I have been glued to the Ferguson situation since it's onset. It's miles from my hometown, and pulls a web of strings woven within me that I can't seem to untangle. Inter-racial relations, the current story of the black population within America, and what it means to eradicate racist thoughts and subconscious actions/language from my white, female, midwestern mouth.
It's heated. It's divisive. It's intrusive. Many want to shush the crowd - and tell them to settle down, deal with your internal issues first. It's full of a lot of imperfections - on all sides. Even so, it would be the failure of both the church, and the majority, to ignore the cries of its people. Because, yes, they are our people - as we are theirs.
John Piper, in his excellent book on the topic of racism in America Bloodlines says, "This deeply felt sense of race as a continuing, painful, and pervasive issue in America means that talking about race continues to be difficult. The feelings run very deep and very high. If your skin is thin... hold your tongue. But holding our tongues does not usually advance understanding, deepen respect, warm the affections, or motivate action."
To be honest, I feel entirely ill equipped, undereducated, and pretty far removed to speak on such things. It's risky, but I feel it's far riskier - long term - for the church, especially the white people of the church, to close our eyes and cover our ears as if nothing is happening. Of course, we must be grieved about the travesties in the Middle East, the injustices in Africa, but we should be careful to belittle or trivialize the voice of a group that has been discredited by so many for so long within our very own home.
I wanted to point on, specifically, where I see failure on the side of the white majority side. Let this be my kind, and gentle, confrontation.
1.) It has been quite a popular response to the black voice to "turn and deal with your own problems."
To have the mentality of us, vs them. I have heard many people point to crime rates, unemployment, and entitlements among black communities as a reason to enhance our stereotypes and further distance ourselves in our hearts towards people "not like us". I suppose that makes it easier for us to stomach the injustices of others and turn our heads to oppression like those towards the black communities. Having an "us vs them" heart response frees us from needing to probe deeper than stereotypical characteristics within communities.
For example, most people do not consider unfair legislation that disproportionately targets drug crimes most often perpetrated by people of color, thus contributing to prisons full of black and brown people. This, then leads to fathers being taken from their communities, leaving children fatherless, thus supporting a cycle of societal brokenness.
In addition, when these individuals are released back into their communities they lack skills and education needed to compete in todays workforce, and often times leaves them with little choice but to turn back to illegal activities just to survive.
These realities are hard and difficult to solve. But I believe one thing we could do to begin is acknowledge our own sin no matter how overt, or explicitly illegal and confess our need of a Savior.
Jesus said he who has been forgiven much, loves much.
What we must remember, that there is destruction and brokenness happening within all communities - of every socioeconomic facet and within every culture and race. We are all in need of a Savior.
Problems within the black community do not remove their right to a voice, nor their right to demand equality and a sense of honor. We do not EARN a place to speak within our democracy by our successes, but it is an intrinsic right woven within us as Americans and, even more, as people created by God. Skin color does not make our opinion more or less important - nor where we feel mistreated more or less important.
Let them speak. Listen.
2.) It is a brutal police force that is the problem. It is a culture of crime that is the problem. It is a presumptive call for justice that is the problem. It is white oppression that is the problem. It is racial profiling that is the problem. It is a militarization of local enforcement that is the problem.
It seems everyone has stepped within a camp and has cast complete blame on the other side. Where I feel we go wrong is when we ignore the problems around us. There are problems, injustices, and things that are just plain "unfair" happening on all sides. Against policeman. Against politicians. Against the black community. Against the protestors of Ferguson.
To deny one to proclaim the defense of another is to remain partially blind.
3.) "Racism is dead."
Piper says, "Since majority people don't think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It's just the way it's done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color."
To say racism is dead is a pretty clear way of saying one does not know what racism is. To say it is a thing of the past, shows very clearly that one does not have their hands or their attentions within the minorities within our country. It means the life behind such words is not walking within low income neighborhoods, and even more, not talking to the people directly effected by racism. We are not asking our black brothers and sisters sitting within our churches, what can we do to make the change your hearts are longing for?
It is ignorance. Not by choice, I hope, but by distance. It is easy to avoid such realities. It is also easy to explain away certain legislations, and actions, as not racist but necessary. Necessary to preserve some type of "America" we believe we deserve.
I think, within every group of every skin color, we must turn and look at ourselves. Listen to what we speak. If you question if it is racist, ask yourselves, "Is this honoring to my black brothers? Does this shed blessing and a light of honor onto the black communities?" If you still wonder, ask a person of another color. This is the best illuminator to a white culture that often has no idea what is or isn't offensive.
And even more, evaluate your heart. Are we "annoyed" by such "inconveniences" the Ferguson protests present. Do we choose to only focus on the negative aspects of the events - the looting, the accusation, the grouping - or can we see past hurt, and neglect, and truly hear what is being said.
Let's be honest and real. Let's repent of racism, even the tiniest of seeds within our hearts.
Ultimately, we are on a journey. As the church, the beautiful, multi-ethnic, rainbow of a people unified within the bloodline of Christ - we are being called to a deeper since of servanthood that steps into unfamiliar cultures and begins to truly listen. That looks at our politics and asks, "Is this the legislation that honors people?" That takes a stand, even if it feels awkward and vulnerable, against words and actions that do not love (truly love) the individuals within our minorities in our country.
It is presenting the gospel, the only thing that saves, to people - rather they are hurting with offense and neglect and oppression, or swelled with pride and self-sufficiency and idols of comfort.
It is making one significant change that will aid in racial harmony, and then making another, and another until we pass on a legacy of cultural honor to the next generation.
click here to read a previous post about hopes for racial harmony.