Contexts in Conflict
In the past few weeks we have all watched as protests broke out in cities across the United States. The immediate causes began on November 24 when Darren Wilson (the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed African-American Michael Brown) was acquitted.
A week and a half later, another white officer was set free by a Grand Jury despite his illegal choke-hold killing of Eric Garner in New York this summer. The death was captured on camera, and our internet-ified world accomplished the bizzare feat of sending a murder video viral.
I watched it.
Garner’s gasped out plea, “I can’t breath!” has become a slogan of for protesters along with the tragically basic statement “Black Lives Matter.” That second phrase particularly breaks my heart. For an entire group of people to have to remind their country that they are human is shameful.
Michelle Alexander's whistle blowing book The New Jim Crow published a few years ago was a slap in America's complacent, self congratulatory "color blind" stance toward race issues. The events of the past couple years have forced people like me to recognize what people of color have always know...
...that African American mothers still have to have conversations about staying safe from the police that white mom never thought about with me.
...that our criminal justice system remains a deeply broke institution unjustly targeting, imprisoning and retaining people of color in a permanent under caste.
...that the benefits of our social and economic systems remain tilted away from our nation's historically marginalized peoples.
We continue live in a racialized society. That much is now undeniable. But the US is not alone in allowing our differences to define us in the wrong ways. The majority of wars since WWII have been intrastate rather interstate, sparked by inter-ethnic tensions. Not to ruin anyone's day, but next to outright racial oppression and the violence it precipitates we can place inequality soaring to the highest levels since the Great Depression (i.e., tied for worst ever), the menagerie of social justice issues that routinely accompany this brand of poverty, and ecological destruction and climate change.
[Pause: It is a highly problematic thing for me to engage this subject matter as a white, educated, Christian male from a very comfortable background. I reek of privilege. Though I will be engaging these themes a good deal in the days ahead, for now I just want to acknowledge how difficult, painful and divisive this all can be. Though I yearn to overcome these inequities and stand in solidarity with people of color though the fight, I know I cannot claim to share or comprehend their experience. Only the truth and love of God can guide us to a future that transcends such deeply entrenched injustice.]
So what's my point? Simply to reassert what we all intuitively know: the world is not as it should be. Shalom yet evades us.
But this is not our story's end. God is at work refashioning beauty out of brokenness, and he has invited us to join his restorative mission by leading others into his New Creation. We are called to be a force of constructive transformation for a world and its people still worth loving.
God is mighty. Our hope is real. A task lies at hand.