The Language of the Unheard

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Since the decision was made not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, discussion boards and political pundits have erupted with a variety of opinions. In Ferguson and around the country, people continue to protest--both peacefully and not so peacefully. These words of Martin Luther King Jr. offer an important perspective from a man whose legacy has often been twisted to silence the very people he spoke for.

The one type of response I have yet to see or hear anywhere (that I can remember) from our white brothers and sisters is, "Wow. A lot of people are extremely upset. I'm not upset, but because I value the humanity of those who are, I guess it might be worth listening to what they have to say...and maybe there is something I can do to help." Perhaps this response happens in the hearts and minds of many (in between angry tweets), but most of what we hear are arguments that either build up the cause of those protesters, affirm the existence of racial inequality, and demand justice, or are arguments that minimize and dehumanize...for God's sake...Darren Wilson compared Michael Brown to a "demon." He was not a demon; he was a human being.

All of the back and forth is enough to make me want to stay off of the internet and slip into the seclusion of a winter Netflix binge. This is especially easy, seeing as I live in a comfortable house in a comfortable community full of healthy, happy, and wealthy people.

But hear me sisters and brothers: we cannot slip into isolation. We cannot pretend that there isn't a problem just because we may not experience it firsthand. There is a problem, and there are things we can do:

♦ We can mourn with those who mourn for their lost loved ones.

♦ We can step in and speak up in situations where someone is being treated differently because of the color of their skin.

♦ We can choose to read our news from sources that offer multiple perspectives. Stop watching Fox News. Stop watching MSNBC. Watching both does not make you balanced; it makes you crazy. There are many news sources that offer more in-depth analyses of important issues.

♦ We can give money to the ACLU.

♦ We can write letters to our elected representatives about Ferguson, oversight of those charged to protect us, gun policies, etc....even if it is the same letter and we make dozens of copies and send one every day until the message is heard.

♦ We can put our feet on the ground and join a protest.

And finally,

♦ We can listen...listen to the voices of those telling us that there is a problem before forming a position that helps us to sleep better at night. And listening means that we stop saying things that shut people down. When we minimize the pain of others, by word, action, or inaction, we perpetuate evil.

These riots are the screams of the unheard, and they are only getting louder.