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.”