healing racism

(this is an edited version of the “racism is dust in our air” post)

there has been much commentary about racism, peaceful protests, police abuse, lawlessness these past days. the nba great and author kareem abdul jabbar wrote an op-ed piece in the LA times ( https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge ). it clearly captures some key insights on these issues at this critical time for us in the usa. i’d like to riff on a few of kareem’s insights:

“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African-Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you’re choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere.”

this image of racism being like dust is one that we can easily understand. we all can pre-judge (which is the heart of prejudice) others and the extent that it affects our world view exists on a continuum: some people prejudge others extensively. coupled with certain personality traits these prejudices can be manifest in hurtful words and actions. this grows into racism and bigotry. add a group-think dimension into the equation and then groups like the KKK and flourish. the more dust that comes from racism, the more we choke. the fact that george floyd died from a knee to his neck is a symbol to people of color– and especially the black community– that racism is at the center of the abuse of power by police. so much dust that it can kill. in certain departments, racism can be a central part of their culture; seethes under the surface. this dust has finer particles and is more difficult to see– it is an unnamed attitude. in emotional and unpredictable gatherings such as public protests, further racist, hurtful actions can surface. protests are rays of sun that allow us to name and see what is going on. the more light we can shine on racism, the more chance we have to minimize harmful actions; the more we can save the lives of our brothers and sisters.

“What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus, is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.”

certainly our political climate affects these situations. another factor is the frustration and pain that has come from the coronavirus changes to our world. the changes from this pandemic has highlighted that fact that our poorer, minority communities hav suffered disproportionately more. we all want to live; we all want to well. but our african-american and native american and latino communities have suffered more from the coronavirus changes these past months.

hurt people hurt people. when we are pushed to the edge in our pain, we can lash out in response to the hurt. the death of george floyd is the latest in the long line of black men who have died because of police abuse of power. the black community’s response to this cycle of death is because they have been pushed to the edge. they want to breathe but feel choked off. they want to live well but feel trampled under foot. do we understand the nature of violent actions? can we understand and not condone harmful actions? can we be instruments of healing the hurt?

the well intentioned words of mayors and police chiefs are needed. these words are important and have their place. what needs to be seen now are actions that minimize the abuse of power within cultures of racism within police departments. i do not believe that racism will ever fully go away but there are actions that we can take so that police violence and murder can be very rare. do we have that will? can we as a society move in this direction?

“You start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops.”

in the advent of cell phone cameras, so many instances of police abuse of power have been captured on video. because of this ability to capture and share it, our world is more aware of abuse now more than ever before. we are also more frustrated and angry. cell phone video is another means to shine light on the dust of racism in the air. this air needs to be purified so we all can breathe more easily.

we all need to be vigilant in how we continue to respond to racism. since body cams cannot be worn by every black person, we can more intentionally use cell phone videos to witness actively situations that cannot be hidden. we can all play a role in this public witness

remember rodney king and the aftermath of those riots in 1992? have we– especially a new generation– learned much about racism since then? has a different political climate and covid pandemic, added fuel to the fire this past week?

for a christian, healing racism’s effects is part of our call as followers of Jesus

for now, we continue to pray the Spirit’s healing grace on us all. we need divine help and guidance in purifying the air these challenging days. we pray for life and the ability to breathe well. we pray for the courage to do what we are able and not let fear paralyze us.

hope is here too; we can see this in the air too– with the right light

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