A System of Injustice
Many have asked me in regard to the events in Ferguson, “Where’s the injustice here? Where’s the injustice in this case?” They follow it with requests for proof: “Has there been an unbiased account of what actually happened?” Or, they angrily rebuke, “You really should wait for all of the facts before you speak on this!”
They have missed the forest for the trees.
I recently recommended the book Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White by author David R. Roediger (who happens to be…you know…white) to an Italian pastor/friend in Los Angeles.
After reading the first 10 pages, my pastor friend sent this to me:
So for fear of losing control and being tainted by the culture of the immigrant, Anglo-Europeans set up systems of segregation and oppression to protect their own cultural heritage, resulting in the oppression of both immigrants and minority cultures. [These systems include] housing and labor, where conforming brought reward, and not conforming resulted in oppression, hence the injustices dealt upon the ethnic minorities, even today? Am I reading this correctly?
Yes! A resounding "Yes!” He was made alive with truth. You see, this issue is bigger than Mike Brown. It’s bigger even than recently deceased (at the hands of two officers), reportedly mentally challenged Kajieme Powell. For these situations merely serve to shine a light not only on the systemic inequalities that African-Americans are and have been subject to, but also on what is actually in the hearts of most white Americans, even those who claim to profess Christ as Saviour, Lord, and example.
We live in an oppressive system, strategically engineered to subvert the progress of entire people groups and benefit the progress of another. This is the injustice.
We are still reeling from the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and all associated behavior. Before the phrase “Get over it, it’s in the past” begins to form on your lips, consider my position. Consider that every time I look into my father’s eyes and see the pale blue rim around them, set back in his very dark skin, or, when I look at the texture of my mother’s nearly porcelain skin tone, I still see the residue of what I’m supposed to get over.
It is these injustices that will not allow white evangelicals to admit that they have built their lives on the backs of the oppressive systems that their grandfathers constructed.
It is these injustices that would lend their opinion immediately in favor of the officer and against the men whose lives were taken by them.
It is these injustices that would legitimize the death of a teenager by calling him a “thug,” “thief,” and an “aggressor.” It is these injustices that would legitimize the death of a 23-year-old mentally challenged man outside of St. Louis; a 25-year-old mentally challenged man blocks from his home in Los Angeles; a new father, holding a BB gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart; and a father of six in New York. All of these just since July.
Since these victims, like most from where they sprang, are “this way,” apparently they “deserve to die.” Since the justice system is not perfect, but is fair toward all people, this is apparently the outcome of “their choices.” These sentiments are sickening (and are actual quotes, by the way). These sentiments seem to be carried by most in majority culture. These attitudes lack any aroma of the gospel. They lack any essence of the great grace of Christ, upon which we say our faith is built.
I am nearly positive that this article will divide, and in that I am perfectly comfortable. My minority brothers and sisters, in almost melodic unison will read this and feel heard, valued, and appreciated. They will feel as if they can breathe again.
Meanwhile, from what I can see in social media, and from a history of being willing to wrestle with these things among people in the majority culture, there will be a resounding cacophony of either silence or rebuke, ridicule, or complaint from others.
But where I am presently is where I was on last Monday when I tweeted, “I have two daughters. I daily pray for a son. But if he'll be in danger for being black and large, perhaps I should stop praying.” That is how I feel down to my soul. Disowning those feelings will not produce the “progress” my white evangelical friends say they want.
In an interview, Dr. King once said these words with respect to the civil rights movement:
… The most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.
I am praying that here, now, this mistake will be rectified. I want to believe that you will rise to our aid, and that you would agree that a silent Christian who avoids applying the gospel to issues of injustice—though those issues may be uneasy, unclear or politicized—upholds the very structures that purport and perpetuate injustice.