I remember watching the Rodney King Riots in 1992 on TV. I was stunned at what I saw - looting, fires, violence, anger, hate. I couldn't watch as the news reran the scene of Reginald Denny being pulled out of his truck and mercilessly beaten by four men. The moment most seared into my mind is the picture of one of the men kicking his leg up and pointing at Denny in celebration after he had crumpled to the ground. I had seen the video of the Rodney King beating and it was frightening; now I was seeing the aftermath of the verdict and it was horrifying.
To set the scene for me 24 years ago, I was a sophomore in college, attending a predominately white Bible College in the midwest (Cincinnati, Ohio). I had grown up in a mostly white area on the south side of Indianapolis, Indiana, having graduated from a racially “mixed” high school.
Let’s take it back a bit further. I remember in fourth grade - 1981 - when African-American kids from the inner city were bused to the suburban school where I was attending. I remember the feeling of curiosity more than anything else. What made “them” so different? Why did “they" talk differently? Why did “they" dress differently? I remember the first issue of lice that ran through the school after the integration and the big deal it seemed to be … like white people never had lice issues!
In 4th grade, after meeting several black kids and becoming friends with them on the playground - the great days of kickball - I remembered thinking, “What’s the big deal?"
Fast forward to 1991. People forget that the Rodney King riots in ’92 weren’t because of the footage of King being beat viciously on March 3, 1991, they were a response to the 4 officers in the beating being acquitted of all charges of wrongdoing.
Rodney King had been a troubled guy with drug and alcohol issues and more than a few prior arrests on his record. He led the Los Angeles police on a high speed chase because he knew he was intoxicated, which if caught, would result in a violation of his parole. Once out of his vehicle, the police moved in to restrain King, to which he forcefully resisted. It was an awful scene, as captured by a bystander on video tape. King was tasered twice, beat some 33 times with batons, kicked a number of times, and eventually subdued by eight officers.
I’m not here to argue about what happened or what should have happened, nor am I going to argue any political point at all, for that matter. Let me make this clear:
I’m not a police officer who puts his life on the line for others every day. I have friends who are, and I deeply respect and appreciate them.
I’m also not a black man. I have friends of all colors and races, and I deeply respect and appreciate all of them!
So here we are … 2016 … 25 years after the Rodney King beating and 24 years after the Rodney King Riots, and 35 years after black and white integration at Burkhart and I’m asking:
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Over the last few years, we’ve all heard the names and the stories ...
Eric Garner, New York, July 17, 2014
Michael Brown, Ferguson, August 9, 2014
Laquan McDonald, Chicago, Oct. 14, 2014
Walter Scott, Charleston, April 4, 2015
Freddie Gray, Baltimore, April 19, 2015
Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, July 5, 2016
Philander Castile, Minnesota, July 6, 2016
And of course, the Dallas Sniper attack by Micah Johnson, on July 7, 2016.
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of the violence we have seen paraded across our cell phones, tablets, and TVs, it’s just a short offering of some of the most high-profile cases that most people will recognize.
It seems that we haven’t learned too much as a nation, but the events of this week have forced me to ask a more personal question:
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
I took an online test a few months back that was interesting, to be sure - you can find it HERE. The result of the test defined me as PREJUDICE.
Strange, I’ve never thought of myself as prejudice, but then I looked up the definitions of the words “prejudice” and “racist” and started thinking about my views of others, my experiences with different races, my interactions on a daily basis, and ultimately, my heart.
preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
Here’s where I’m at: I am prejudice … and so are you.
The definition of “prejudice” is “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience."
Let’s think about that for a minute. When I was in 4th grade, I had never had a personal experience with someone who wasn’t white, at least not any interaction on an ongoing, individual level. I wasn’t taught any prejudice or racist tendencies. I wasn’t told that “black people were bad” or “white lives were better.” The truth is, I didn’t really know anything about it. I’m sure that I had drawn some conclusions on my own … in the vast depth of my 9 year old mind! I had heard of slavery in history class. I caught the 5 o’clock news every once in a while. I watched football and basketball on TV. I knew who Muhammed Ali, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Magic Johnson were.
At 9 years old I hadn’t had vey many interactions with African-Americans, but I’m sure I had some opinions about them, some "preconceived … not based on reason or actual experience” thoughts. And I’m sure they had some opinions about me.
At 20 years old, watching the Rodney King Riots, after years of “reason and actual experience,” I’m sure I had some opinions back then too. Opinions about the officers who beat Rodney King. Opinions about Rodney King’s past and his actions. Opinions about the riots and the rioters.
And today, at 43 years old, after the last few weeks of confrontations, hostilities, displays, and media coverage … yep, I still have a lot of opinions!
The truth is, we ALL have prejudice in our hearts and our lives. We ALL view the world through what we KNOW (from reason and experiences) and what we THINK we know (from assumptions and deductions). Every one of us. White people are prejudice. Black people are prejudice. Women are prejudice. So are men. Hispanics. Disabled. Straight. Transgendered. Gay. Those with money. Those without money. EVERYONE is wired to be prejudice. Our minds and our hearts will always jump to conclusions.
Right now, if I tell you I'm going to vote for Donald Trump, you have a prejudice either for or against me without knowing me at all. Right now, if I tell you I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton ... same thing.
Let’s all be honest, hidden deep within every one of us are prejudices.
In my life, the question isn’t “Do I have prejudices,” it’s “How do I stop them from affecting me?" How do I keep “preconceived opinions … lacking actual experience” (prejudices) from becoming “a belief that I’m superior to others” (the foundation for racism)?
How do I guard my heart, so that I don’t allow the ignorance of my preconceived opinions to take root in becoming something far worse, and making me and those around me worse for it?
Our nation is on edge, and every political pontiff is pushing their cause to fix it, but is seems to me like much of what I’m hearing is how to change the rules of our culture without trying to speak into changing the culture itself.
So here's what I"m going to do in my corner of the universe to fight the prejudice nature in me:
1. SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO AREN’T LIKE ME
I don’t mean spending time with them to try to “fix” them or to make them more like me. I’m not in this to change their beliefs. I mean get to know them. Period.
2. GET TO KNOW OTHER PEOPLE’S STORY
We all have stories, every one of us: where we’re from, what we like, why we think the way we think, what makes us angry, what makes us laugh, who had the greatest influence on us. The list goes on and on.
3. INVITE PEOPLE INTO MY STORY
Yeah, this one’s a bit tougher because it involves vulnerability, and we’re not too comfortable with that. But the more I get to know others in order to see their story, the more I want people to get to know my story.
I guarantee that if we just spent time on these first three, our culture would change … but let’s not stop there.
4. SERVE "THEM"
Whoever the “them” is in my life, I need to serve them. I need to take the time to know them, hear their story, and do what I can to help them out. THEN I will have a better understanding of what makes “them,” them … I will likely find myself becoming more like “them” too.
5. INCLUDE "THEM"
That’s right, actually invite them into what you’re life looks like. Invite them for dinner. Include them at your next barbecue. Ask them to come to church. This isn’t just about helping “them” out to make me feel better, it’s about being a better person because “they” are in my life too.
6. PRAY FOR "THEM"
Listen, I’m a man of faith, so it goes without saying that if I’m not praying for them, I’m likely not caring about them.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it. It almost sounds elementary. And that’s the thing about the question “What have we learned?” Maybe instead of looking at new laws or new policies to figure out what we need to do as a society, we should just look at our kids to see how they are getting along. Maybe we should spend some time with the 9 year olds of our society to learn a lesson or two on how to get along better.
It seems to me that, in a lot of ways, before I “grew up," I had it more figured out in 4th grade ...