Category Archives: Conflict

Dear White People

Dear White People,

The piano is an amazing instrument. It contains the twelve notes that, centuries ago, western society has agreed upon. These twelve notes are, of course, different as you travel back and forth across the piano’s keyboard. But there are twelve, expressed as 88 on almost every piano. These 88 are comprised of two colors: 36 are black, and 52 are white. If you take your hand and sweep them back and forth on only the black keys you will find a pretty cool sound that musicians call the pentatonic scale. If you sweep your hand back and forth on only the white keys you will get an entirely different sound. Still cool, but different. 

But HERE is what is most interesting to me. Let’s take, say, Mozart’s popular piano sonata K. 545 which is in the key of C. (The key of C contains no black keys.) You’re playing along nicely with no black keys until, a few seconds after you start, about 14 seconds or at measure 9, you need yourself a black key. If you don’t add it and the ones that follow, the piece starts to unravel. 

Let’s look at one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes: Opus 32, #12. This puppy is in G sharp minor which has almost all black keys. You’re cranking along, right hand flourishing crazily on all black keys when suddenly, you need a white key in the melody or the piece falls apart.

You know, of course, that this is a very simple analogy on race. My child-like point is this: in the United States of America we CANNOT see one people-group as less than another. Not only that, but we also need each other. AND we need for each person to be that distinct person God has made. We need to see that without that person being who they are, we are lessened as a society. The black community is NECESSARY to the very culture of this country. Without that community, we are not who we are supposed to be.

A while ago Solomon Burke recorded the song “None of Us Are Free” which contains the lyrics: “None of us are free, none of us are free, none of us are free. If one of us is chained, none of us are free.” I know why that he, as a black man in this country sang those words. But how do I see this as a white man? I have to bring in my faith. Being a Christian I believe that every single human is created in the very image of God. Everyone. And each and every distinction we all have is there because God wanted it to be there. As an American, I see that some of us aren’t as free as others. We are told we are all equal by our laws but I, as sure as I am breathing air, know that some of us are not being treated equitably. Some of us in our country are in figurative chains. Therefore, because they are in chains, I am not free. None of us is free. 

We desperately need for our black people to be who they were created to be. We need ALL of our races, or ethnicities if you will, to be who they are created to be. If we don’t do this, we cannot be the country we were meant to be. And let me dare to say this: If you don’t like this, you are free to find another place to live. 

And, if you are a black person who is reading this: I hope I have not offended you. I am just so very weary of how you are being treated. You never deserved this.

Thank you for reading.

Your friend,
Perry

Black Lives Matter?

A number of years ago a friend of mine had a buddy who happened to be black. That man was also a professional trumpet player. He was driving through Pasadena, California, obeying every traffic law, but was pulled over. Two officers approached him and made him get out of the car and stand with them behind his car. One officer looked into the car and saw the trumpet case. He asked the man what it was and the man told him. The officers looked at each other, discussing the fact that they thought he was lying to them. They said they needed him to prove it wasn’t stolen and that he could play. They got the trumpet out and handed it to him. But first, so he wouldn’t try to run away, they made him pull down his pants to his ankles. There he was, pants bunched around his feet, playing the trumpet while cars passed, and while the two police officers laughed at him.

Another friend of mine runs a program that mentors kids in poorer areas of Pasadena and Los Angeles. He helps them graduate high school and gets them into colleges. He had one student who has to regularly drive through San Marino to get to art school. He’s black. Every time he gets pulled over, most likely because the police officer says, “you match the description of someone we’re looking for,” he puts a notch on his dashboard. The last I heard the count was up over thirty-five.

My friend, James, who happens to be black and I were talking. I asked him how many times he’d been pulled over for no reason. He lost count.

My friend Byron, who happens to be black, received a phone call on his cell phone. Obeying the law, he pulled to the side, put the car in park, and answered the phone. A police officer yanked his cruiser in behind Byron, leaped out, and yelled at him, asking him why he pulled the car over when he saw a police car.

Another friend of mine who wished to remain anonymous worked at a large, influential church. This was a relatively multi-ethnic church, but primarily white. My friend is black. He pulled his car into the church parking lot and was checking his text before joining the others inside. Three police cars screamed in all around him, made him get out of the car, turned him around against his car, and handcuffed him. After he finally convinced him that he wasn’t the person “who matched the description of someone they were looking for” they let him go without an apology.

These are five situations. I’ve been pulled over a few times in my life and every single time except for one I deserved to be pulled over. I’ve never been stopped and told that I matched the description of someone they were looking for.

Now, please hear me out on this one, especially if you are a police officer. I believe in the work of the police. I believe that across this amazing country we have thousands of police officers who, while placing their lives at risk every single day, are trying their best to do the job they were called to do in a manner that is worthy of the badge they wear. Seriously. There is simply a handful who, for whatever reason, carry something inside them that lessens the value of a person of color. 

That being said, I have some advice for white people. Please give some grace to the Black Lives Matter movement. Sure, they may not be doing everything right as you see it. Sure, things are often said that may cause you anger or concern. But we have a beautiful set of people in our society who genuinely feel hurt. Anger is a responsive byproduct emotion that has its roots in feeling hurt. So many of our brothers and sisters who have darker skin have felt constant fear when around our police officers, in spite of there being no need for concern the majority of the time. When the killings continue I think these good people simply had had enough.

One more thing. When we white folks hear “Black Lives Matter” and immediately shoot back with “ALL LIVES MATTER,” I’m quite sure this does nothing to help the situation. I’m also quite sure that the black community understands and agrees with the fact that all lives matter. Why don’t we just let them express their frustration and maybe see what we can do to help things?

As with any advice, feel free to take it or leave it. If you disagree with me, that’s OK. But maybe just think a little more. Maybe offer a little grace. I come from a Christian ilk and I believe it is a Christian thing to try and understand a group of people who feel marginalized from time to time…or a lot of the time.

Addendum: Since George Floyd’s death we have seen murder again. I was driving alone in my car the other day thinking about this and suddenly yelled at the top of my lungs to nobody in particular, “This has GOT to end!!!” Total and complete reform of our law enforcement agencies must happen, and I believe it finally…might.

What Might It Take?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   When I’ve finished the cutting and slashing,
   or been slashed a bunch?
   When I’ve laid lots of waste and my soul is sated?
   Or when I lift my eyes and see
   I am in a vast rubble pile?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   When I see that all your supporters and cronies are finally gone,
   leaving you to fend solo, in a corner, a caged animal?
   Or when I am the soloist in the only solitary cave I can find?
   When the avalanche of death is on you with
   sickle-man at the head of the rubble on a spree?
   Or rather charging at me…or both as much?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   Maybe when we both are barely standing,
     sweat pouring,
       lungs heaving in violent hurricane waves,
          leaning hard on said swords.

We stare, we stagger, swagger gone
Perhaps we should have thought this through
Maybe now is the right time
I’ll lose my head, but I’ve lost it already