“Where do we go from here?”
I apologize in advance that this is long. However, I hope you will take time and read all of it.
Nineteen days ago, we saw the video of a police officer in Minneapolis snuff the life of a man simply because he was an African American. We walked the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” to protest against systemic racism in the US. The video of 8 minutes and 54 seconds recorded the entirety of the murder, and it pricked our consciousness. Protests demanding change were held in more than 350 cities in the US and in dozens of countries around the world. Since then, all four officers involved in the incident have been charged with murder or complicity to murder, and Mr. Floyd has been laid to rest. So now the question is, “Where do we go from here?”
We need to remember that protests and memorial services are not the ends of this story, but it is only the beginning. If all the fervor dies down and we go back to our former comfortable lives, then Mr. Floyd’s death and all our protesting would be in vain. We now have the difficult task of actually doing the work of dismantling the racist structure of this country, or George Floyd’s name will simply be forgotten alongside the thousands of Black men and women who were lynched for being Black.
As we think about the future, we need to recognize that change takes hard work, time, and leadership.
The first known European ban of slavery was when Louis X, in 1315, published a decree proclaiming that “France signifies freedom” and that any slave setting foot on the French ground should be freed. In 1542 King Charles I of Spain actually passed a law prohibiting slavery in the new colonies, but larger states in colonies did not adopt the law, so the ban was not implemented. Then in 1619, the first slave trade ship arrived in the colonies and the physical slavery did not end for almost 250 years until the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was signed in 1865. The Reconstruction Era slavery of segregation and discrimination was not outlawed for another 150 years until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed. Still, the modern-day slavery, the intentional systemic racism, continues to this day. Before Rosa Parks, others had been arrested for not giving up a seat to a white person on the bus, and there were other bus boycott attempts before Montgomery, but those events brought about a change because of a new leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Strategies became effective because there was a moral force that kept peoples’ eyes on the prize. Change takes time, and the Montgomery bus boycott lasted one year and 15 days.
We have to be ready for a long fight because the 401 years of systemic racism have deep roots in the US today. It is embedded in everything: economic, political, social, educational, judicial, criminal, military, cultural, and religious systems.
There will be many who will try to hide their guilty conscious under the guise of spirituality by saying that racism is a matter of the heart, and we just need to repent and ask God to change our hearts. This is nothing more than ignoring the existence of the racist structures around us. However, claiming color blindness does not recuse them of their guilt of spiritual blindness. They are trying to avoid admitting the centuries of advantages they have gained through white privilege. This is a racist statement that says, “let’s forget about the past and just move on from where we are today.” Of course, it is with them keeping the benefits of their past privileges. Whites have to admit that for centuries they have received preferential treatment in schools, workplaces, and social settings. We know that white students were unfairly given better grades than Black students, were given jobs without fair competition because qualified Black candidates were not allowed to apply for the job, and were paid higher salaries because were promoted simply because previous manager looked like them, even without experience or qualification.
The other type of easing guilt we must avoid is those who say, “let’s study, have a conversation, and get to know each other so we can get along.” This is a slap in the face to those who have suffered racism all their lives. US society, including you and I, have had all our lives, to learn and do something about blatant systemic racism. If we were so obtuse that we did not recognize racism around us when we were a child, there were Rodney King, Charleston church massacre, Michael Brown, and many more recent cases that gave us ample opportunities to learn and study. Not knowing can only be the result of intentionally ignoring the facts. The liberal white community has been reading and studying racism since 1315, and now more than 700 years later, we are still saying we don’t have enough information. The Church has been speaking against slavery for centuries. Quakers have questioned them orality of slavery in the late 18th century, and Pope Gregory XVI condemned it in 1839. So, the Church already know the immorality of structural racism, and we can be confident that the Church also remembers the pain and suffering systematic racism levels on people. We will learn nothing new by studying more. We have become comfortable in our privilege. We have become very good at ignoring the pain and suffering of others. We want to protect our unfairly gained advantages and wealth. We want to claim innocence while the blood and breath of those who perished under the weight of our knee of oppression are on our hands.
We must not talk; we must act. We cannot pray and hold any more vigils, but we must actively dismantle the racist system. We cannot keep asking the African American community as to what they want us to do – because they have been telling us for centuries, we have to show that we have listened. Until we do so, they have no reason to believe we value them or that we want to be in a fellowship with them. Asking today is too late. They have told us already.
Are you ready to devote yourself to dismantling racism? Are you prepared to spend the rest of your life working to make the world a more just place? Are you willing to pay the price to compensate for past injustices and make the world a place where all people are valued for who they are? Are you willing to live in a world that reflects the teachings of Jesus?
Freedom riders of 1961 will tell you that it may cost you your life. The marcher from Selma will remind us that you may be beaten and arrested. The young men and women who sat on the lunch counters will say that you better be ready to be spit at, called every name in the book, and derided by your friends and family. Are you prepared to pay the price?
I hope you are. I hope you take your faith seriously. I hope we can work together to be the Hope on Union.