From 1959 to 1964, The Twilight Zone was a very popular show on CBS. The twilight zone, by definition, is the lowest level in the sea where light can penetrate, and so the phrase refers to areas that are grey or uncertain. As a young immigrant in the U.S., I was fascinated by its reruns because the program looked at the world from a unique perspective and asked unusual questions.
One particular episode left its delible mark on me as I struggled with my identity as a non-white person in an all-white southwestern Wisconsin farming area. It was an episode about two civilizations exchanging unwanted persons from their worlds. Throughout the episode, we only hear the voice of a young woman who laments how ugly she is and a representative of her world, deriding her lack of worth as a person because she looked so terrible. When the woman is finally revealed at the end of the episode, we see a beautiful young woman being brought out by an ugly disfigured guard. The episode was making the point that there is no one social standard of beauty, but each society defines it for themselves who is worthy and who is not. In an ugly world, there is no room for beauty.
The current Black Lives Matter protests are showing that the problem is how the white law and legal system views young black men. The shooting of Dijon Kizzie leaves us wondering what he did on the bicycle that was so bad that he had to be killed. While there is a claim of violation while on a bicycle, a thinking person is left with an unsatisfied answer as to the necessity of detaining and shooting a man for an unspecified bicycle code violation. He was on a bicycle!
I live in an area with popular cycling routes, and I can tell you that most cyclists I see violate multitudes of bicycle codes. To name just a few: They do not stop at stop signs, and they ride through red lights. They do not stay to the side of the road, nor do they do not yield to pedestrians. Furthermore, they do not use their signals for turns, they do not ride in a single file, and they do not wear reflective clothing. Moreover, they surely have not registered their bicycles because none — I mean none — have license plates on them. Because my city does not have its own police force, we are patrolled by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the same one that killed Dijon Kizzie for “unspecified bicycle code violations.” But the only thing the Sheriffs do when they see white cyclists violating the law is never stopping them; they simply wave their finger or tell them to do better the next time.
We are living in a twilight zone. When police see a young black man in the U.S., they do not see an adolescent or a young man in the process of maturing into his manhood, but a violent criminal in the making. Actions of young white men destroying neighbor’s property are minimized as a harmless prank gone too far by misguided youths just having fun, thus only requiring a “talking-to” by parents. In contrast, the same behavior by young black men is labeled as criminal acts by violent out of control thugs whom we need to remove from the white world, so imprison them in the name of law and order.
In a white world, there is no room for young black men. Socially we label them as aggressive, and then we turn around and accuse them of making us scared. Economically we denied them opportunities, and we say they are lazy. Educationally, we refuse to acknowledge their presence and then say they do not try. We sabotage their efforts and then blame them as if they chose the life of struggle and pain. In a white world, there is no room for black men. We are living in a twilight zone.
The question then becomes, what can the church do? We must take Scripture seriously and recognize that we have the responsibility to see the beauty of God’s creation in all people and recognize the image of God in all people. We must be honest with ourselves and admit, like the Twilight Zone episode, that we have deemed the beauty of some as unworthy for our society. We must accept our sin of judgment and pray and ask God to dismantle biases we have accepted as normative. We must see others as we see ourselves.