This is something I needed to hear numerous times during my theological education (and still do):
I ain’t saying you’re not special in, like, your mother was a liar kinda way. You are special. You are a wonderful, unique child of God. But you’re also not God. Or John Calvin. Or Augustine. Or da Pope. Or any of the many Karls. You don’t have all the answers. Nor is your majority-member theological perspective anything unique and mind-blowing. So have some humble pie. Ask more questions, give less answers.
That’s my advice to you and myself. For what ’tis worth.
The title says it all. This week there was another death. Another life. Another accusation. Another investigation. Another mob. Another riot. Another car burned. Another city shutdown. Another curfew. Another iconic picture with police officers and civilians. Another hashtag. Another media frenzy. Another crying mother. Another stain in this chapter of humanity.
And, of course, another white guy talking about how race problems should be handled.
Which is my way of saying that there’s no need, no want, no desire, no necessity, no justification, no reason for me to speak regarding this issue. Social media doesn’t need more noise. The internet doesn’t need another status update and another hashtag.
So I can’t (shouldn’t) speak.
But I can listen.
I can ask. And I can listen.
I can ask: “what’s your story?”
I can ask: “how have you been hurt?”
I can ask: “where have you experienced injustice?”
Asking. And listening.
Not judging. Not diagnosing. Not fixing.
Because maybe riots are lawsuits from people who can’t find a lawyer. Be that because of prejudice, poverty or pride. Maybe riots are proclamations from people who have no microphone. So they have to yell. And scream. And destroy. Just for the chance to be heard.
It doesn’t mean it’s right.
It just means I should listen.
Maybe, just maybe, the road to recovering, mending, healing … maybe thatbegins with listening. Listening to people who obviously want and need to be heard.
So if you’ve ever been the victim of racial injustice- be you black, Asian, Hispanic, “other” or even white (because- though not as often-it does happen); if you’ve ever felt despised, scared, ignored, stereotyped, helpless, overlooked, unwanted, disregarded or threatened because of the color of your skin, then please…
… just know, that I want to listen.
I want to listen. And I won’t say anything. I’ll just reply so you know I’ve heard it: “Thank you for sharing. Thank you for allowing me to listen. And I’m sorry for your pain.”
Because we don’t need more yelling, noise, shouting, talking or speaking. And we definitely don’t need another suburban, white male talking about solutions to the systematic injustice that is as foreign to him as anything could be.
I’m a white male living in America and racism is my fault.
Furthermore, as a football fan (specifically a Green Bay Packers fan) I take particularly painful amusement from watching the Chicago Bears be perpetually pathetic.
And really, there’s a lot in common between the Chicago Bears and race issues in America, when you think about it.
Both have a lot of potential: the Bears have one of the best running backs in league as well as an elite wide receiving core. Likewise, America has democracy, Chic-Fil-A and excellent public advancement programs. Both have glorious histories (try getting through a conversation with a Bears fan without them mentioning 1985) but both have a fanbase that’s increasingly disillusioned with it’s current state (here’s a fun game, each week check which is lower: Congressional approval or Jay Cutler’s quarterback ratings).
Also, both are undeniably broken.
Let’s start with the Bears. Albeit, they have won their last two games. But prior to these small victories, the Bears were pulverized by the New England Patriots then returned from their bye week just to be historically steamrolled by their rivals, the Green Bay Packers. To say either of these were bad games is like saying the German invasion of Poland in 1939 was a wee-bit lopsided. In fact, with those two losses, the Bears became the first NFL team in 91 years to give up 50+ points in back-to-back games (the previous disgrace being the Rochester Jeffersons in 1923).
Now again, the Bears have won two games since that time. But those victories came against the measly Vikings and Tampa Bay’s Buccaneers, a team that, prior to Sunday, I was semi-convinced had been deported to NFL Europe. A defense of the Chicago squad based on these victories would be akin to a financial planner telling their client: “Yes, on Monday I lost your retirement fund and it is true that on Tuesday I gave your social security number to a scam artist, but all I’ve done today is verbally abuse our company’s college intern- so I’m getting better!”
You get the picture.
And the same goes for racial relations in the United States. In case someone needs evidence beyond Ferguson to prove that there’s still some sort of an issue here let’s consider the following facts: first, African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. If current trends continue then soon one in three African-American men can expect to spend time in jail at some point in their life. Overall, Blacks and Hispanics comprise 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though they make up approximately one quarter of the US population.
Statistics dictate that this system is undeniably broken. But here’s the real problem:
According to the above Gallup Poll, only 51% of non-hispanic white adults believe that widespread racism against black people still exists while 78% of African-Americans say it most certainly does. Many people ignore that disparity, or make some claim suggestive of minorities adopting a victim mentality. But even if that were true- there’s still something wrong. You don’t poll an elementary school and learn that three-quarters of them claim to have been molested by their teachers only to shrug your shoulders because “well, 50% of the teachers said there wasn’t a problem!”
To deny that there’s still a problem here would be like the Bear’s coach saying in yesterday’s post-game interview: “We’re so good, we’re just gonna take this next week off!”
So okay, there is a problem… but I’m not necessarily the perpetrator. Right? I mean I don’t tell racists jokes, I never treat African-Americans differently than white people, I don’t use racial slurs, I listen to Kanye and I even have a few black friends! So yes, of course racism exists; but it’s not my fault. Someone else’s yes- but not mine.
The problem with this viewpoint is that it actually, kinda, sorta, Biblically-speaking ismy fault. And yours. It is true (and ought to be said) that it isn’t entirely our fault, but we do have our share of guilt on the matter.
In an event on “Race and the Christian” Timothy Keller addressed how denying responsibility for race-related issues in our communities is poignantly unbiblical. Keller noted that Americans have a typically western understanding of individual responsibility which conveniently removes us from the guilt of corporate, systematic sin. Within our worldview, I am only individually responsible and guilty for wrong-doings that I personally commit. If my sibling becomes an alcoholic, that’s not my fault. If the man across the street is committing tax fraud, that’s got nothing to do with me. The problem is that this viewpoint is not only specifically western (whereas almost any eastern culture has an intuitive understanding of communal retribution) but it also unbiblical; to say “there’s a problem with the culture in which I live but I am not part of the problem” ignores basic Biblical teachings.
An example of this can be found in the Chicago Bears. When the Bears suffered their (hilarious and uproariously) embarrassing defeat against the Green Bay Packers, there was a lot of blame to go around. From Jay Cutler throwing an interception every other play, to the defense being as effective as (oh the irony) cream cheese in keeping the Packers out of the end zone- there was plenty of blame to be distributed. But there were a lot of players on the Bears bench who didn’t even get in the game.
Which begs the question: do they share the blame?
The western individual in us wants to say: no. But reality paints a different picture. They suffered the shame, consequences and scorn that the starting players suffered. True, Jay Cutler’s backup may have slept better after the loss, but that’s about as far as the comfort goes. He still wasn’t striding around town with his jersey come Monday. Because, as every pee-wee football coach loves to say: “we win as a team, we lose as a team“.
In other words, the community takes on the guilt of individuals. This is a biblical understanding of punishment. God is, after all, a just God and:
“He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Consider Joshua 7 when Achan took spoil against God’s command. As punishment not only Achan but also his entire family, household and the livestock were stoned and their remains burned.
To the western reader this sounds terribly unjust (“I mean…even the cows?”); but in the Biblical setting, it makes perfect sense. This is why the prophet Daniel prayed for forgiveness, not from personal transgressions, but from the sins of his people (Daniel 9). It’s why the Pharisees asked Jesus “who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2)
The problem is we American Christians read these passages as typical westerners. We don’t read Romans 5 and understand that we could possibly be responsible for the sins of people other than us. We’re fine with accepting that one man’s sacrifice might be enough to atone for our personal guilt, but we won’t hear that another person’s punishment might fall on our shoulders. Jesus died for my sins, but the notion that I might be punished for someone else’s sin is absurdly unfair!
But, like the Chicago Bears, humanity wins as a team and we lose as a team. And systematic, corporate racism has existed and still exists in this country. The slavery chapter is a clear scar on our nation’s pride, and legalized segregation is (almost) as recent as the Bears’ last Super Bowl victory. There still exists great racial injustice in our schools, neighborhoods, cities and towns. And as a part of these communities, as a part of this nation, we inherit the its scars, both past and present.
This doesn’t exactly leave us feeling empowered to fix the problem. And its easy to feel as though discussions such as these leave one reeling in, as the rapper and cultural prophet Mackelmore put it:
“…white privilege and white guilt, at the same damn time.”
I’m not sure what to do, what I can do.
But here’s one definite thing: I can start the conversation; begin the discussion with humility; admit the problem exists. Rather than blame the other side, rather than expecting minorities to fix a problem racial majorities created, we can step out humbly, daily, in small ways admitting that “yes there is a problem, no, the guilt isn’t allmine but ya know what? Some of it actually is. And for starters, I’m sorry.”
Because as a team we’re broken, as a team we’re losing, and as a team we’re therefore sorry for the members of the team that are suffering. If we admit the responsibility we each carry; if we can confess of not just our sins but the sins of our communities, ancestors and nation; if we commit to working together to solve a problem of equal ownership, then maybe, just maybe, we might possibly win one for the kingdom.