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?