Ahmaud Arbery is dead.
God fearing men do not kill people for “jogging while black!” They thought he looked like a suspect? Why? The white joggers didn’t fit the description? Why are young black men always considered to be up to no good?
As a white person I recognize that I am guilty of racism. Racism being a spectrum of behavior and attitudes that are harmful to people of color. My anti-racist efforts also include acknowledging and actively removing the residue of this evil that remains embedded in my own heart, but this process begins with acknowledging any latent racism that remains. And ridding myself of racism when it surfaces.
I can jog where I want. When I want. Ahmaud could not.
I have never been looked at as a suspect while browsing in a retail store.
No one has ever called me out for being the only member of my race at a gathering or event.
My motives are never assumed to be nefarious.
I have never feared for my life during a routine traffic stop.
Generally, people in power have always been willing to help me.
And when they did so, they didn’t assume they were doing me a favor.
When I share my experiences, people believe me.
My experiences aren’t excused, diminished, or otherwise dismissed based upon other plausible explanations. I have never been in a position where I did not see ample representation of people who look like me in positons of success, wealth, power, and prestige.
I can choose to think and speak about these issues. Or not.
As Ijeoma Oluo eloquently observes, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
America is divided. We have our own news, views, and now shoes. Nike supports Kaepernick, so white America is out? It is now time for those who love America, not blood and soil, but ideals and principles, to rise to her defense. America is not about what we are witnessing. When we repeat the axiom “All men are created equal” do we understand the import of that statement? All men means all who call America home. Those who disagree with you are just as much Americans as those who echo and confirm your own biases. Kaepernick simply took a knee. White folks take up guns for a far less offensive quarantine? Oh, you don’t like your freedoms being limited for 40 days? Try 400 years!
The original sin of America is our racism. A white supremacy that expects everyone to conform to that whiteness. When a black athlete refuses to submit to that expectation, he is labeled a pariah. I grew up poor. But I also grew up white. That is a game changer. I have worked hard. But I have also benefited from a system that helped me succeed. This system conspires to aid my progress. It also conspires to destroy the efforts of people of color to rise above that system. For example, the people of color that grew up in my hometown are still stuck in the inequalities and poverty of the Delta. Or they are dead. Young men of my similar socioeconomic background, with one notable exception. I am white, they are black. I’m alive. They are dead.
Their choices you say? What choice did they have in a system that labels them from birth?
This reveals the division in our country. We are quick to project on others nefarious motivations. Yet we excuse our own motivations. They remain largely unexamined. As a Christian, I do not have the luxury of an unexamined life. As a Christian, I am called to submit every aspect of my life to the gospel, including how I treat others, and how I benefit from systems that were set up to assist me in every aspect of my life. A system that was set up before my birth. But a system that I am responsible for its continuing existence.
How do we dismantle this system? Acknowledge it first. Then Reparations. If we can find money to bail out the economy in the midst of a pandemic we can find a way to distribute reparations.
We need to have this conversation. There remain families in our Country that continue to benefit from the residual wealth that resulted initially from institutionalized slavery. White normative culture also continues to benefit from the systemic racism, and economic systems of wealth perpetuation that were established early in our Nation that unfairly inflicts harm on people of color. Also as a result of slavery, generational poverty is perpetuated in large swaths of the black community. I’m amazed that so many are unsupportive of our government to simply consider this issue. Germany paid reparations to the families of victims of the Holocaust, South Africa made reparations for institutionalized apartheid.
The United States should explore how this could be accomplished in light of two hundred and fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, sixty years of separate but equal, and thirty five years of racist housing policies for African Americans. Not to mention the issues of mass incarceration and police brutality against people of color. Would this be a difficult issue, complex? Yes. But so was going to moon. We do it, because it is right, and as Americans we do not shy away from hard things, to echo JFK. According to Thomas Craemer, a University of Connecticut researcher, By calculating the number of hours all men, women and children enslaved in the United States worked from 1776, multiplied by average wage prices at the time, and finally assessing a compounding interest rate of 3 percent per year to overcompensate for inflation over the last 200+ years, the most fiscally fair estimate to date of what reparations for slavery could cost is between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion.
That would be a huge investment into the future of our nation, and admittedly it would be difficult to figure out how to do this. But imagine the benefits. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money, we should explore scholarships, tax benefits, economic incentives aimed at flourishing. At the very least it should be discussed, because this isn’t a ‘handout’, it is what this Country owes for its “original sin” of slavery.
Let the years of Jubilee begin. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61) quoted by Jesus in Luke 4.
May followers of Christ proclaim the same message.
Faith requires that we all persevere. We have to work. We have to do better. If we want to survive as a nation. If our Republic should long endure, it must reconcile itself to the failures of our past and present. We love God, we love country. What does this mean? How should it inform are behavior? We should examine our own hearts and lives. America demands we do better. What will I do about it? How will I change my thoughts and ideas about how I live? What does it mean to be an American?
It means that I start with repentance. Will you?