Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

— James A. Baldwin

Last night’s announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown left few if any black folks surprised. We knew better. We’ve seen this play out time and time again. If only that meant it would hurt less.

Let’s be clear: It will never be an easy thing to hear that no one will be held accountable for the shooting death of an unarmed person. It will especially not be easy when the unarmed person is young and black and his shooter is an officer of the law. If you need any understanding of why that is, a cursory look into U.S. history should give you some ideas. These incidents happen far more frequently than you realize, and their specters continue to linger in the psyches of black Americans. It’s disconcerting to know that it simply won’t matter to some people how many degrees you have, how many people respect you, or whether or not you have a family who loves you. To some,  you’re a threat — and despite the fact that your pants are pulled up and your diction is perfect, there is nothing you can do to change that.

Credit: Luvvie Ajaye
Credit: Luvvie Ajaye

With that said, I have a request for those who never have to think about these things, but are now all too quick to call for “calm,” particularly in the name of Jesus: Shut up.

Just. Stop. Talking.

I share with you the concern that no more people are hurt or harmed in the wake of this announcement. I, too, want nothing more than for the cries for justice to not have to share airtime with hurling bricks and incinerated cars. But calling for “calm” and “peace” is a cop-out. Why? Because those are things that are to be worked for. Those are things that cannot come about unless they are pursued. They don’t just magically appear out of thin air. You can’t expect that people will be free of their own personal psychological hell just because you said so.

When you call for “peace,” what you may actually be saying is, “Ignore how angry this makes you. Ignore how injurious this is to your psyche. Ignore how this makes you feel.” Where is the space for both you and them to acknowledge the pain and the re-opened wounds that are results of this? Why offer words when you could offer a shoulder? The community of Ferguson has been over-policed for months, so the last thing they need from any of us is the policing of their feelings.

I want Christians to [re]discover the art of sitting shiva. I want you to take, if not a week, some significant time to just sit with your brothers and sisters who mourn. Don’t preach at them. Don’t condescend to them. Don’t say much of anything. Do listen. Do be with them in their grief. Don’t try to talk them out of it, or cowardly avoid it. Be in it.

Especially if, after last night’s announcement, you didn’t find yourself lingering over your children as you put them to bed, wondering what you need to teach them so that they’re not killed for being threatening.

Especially if, after the announcement, you couldn’t play back in your mind the times you were stopped unjustly by law enforcement.

Especially if last night’s announcement didn’t open up old wounds for you.

Just sit down and shut up.

Then get up and maybe flip a few tables, à la the Prince of Peace himself. Make the peace  you so desperately want to appear.

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