Black Beyond Ferguson
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
Deeply distracted for days.
Walking into rooms and wondering: “…What did I come in here for?”
Eating triggers IN OVERDRIVE.
Trying to process.
RELEASE, dammit, RELEASE.
These are just a few of the emotions that erupted within me as I struggled to grasp the sheer breadth of Michael Brown’s killing and the sustained community response to the slaughter and abandonment of Ferguson's native son.
And yet, it has been a struggle to find complete sentences with which to capture it all…Thus, my thinking has been shredded into shards of comprehension:
Secrecy and spin.
Daily peace protests
A murder here…or there…
Talking past each other all over America.
So much being written. Facebook'd. Tweet'd. Social media’d. Mainstream media’d.
I felt like I was choking on it all….
…Like I was being tear-gassed, firebombed with words and images from every direction.
So, for the first 9 days or so…it was nearly---eerily ---impossible for me to write much at all.
I wanted to write, to scratch out something on paper to make sense of things. But each time I tried, LIFE intervened.
I’d think to write about Ferguson…
...But then remind myself that I needed to respond to GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014 email.
...I’d try again…
...And then my daughter would need my undivided attention for hours to the point of collapse for both of us.
...Again I’d try….
...But realize that I needed to do some additional research for our LOCAL Traffic Stop Data Task Force examining racial profiling
I need to work on preparation for my Hate Crimes class that begins next week.
So, every time I tried to find a moment to wade through my own emotional wreckage of the Ferguson “uprising" (my term of choice), I was reminded of just how much my lifework these days articulates to the very issues that are being laid bare in Ferguson:
a.) Examining gun violence in American life
b.) Wading into the thorny issues of local police-community relations
c.) Working with college students to reduce incidents of hate/intolerance in American communities
AND YET THESE ARE THE VERY ISSUES THAT WE REFUSE TO ADDRESS NATIONALLY IN ANY KIND OF SUSTAINED WAY.
We seem to prefer a daily diet of global militarism; D. C.- based political kabuki and celebrity idolatry.
Fortunately, though---as if before our very eyes--- the people of Ferguson became “Rizpah” people---a biblical foremother that a pastor-friend Angela Shannon, Associate Pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas introduced me to several years ago.
In 2 Samuel 20: 7-14, we encounter a woman named “Rizpah” in the Old Testament:
7 The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul. 8 But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[a] whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.
10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11
When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.
14 They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.
---From the New International Version of Scripture
Again, there is so much more to say about Rizpah (as Rizpah informs my work and thinking quite often these days.)
But for the moment, I’ll just say that I am SO GLAD that the people of Ferguson became “Rizpah” people….People who have been willing to sit in the road day in and day out….and hold their wounds---hold OUR wounds--- WIDE OPEN LONG ENOUGH FOR THE WORLD TO SEE THEM FOR THEMSELVES.
Like King David, may we find the courage to let ourselves be changed by Ferguson Missouri’s extraordinary suffering to improve our own communities… wherever we are.