So . . . this might be a long one.
I’m a conservative and I find myself increasingly concerned about how polarized our nation is becoming. It seems like lines are being reinforced between “us vs. them” rather than a goal of unity. One area that seems to be polarizing is that of racism. Don’t believe me? Then how do you feel about such things as . . . Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, Affirmative Action, Ferguson, and the list goes on and on.
One conservative voice that I like quite a lot is Ben Shapiro. One of the arguments that he makes is that institutional racism is no longer a reality. Here is his argument. When I listen to his very rational argument I think, “How can those people on the other side argue against this?” Thankfully, I have a neighbor/friend/colleague who does disagree with Ben Shapiro and he is willing to argue with me over lunch, on the sidewalk, or even in the church. And you know what? He still loves me as a brother in Christ, it is a beautiful thing.
Our many discussions led to a discussion that we had at our church on racism in our community and our country. You can find some video and audio of our panel discussion HERE. I think I finally have a better grasp on the idea of institutional racism in our country and maybe I can help people like Mr. Shapiro, myself, and others who want to identify the problem.
The treatment of people of color in our nation’s history has been abysmal. Think about it, it was less than 60 years ago that black people were not allowed to use the same water fountains as white people. They had to use different bathrooms, go to different schools, use different entrances and exits to buildings . . . WHAT?!! That is the epitome of institutional racism. And as we rewind the dials of history the treatment only gets worse by orders of magnitude to the point where the dignity of a person was nothing more than that of a domesticated animal because of slavery. Slavery was legal in the United States (1776) until 1865. So, if we put all of this together, what we have is about 200 years where our “systems” (government, business and commerce, education, housing, etc.) treated people of color, specifically African-Americans as dramatically inferior.
But isn’t all of that over now? It is literally illegal for our systems to continue such treatment. Racism is now largely abhorred by society in general. Of course racism exists and will always exist because people are flawed beings and there will always be hate and ignorance, but “institutional racism” is dead. Racism is no longer accepted. Good has won the day . . . hasn’t it?
The answer, I think, lies somewhere in the middle (as it usually does). I do believe that institutional racism is over, a thing of the past. And should it rear its vile head again, our culture will chop it down once again. So what is Colin Kaepernick going on about? What is Black Lives Matter talking about? Do police really profile black people? Is that why “African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites?“
The left would cry “RACISM!!!” and the right would cry “STOP COMMITTING MORE CRIME!!!”
Let me just get quickly to my thesis instead of trying to build my case.
I think racism is an injury or an illness that our country is recovering from. And like any trauma the body endures it will take time to heal, time that is often painful. Rehabilitation is not easy. So while the bone has been set we still need to heal and build up strength. Men like Colin Kaepernick and organizations like Black Lives Matter have every right to cry, “RACISM!” because the effects of 200 years of abhorrent institutional racism are still with us. It takes longer than a single generation to recover from a devastating economic gap; or education gap; or a breakdown in the family.
The truth is, institutional racism caused severe damage for hundreds of years in our nation, and the pains of that damage will take a long time to be alleviated even after the problem has been addressed. I think we need to do a better job or working together to bring the body of our nation to good health.
As a nation, we need to be extra sensitive to the wound that racism caused. Imagine if you spent your whole life without the proper use of your right arm. Of course your left arm will be stronger and have more advantages than your right (that is the essence of white privilege). But if the malady could be remedied then you would have to do the hard and painful work of rehabilitation. Institutional racism may be remedied in our country, but a large and significant part of our body still deserves the appropriate attention and care until the damage and effects that centuries of institutional racism caused are also remedied.
For a long time institutional racism was not an excuse for the lack of advancement for people of color, it was the reason. Let us strive to not allow it to become an excuse. May we ALL do the hard and sometimes painful work of rehabilitation until “we live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin by by the content of their character.”
I will close with the following idea. I believe that the greatest pathway to true rehabilitation and healing is in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus is to lead us to care for one another regardless of race. Faith in Jesus is to lead us pick up our mat and walk and not continue in infirmity. Faith in Jesus gives us a forward vision to complete unity one day. Dr. King put it this way:
. . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Regardless of if you accept the existence of institutional racism, the pain caused by it still exists. Let us strive to alleviate this pain by lifting each other up and striving for the victory that so many have fought for us to have; a victory that began in that great work of our Lord, Jesus Christ.