Dangerous Act: Choosing to Name

Sometimes I believe our consciousness is numbed by the thought of a black man murdered in the streets. The picture has become common place in the news, some communities, and even the internet. Yet, for me—as a Black woman who looks at Black men and see fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, mentors, teachers, leaders, coaches, and friends—I’m deeply troubled at every lost and every story that comes to my attention.

Courtesy of Florida A&M University
Courtesy of Florida A&M University

Today, the image of Jonathan Ferrell is on my mind. Jonathan was a 24 year (former college student, a chemistry major with a 3.7 GPA at Florida A&M University). In the early hours of the morning on September 14, 2013 he had a horrible car accident, where he managed to escape through the back window. In a state of shock, he walked to a nearby house to ask for help. The woman of the house was no doubt in fear of her life (and that of her son who was also in the home). She assumed Jonathan was trying to rob her and called 911. The responding police officer shot unarmed Jonathan 10 times. End of story.  

            I share this story not to point fingers at the woman of the home. I, too, would fear for my life if a stranger banged on my door in the early hours of the morning and I was home alone with my daughter. The initial shock is not in question. What is in question, however, is drawing the conclusion that she was being robbed because someone, a Black man in particular, was repeatedly knocking on her door. Would her conclusions have been the same if the knocker as a white woman or any woman? She looked out her door and saw a robber, a threat.

            This tragedy brings to the surface the conclusions that we draw about others which are only heightened during times of duress. Do we look out into the world and see a Black man and draw the conclusion—threat? Do we look at an Asian American and assume smart? Or a Hispanic American and assume illegal immigrant or undocumented worker? Do we look at a physically handicapped person and respond as if he is deaf, blind, or stupid? “Our misperceiving leads to our misnaming (pg. 111).” Misperceiving and misnaming leads to incorrect actions. “When a human being is mis-seen and then misnamed, the soulish soil of injustice reveals its destructive fertility (pg. 112).”

            As Christians, we are called to perceive and name as Christ would. He chose to draw many into his circle and call them friends, sisters and brothers. He calls us to a life of compassion and mercy. He calls us to love our neighbors. After the telling of the “Good Samaritan” story, he said, “Go and do likewise.” In God’s kingdom, the way that we name and the way we respond to others must line up. God calls us to hesed others, and yes that faithful practice is risky. When we hesed, we honor God and we honor others for God wants to teach us how to name, act, speak, and respond in ways that honor him. “Rightly naming matters to God (pg. 117).”       

Personal Reflection: “What happens or doesn’t happen when you misname someone, that is, give them a name that they don’t deserve and that diminishes them in your sight or in that of others? Are you aware of doing this? How aware are others around you? How aware are those you re misnaming (pg. 115)?”

Blessings, Natasha © Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013

Catch Up on the Discussion:

Introduction: Dangerous Act and a Heart Like the Grinch

Chapter 1: Stop Rubbernecking, It’s Dangerous

Chapter 2: WE See No Evil

Chapter 3: Injustice and the Problem of Misperceiving

Chapter 4: Learning to See

Chapter 5: Looking in the Mirror

Chapter 6: God Help Us

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