An Open Letter To Hawk Newsome
My readers might not be familiar with the name “Hawk Newsome.” But many probably saw a recent viral video of you at a recent Trump rally, where you took the stage to speak for two minutes to speak to the Trumpers there about what is on your heart about your cause – the Black Lives Matter movement.
I did watch the video with great interest. If nothing else, it brought home the reality that so much of the division in the country between different racial factions might actually come closer to being bridged if we just gave each other the chance to speak and if we really listen to each other.
Actually, I don’t know that I would have thought to write this open letter to you, simply based on what I heard in that speech on the video. What has prompted me to write is that I heard an interview you did recently with Detroit’s Stephen Henderson on NPR’s local station WDET. I listened to that interview with a greater interest than I even had about the video.
And actually, it was some of the ideas that the two of you seemed to hold in common that prompted me to write .
First of all, know that I loved your speech.
What you said was right on the money. “We don’t want anything that’s yours; we don’t want handouts. We want our God-given right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (CHEERS). “All lives matter, right? If we want to make America great, we do it together.”
You made some other great points. Like, “the great thing about America is that if you see something broken, you can do something to fix it.” Amen to that. It’s a great country, even with all its flaws.
I suppose there might have been a point or two that struck me as a little off. But to nitpick about the finer points isn’t fair to you. After all, can you really find any two people that agree on everything? If I were to challenge every detail, it would miss the point you were trying to hammer home. I heard loud and clear what I believe your heart was. I believe your point was that you don’t want conflict. You want to make things better.
Based on how you handled yourself, you strike me as a good man.
In fact, I really wish we could talk. I think I would benefit from knowing you.
Having said that, and In the spirit of trying to create effective dialog, I want to say a couple things that I wish you and others in the BLM movement could understand. It doesn’t seem that the majority of your followers typically do. But then, I may be wrong. I don’t know any of them personally, so how would I know? I only get what I get from the news, and we all know how distorted and selective those messages can be, no matter who does the reporting, right?
So you can get a radar fix on where I am coming from, I will say, in the interest of you hearing my take on this, that I am what I would call a “reluctant Trumper.”
Now, I don’t propose to speak for all Donald Trump supporters. After all, as you know, there are among them some KKK members, some skinheads and some other people who just hate black people because they are black.
That is not me. Those people make me ill. They really do. And the fact that they are happy that Donald Trump got into office is annoying. Those types don’t get at all why Trump would get my vote.
I believe I am more the norm for a “Trumper” as opposed to them. You see, in my travels and in my interaction with others, the bulk of the Trump supporters I meet are kind of like me: we dislike the hate groups as much as you do. We hate what the KKK stands for; we loved Martin Luther King and embraced his ideas many years ago when they were fresh. We, too (whether or not you know it) have a dream that somehow we could all somehow become “color-blind.”
Anyway, the reason I am writing is this:
I found it curious how you and Stephen agreed on a particular point that seemed a little strange to me.
If I understood the conversation, you both seemed to have the idea that perhaps these Trump fans, when presented with the ideas you put forward at that rally, might have somehow, in that moment, all sort of come to the conclusion that some of the points you were making just started to make sense in context; as if somehow, when confronted with your thoughts, they might have suddenly realized for the first time that your interests as BLM aren’t all that unreasonable. I believe you both wondered if you might have somehow penetrated the “Trump rhetoric” on the right that had been clouding their thinking all along until that very moment you spoke.
But with all due respect, Mr. Newsome, I don’t think you get it.
I wondered if you might have gotten it the day of your speech, based on the remarks you made at the end of the video. But in this interview it seems you may have reprocessed the experience to the point of missing the golden nugget that was there for you.
May I suggest there might have been something else happening at that rally that led to all the unexpected applause?
If (as is likely) the people at that rally are anything like me, the reason they were cheering when you brought those ideas forth was not because, in a moment of sudden inspiration, the scales fell off their eyes and your ideas made sense for the first time, as if they had never thought that way before.
No, Mr Newsome. If that is what you think, then I believe that you are out of touch with where the average Trump supporter is, and where much of where conservative America is.
Those people cheered because for a long time now, they already embraced the ideas you were presenting in that speech; and in that instant, they cheered robustly to try to communicate that fact.
They cheered when you spoke about police brutality against blacks because they already hate it when it happens; they cheered when you said, “all lives matter, right?” because they already do believe all lives matter, including black lives. And even though they recognize that many in the BLM movement find the phrase “all lives matter” to be belittling to the cause of BLM, they were cheering because you were acknowledging to them (in that moment, anyway) that you might be hearing them a little bit, too. They want peace, justice and equality as much as you do.
But if I can speak as one Trump fan who hates racism, and who freely admits that there are still many areas where there is racial injustice in the USA – there is something that bothers me.
It bothers me when much of what we see from BLM is so much of the stuff that you didn’t say in that speech.
Don’t get me wrong. I thought you did a commendable job in the moment. I think you might well have felt you were walking into the gates of racist hell. No one, off the cuff, confronted by a swarm of people he perceives to be his enemies, will always do a perfect job of delivering the exact message he wants to get across. Considering the time frame and the feelings I’m sure you had, you did a bang-up job. It was commendable.
But what you didn’t say in that speech, what you didn’t address and what was likely on the hearts and minds of many in that crowd were the many questions, problems and complaints that people on my side of this issue are constantly grappling with.
You didn’t speak to the violence that comes from the BLM side of the movement. You didn’t address the rhetoric like “what do we want? Dead cops. When do we want ‘em? Now!” You said nothing to acknowledge that any of the violence perpetrated by the BLM movement is a little over the top, or that assassinating white police officers in ambush style is also a terrible waste of lives in the “ALL Lives Matter” movement.
But you only had two minutes.
You were putting your best foot forward to show us that you are not an unreasonable man, and your movement isn’t asking for unreasonable changes. I get that.
I also recognize that there is the leadership in a movement and then there is the membership which may or may not embrace or even understand the views of the leadership. So often there seems to be much more heat than light in the lower ranks of any organization.
So I don’t hold any of that against you in your “one crack at the bat,” two-minute speech. There were much more important points that you needed to make. And from my side, it’s alright. And from my side, I believe you needed to understand that your ideas were already embraced by many whom you thought were opposed to you.
I will also say that I would love to have a chance to get to know you, to hear your heart and your story. Because, from my side of this….
I freely admit that I probably understand little of your experience.
I will never forget the moment when I had an occasion about 15 years ago to speak with a young man who travelled down from Michigan to work in Springhill, Tennessee. He told me about an incident that occurred when he was checking into a local motel down there for the first time in town. His story was shocking to me as much as it was shocking when he first experienced it.
As he told the story, it was that he (a white man) was standing in line at the motel counter. There was a white woman working behind the desk. She was taking care of a white woman who was first in line. Behind her was a black lady, second in line. And he was standing behind her, third in line. He said the black woman in front of him had two dollar bills in her hand, and he assumed this black lady was waiting for change for the vending machine.
As the story went, the white female clerk finished with the first customer – the white woman, and (in his words) looked right through the black woman at him and said, “yes sir. Can I help you?”
He was a little surprised; but not knowing exactly what was going on, he said to the clerk, “that’s ok. You can help her first. I think she just needs change for the vending machine.”
And in an instant, the clerk’s countenance changed. She reached into her till, counted out 8 quarters and slammed them on the counter, grabbed the bills from the black woman and said to him in a quite harsh tone, “what do you want?”
He was stunned when it happened. And I was stunned later when he told me the story. And perhaps you’ll just think my whiteness is showing here.
Or perhaps you can realize that it just might be the way I was raised – my unique experience growing up. We all have stories as unique as fingerprints, don’t we?
You see, I was raised in a community where we had a few black people who lived in our community but whenever I was exposed to racist attitudes, my good Christian parents were quick to point out to me how wrong and backward those ideas were; that we were all God’s children and were all the same in his eyes.
And so my story is not one of not caring about the types of systemic racism that may well exist far more than I know and about which BLM protests. My story is simply one of not having heard your story and the stories of so many people of color.
But sir, if I can say this:
There is an inverse relationship between the violence from some in your movement and the ability for those of us with a different experience to hear you.
I hope you can hear that point. Many opposed Dr. Martin Luther King when he took his cause for justice on the road. But there were many people – black and white (as you know) who not only heard the message, but they heard it and embraced it to the point that some white people died for the right of people like Dr. King to be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
But Dr. King had character. And the violence of some in the BLM movement distracts from your character if you do not acknowledge that it is not the best way forward.
But as I said, I realize you only had two minutes.
And I believe, having heard you, not merely under fire for your two-minute blurb, but in that interview with Stephen Henderson, that you are a man of character, too. I heard your heart at the end of the video, where you were speaking of what surprised you that day and what you learned from people you previously considered to be your avowed enemies. It takes character to quickly acknowledge what you learned from your experience that day. Not everyone can do that. Most people are much quicker to simply rearrange their presuppositions.
Just don’t reprocess the experience to the point of missing what I am trying to say: we want justice for all, too. But we already did before you spoke.
And as much as I do hope you can hear that, I pray that people who have grown up more sheltered, perhaps as I did, will want to hear all the individual stories that have caused so many in the black community to feel marginalized and unheard.
We all need to hear the stories.
It is all too easy to reinforce our own echo-chambers, listening only to those on our side who want to agree with us.
But if that is all we do, we will never change and grow. White people need to hear stories like yours to know how much these things might still be going on. And black people need to hear the stories like mine so you can understand we aren’t against you but rather maybe truly unaware.
I loved the magic that happened that day. I love the fact that those people generally embraced you. I pray you will see that the reason they cheered at so much you said that day was not merely because you convinced in the moment of things they hadn’t thought about before.
Hopefully, you’ll soon embrace the reality that they cheered because most of them were already there, longing for the chance for you to show up so they could embrace with you what we all want: freedom, liberty, an end to racism, an end to police violence, and end to crime, pain and suffering.
But it starts by talking to each other. Thanks for bravely taking that podium. And thanks for listening.
Perhaps we will someday meet. And perhaps, some day, we will all look back and see those were two minutes that changed the world.