Republished with permission from John Pavlovitz.
The violent scene on the riverside in Montgomery could have gone quite differently.
So many times in our nation’s history, it has.
If video isn’t rolling and if bystanders don’t intervene to defend a black dock attendant from an entitled group of white people, he is likely seriously injured or worse, and then painted as the aggressor later—his character maligned and his every past act weaponized against him.
That’s why what happened there is yet another challenge to decent white people living in this nation to call out privilege wherever it shows up: because often we have a front row seat to it.
Racism is entrepreneurial in its malice and it will use whatever means necessary to eliminate those it is threatened by and fearful of.
The breadth of its arsenal and the scope of its tactics are staggering.
It will execute young black men in the street and it will assassinate their character on social media.
It will shoot human beings with guns and it will shoot them with cell phones.
It will brutalize bodies and it will impugn reputations.
It will wield hoods and it will don exercise pants and it will wear badges as it does its expansive, hurtful, dehumanizing work.
As a white person, I’m grieving at how prevalent the white hatred of people of color still is here, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve often provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it.
No act of present violent privilege happens without past preparation.
Without fear of accountability that they’ve acquired over decades, three white men don’t chase Ahmaud Arbery down the street and shoot him like a wounded animal while filming it all.
Without an environment of unfathomable privilege and a storehoused knowledge of law enforcement’s historic mistreatment of people of color, Amy Cooper doesn’t fabricate a story of her perceived danger in real time on Christian Cooper’s own phone video, to officers who she is certain will be sympathetic.
Without decades of largely unabated and unchecked violence, a white police officer doesn’t press the life out of George Floyd in the middle of the day knowing he is being recorded.
Without a former president who offers “both sides” false equivalencies after a car plows through peaceful Charlottesville marchers, we don’t have armed white crowds assembling at state capitols to intimidate politicians.
White Americans need to reckon with the reality:
America is still set up for the pontoon boaters and not the dock employee.
It is still making innocent men into monsters to fit the faded, brittle story of supremacy it has subsisted on.
It is still erring on the side of the words of white people over black people—even with video evidence.
It is still engineered to protect the knees of white cops and not the necks of expiring black men.
It is still manufacturing blame for people of color for their premature and violent deaths—and still searching for excuses to exonerate their caucasian executioners.
The violence in Montgomery was another example of white people of privilege who believe the laws and rules don’t apply to them, who instantly perceive oppression and resort to violence when asked to simply be decent human beings.
I am tired of living in this American renaissance of white hatred but I’m as tired of white people who allow it to experience such a creative and productive revival.
I’m praying that we confront the systems that we have benefited from, ones that enable the widespread violence of this day.
I’m praying we engage the pervasive enmity wherever it shows itself: in our homes and our neighborhoods and in city parks and in crowded streets and in police stations and in our hearts.
Racism is prolific.
It doesn’t have to be.
White privilege dies hard.
We can make sure that it does.
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. A 25-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. When not actively working for a more compassionate planet, John enjoys spending time with his family, exercising, cooking, and having time in nature. He is the author of A Bigger Table, Hope and Other Superpowers, Low, and Stuff That Needs to Be Said.