A Racial Epiphany 


I'm not old enough to remember Dr. King Jr. or the revolutions he gave his life for, but I was smack dab in the middle of the Watts riots when I was 4-years-old. The Watts riots, sometimes referred to as the "Watts Rebellion," took place in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to 16, 1965*. Our church at the corner of Crenshaw Blvd. and Rosechans Ave. housed as many families as it could that had either lost their homes or couldn't get to them.

"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." - St. Francis of Assisi

Opinion ǀ by Liz Franklin

After nearly a week of rioting, 34 people, 25 of them black, were dead and more than 1,000 were injured. More than 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Thriving business districts, their stores mostly white-owned, were burned to the ground. Eventually, the National Guard put a cordon around a vast region of South Los Angeles that ranged as far east as Alameda Street, as far west as Crenshaw Boulevard, and from just south of the Santa Monica Freeway to about Rosecrans Avenue. Even though I was so very young, it stayed with me much like other traumatic events of the day--Charles Manson, Kent State Massacre, and the Texas Tower shooting to name a few. However, I know now there was something different about the Watts riots that would haunt me the rest of my life. 

Years later, as a young adult, I watched, with the rest of the country, the unimaginable beating of Rodney King. For the first time, we saw with our own eyes bonafide, irrefutable video that proved this kind of brutality did take place. It wasn't hyperbole. How could I know, though? I wasn't exposed to it. And if I were, I didn't want to know about it. The shock of viewing that has never left me. I have no place to put that kind of senseless evilness, so it just floats around in my head, until the next time that kind of brutality happens and here it comes to the forefront again. 

Have you ever heard something so many times but no matter how many times, in how many ways you heard it, you just didn't get it. For instance, when I was young, I was anorexic. I landed in the hospital weighing a whopping 79 lbs. They tried all kinds of therapy, counseling, medications, etc., until one day when I was sitting in a waiting room and a nice gentlemen struck up a conversation with me. After telling him why I was there he turned to me and said, "You know, of course, your body is eating itself, right?" I said, "WHAT?" He went on to explain that my body had already consumed all of its fat and muscle and was now consuming its organs in a desperate attempt to stay alive. For whatever reason, that resonated in me. It just took the right person to say the right thing.

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A couple of days ago, in the middle of all this unrest, I read something that hit me like a ton of repentance. It said, "White lives have always mattered. It's about time that black lives matter too, equally," Carrie Ann, WCN member. I have no idea why that sunk in the way it did, but my perspective is completely different now. I think I get it!

Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ABOUT GUNS. Please forgive me for using a gun analogy to illustrate this story, but it fits better than any other I could come up with.

Here's my new perspective. 

Back in the days of slavery, those of color wanted to be free from being owned. Well, seriously, who wouldn't? Let's compare this to them wanting to be able to use guns. (Oh calm down...it's just an analogy. Just go with me.) So after much bloodshed and lives lost on both sides, the whites acquiesced and said, "Ok, ok, we'll let them shoot guns," knowing that they owned all the guns so they really weren't giving them anything. This remained the status quo during the generations of those who had been freed and also the ones who could remember how it was before slavery was abolished; they were just happy to be free. No rocking this racist boat for them. So they didn't push the issue. Then comes the generations to follow, the ones removed from slavery, who didn't know what it was like, but they knew that the war was won that freed them, so now they want to know why they aren't able to shoot a gun. They're supposed to be able to, but no one will let them. Enter Martin Luther King, Jr.  & other civil rights movement advocates stage right. 

Dr. King said no more, I want the gun you promised me and, oh, oh, I don't want to just shoot it, I want to own it. (Again, keeping with the analogy, this would be the equivalent of demanding they be treated the same way as whites. After all, that's what they were told was suppose to happen.)

But the whites said whoa...hold your horses right there. We can't let them own them. 

And so begins another revolution...the Civil Rights Movement and so too my memories begin. This time it isn't whites fighting for blacks to be freed, but blacks on their own trying to get what was already supposed to be theirs but never fully obtained. So we gave them the guns, hell we even let them own them, how great are we? (We said fine, you're equal...go to our schools, work alongside us, enjoy entertainment as we do, etc.)

Huge steps here, right? Not really, because once again, the whites still had them over the barrel.** How you ask? We still have all the bullets! As long as we control the ammo, they have no control--their guns are useless. Give them all the guns they want, if they can't use them, what's the harm? Well, guess what? THEY'RE HERE FOR THEIR BULLETS, FOLKS! (In other words, they want to live with the same absence of fear as whites do.) You had to know this day was coming. The saddest part of this whole inconceivable disaster is that those responsible for creating it are long gone and have left their own children to clean it up. Please, let us not do the same to ours. I'm not naïve enough to think 100 years of civil unrest can be wrapped up in a few paragraphs, but it's the best way I can come up with to explain how my perception has changed.

Having a Master's of Criminal Justice, I have many close friends that are LEOs, people I met in school and remained friends with, including professors. As a matter of fact, I was having lunch with several of them one Saturday afternoon when everyone's phones began to ring and vibrate. That was the day Michael Brown was shot. We were dining a mere 7 miles away. Once again, the race riots were at my front door. We lived just miles from Ferguson. This time I had grown children of my own and I fear now that I did not educate them as I should have on the issues. I couldn't explain why they were burning down their own town, or why they were so mad about one person getting shot, a criminal with a long record no less--I didn't understand. I do now!

While I'm on a roll, I may as well throw this newly-obtained life lesson out there, too.  If you have "white privilege" you don't have to worry about your children going for a jog; you don't have to worry about them being in the wrong neighborhood; you don't have to worry about them forgetting their house key, you don't have to worry about them getting pulled over by police for a minor traffic infraction--I could go on and on. White privilege is not just about what one is afforded because they're white but it's about what one doesn't have to live with as a white person--most of all, fear. Checking your white privilege is being aware that that is reality for those of color and that you know it and are sensitive to it. You don't have to take responsibility for it, we didn't create it, but you do have to acknowledge and respect it. As a white person, we can no longer ignore it. If you chose to, that's on you. People are in pain and they are not making it up, they are not exaggerating: they are living it! I, for one, will see this world through different eyes now, and I will pray that God will continue to lead me in the direction of self-growth.

If my words make an impression on just one person, I will have succeeded.

*On August 11, 1965, Marquette Frye, an African-American motorist on parole for robbery, was pulled over for reckless driving. A minor roadside argument broke out, which then escalated into a fight with police. Community members reported that the police had hurt a pregnant woman, and six days of civil unrest followed. Nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard helped suppress the disturbance, which resulted in 34 deaths and over $40 million in property damage. It was the city's worst unrest until the Rodney King riots of 1992.

**What's the origin of the phrase 'Over a barrel'? This is an American phrase and first appeared in the late-19th century. It alludes to the actual situation of being draped over a barrel, either to empty the lungs of someone who has been close to drowning, or to give a flogging. Either way, the position of helplessness and in being under someone else's control is what is being referred to.

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