Racism is not ‘someone else’s’ problem

George Floyd is dead because a police officer, with total disregard for the life of a fellow human being, held Floyd face down on the ground by placing his knee on his neck. Then callously, calmly, and calculatedly, he held his knee there for nearly 9 minutes. 

Last night I watched as people took to the streets. Dismissed, unheard and forgotten, they cried out—we matter. We can’t breathe, they said, echoing some of the final words of George Floyd.

Are we listening? It doesn’t appear so. 

When police meet protests about excessive force with displays of force, we are not listening.

Not someone else’s problem

My tremendous privilege as a white male allows me to see this as someone else’s problem, someone else’s work to fight for their rights. But it’s not. Racism is a scourge on our nation—our entire nation.

Photo by WSMV.com
Demonstrators at the I Will Breathe rally in Nashville, May 30, 2020. Photo by WSMV.com.

This is a national problem deeply rooted in every one of our communities. We white people must move from seeing ourselves as allies “supporting our black brothers and sisters,” and view our involvement as integral to dismantling the racist systems that favor my skin tone over someone else’s.

In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (which I highly recommend all of us white church people read again), Martin Luther KIng, Jr. writes, “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” Now should be a seldom time. 

I’m still figuring out all that means for me. As a Christian clergyperson, let me begin here… 

On earth as in heaven

Today is Pentecost, the day we remember a remarkable event—the Holy Spirit filling the disciples of Jesus. The first gift they received on this day was the ability to overcome language barriers so they could invite people from all over the world to follow in the way of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowered them to include other voices, beyond their band from Galilee.

When we participate in a system that favors one skin tone over another, one language over another, we are undoing what the Spirit did at Pentecost. When we deny others justice and freedom, we diminish the Kingdom of God on earth.

I’ve heard it said, “Racism has no place in the Kingdom of God.” As those who pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for an end to racism here and now. Let us work for what we pray for—an end to the systems that favor my skin tone over someone else’s. 

A disturbing presence

Very early in his letter from jail, KIng writes, “I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’” Later he laments that the church of 60 years ago, and maybe more so today, is uncomfortable with it. 

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

It is time for the church to be a disturbing presence again. For our voice to be strong and certain. To demand justice for all. This is what the Holy Spirit has empowered us to do.