December 13, 2014 saw Millions March across this nation (#millionsmarch) for racial justice. Instead, however, I was at the US/Mexico Border at Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, San Diego for La Posada sin fronteras. This annual symbolic re-enactment of Joseph and Mary looking for lodging in anticipation of the holy birth is one of many important gestures of solidarity by the border communities for those who are most affected by the US policies on immigration.
As I stood there, seeing the steel fence and watching the seagulls casually drift above from one side to the other, I thought to myself, how desperately sad that we human beings do this; building walls, boundaries and borders. What are we keeping out and what are we keeping in? And I felt my own loss at knowing a world with such tragic structures. I thought of my own loss at having Latino culture vilified and otherized in my homeland and I felt real sorrow as a faith leader hearing the names of people who had died at this border read aloud.
I don’t want this kind of monstrosity to represent me in the world…yet there it stands and there I stood as a US citizen. The issue of steel, militarized walls is not some vague concept, it is real and it hurts people in my life every day; and it hurts me. So I chose to be at La Posada, not because I am an ally in the fight for immigration rights, but because our policies do not allow me to be as free as the seagull or the light that pierces the openings of the fence. I own a part of this fence and its my job to pull it down.
I pray for my friends and colleagues who are directly involved in the marches and protests for racial justice. I will be present as often and appropriately as I possibly can, but people in ministry have a lot on our plate in this broken world. However, as a Black man, I will offer to my white liberal friends who ask me what they can do in the face of the current unrest around racism in New York, Berkeley, Oakland and around the country after Ferguson and the Eric Garner decision. Please remember:
I don’t need an ally…
I don’t need someone to help me understand my oppression,
I don’t need someone to explain to me how to protest, peacefully or otherwise,
I definitely don’t need or want you to feel my pain.
What I need is for you to put your privilege on the line.
I need you to be appalled by the images of slave owners and leaders of Native American genocide on our currency.
I need you to need an end to racial profiling because it lets white criminals go free.
I need you to stand up and say that the 1st amendment doesn’t have room for the KKK or neo-Nazis or Westboro Baptist Church.
I need you to be willing to be hated by the same people who murdered the Reverend James Reeb in 1965.
I need you to own your part in the struggle for equality and never remain silent when you hear me called nigger behind my back.
I need you to feel so enormously burdened by the gross imbalance of power and opportunity in this country that it is your priority, every day, to fix it.
I don’t need you to feel my pain…
I need for you to feel your pain.
Only when we first feel our own pain can we march in solidarity with the pain of others.
Own your part of the fence and pull it down.