On Riots, Race, and Hope

When the news came out about the unusual and seemingly violent death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, I thought to myself- I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t. I had stayed off social media in the wake of the police shooting of Walter Scott, and my heart and mind couldn’t process any more.

Then Baltimore began rioting. It was madness. People were angry and out of control and looting and violent… Or at least that’s what I heard. An ever apologetic and mainly white liberal media was out there on the front lines of “all hell breaking loose” doing what they thought was in the best interest of someone somewhere.

But the question begs who? Who is benefiting from the story being told by the mainstream media? As far as I know- it’s just them. The rest of us are here watching and reeling and losing hope that anything will ever change; that things will ever get better. The recent string of shootings of black men by police officers has many of us feeling completely overwhelmed.

I will admit that I’ve felt hopeless in the wake of these news stories; so much so, that I had to stop watching and reading for a while. So while CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the like go to the front lines of the Baltimore riots- the rest of us watch in fear for our nation and the future of everyone in it. They laugh all the way to the ratings bank while we wonder if our country is on the verge of race riots.

But here’s the thing. This narrative that the mainstream media is pushing on us is all wrong. They think they’re on the cutting edge, bringing the plight of the black community to the nation; and what they’re really doing is speaking into the preexisting prejudices many Americans have against black Americans. “Black people riot and loot,” “they lack leadership and fathers,” “they are always blaming someone else for their problems” and so on and so on it goes.

This narrative tells us that people in the black community are mad, disenfranchised and left to fend for themselves; and that the riots need understanding. At first glance it seems well-meaning; an apologists effort to simply share a story and help people think about things in a different and more understanding light, right? But it’s all so wrong. What it really does is undercuts the uniqueness of every individual American experience, as well as experiences within the black community as a whole. It not only misses the truth, but it also propagates lies and prejudices.

Let’s think for a moment about the viral video in which mom finds kid rioting, mom beats kids. Some people were uncomfortable with such a display of violence, but most people thought it was great and they heralded this mother as some hero; as if this was an unusual phenomenon. While the initial compliments seemed genuine enough, the underlying assumption is that black moms and black parents don’t do this enough.

I live in Detroit. I also live in a predominately black neighborhood, and for those of you who don’t know me or haven’t seen my bio pic- I am about as white as they come. I feel privileged to call this my home and community. While I have the privilege of living in a more racially diverse neighborhood; outside of a large city, many people don’t. Every time I step out into the world around me, I realize how truly distorted this media narrative is, and I am grateful for that.

The actual story in Baltimore isn’t about riots or some bad-ass mom who did what she needed to do to protect her son. Baltimore is about so much more. It is about a man named Freddie Gray and what happened to him while in police custody. It is about thousands of people coming together to speak on behalf of his and others silenced voices. It’s about pastors and parents and individuals doing good, marching in unity, standing in solidarity against the rioters, protecting the police, protecting the public, speaking out in peaceable anger, and demanding justice. It’s about kids, families, business owners, and community leaders coming together to clean the mess and devastation left by rioters.

If we really want to see change take place, we will need to dig deeper so that our information doesn’t come packaged and delivered to our television or computer screens via mainstream media. Better yet, let’s turn it off and take a step outside into the world. The truth is out there- in communities, in churches, and in relationships with one another.

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