Over the past few weeks, many Americans were surprised by the apparent murder of three African-Americans: Ahmaud Arbery... Breonna Taylor... and George Floyd.
There is nothing new about such cases—there is a long line of such deaths throughout American history. The only difference in recent years is that we now have cell phone footage of these occurrences.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four police officers sparked many days of unrest and outrage, not only in Minneapolis but in cities around the country. Though some are shocked by this reaction, none of us should be surprised. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us more than 50 years ago, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
America is a society suffering from the infliction of a major head wound. It is a wound that was self-inflicted four hundred years ago through the institution of slavery, and has never healed. It is an issue foundational to America. The black/white, slave/free legacy and current mindset must be dealt with before any peoples can be free in this nation.
This major head wound has had a band-aid placed over it. It has become an invisible conflagration just below the surface of American society. Over the ages, we have lived in a world where this underlying conflagration is masked by a thin patina of civility – a condition often confused with peace.
There are two realities: one lived by black Americans, where we see the reality of the head wound, the smoldering conflagration, the patina of civility; the other enjoyed by white Americans, viewed as a meritocracy where all peoples have an opportunity to succeed.
White Americans often ask, “What’s the problem”? “Why do you make everything about race”? This is largely because they cannot see or feel the unseen world in which black people live.
As African Americans, we see this first reality clearly. This unseen world raises its ugly head every time we are regarded differently, treated differently, or treated fearfully. We experience it when we are not allowed to jog, look at a vacant home, take out our wallets, play cops and robbers in the park, walk home with Skittles wearing a sweatshirt with a hood, or bird watch. When sometimes we are even not allowed to breathe.
Would that it were possible for all of us to see these worlds completely. But, that is only possible if we could see the worlds through each other’s eyes. In our current condition, and with our current divisions—physically, culturally, socially, economically, and spiritually—this is well-nigh impossible! Fortunately, we serve a God of the possible!
Actions we can take...in addition to thoughts and prayers:
- The Prayer of Lament: What To Do When We Don’t Know What To Do (includes A Prayer of Lament for Those Who Cannot Breathe)
- How Learning to Lament Can Help Fight Racism ("Racism, like cancer, is much deeper than a flesh wound. It is a part of our American story—not just in the past, but flows in the blood of the body-politic that keeps American society functioning as it does.")
Find someone of a different race and engage with him or her
- ensure that you treat the person as a peer, not a project
- listen well – this will only happen in an atmosphere of trust, so be prepared for a long-term engagement
- observe well... Ask questions... Tell stories about your life, and ask for comparable stories about theirs
- look for ways that you are different; seek to find out if these differences cause difficulties in the life of your new acquaintance
- and finally, when faced with the reality that your new acquaintance is impacted by issues beyond their control, share your insights with others and find ways to act
May we lament, pray, and act together so that we may approach God’s aspiration for us all.
Galatians 3:28 NIV
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I understand Collin, as a white person I cannot hope to know what feels like to be African American! But I have thought the same thing was happening. I could see the injustice. As a disabled person, I felt what it's like to face a form of discrimination. I will pray and keep speaking to this injustice! Thx
Thank you for this article. I hadn't realized how bad racism was until I married a "black" man. I know I can never understand the prejudice he experienced and still experiences. I am amazed at how many people come up to me with an, "I'm not racist statement and rationale." In nursing school that gave a presentation that has stuck with me. He said, "Everyone is racist. It's acknowledging that racism and not letting that rule our responses and actions." I have found that statement useful so many times. I don't give anyone a pass who approaches me with that question.
That is very true Deb, we all are bias! Realizing that is a key,even at our best we fall short of what God intended! Thx for feedback
Thank you for posting this. We, as followers of Jesus, must take a strong stand in solidarity with those who have been harmed, and have died, due to the failure of white people, like me, refusing to do the necessary work, to make the necessary sacrifices, to overcome racism and correct the false narrative of white supremacy, the "original sin" of the U.S.A. May God have mercy, may he grant us his help, may we together seek a better tomorrow.
An excellent essay. We need to listen and act in love, mercy and grace. What else is there?
What happens if the church you attend, with mostly white members, only acknowledges what is happening through prayer and that's it? When Covid 19 started it was prayed for, videos were made, banners were made to acknowledge the workers, it was in the sermon and the church website now has a whole new section. Covid 19 was not going to stop the church but what is happening now is met with silence except for in a prayer. I know that as a member of the church I can reach out and say this is wrong but shouldn't the church be doing more?
While I generally appreciate it, I am frustrated by part of your article. I believe it is not helpful to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of context, as your use of the quote seems to imply he approved of riot, which he absolutely did not. Everything he said and did (as far as I can tell) included a radical commitment to non-violence in addition to his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe we Jesus followers can improve the situation in our country by sharing, implementing, and living that same commitment to avoid violence and honor and respect all image bearers. I believe we should reject any and all 'riot', violence, and lawlessness and sincerely love each other. I wholeheartedly agree we should befriend and seek to understand each other no matter what shade of the human race our skin reflects.
Sir you are right he taught and preached non-violence. Yet he lived and walked among us as a non-perfect black man. He lived in a country that literally hated him and told him so everyday.
He lived in a country that cursed him, threw things at him, and spat at him everyday and when they weren't doing these things they were threatening to do them; not just to him, but to his wife and small children. So eventually he, Martin Luther King Jr., the non-violent activist was murdered by that country.
Malcolm X and Dr. King had very different views of how to go about challenging the status quo in the beginning. However, they did not ever disagree on the problem or the perpetrator of the problem in America. As tine went on and the protests grew and the death toll of blacks grew as well as the injustices suffered both of these great black men began to turn toward the other literally and figuratively. So as both their theories begat more non-solutions their perspectives and strategies grew closer and closer. As a matter of fact it was this burgeoning relationship that terrified white America, more and more towards the end more specifically "The FBI" and other law enforcement agencies. Because a Martin Luther King Jr. that might riot or pick up a weapon or more importantly tell others it was time to, was something they could not allow to happen... (or a Malcolm who used his skill as a orator instead of inciting violence)
Dr. King like every good leader hoped and prayed for the best.
We who lived then or whos parents lived then knew because he was a great leader he would know when no amount of tactics/ strategies coupled with even more and armloads of love. hope and prayers would stop our children from being slaughtered like animals. Had Dr. King lived long enough and gotten to that point ALL OF US would have followed.
But ask yourself this question what movement, protest or rally ever in history sir, where a people group was oppressing another people group and it has not ended up in rioting, in violence, in death? When has it not started a revolution, a battle or a war? For the record, in this country it was usually Christians on both sides! So when you say don't take things out of context...
I'd ask, what context and whose? Dr. Kings' or the context neatly situated in White Americas' revisionist history view of him, his ministry and his God given mission.
For that to happen then and now white people must do more than pray and have faith. White people in this country have to allow it and if they don't allow it either black people will continue to be complacent and continue to take it or they'll pray plan and eventually when one more murder is one too many, they'll act. In love they will protest, in love they will rally, in love they will riot...Love for the children buried and the children yet born! The love of God already in the hearts of believers and the love for God not yet manifested in the hearts of those to come!
Thank you Colin! We in the CRC needed to hear your wise voice and suggestions. Personally, my association with many different cultural image bearers of God has been my best teachers. Two of my heroes are Dr. ML King and Ruby Bridges.
Marion Van Soelen, Hull, IA
Thanks, Colin, for this excellent article. As a past member of the denominational anti-racism team, a member of a diverse church which has long been committed to anti-racism training, I have personally attended five two day anti-racism training events over the past 20 years. Naming and understanding the dynamics of racism, both personal and systematic, are important, especially to white Americans who have the option of remaining unaware. However, as you mentioned in your article, engaging with someone of a different race is extremely important. My deep friendship with several African American couples has taught me far more than hours and hours of analysis could ever teach me about how it feels for my friends and gives me enough love and compassion to convict me and to move me to action.
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