Not an ‘Isolated’ Incident – Emmanuel Noisette, MA student – Chicago Theological Seminary

Dr TFor our next reflection as part of Black History Month, Emmanuel Noisette – MA student at Chicago Theological Seminary – shares his personal story of how he come to understand the Movement for Black Lives, and how the murder of Michael Brown forever changed what he thought about himself and the realities of race in our country. I wonder if you might consider this piece a theological narrative about the life experience of a child of God, our neigbor, who we are called to love, and for whom we help seek justice. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


I want to make it very clear, that I am writing this article from the perspective of 33 year old, African American, cis male. Over the course of the past 2-3 years, I have to say that the racial tensions that have been continuously exposed in our society have only introduced a new level of anxiety I could never imagine.

I can remember this feeling begin to manifest when the story of Trayvon Martin starting making the national news. While I thought the story was indeed tragic, and the circumstances to be extremely suspect, I still isolated that situation in my mind. I didn’t think to myself “Well that could happen to me.”

Then the story of Mike Brown made headlines.

The story of this young man who allegedly fought with an officer causing him to lose his life. Again, the details seemed rather suspect, so despite feeling as though an injustice had occurred, I stored it away in my mind as another isolated incident. I even further tried to convince myself into thinking, “well that can’t happen to me…those were young boys probably acting immature or something.”.

Not too long after, the story of Eric Gardner started to trend with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. This story is where I started to pause for a moment and ask more questions. Why did 4 police officers have to be that aggressive with him? Why were they so forceful that they completely disregarded his plea to simply breathe? While I tried to compartmentalize this situation like the others, it became a bit more difficult to do.


At this point, I almost started to feel bombarded with more cases of unharmed minorities being brutalized or killed by the police. I recall watching the news about Terrance Crutcher. It was at this point that the severity of these situations had hit me like a ton of bricks. Mr. Crutcher was pulled over by police officers who all pulled out their guns aiming at him. He had his hands up during the event to show he was unarmed. Police shot and killed Mr. Crutcher. Prior to shooting him, one of the police helicopter pilots was caught on the radio to say “He [Crutcher] looks like a bad dude.”

That’s when it hit me. From 3,000 feet high into the air, with nothing else to actually see except for the color of this man’s skin, Mr. Crutcher was perceived to be a “bad dude”.

As I said earlier, I’m a 33 year old African American male. More specifically, I’m 6’2, 250+ pounds. I probably look like a “bad dude” to other officers as well. That terrifies me. It scares the daylights out of me that I just so happen to fit some biased perception that officers may have that evoke fear within them. A fear that is so dangerous that it kills. A fear so diabolical that it also serves as a way to bypass actual justice for the slain, unarmed victims.

As probably any African American can recount, simply seeing a police officer in our rear view mirror would almost cause an anxiety attack. It doesn’t even matter if I know that I’m doing the speed limit, with my seat belt on, and classical music was playing in my car. If I even get pulled over by police office, I don’t even have the luxury to fear for my life. Instead, I’m fearing for the lives of my wife and children. I fear that if this officer is having a bad day, or if they’re on edge, then there’s a chance I won’t make it out alive. Given the example of Philando Castile, I don’t have as much confidence of living even if I were to fully comply! My fear is that my family won’t even get justice for my death. The police officer will get off, “fearing for their lives” and the case will be closed.


My family will be left with pain and sorrow and injustice. Worst off, there would be nothing I could do about it because I’d be dead.

I suppose, the biggest issue I’ve had with this racial phenomena in our society is the reaction to all of this from White America. For almost every situation I’ve mentioned earlier, there was a large enough group of white Americans that were defending the unarmed killings, or ignoring them completely. This “white resistance” to racial equality was further compounded with the notion that minorities were keeping the nation divided by evoking racial issues. This sentiment was echoed even in the sports realm when Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee against police brutality.

Ultimately, if I have to be as open as can be, this has placed a major burden on my faith journey.

When I started my graduate seminary courses, I was gun-ho on Christian apologetics. I was excited to defend the faith at all costs from a philosophical perspective. I looked up to a number of popular [white] theology/philosophy professors who would defend Christianity against the toughest of opponents. Then reality struck when every single time a racial incident would occur, those professors would go MIA. I’m not discouraged per se, but more so disappointed. It’s disheartening when the object of your faith appears to not be interested in fighting in your corner. Nevertheless, I still continue to listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance and revelation.

Thus, I think as with any social issues of race, gender, or sexuality there is a pretty simple formula we can follow if we’re truly interested in bridging that social divide.

If you ever find yourself frustrated in a conversation or a topic, ask yourself if you’ve honestly followed these steps.

1)👂-Listen: Often times, we don’t take the time to even listen to what the other person or social group is saying because we’re just waiting to respond.

2) 🧠-Understand: If you don’t listen to what the person is saying, then you’ll never really understand what their issue or perspective may be.

3) ❤️-Empathize: If you don’t understand where they’re coming from, then you won’t be able to empathize with their position. Empathy is one of the most effective ways for us to break free of our own social privileges or ignorance.

4) 🗣️- Speak: Notice this step is close to the end. You don’t have to always agree with people. However, often times speaking before the previous steps may likely undermine the other person’s position, lead to misunderstandings, or keep you in a state of ignorance.

5) 🤝 – Relationship: Building a relationship with someone is probably one of the best ways to edify yourself and truly learn more about a perspective outside of your own. Having relationships are what humans probably do best. Not only that, but it sustains everything else previously mentioned for a longer period of time. No, sorry. That random (insert social group) friend at work doesn’t count.


I truly believe that if these simple 5 steps are followed, a lot of progress can be made in our society. The key is to really focus on each step individually. Furthermore, you must only progress to the next step until you’ve mastered the current one. When in doubt use this formula and pass it down to others.

I’m more than positive the internal positivity it creates will be contagious to all.

71fc5587ebb55dc8aa142c66d05794a9.0Emmanuel Noisette (he/him/his) is a multi-year student at Chicago Theological Seminary in the Master of Arts program. Emmanuel’s primary focus is in ethics, philosophy, and theology. He’s a proud father of three beautiful daughters and is a loving husband. He currently works at the University of Chicago in the IT department. When he’s not at his full time job, he’s also a film critic. He’s got a significant following of over 40K fans on his Facebook Fan Page, and regularly produces video content on his YouTube Channel, E-man’s Movie Reviews.



15 thoughts on “Not an ‘Isolated’ Incident – Emmanuel Noisette, MA student – Chicago Theological Seminary

  1. Karen Katamay

    Thank you Emmanuel for your post. Maybe if we could put the Christ back in Christian and have the white community stop portraying Jesus as a white European male, it might leave more room for dialogue and for faith sharing and begin to change people’s perspectives on how all people are created in God’s image and beloved by God.


  2. Alex Ross

    Thanks Emmanuel, for this practical guide to conversation across the social divides. I’ve learned that one of the most transformative social practices for me is curiosity. It was especially Michael Brown’s death, and the non-indictment of Tamir Rice’s murderer’s that alerted me (a white man) that my worldview could not account for what I was seeing. It has taken a lot of loving curiosity and listening to people of color to learn why this was happening and what must be done. Let us persist in love at bridging the divide and creating true peace and justice!


  3. Stephani Shumaker

    I appreciated in your third paragraph when you shared that “despite feeling as though an injustice had occurred, I stored it away in my mind as another isolated incident….. well that can’t happen to me”. I unfortunately often find myself too shy to ask for dialogue of what my sibling of color think surrounding incidences of injustice and wrong-doing, so I appreciate you sharing your preliminary thoughts of compartmentalization and how I was able to resonate with that as well. It was heart breaking to read you coming to the realization that police might find this beautiful creature God created, as bad due to the color of his skin. I will do a better job listening, understanding, empathizing, speaking and building relationships.


  4. Emmanuel,
    Thank you for your five step guide in dealing with frustrating conversations. I found your explanations insightful and helpful. I will strive to be able to apply these steps in future conversations. I also want to thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your fear for your life and of the lives of your family members. Your line, “If I even get pulled over by police office, I don’t even have the luxury to fear for my life. Instead, I’m fearing for the lives of my wife and children,” is chilling in it’s honesty and reads to me like a call to action for those of us who have not experienced that fear. Thank you for your post.


  5. Joseph Calderone

    This post brings to attention to how we often can shove issues under a rug and not talk about that which is hard. I really resonate with the belief that we need to take accountability for better listening and understanding. Empathy can often be one of the most difficult things to live out and it is stories like these ones that shows why it is just that important. May we continue to seek God’s guidance as we foster new conversations and provide safer communities for all peoples.


  6. Karl Anliker

    Emmanuel! Grateful for your words here. Taking your 5 steps to heart and going to post them in my house. I appreciate your openness in sharing this story. As a white person, I’m taking serious note of how white theologians went MIA. Thanks for your faith filled witness.


  7. Thank you for your post, Emmanuelle!
    My only ‘critique’, as it were, is in your list of steps. Step 5, Relationship, I think should be at the forefront of conversations that can cause discomfort. Unless there is relationship between persons, I wonder if empathy and understanding are possible (particularly regarding persons with institutional power).


  8. Dalton B. Ruggieri

    Like kkresse, I was greatly affected by these words:
    “If I even get pulled over by police office, I don’t even have the luxury to fear for my life. Instead, I’m fearing for the lives of my wife and children.”
    When I initially read the first sentence, I was confused and thought I missed something. So, I went back and started reading the paragraph again, realized I didn’t miss anything, and finally understood the first sentence in light of the second. Later, the words:
    “My family will be left with pain and sorrow and injustice. Worst off, there would be nothing I could do about it because I’d be dead.”
    further made me realize how much Emmanuel Noisette loves and cares for his family. As a white male, I couldn’t imagine living with this reality.

    Similar to Karl Anliker, I also took note that after racial incidents, white “professors would go MIA.” On the other hand, I have to admit that I don’t fully understand what this means.

    The thing that amazes me the most is how hopeful this article concludes. It is in sharp contrast to the fear in the first part of the article. The amount of love and positivity throughout the article is inspiring. I hope that we are able to follow the five steps and pass it on to others. I’m not sure I’m as sure as Emmanuel Noisette, but I hope that “the internal positivity it creates will be contagious to all.”


  9. Emmanuel,
    Thank you for your candor and willingness to share. I found your steps to be very helpful, and I find sorrow in those you feel have abandoned you in times when you would expect them to be in your corner. It is uplifting to think about that last step–relationship, and it can also be scary when we know that we are imperfect humans that will let one another down and fail to listen, understand, empathize, or speak out. With any hope, posts like yours that spread the truth about how we go about changing our world into one where our black siblings do not fear for their lives. We have a lot of work to do, and I thank you for all you do to lead all people into the justice we yearn for, and the peace all people deserve.


    1. Echoing Ashley, I really appreciated the five-step model, and found it meaningful that true relationship can only happen *after* empathy, after listening, after speaking, and after understanding.


  10. Thanks so much for your post Emmanuel. It stirred up all kinds of thoughts and feelings in me. Your reflection on the biggest issue being the reaction ( lack thereof) from White America reminded me of something MLK said — “In the end , we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Inaction or apathy is not going to help dismantle racism in this world –individual or systemic. Thank you for the pragmatic approach and reminders on how we as Christians, non-Christians, and people of all colors, can be with one another and work together in this fight against racism- Listen. Understand. Empathize. Speak, Relationship. As a white female, I appreciate your convicting words. There is much work to do.


  11. Justin Clavet

    Hi Emmanuel, I appreciate you sharing your five steps for engaging honestly and respectfully in conversations that can potentially lead to frustration. As you touched upon in step one, I often find myself guilty of half listening to the person who’s speaking because I’m trying to formulate an eloquent response in my head. But this is recipe for a conversation that will bear no fruit. Lately, I’ve been hearing the words of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone from Godfather I in my head: “I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them as you can see; they talk when they should listen.”


  12. Kirsten Wee


    Thank you for your words of reflection. I particularly appreciate your five step process. I have found myself frustrated with individuals in my life, and have not followed these steps. I will use this in the future. One statement stood out for me “Empathy is one of the most effective ways for us to break free of our own social privileges or ignorance.” This was particularly impactful. As a white woman I do not know the experiences of my siblings of color and because of my position of privilege I hold many ignorant thoughts without knowing it. I will take this idea and that of the five step process into the future when engaging with all of my siblings, whether they be of the same mindset as me or different, whether they be of the same social, political, racial or other position as me.


  13. Christina Jindra

    Thank you for opening up and giving the world small glimpses into your perspective. I appreciate the way you walk readers through your emotional experiences, lay out the reality of our world situation, and follow up with practical responses. Through this, I can both despair for the way of our world and also hope for a better future. I also appreciate the relational emphasis to your instructions. As our relationships with one another grow, perhaps we will find it easier to listen, understand, and empathize with one another. Perhaps we will gain wisdom in our speech and power in our words. By continuously committing to this relational cycle, perhaps we will also grow as a community which genuinely cares for one another.


  14. Robin Lovett Owen

    Emmanuel, thank you for your honest reflection and vulnerability in sharing such a terrifying experience you have. I am especially grateful for your list of things to do if one is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by conversations, and your stress on the importance of empathy. Too often, white supremacy warps the ways that white people see people of color, and learning to experience true empathy with people of color is imperative to ending systemic violence.


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