places and on government property, in churches and buses, in restrooms and restaurants, and at water fountains. He knows the stories. He’s seen the scars. His father has been in and out of jail for years on petty theft charges. His younger brother was pulled over and harassed by police last week because he was driving in a nice part of town. Let’s say this guy lives in a two bedroom rent house on Taylor Street and he walks both ways every day to work at the meat processing plant. Twice a day he walks right by that Confederate statue in Elwood Park. Two of his children attend Robert E. Lee Elementary in the Black part of town. He works lousy hours at a lousy job for minimum wage. It’s a terrible job — he hates it — and he barely makes enough to pay his bills and support his wife and kids. And every single day he has to walk by that statue in the center of Amarillo’s largest city park. If he hated that statue and found it to be an affront to his dignity and a source of deep pain, who would he complain to?
At that, the wife of the first man looked at me and said, “Ohhhhhhhh. You’re trying to put yourself in his shoes.”
Yes. Yes, I am.
Shouldn’t we all be doing that? Isn’t that exactly what our Lord did? Isn’t that our calling as disciples of the Christ, to empathize, to sympathize, to walk alongside and understand?
Here are some realities that are not made up, some hard cold statistics from the 2021 U.S. census. The following numbers represent non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks.
38.3% of Whites have at least one college degree compared to 24.7% of Blacks.
The median household income for Whites is $77,999; it’s $48,297 for Blacks.
19.5% of all Blacks live below the nation’s poverty level; it’s only 10% of Whites.
The life expectancy for a White person is 76.4 years; it’s 70.8 years for a Black person.
The homicide rate among men ages 15-34 per 100,000 is 6.1 for Whites and 126.1 for Blacks.
On this day when we honor the significance of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, allow me to humbly offer this one suggestion: have a conversation with a Black person. Somebody at work, somebody at church, somebody in your neighborhood. Take him to lunch. Invite her over for dinner. And just talk. Do it before this month is over. Just talk about life. Talk about your kids or your jobs. Talk about the weather or the Rangers. Do more listening than speaking. Come to the conversation prepared to hear something different, something new. Be open and receptive. Ask this person if you can pray for him or her. Be a safe space for your friend.
Blacks have a much different experience and viewpoint about life in your city than Whites. Our Lord would try to put himself in their shoes. Actually, he did.