Racism, Reconciliation, and Moving Forward

I was a concierge sitting at the front desk of an independent living facility for senior citizens.  The facility had several job openings, in the kitchen and in the dining room.  There was also another job opening for an recreation assistant which was a full-time position that paid better and came with benefits.  Sounds pretty boring, right?  Except what happened next has been etched in my memory for the last ten years.

Several people had come inquiring about open job positions.  I gave them all applications to fill out after telling them about the open positions.  Then came in a young black lady dressed casually but nice, asking for a job application.  But before I could tell her about the recreation assistant opening, another person spoke up.  She was the marketing manager, so she outranked me.  She said that the only job openings available were in the kitchen and dinning room.  I didn’t say a word even though the way she was quick to chime in had already made me suspicious.  After this young black woman left, I asked the marketing manager why she didn’t mention the available recreation assistant position.  She looked at me and said “We ain’t hiring someone from the hood for that job.”

The only thing I did at the time was tell the marketing manager that I was done handing out applications rather than participate in any discrimination.  Ten years later, I wish I would have done more to stand up against such discrimination.  Nevertheless, I tell this story because it reminded me of how much racism is still a problem in America.  I’m sure my story is not unique and I can only imagine how some black people in America are still the victims of racism.  And not just Black people.  Hispanics, Asians, people of Middle-Eastern dissent, and so on.

As far as I can tell, Trayvon Martin was a victim of racism on some level.  But so also was George Zimmerman on that tragic February night.  

It is well known now that Trayvon Martin referred to George Zimmerman as a “cracker”.  In an open letter that a friend posted on Facebook, activist Kevin Powell, the writer of the letter, attempted to justify Martin’s use of this derogatory term by appealing to a context of the many years of racial discrimination and oppression by whites against blacks.  Powell then said that the use of the word “cracker” is used “to describe certain kinds of ‘white’ people we believe mean us harm.”  Really?  Is this really what Trayvon Martin believed about George Zimmerman, a man he didn’t even know?  If so, it simply shows that Martin was employing the same sort of discriminatory judgment—assuming something pejorative about someone else—based on a person’s race that many White people have perpetrated against Blacks.

So here’s my point: Everyone’s guilty of racism!  Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians…  Everyone of us.  The way forward towards reconciliation is to stop pointing the fingers of accusation at others and start pointing the finger are ourselves.  I have made discriminatory judgments against people before because of their skin color, their ethnicity, their apparent socio-economic status, their nationality or apparent religion.  I’m not proud of it and I have tried to change (and believe I have) but the fact remains that I have been guilty of discriminatory judgements.    Who isn’t?  Who is innocent of racism, discrimination, and profiling?

Of course, terms like racism and discrimination are loaded terms, loaded with shameful connotations that nobody wants to own up too.  But there is another word to describe racism and discrimination.  It’s called sin!  

Sin.  Racism and discrimination, among other things, is sin!

Let that reality sink in because there isn’t any way forward until we acknowledge racism and discrimination for what they are and own up to it.

Much of the Apostle Paul’s writing in the New Testament is to address the ethnic division that existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  Any one who knows anything about the ethnic animosity between Jews and Gentiles knows how much hatred and contempt there was for each other.  But part of Paul’s brilliant strategy was showing both groups that they were essentially the same—sinners.  Only by accepting that truth could they functionally accept the gospel, the reconciliation work of God in Christ that rendered them as neither Jew or Gentile but as one in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal 3:28).  

The way forward beyond the sin of racism is not in wagging our fingers at others but in owning the truth that we all have been guilty of racism, to one degree or another.  When we own up to this sin then we will be poised to hear the gospel afresh, the one gospel of Jesus Christ that can bring reconciliation with God and each other.  It’s the great act of God that voids all of our human distinctions such as Jew and Gentile or Black and White and makes us one people belonging to God again.

And yes, this is an opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ because it is the church who have owned up to the truth of our sinfulness and accepted what God has done for us, reconciliation with God and each other.  For in the church there is neither Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, and so on, because we all are one in Christ Jesus!  Now will we live like it?

4 responses to “Racism, Reconciliation, and Moving Forward

  1. Your premise that some people of all races are guilty of racism is true; that all racism is of the same degree and of equal consequence is not true. That means I am a sixty three year old white man who has had all the advantages that this country has to offer, while most African American men and other men of color have not. It also means that my guilt in how racist I was as a teenager cannot be minimized by an African American’s use of the word “Cracker”

    One particular night when I was a young teen I was watching the Birmingham demonstrations on the news with a preacher relative of mine, whom, at that time, I admired; after all, he was a preacher of New Testament Christianity who knew his Bible and preached the gospel. As we watched the news clips we saw a Birmingham policeman start beating a black man with his club. This preacher relative of mine yelled at the TV, “Hit that _ _ _ _ _ _ again!” And what did I do? I yelled, “Yeah, hit that _ _ _ _ _ _ again!”

    I am ashamed, truly ashamed of that moment, and I never want to forget it. Am I forgiven? Yes, indeed! But I never want to forget, lest I become lazy in being responsible for what and who I am. And as I remember it, I pray that I never, never think to myself, “Well, some of them are racist, too.”

    What I see in many churches and Christians, still mostly in the south, is the poisoness thinking that being angry and hard toward civil rights, voting rights, etc, is simply politics and has nothing to do with being a Christian. I see on Facebook and other social medias messages, from white Christians, saying “What blacks and whites did in former generations makes no one responsible now”. Nothing could be further from the truth. They used to say, “Hey, I never owned slaves; I’m not responsible”. They think wording it differently now makes them sound fair and equal. If attitudes do not change in certain conservative churches in the south, they will never become a voice of healing, and the society of other parts of our nation will simply see them as purveyors of cultural nonsense and cruelty.

    • John,

      Thanks for your comment. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all racism is of the same degree and of equal consequence. Any ways, people today who want to distant themselves from what has happened in the past simply want to pretend we can live in an a-historical vacuum which is, as we know, not reality. Such people do not understand (or just don’t care to) how history shapes the present and how we must give our attention to history, lest we repeat the same mistakes made before.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. Thank you.

    Grace & Peace to you, also.

  3. Pingback: Beyond Innocence and Ignorance: Practitioners of Reconciliation in an Age of Racism | Kingdom Seeking

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