To Remember Is to Listen
By the time this post is published we will be one week out from a yet another “officer involved shooting.” This one also caught on video. Protests have started and activists have taken to the streets. People have chimed in on Facebook and Twitter. Those reserving judgement until more facts come out will have long forgotten his name. Their silence props up the establishment as it stands on the backs of the oppressed. But his children haven’t forgotten. His wife hasn’t forgotten. His neighbors haven’t forgotten. We must not forget. “Do not forget you were slaves in Egypt.”
The dominant refrain in Deuteronomy is to not forget. As the law is given again, do not forget you were slaves. When I command you to look out for the vulnerable, the poor, widow, and orphan, remember you were slaves. Remember, Israel was a community of brown-skinned people oppressed.
But part of remembering requires listening. It requires listening to the stories of those who have suffered. We must sit down. Shut our mouths. Restrain our desire to offer excuses or explanations. Listen. Really listen.
I will never forget when my friend and African American brother Todd told me about being followed around a store, every store. Todd, the Baptist pastor who is always dressed in a coat, tie, vest, and suspenders is followed around stores. As a side note he mentions his grandfather was lynched.
After Todd shared his story, my Indian brother John chimed in about his next evangelism trip back to India. This faithful man has been physically beaten for his faith and he returns every year to India to witness to the gospel and encourage the Christians there. John arrives at the airport five hours before his flight because he is always “randomly searched.” You see, John has brown skin and speaks with an accent.
None of these things have ever happened to me. But that doesn't mean they don't happen. What it does mean is that I as a white, educated, heterosexual, middle class woman live in a parallel world. My experiences do not resemble that of my friends with darker skin or a different accent.
So if we are to live into the identity God has called us to—a people who remember, a people who will not forget we were slaves—we must listen to those in our midst who are still living under the oppression and violence of the establishment. And when we have heard their stories, we must stand with them and hold the microphone while they cry out in protest. We must raise our voices with theirs knowing that “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must put on our boots and walk with them until we cultivate a just community, a people who remember.
Header image credit: Barnes, Elvert. Untitled. June 19, 2015. Juneteenth Inter-Faith Prayer Vigil for Emmanuel AME Church at the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.