Set aside loaded terminology for a moment. Forget the debates over “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” or “thug” for just a minute. Pocket your pointed finger, please.
And ask yourself this: Why?
Why Ferguson? Why New York? Why Baltimore? Why this rash of unrest?
Before you jump to the answer you brought pre-loaded to the question pause for a moment. Before you boil it down to a simple (or simplistic) explanation that pins the blame firmly on one person or group of people stop yourself. And ask “why?”
At a certain level resolving debates over terminology matters immensely, but too often they serve as a red herring in what is actually a matter much deeper than a collection of words. Because resolving those debates still only gives a small glimpse into what is really going on.
The uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson (and wherever it happens next, because there will be a next) mean something. They are not merely the rash actions of some angry young men looking for trouble (though such actions certainly fuel the fires of combativeness). No, they are like a more like a volcanic eruption, the pressure having mounted too high for too long before it explodes with fire, heat, poison, and destruction.
We must acknowledge that it means something. We must ask the painful questions and be unafraid of the answers. We must be willing to acknowledge the pain and anger of oppressed people. Too often we (the majority culture) want no part of pained expressions by the underserved and underprivileged because it upsets our equilibrium. Too often we condemn outburst of rage without recognizing what birthed that rage. We have no empathy.
We must hold truths in both hands, in tension with one another, the truths with which we are comfortable and the ones we need to learn.
Violence and looting are never the right response to oppression BUT neither are they an excuse to overlook the oppression itself.
The violent acts of angry young men that hurt others are wrong BUT the acts of violence against countless such young men are equally as wrong.
Lashing out against authority is wrong BUT authority oppressing the weak is equally as wrong.
The destructive force of a rioting mob helps nobody and gains no sympathy BUT it was birthed out of decades of receiving no help and going unheard.
Peaceful demonstrations are better for a stable society BUT they do little to upset the power structures that oppress.
MLK wouldn’t have done it this way BUT the powers that be hated how he did it too.
There’s a more civil way forward BUT it seems those resting comfortably in power do not listen to quiet reasoned voices.
In each juxtaposed pair of truths one is not more true than the other. If you find yourself resting comfortably on one side and blaming the other you are wrong. Both sides of the truth are true and both must be owned. We cannot progress forward until both sides are realized to be true. Only then can action be taken to right wrongs and mend broken systems, cultures, and people.
What those actions are is a different knot to untie, a tangled, sticky, scabby knot of mess and pain. But we will not even find the first thread to pull unless we can own both sides of juxtaposed truth.