Lorie Shaull (License)
The degree of grief and anger that it takes to overshadow a global pandemic is massive. The injustice that killed George Floyd has cut so many of us to the heart. If we thought we were safe, or that racism was a thing of the past, we were proved wrong. It is a sobering, fear-inducing and painful thought.
“The UK is not innocent”. I saw that sign held by a hurting protester and I recalled the pains that friends have endured here. Cambridge is not innocent. Just last academic term we were engaging with racism by the #speakout movement which got started when a student was physically assaulted by a college porter who assumed he had no right to be there. This issue is more widespread than we would like to even imagine.
My great grandmother was the daughter of a Carib, one of the original people groups in Trinidad and Tobago who were almost completely wiped out by slavery. My grandmother struggled through poverty brought on by the Second World War, a war steeped in racism. My mother studied in the USA and faced the condescending attitudes of racism all around, from being followed through stores by employees thinking she was a thief to being forced to work harder than others around her in order to finish her degree. My father experienced racial profiling, accosted by police who thought he was stealing a car, when he was simply removing a glass bottle from under his car which would have punctured his tyre. My eldest sister was yelled at by a man who was under the influence of either drugs or alcohol for having white friends and trying to “be white”. My other elder sister and her Nigerian friend were followed around a Walmart store by a woman who assured management that she was “keeping an eye on them”. My family for years has experienced hardship and struggles because of the deeply rooted negative racist attitudes that are still undercurrents in the world we live in today.
I have been blessed to have never been attacked, but I live with the effects of a world plagued by racism. The surprise and shock of seeing another black person as you go about daily life, reminding you time and time again that you are a minority. The odd relief and comfort you feel when meeting up with other people of colour makes you realise you were holding your breath all the while, not really feeling comfortable enough to be yourself, to be “black”.
Realising that my mom was not being paranoid when she warned me about the realities of racism that I would face by studying in England has probably been the worst realisation of my life. She warned me that I might have to work harder to get respect, that I would feel the need to change some of my more outgoing habits, that I may basically be guilty until proven innocent. I dismissed it all, thinking that times certainly must have changed since she was at university.
Yet I have to be more vocal than my peers in supervisions so that the supervisor doesn’t assume I did not get the point. I think the only supervisions I was specifically called on for my opinion were ones on colonialist thought. I am much more reserved than usual in England, and part of this is simply respect for a different culture, but it is tiring and often frustrating. Every time I need to smile at someone as I pass them on a dark night for them to relax their shoulders and not walk in a wide circle around me, I feel the darkness of my skin.
And yet, I do not want to be in a constant state of sombreness and sorrow at the condition of the world; I resort to my normal “find the blessing” attitude, my coping mechanism. This attitude does have its place, because being able to be thankful that I am not in a worse position is important. But when it becomes something that makes me stop grieving at the injustice in the world, stop caring, stop praying about it, stop thinking about it, ignoring it – then it is a REAL problem.
Singing the lyrics from the bridge of this song “Hosanna” by Hillsong hits me hard.
Break my heart for what breaks Yours. As George Floyd lay there with a knee on his neck, God’s heart was breaking. God’s heart aches at injustice wherever it is seen, and our hearts need to break at it too. He didn’t make us for this. He made us “in his image”, to love, care for and lay down our lives for each other like he loves us and laid down his life for us. People God created in His image and likeness, people He loves with a self-giving love, are crying out to Him in pain; are being abused and oppressed for a characteristic that says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about them other than the fact that their skin produces eumelanin.
And yet, I am here, more concerned about my comfort, more concerned about maintaining some fleeting peace than standing up alongside those who are being hurt.
God nudged me even more: “You see the injustice of poverty and inequality and the refugee crisis and you want to do something about that, but the issue that touches even closer to home, the one I have specifically positioned you to act upon, you turn a blind eye to?”.
EVERYTHING I AM for your kingdom’s cause. My black skin for your kingdom’s cause. I cannot keep silent on this while it remains an issue I can speak about. While people are hurting from this, while they are crying out to be heard, I pray that God will call on all of His people to want to feel His heart for these situations.
I come to you for protection, O Lord my God.
Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!
If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
Arise, O Lord, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my enemies!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
End the evil of those who are wicked,
and defend the righteous.
For you look deep within the mind and heart,
O righteous God.
God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
He is angry with the wicked every day.
If a person does not repent,
God will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
He will prepare his deadly weapons
and shoot his flaming arrows.
The wicked conceive evil;
they are pregnant with trouble
and give birth to lies.
They dig a deep pit to trap others,
then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
I will thank the Lord because he is just;
I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
The psalms are a depiction of people struggling with injustice but knowing that God is just, struggling to reconcile the two and deal with pain, and many times coming back to rest on the character of God. I read Psalm 7 and I feel David’s pain.
Lord, I am scared! I see the injustice which I thought, by now, should be over. I cannot believe that there are still people who would think less of me because of the colour of my skin, because of some defining feature over which I have no control, and which should not be a source of shame to me, but of pride! You made me in Your image, Lord, and I believe I have value. So why are these people still around? Save me from their hate. Save us from this world which refuses to love unconditionally. Fear is rampant everywhere. This cannot still be the norm.
I cry out against it and at the same time, I realise how quick I am to pre-judge people. “This is a group of white people so they must be well off.” I am not immune; I see how I am culpable. Forgive me for this! But yet, Lord, I am confident that I have done no wrong to deserve this prejudice. People who experience any form of racism did nothing wrong, they were just themselves. Lord, show yourself!
Do not let this evil go unpunished, Lord. Hear the cries of the ones you love. You are a good judge, help us! Let this wickedness end and right relations be restored. Bring reconciliation and a global change of mindset! I know You do not change and so I know Your heart grieves for your people. I know You are a just God. Please Lord, will You not stop this spreading disease of racism?
The wickedness of evil men will dig their own grave. I know that anyone who does not repent - who isn’t struck to the core by the pain they have caused, who refuses to acknowledge that their actions have hurt You and hurt others, who doesn’t change their ways - will not go unpunished. Their wrong will not escape Your eyes. I have confidence in Your righteousness and justice.
My easily provoked temper wants justice. I want those who did wrong to feel the consequences of their actions. I want them to hurt.
God is a God of justice. He cares about the oppressed. He sees their struggles. He aches with every victim of racist slurs or racist violence. He rejoices with us when justice prevails in our legal systems and one day He will judge the guilty with the full measure of His anger and might.
I know that justice will one day be served, and that is a massive comfort to me in times like these. At the same time, I also see God's abounding grace and willingness to forgive those who truly repent and change, and sometimes I really cannot fathom it! Lord I do not want these people to get away with this! You want to have mercy on them? You mean if they repented, you would extend grace to them? But why? They do not deserve it!
And Jesus reminds me: Well, neither did you.
Jesus asks me: If they repent, if they acknowledge their mess and the pain they have caused, if they turn from their ways, why does it grate on you? If the death-causing consequences of their wrongdoing are paid for by my sacrifice on the cross, if I take the lashes meant for them upon myself, why does it bother you? Did I not do the same for you? My grace is not only for you.
It is a lesson I have not yet learnt and in light of all this, will inevitably be difficult for many. While I know the Lord weeps for the hurting in the world, He also loves all those He made in the world, and loves us too much to leave us in the mess we make for ourselves.
More than my heart wants revenge, I want peace. For all of us. And to that end, I continue to pray and work and act.
The painful effects of racism are just one of the ways in which we see the harmful effects of telling God that we know better, that we will do things our own way and ignore His, what the Bible calls sin. Racism says that God made people unequal, that some people do not reflect His image, that it is okay to damage those God so carefully designed.
Treating people terribly because of their race is part of this. Standing by passively and neglecting to act when you see racism is part of this. Charles Morgan Jr spoke out after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in September of 1963, after the killing of four black girls, and summarised this so well:
“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, ‘Who did it? Who threw that bomb?’ The answer should be, ‘We all did it.’”
In his book The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby says, “this is the essence of complicity, the most egregious acts of racism can only occur within a context of compromise.”
Doing things our own way rather than God’s life-giving way, leads to death and destruction. Charles Morgan Jr goes on:
"Every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb."
History and the bible teach us: there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. There can be no confession without truth.
Lorie Shaull (License)
Tisby, Jemar. Color of Compromise. Zondervan, 2020.
Hillsong United Hosanna Bridge, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CWCnciPjhQ. Youtube, 2013
Psalm 7, Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.