Are you listening?

Joanne Bland in Selma Alabama.

Asma Jama was hit in the face with a glass beer mug for not speaking English in an Applebee’s. She needed 17 stitches in her lip.

In a press interview after the attack, Asma encouraged people to talk to others who seem different than them, to get to know them better as a way to overcome prejudice. She said, “I was attacked by a white lady. That doesn’t mean I hate every white person. That’s impossible. The person that helped me next was a white man.”

My friends Zafar Siddiqui, Onder Uluyol, and Imani Jaafar-Mohammad spend their free time explaining to Minnesotans what it means to be a Muslim in America today. Asking them to look beyond the stereotypes they see so often in the media.

Students at the University of Missouri protested their president’s lack of response to racially charged incidents on campus and he resigned this week.

Their actions didn’t come from out of the blue. Their requests for action were not being met. Their frustrations hadn’t been heard, so their tactics continued to escalate until finally the economic pressure of the football team refusing to play got the administration’s attention.

If the Black Lives Matter movement seems to be saying one thing it is this…“You’re not paying attention.”

Two months ago I interviewed Myron Pourier in South Dakota. The great grandson of Black Elk is working to change the name of the highest mountain east of the Rockies from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak. This Native American man is trying to convince a mostly white government that perhaps they shouldn’t name a mountain that is sacred to his people after a white man who is known to have killed a lot of Native American men, women, and children.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? It’s more than a little uncomfortable.

From the wide view it looks like the white people in all these scenarios are standing comfortably on a hill, while all the people of color are approaching and asking for things to change.

In the great debate over white privilege, that’s sort of the definition of privilege, isn’t it?

And it’s not that things don’t change. They do.

When I drove to Myron’s house on the Pine Ridge Reservation this summer, I drove past Wounded Knee. There was an official government sign marking the place, and at the top in big letters it said, “Massacre at Wounded Knee.”

Ten years ago I drove past that same spot, and the official government sign said, “Battle at Wounded Knee.” Back then, someone had screwed a 2×4 over the word “Battle” and hand-painted the word “Massacre” in its place. Apparently, their concerns had been heard.

It’s not that change doesn’t happen. It does. But the change is too slow.

Last year I interviewed Joanne Bland who marched from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King, Jr. when she was 11 years old. We met in her home 12 days after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.

She said, “One day we’ll be alright. I’m just tired of waiting for one day. I want it to be now. I want it to be in my lifetime.”

Are you listening?


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