What is a Black Man's Value?

I'm not black. And I will never understand what it means to be black in America. So as far as I'm concerned, I don't have much of a voice on issues like what we're seeing in Ferguson, Missouri. But I can stand in solidarity with my friends who do have voices. And I'm making their voice my voice.

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Guest post by Ashanti Pettaway

Personal diary entry, 8/13/14:
I'm wrestling with some anger. Because in the last month, three black males have been killed by police. The black male is of no value in many peoples' eyes. These recent deaths along with Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Jonathan Ferrell have made that clear. And now I'm asking myself, what do I tell my son? He is God's child, so I will not live in fear. But how do I teach him to be wise when dealing with police officers (and many in society) who don't see him as God's child but as a NIGGER whose life doesn't have value?
Those dark thoughts are what I wrestle with as a father. And they have lead me to wonder what I will tell my son as he gets older. Do I tell him, "Trust officers because they have your best interest in mind?" "Don't question what they're doing to you because they would never break the law--they only uphold it?" I would be a fool to teach my son that way.

I know this because I've had more than my share of run-ins with the law, and the only thing I've been guilty of is being black. Do I have a record? No. Have I ever sold drugs? No. Have I every committed a violent crime? No. Nevertheless, this is what a routine traffic stop looks like for me.

Once pulled over, I immediately turn off my car, place my wallet on the dashboard, then quickly place both hands out of the window. I always say "Yes, sir" or "No, sir," and keep my voice at a pleasant and calm tone. That is what I have to prepare my son for. I can't just train him to walk with God and have integrity; I also have to teach him that some will see him as an ignorant, fatherless thug who will be considered guilty until proven innocent.

photo credit: Lost Wealth
These are things that unless you're a black male, you probably will never experience on a regular basis. As a result, you may not recognize that the deceased is now being stigmatized in a way that allows the perceptions of who he was as a black man to act as justification for the shooting. So when African-American men are killed by police, people do not respond with indignation, understanding or compassion but instead discuss how he was a thug, he resisted arrest and was a thief. Or, they try the distraction tactic of "blacks are killing each other everyday." All these excuses do is avoid the topic and attempt to justify something that is unjust.

Now let me make something very clear. If an officer's life is in danger because an assailant is attempting to take his weapon, or has a weapon that he is attempting to use, then I recognize the officer's need to protect himself. What concerns me though is that such deadly force is regularly used on black men who are unarmed.

To my African-American brothers and sisters:

We must stand! But not just against this injustice. We have to stand against racism, teen violence, poverty and a horrible educational system. As we stand boldly for these issues and concerns, we also must make sure that we do so with grace and mercy (specifically those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ).

To my Caucasian brothers and sisters:

There has to be a genuine attempt to reevaluate your perspective. Begin to ask yourself about what elements of racism exist in your thinking (consciously or subconsciously), and consider taking steps to eliminate that thinking. If you don't have non-work relationships with African-Americans, be intentional about finding an opportunity to develop one. And if you did not know that there are still struggles for African-Americans in the U.S., reach towards people, books, magazines and websites that can teach you more.

To the church:

Those within the body of Christ have clear direction from Scripture on how to interact with other people in a loving way. If you develop cross-cultural relationships, you will multiply your chances to practice the humility, patience, understanding and love that your current relationships require. By expanding your circle of relationships, you will gain opportunities to extend the unearned mercy that you have received from Christ. And extending that mercy will help increase your perception that all people are valuable to God.

Remember, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another." (Romans 12:15-16).

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More of Ashanti's thoughts can be heard on our latest podcast episode, We Need Another Civil Rights Movement (08-18-14).

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