• Grace Rivers

My Dad Did Not Fight for White People to Kill People of Color

My dad was a white man from Nashville, Tennessee. He grew up poor and was raised by various family members. He became an electrician in the US Navy and served for 20 years. He did two nine-month tours on aircraft carriers during which my mom had to raise three small children by herself. He was also on one of the carriers surrounding Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis.

You know who my dad fought for? He fought for George Floyd, Christian Cooper and Ahmaud Arbery. He fought for freedom. He fought so we would all have a fair chance at life.

I was fortunate in that I did not learn what racism was until around late middle school or early high school. I remember coming home and asking my dad, “So there are people who think other people are less than they are because of the color of their skin?” He said, “That’s right. But the military doesn’t believe that. The military believes that people should be judged by what they do, how they behave, not the color of their skin.”

My dad wasn’t much of a listener or talker to children, so I knew better to get into a prolonged conversation on the topic. So I just said “Oh, ok.” and moved on. I remember thinking how odd it was that people thought like that, how it didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand it. Looking back, I’m sure that many people in the military did not believe as he did, but I also think many did.

He was a smart man and he was exposed to many people of other colors and nationalities while in the service. He learned for himself, that people of color were just like him in many ways, wanting to have love and families and lives of purpose and meaning.

He would be ashamed to see the racism that is increasingly rampant across the US. I am ashamed to see it. All of the people involved in Mr. Floyd’s and Mr. Arbery’s deaths, should be brought up on murder charges and should receive the maximum sentence allowed, should the jury determine they are guilty. The records of all police officers across the country should be screened this week for previous incidents of racist behavior and should be directly counseled that any such behavior will not be tolerated. Any questionable past incidences should be investigated to determine if a suspension or firing is warranted now. A complete cultural change must be implemented within the police force across the US at all levels. Officers who commit racist acts and/or violate civil rights should be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They should be held responsible for their actions like any regular citizen.

I understand that police are in really tough situations and things happen. Only about 12% of people in the US are African American and about 60% are white non-Hispanic. If these actions are “typical” police behavior that would be performed in the course of duty, then why don’t we see these same acts against white people. We don’t see that, because these acts are racially driven and have nothing to do with protecting people. These are acts of brutality akin to the holocaust.

I was teaching high school mathematics in 1991, on the day after the police assaulted Rodney King. The tension in our school was high, so I decided that we would discuss the situation in class. I remember white kids saying they understood the anger of African Americans, but didn’t understand why they were looting and destroying property. Thirty years later, I heard this same question voiced by a newscaster today. Frankly, I think we are lucky that there isn’t more violence. I’m also sad that white people still aren’t asking the right question.

What would you do if people were killing your family members? You would defend them. The looting and property destruction is like a volcano erupting after the years of pressure and heat. What has been happening since slavery through today is genocide. It is war. It is the vicious and unforgivable treatment of human beings. Instead of focusing on the inevitable uprising that will erupt when people are suppressed and de-humanized, we should be focusing on the root problem. Yes, help people to calm down, but start doing something about the real issue – racism.

The final thing I suggest for all white people - is that if you do not know at least five people of color in a close relationship – that of a relative or friend – go find some. I don’t care if you have to drive 30 minutes or find a group on Zoom – but find five people of color and get to really know them – like you do white people. Treat them the same way you do white people and see how they respond. Until you do this, you do not have a right to an opinion. You really can’t have an opinion if you haven’t had first hand experience. So until you do this, I think you should be quiet.

My dad is gone now. But I know he is still out there, with deep sadness in his eyes and in his heart. He totally believed in America, Americans and the American dream. He gave the best years of his life and all of his heart to sustain our country. Racism is not what he fought for. He loved you and I ask you to honor him, by loving all people and treating them with respect and kindness. It is what Jesus would do.