Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO. Michael, a young unarmed Black man, was shot by a police officer. Michael Brown’s death brought a new level of awareness to a serious epidemic in the United States: the abuse of deadly force by police officers in even routine community policing scenarios, particularly against unarmed Black men and women.
If there is one thing that we have witnessed since Michael Brown’s death, it is indelible proof that the justice system in the United States is deeply broken, and it has been broken along racial lines. There is a justice system that white Americans experience, and there is a profoundly different, decidedly more harsh justice system that Black Americans experience.
What we’ve known all along but are only now beginning to fully admit is that virtually every structure in our society, not just our justice system, aches to be healed of racial inequality. Our economy, our political system, our education system, our industry, our social lives, all afford advantages to white people and disadvantages to Black people.
This is the situation that the #BlackLivesMatters movement seeks to transform.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers on transforming our racist system or on any other aspect of the #BlackLivesMatters movement and the issues it seeks to address and overcome. What I do have is the willingness to listen to the organizers of the movement. I feel the prodding of Jesus through the Gospel to be an agent of inclusive peace. I ache to listen to the stories of deep pain and injustice that the Black community has been telling for generations, but that I have only now begun to hear in earnest. I seek now to understand, more than I seek to be understood.
I will add a disclaimer before I reach the main section of this article. The Dunker Punks movement values racial diversity and aims to be racially diverse. However, as a movement within the Church of the Brethren, it is a sad reality that we, like the COB are mostly white. This article reflects that reality by speaking specifically to what white Dunker Punks can do to be partners in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is my hope that regardless of your racial identity, you may be enriched and energized by this article, as it reflects our dream of justice and our commitment to seek peace and pursue it.
So, humbly, I present just one step that we Dunker Punks (specifically white Dunker Punks) must take to continue to work for true racial justice and reconciliation, one year after Michael Brown’s death.
We must admit our sin.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1: 7-10
It’s easy and natural for someone like me, a socially-conscious, Jesus-loving, justice-seeking, white person to try to absolve myself from the sin of racism. I bet a lot of you reading this blog fit into all of those categories as well, so I think you can relate. We correct even the subtlest of racial bias in ourselves in others, we actively strive to create an environment of inclusive language and attitudes, and we are quick to admonish phrases or actions that cut against those goals. We attend protests for racial justice, we wag our fingers at Confederate flags. We say all the right things, do all the right things.
So I can’t possibly be a racist, right?
I think the first step that I have to take to be a more active and genuine advocate for racial justice is to admit my sin to myself, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to God: I am a racist.
And you probably are one too.
I know that that is a highly controversial statement.
I know that you are flooding to the comment section and to Twitter and to Facebook to say mean things about me.
Please, let me explain.
In our modern political discussions about racism, we have backed racism into a dark corner where we can stand a safe distance from it, point our finger at it, and feel morally superior because it doesn’t apply to us.
In the United States, we easily understand our history of racism. Slavery was racist. The confederacy was racist. Jim Crow was racist. Segregation was racist. But that was yesterday! Those days are in the past! Right?
Wrong. There are still structures within our society that are racist. I believe that the first step to overcoming my own racism is to better understand what racism looks like in the 21st century. We’ve conflated racism with racial bias and racial hatred. They are not the same thing.
Racism is a system of advantage (and disadvantage) based on race. On Earth Peace often explains it this way on social media: “racism = racial bias + the misuse of systemic power.” Racism is when some people have advantages, and others disadvantages, based on their race.
Understanding it this way, it becomes pretty obvious that we in the United States live in a racist system. By just about any social marker, the average white person experiences major advantages over the average Black person, in terms of wealth, income, social status, education, environment, as well as social perceptions. And of course, the justice system.
That’s a racist system. And since I benefit from it because of my race, doesn’t that, at least in some sense, make me a racist? I think so. An unintentional racist, to be sure. An unwilling racist. But a racist.
So, when I say that you might be a racist, too, I’m not accusing you of harboring racial bias or racial hatred. I’m inviting you to admit that if you are white, you have benefited from our racist system. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, nor does it diminish the struggles that you face in life or the hard work you’ve put into your successes. But it is a reality we must oppose and for which we must repent.
You might say that it’s fine to admit our role in racial injustice, but what does that actually solve vis-a-vis Michael Brown and #BlackLivesMatter? How does admitting our racism progress us towards the goal of racial justice?
We might remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 7: 3-5:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
As white partners in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we need to call out racism in our society and in others, but we must first and continuously call out racism in ourselves. Otherwise, our efforts will be undone by hypocrisy and a lack of perspective.
If we fail to address our own racism, we haven’t identified racism wherever it exists, and we can’t fully eradicate it. It’s like when you count all the people in your group, but you forget to count yourself. It’s not complete.
1 John 1: 9 says that if we confess our sins, not only are we forgiven, but we have the chance to be cleansed from our unrighteousness. When we confess our sin, it becomes possible for us to move past that sin and sin no more. If we can summon the courage to admit that we are racist, we can begin the work of racial reconciliation until we are no longer racist because racism no longer exists.
In practical terms, I’m repeating that old addict’s adage: the first step to solving a problem is admitting that we have one. I am admitting that I am a racist, in hopes that I can be some small part in solving the problem of racism.
It is time to stop being defensive. It is time to stop voicing support for racial justice in one breath, while hedging our own culpability for racial injustice with the next breath. I believe that peace, justice, and reconciliation can blossom and thrive. And let it begin with me.
To quote Amos:
“Let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like a mighty stream!”
And let it begin with me. Amen.
Emmett Eldred is a junior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.
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Views expressed on the Dunker Punks blog do not necessarily reflect the views of everyone within the Dunker Punks movement. We are a diverse group united by Christ, not uniform in agreement.