One of the most difficult things for most white American Christians (or really any white American) right now, as racial controversy sweeps over us, is understanding the dynamics of it. We see the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We have opinions of how to interpret the facts surrounding them. We see the respective grand juries decline to indict. Some feel that is gross injustice. Others trust the justice system to be fair. And we are met with an entirely different response from the black community. We cannot fully grasp the feelings and experience of our black brothers and sisters. We have lived a different existence than they have even as we shared schools, shopping centers, and workplaces. Our lives are markedly different and that has shaped how we view the events in Ferguson and New York.
As a young white man, I am not the best one to explain what this means, so I will let other wiser and more qualified people do it for me. Here are three excerpts from articles, two from Thabiti Anyabwile and one from Tim Wise. They have decidedly different tones, and Wise might strike you as aggressive or abrasive. But I plead with you to humbly read and absorb what is said not just be put off by how it is said. Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe. You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists. As people who believe all of mankind bears God’s image and who believe in justice as a reflection of God’s character this is vital
by Thabiti Anyabwile
Finally, many people meet Ferguson-like situations with questions about whether such events are racially-motivated or simply unfortunate. Frankly, that’s a good and necessary question that in some sense has to be weighed on a case-by-case basis where the specific incidents are in view. People of good faith and conscience can look at individual cases and arrive at differing conclusions. After all, none of us can peer with omniscience into the hearts and minds of other people and conclude infallibly what they were feeling or thinking. We must leave that to God—unless the persons themselves confess such a motivation.
But does this mean we cannot suspect our systems of having systemic and systematic biases? After all, all of our systems were shaped and forged during long stretches of history where systematic bias was the stated acceptable norm and not the exception. Do we imagine that such systems change overnight or in a generation, or that they don’t bequeath to us a legacy of learned practice that still today sometimes carry unintended bias?
We are just plain wrong if we think such systemic bias is not possible and does not happen.
Further, to say the root problem is sin is absolutely correct. But to suggest sin does not manifest itself in systemic and systematic bias is absolutely false.
by Tim Wise (If a “donate” box pops up and leads you to a separate page, just close it and then hit back on your browser to get to the article.)
To white America, in the main, police are the folks who help get our cats out of the tree, or who take us on ride-arounds to show us how gosh-darned exciting it is to be a cop. We experience police most often as helpful, as protectors of our lives and property. But that is not the black experience by and large; and black people know this, however much we don’t. The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact. From slave patrols to overseers to the Black Codes to lynching, it is a fact. From dozens of white-on-black riots that marked the first half of the 20th century (in which cops participated actively) to Watts to Rodney King to Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to the railroading of the Central Park 5, it is a fact. From the New Orleans Police Department’s killings of Adolph Archie to Henry Glover to the Danziger Bridge shootings there in the wake of Katrina to stop-and-frisk in places like New York, it’s a fact. And the fact that white people don’t know this history, have never been required to learn it, and can be considered even remotely informed citizens without knowing it, explains a lot about what’s wrong with America. Black people have to learn everything about white people just to stay alive. They especially and quite obviously have to know what scares us, what triggers the reptilian part of our brains and convinces us that they intend to do us harm. Meanwhile, we need know nothing whatsoever about them. We don’t have to know their history, their experiences, their hopes and dreams, or their fears. And we can go right on being oblivious to all that without consequence. It won’t be on the test, so to speak.
by Thabiti Anyabwile
I am Mike Brown in so many ways. Our lives are not that different.
And, like Brown, I’ve had my encounters with the police. Many of them were fine. But they were always tense. Even the way an officer at a high school basketball game would afterward speak with us players, hand sometimes casually resting atop his holstered weapon, felt as if it could go terribly wrong in a second. I never mouthed off at an officer that I recall. But I wanted to–especially when I knew I was being unfairly treated, when I felt my dignity was being trampled and my humanity swallowed each time I had to reply, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” Like the time campus police shoved me in the back of a patrol car so a female student–hidden from my view–could take a look at me as the possible suspect that assaulted her. It didn’t matter that there were twenty university faculty who could testify that I’d just spent the last hour playing basketball in the gym with them. My life could have been very different at any point during any encounter with officers.
And here’s the kicker: The headlines would have focused on the bullet points above. They would likely have covered my “checkered past” and family life while leaving out my grades. The benefit of the doubt likely would have been given to the officers while I was vilified. And far too many people would have concluded based on the media profile that “justice” had been served. They would have repeated the notions as easily as greetings pass between friends. They would say, “I got my due.”
Please think on these articles. Share them. Book mark them and come back to them. We must work to understand. We must go out of our way to do so, to acknowledge that there is an experience far outside our own and that it has oppressed and hurt many. Starting there we can begin t engage better, love better, and act more fruitfully. It is just the starting point, but without it we will go nowhere.
An article I wrote previously that might help ease readers into this sensitive topic is called “Why White People Don’t Like To Talk About Race.”