Thoughts on Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Racism

In light of the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the events taking place in Ferguson and New York, I’ve felt compelled to pen down some of my reflections on these matters. Because the underlining issue is racism, I recognize that it is very important to approach this subject with great care. I also recognize my limited ability to understand and relate to exactly all that is taking place. However, I believe that the root of the issue is something everyone should be familiar with, and I hope to shed a little more light on what I consider mostly to be the heart of the issue.

In the movie Batman Begins, the crime lord Carmine Falcone is confronted by an indignant Bruce Wayne who boldly asserts that there are people in Gotham who aren’t afraid to stand up against Falcone. This brief exchange between Wayne and Falcone would be the very thing that would push Bruce over the edge, and would convict him to immerse himself in a life of poverty and petty crime in order to better understand that way of life. The dialog between Falcone and Wayne climaxes with a statement that I believe makes this scene in Batman Begins the greatest scene in the movie.

Falcone: “You think because your mom and your dad got shot that you know about the ugly side of life—but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate. You’re Bruce Wayne, the prince of Gotham; you’d have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn’t know your name! So don’t come down here with your anger trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you’ll never understand—and you’ll always fear what you don’t understand.”

Earlier this year I took a university class on the civil rights movement. I was, by far, a minority in a very large classroom. As we studied through the issues of racism in the past, we eventually arrived at the issue of racism in the present. This gave me the opportunity to hear what some of the black students had to say about the subject of racism in our contemporary society. As the semester progressed, students would become more comfortable speaking from their hearts. I had witnessed two opposite extremes: some students were extremely collected in their approach to racist issues, while other students were indignant to the point of renouncing responsibility for any violence carried out towards those who were racists. It goes without saying that as a white student this was an enlightening experience for me. There were several times that I felt very uncomfortable, but it was the kind of uncomfortable I needed to feel. But I couldn’t help but notice that there was a serious problem that wasn’t being addressed as we talked through the subject of racism. It was similar to the problem I had written about a year prior on the topic of Islamophobia in America, and yet it another dimension to it.

First and foremost the problem of racism is a problem of human nature. Much like Islamophobia, we fear what we don’t understand. Many people would likely be cured by Islamophobia if they simply lived next to a Muslim family. To some extent, the problem of racism takes a similar vein. If all we picture when we think of another races are bad personal experiences (which have nothing to do with race to begin with), or negative images projected by the media, then our view is going to be horribly warped. If everyone lived next to people who were different from themselves, racism might become less of an issue.

When I was 19, I moved into a house with two of my friends in a predominantly black neighborhood on a bad side of town. I also attended a community college where I was a minority on campus. Yes, we saw crime. Yes, we heard gunshots. Yes, I had witnessed drug deals. We’re also fairly certain that the house across from us was housing prostitutes before it was excavated. But these are not issues of race. These are issues of poverty. There is nothing intrinsically black about any of these things. Unfortunately, media plays a large role in attributing these things to blacks. When a people group or race becomes continuously paired with certain sounds or images, they begin to become guilty by association. But as much as the media contributes to racism, it is not the biggest contributor—human beings are. And it is for this reason that even though we might live next to people who are different from us, we may still judge them differently.

It is the dream of the pluralistic society to be able to celebrate differences in people groups. But much like communism—which is built on the unification and goodness of man—the fatal flaw in the system is that human beings do not tend to act that way. We don’t celebrate differences; we tend to fear or act condescending towards them. We fear what we don’t understand, and we tend to not like differences. In an ideal world we could celebrate differences—but that is seldom the world we live in. Why? Because of human nature. This is not merely a socioeconomic issue. The roots run far deeper.

So what is the solution?

Recently the movement to end sex trafficking has reached new heights of awareness. This is a wonderful thing, and we should do everything in our power right against it. But we need to make sure that we aren’t being naïve—we will never completely end sex trafficking. It is a sad part of human nature to exploit others, and we will always need to combat it. The same could be said about racism. It is very likely that there will always be racism. It is a sad part of the human experience. The only way I could see racism beginning to fade away is if we’re able to simply look at human beings as human souls. As always, the gospel plays a vital role in how we see people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). It is through the lens of the gospel that we see are able to adopt the image of human beings through the eyes of Christ. There are no intrinsic differences between humans. Through the gospel, we are all the same.

Often times, the more time we spend focusing on peoples differences (even if we’re trying to celebrate them), the more we begin to see people as different. Hitler had to dehumanize the Jews before he could attempt exterminate them. African American slavery dehumanized blacks in order to use them. Seeing people as merely different does not really solve the heart of the problem. We must see all people as being made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and remember that “we are but souls inhabiting bodies.”

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Racism

  1. Zack I love you bro but your liberal collage indoctrination seems to be working. First thing when we see color we are part of the problem. God doesn’t see color, the holy bible isn’t color specific. His laws are for everyone and we will stand one on one with him and answer for our own actions. No matter what you or I say or do racism will always exist, why? Because ALL colors franchise off this subject. A step up, advancement, excuses, votes etc. There’s no excuse for committing a crime!! ( poor ). Live the life god intends us to live and he will take care of us. Communism is never a good thing for anyone, especially for Christians. God directs us not government, God wants us to work our own fields and be disciplined.no one should benefit from another’s sweating brawl. Work and god rewards. I work 2 jobs support five of my own as well as 3 boys from Honduras, give to united way and church, I’m not collage educated but do just fine supporting us. God says the holy bible is his way, I don’t think the Koran is acceptable to him. Hope this helps! Love ya.
    .

    Like

    • Hey Steve! Thanks for commenting. I think there may be a couple of a mix ups between us that I would like to clarify. I’ll see if I can address them and then you can tell me if we’re on the same page:
      1) I definitely do not think that communism is good thing. Communism has failed again and again for good reasons. That was one of the points I was trying to make. Communism would only work in a particular ideal society—but that’s exactly the problem—no particular society like that exists. So I totally agree that communism doesn’t’ work. That was actually a point I wanted to make clear.
      2) I also agree with you when you say that there are no excuses for crime. I’m totally on board with that. Unfortunately I witnessed a lot of crime where I used to live. It was in predominately black neighborhood—but the reason for the crime had nothing to do with the fact that those people were black. If you raised a black baby and a white baby in the same environment, there is nothing intrinsic about either of those races that would incline one towards crime over the other. Hopefully that will clear up what I believe to be a misunderstanding between us!
      3) The [only] thing that I would propose to you is that I believe that God does see color. God loves variety, we see this in creation. God loves that he has made people with physical differences. He seems to be a God of diversity. The problem with us is that we aren’t like God. We don’t tend to celebrate diversity for reasons I mentioned in my post. It’s a sad thing, but experience tells us that it’s true. God on the other hand is perfect, and he sees men and women in all shapes, sizes and colors as being very good in his eyes.
      Hopefully this will clear up some confusion. To summarize, the point of my post was this: I don’t believe paying attention to peoples racial differences helps anyone out. Instead, we need to see people as being equally created in the image of God, and let that be the end of it. As long as we’re placing people’s differences in the spotlight, we run the risk of letting those differences define people. And when we let our racial differences define us, we tend to not look at each other as being the same. Hope this helps, and I hope that you respond back so that I know you’ve read my reply to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. We are but my advice to you is to stay away from the political arena on issues of racism, racism exist because of all the advantages it has to offer. It draws a variety of colors because of money, power and votes. Slavery ended over 100 years ago yet people still act like it ended yesterday. Al sharpton and Jessie Jackson have made millions exploiting their own people. Don’t let anyone tell you other wise. People are sheep following the wrong shepperd. PS. All our ancestors were slaves but that doesn’t predict my life, God is in controlled of that. See you next Saturday.

    Like

    • I genuinely appreciate your advice. It’s important for me to note that its never been the purpose of this blog to argue in favor of one political side or another. I’m not interested in that. What I am interested in is the philosophical/theological implications behind these things. It’s my sincere hope that I haven’t ventured into the political battleground on any of my posts. I know the current issues surrounding Brown and Garner bleed into the political arena, and that’s certainly what some people choose to focus on. What I’m genuinely concerned with is why we have racism in the first place. I’m not concerned about writing my opinion on who I think the guilty party is on these matters (most blogs I’ve read have been focused on this; but that’s not the purpose of mine). We can talk in person about these things on Saturday if you’d like. I’d be happy to!

      On a side note: You don’t ever have to worry about asking me to clarify something I’ve written–or whether or not you will offend me by disagreeing. All I want to make sure is that the same message I’m thinking in my head is the same message that’s getting across.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zack,

    I whole hardheartedly agree with this statement: ‘we will never completely end sex trafficking. It is a sad part of human nature to exploit others, and we will always need to combat it.” I think this is true for many of our deeply rooted world issues. My question is how can we continue to pray with a sincere heart and faith even though we know these issues will always be here (racism, poverty, sex crimes, etc). Sometimes I find myself feeling like what’s the use? Or here we go again with another sad story. I feel like it’s hard on the heart to care about all these issues all the time. I’m not saying we should stop caring and I know my lack of faith at times doesn’t change what God can do for our world. Any insights or commentary you have would be helpful! As always thanks!!

    Like

    • Maya,

      Thank you for the thoughtful reply. We know that pain and oppression will not end on this side of eternity. That can be a crushing thought. It is also hard to bear the weight of the pain that we see in the world. We may, as a consequence, want to cover our eyes or hide from it.
      Jesus was a man of sadness. No doubt, God feels unimaginable sadness as an omniscient being who is intimately acquainted with the suffering of this world. He himself has participated in the suffering of this world by becoming incarnate in the body of Jesus. However, God did not (and does not) turn his gaze away from the suffering he sees in the world. I would submit that neither should we. But I think it is important for us to have realistic expectations. As I said previously, we cannot end human oppression and exploitation on this side of eternity. So we look forward to the day when it will end, and we do what we can to combat it now. In the Kingdom of God there is no oppression. As a result, when we work towards ending oppression now, we create little pockets of the Kingdom of God where we are. For this reason we say that the Kingdom of God is here, but not complete. One day God will complete it. But every good act that we do towards humanity now creates a taste of this Kingdom. When the rest of the world sees it, they long for it. We all do. But we hope that others will want to participate in it, and join us in the mission of creating pockets of the Kingdom of God. But of course our mission is not just ending physical, psychological, or emotional pain—it is ending spiritual pain, which can only be healed through Christ. Evil stems from being disconnected from the source of what is good. God is the ultimate source of goodness from which all other goodness flows. So what humans desperately need is to be reconnected to the source of goodness, which is God. We do that by sharing who he is, and letting him take care of the rest. To try to solve the problems of the world without addressing the deeper issues will just result in the same problems resurfacing. So we don’t ignore the physical or the spiritual as Christians.

      So we do our best to embrace the suffering of the world, but with a correct understanding of human nature on this side of eternity. Oppression doesn’t end on this side of eternity, but that does not mean that our work is in vain.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s