It has been a while since my last post and there has been an outpouring of support for the African American community in Ferguson. Many clergy have been participating in peaceful protests. Today several members of the Eden Theological Seminary community took part in a protest in the pouring rain. It resulted in several (I believe it was reported as 49) persons including activist and author Cornell West and my pastor being arrested for civil disobedience. There was a concurrent Vigil held at the chapel on the seminary campus where we prayed in support of those at the protest and in the neighborhoods affected by shooting tragedies. A second death of a young black man by multiple gun shots occurred this week. Some colleagues who live in the area were involved in a prayer service and protest where there was violence. We have been trying to process these events in our own back yard.
It is difficult to wrap your head around these kinds of events happening in the 21st century but the sad fact is that racism is alive and well. We have seen some definite progress but it isn’t enough. There are too many persons for whom these events are common occurrences. They don’t get the press that we’ve seen here but maybe it is time for another civil rights movement. Maybe people are waking up to the fact that there are people in our country (the great United States of America) that are treated as expendable. No, we are not talking about a 3rd world country we are talking about the USA. Institutionalized racism. systemic racism, is so much a part of the fabric of our society that we often fail to even be aware of it. It is a power inequality that leaves some having control of and benefiting from the wealth of our nation while others struggle to get by and are actively blocked from moving ahead. While often unconscious, privilege is given to those with white or lighter skin while those with darker or black skin are treated as threats and made to suffer humiliation, disproportionate scrutiny and simply poor disrespectful treatment, often for no other reason than the color of their skin.
There are many who just don’t get it and it is because they truly have no idea what it is like to live as a person of color in the society. They don’t take the time to get to know anyone and simply choose to be afraid either because of media portrayal or because they have been told or taught to think this way, or perhaps because of one encounter with an unsavory character. It isn’t about prejudice. It is about the power that one group has over another because the society allows it. That is systemic racism and it is ingrained, unseen unless carefully inspected. My denomination has taken on the task of becoming a pro-reconciling, anti-racist church. It is a slow moving process but we have training about white privilege that really helps people understand the real problem. The problem is power. In the past when a group of whites felt like it they might go out an lynch a black person or two. The authorities did nothing about it and very sad scenes of people hanging from trees made other people of color terrified. (Yes, acts of terrorism). Now the lynching takes the form of our police officers accosting, harassing or shooting young black men at will, and getting away with it because the system allows it. It is abuse of power. As a friend of mine said, “It is a lynching of the spirit.”
I have been thinking about how there was that stop and frisk policy in New York, which has since been outlawed. The officers claimed it was needed to keep crime down. But the problem was that they only targeted minorities, It occurred to me that the simple solution to the problem, if it was truly a crime deterrent, was to randomize it and stop and frisk everyone. Statistically more drug abuse and thus criminal possession occurs in white populations. I’d bet the same is true of gun possession. But we all know how long that would last. (Privilege)
I must stop now, This is weighing heavy on my heart and I just wanted to write a bit of it down. Perhaps I will write more later. I will end with one of the prayers I prayed today in the chapel:
O God of all, please enter the hearts of those involved in this terrible tragedy and all those who think like them. Break open the hardened hearts to allow fear and dislike to flow out and your love to fill them up. Anyone who knows your love cannot help but love. That is what is needed. Love which leads to respect which leads to relationship and mutual care for one another. Your love is powerful – help those haters to love. Help those who feel disrespected and treated as if they have little value to turn there anger to energy to continue the fight and protest the injustice. Bless those who walk alongside the Ferguson and Shaw communities and give them courage and strength to continue to work toward justice even when things seem impossible. With you there is always hope. Amen