Dear Friend | Racism, Outrage, Resistance, and Faith

Author’s Note: This post features a letter to a friend in response to a Facebook post. Initially, I was going to ignore her post, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt obliged to respond.

Dear Friend,

I want you to know I love you. You are my sister-in-Christ. You are my friend. I hope you will receive this with the love with which it was written.

After a very difficult week, I went on Facebook a few days ago for a bit of mindless respite. At the top of my newsfeed was your post:

“Black vs White. Racism needs to stop on both sides. When I look at you I see a person. I am white. I am tired of getting a label because of what some “evil” person did to another. It is an issue of GOOD vs EVIL that we need to be talking about! There are good and bad whites. There are good and bad blacks. I sat in the dirt and played right along with black kids growing up. I am not the same as you, but I am no different. I love me some black people, lots of them. I did not enslave your ancestors either. Someone way back, before I was born did that. I was molested, beaten, slandered and used when I was growing up too. I had to make a choice to move on. I had to make a choice to make it better. Jesus saved my heart. We live in a broken world full of good and evil people. Let us good people get on our knees and pray for the evil ones, the unjust ones, and let’s stop this racism. Jesus said pray for your enemies. If the law is broken someone deserves jail, white or black. These bandwagons and riots to stir everything up aren’t helping the problem to go away. Did you pray about it first? Can we just show some love? Can we just be kind? Pray for the police commissioner when an officer does something wrong. Pray for the judges. Pray for justice, but don’t do it because of black and white, please!! Do it because good is better than evil. Do it because Love is better than hate.”

On the surface this seems like sound, good counsel. I agree with many of your points. However, it misses the mark in some ways. It fails to realize the complexity of human experience in general and of Black experience in particular. It fails to recognize the unique circumstances of African Americans and all people with brown skin who live in this “land of the free.”

A lot of people misuse the word “racism.” They use it as if it is synonymous with prejudice, but it is not. Racism is “prejudice, bigotry, stereotypes, and discrimination that is systematically enforced by people with more institutional power, authority, and resources than others to the advantage of that group over others” [Patti DeRosa, ChangeWorks Consulting]. To be racist one has to have access to institutional power — the kind of power that affords one the benefits of all the systems in place [almost] without question. The kind of power that presumes one is indeed innocent until proven guilty and is at least entitled to a fair trial. The kind of power that allows one to be treated humanely and even make it to the prison cell alive and not have one’s life weighed in the balance by trigger-happy police officers and emboldened citizens taking “the law” into their hands. Black people can hold prejudices, but we cannot be racist. Why? Simply because we lack access to institutional power. This was the case even when the President of the U.S. was Black.

While it might be a question of good and evil in the spiritual realm, in these United States no matter how good a Black person is, in interactions with “the Law” and in the court of media and society, he or she is considered evil. Indeed, within a few short moments of the revelation of the unequivocal guilt of a white person in the murder of a Black person, media outlets go far and beyond to uncover some stain in the victim’s character or record that serves to justify the brutal murder. In the cases of the murder of Black men, women, children at the hands of white men or the word of white women, too many feel the need to vilify the victim to make the heinous act less villainous.

Have you noticed how the trials of murderers of Black people are entitled against the victim and not the assailant — e.g. the Travon Martin Murder Trial? As if the dead victim committed the crime and is indeed on trial?

I’m not sure how slavery entered this particular conversation, but since it has, we need to recognize slavery as America’s deep, dark, wide-open secret. We are in this particular situation because [as a nation] we don’t want to go to the place of our original wound and really have the dialogue about the horrors of that system and about its consequences some 155 years after its purported end. The fact of America’s defective past is very much part of its present. It is not, then, that Black people can’t “move beyond” slavery; that horrific past is very much a part of our present in this nation. The abuse Black people suffer did not end with slavery. It is ongoing — continual.

I’m incredibly sorry about the pain and abuse you experienced as a child. That was horrible, but please, please, please be careful not to assume that because the two situations are alike in one way, they are alike in all ways and must be met with the same antidote. This is a logical fallacy, a “false analogy,” to be exact. Private, individual pain — though horrific — cannot compare to 400 years [and counting] of ritualized, systemic abuse of an entire body of people because of the color of their skin.

Imagine experiencing the abuse you suffered as a child every day of your life. Imagine all of your progeny for generation after generation experiencing what you went through every single day because of a genetic trait.

You decry the idea of people making assumptions about you based on the color of your skin. Imagine walking with assumptions every waking minute of your day. Imagine the danger of those assumptions when you are Black in America.

Recent events give many, many examples of the dangers of those assumptions — Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man out for a jog murdered by white men based on an assumption; a white woman using the fact of state-sanctioned murder of Black bodies as a weapon against Christian Cooper, a Black man bird-watching; George Floyd, a Black man smothered to death in plain sight of others by a police officer who was comfortable enough with the status quo that he murdered an already incapacitated man with the same carelessness with which one would swat a fly. No remorse. Whatsoever.

Because of such assumptions, Black people are not safe. No matter where we are: in our homes sleeping like Breonna Taylor or playing video games like Atatiana Jefferson; walking home from the store like Trayvon Martin; driving in our cars like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland; playing as any little boy would with a toy gun like Tamir Rice; sitting in our grandmother’s backyards like Stephon Clark. I’m not sure we’ve ever been safe while sitting in church.

We breathe with the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any moment of the day can decide that we don’t matter, that our lives don’t matter. We. are. not. safe.

While your pain was/is real, it is not the same. At some point, you were able to extricate yourself from your abusive situation. To make a choice. To pray. To heal. To give your family a better, healthier experience. Black people have little to no control over what happens when other people’s racist attitudes and behaviors clash with our will and right to live healthy, whole lives. No matter how good our beautiful sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends are, no matter the right choices they make, no matter their prayers, someone can still decide they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter.

So please be careful, my friend, how you hold the conversation with those of us who are racially oppressed. If you are to be an ally and exercise the kindness and compassion you advocate, be careful to release any inclination to counsel oppressed people on how to respond to oppression.

It seems to be a trend to fling the nice and easy words of Martin Luther King, Jr. into the faces of Black people in times like these. He was far more radical than the pacifist many believe he was. I invite you to look at a fuller selection of his body of work. Riots may not be the answer, but they are what happens when people are in complete despair and have run out of capacity for the overwhelming stress and emotion. All of the exhaustion, anger, sadness, weariness, and powerlessness spill over and there is no other response to the steady blows of trauma. King spoke about that, too.

As a Bible-believing, fervent-praying Christian, you will get no disagreement from me about the power of prayer, but I’m compelled to remind you, in the face of injustice, scripture doesn’t tell us to pray. Scripture directs us to act:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. —Isaiah 1:17

It is because I know Jesus Christ — He who is at once the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah — that I am compelled to pray and act.

Sympathy and prayer are not enough. Protests are useful but not enough. Termination of the officers is a start but not enough. Arrest of the murderers is a beginning but not nearly enough. It is time to “turn over some [figurative] tables” and do more than ask, “Can we all just get along?” It’s time to do the hard work of undoing what centuries of social conditioning have done to convince far too many that Black people are only like real people — a little less human than the rest. It’s time for our nation — individually and collectively — to muster the courage and have the excruciating conversation so these atrocities can stop repeating and we can finally heal.

Yes, ultimately, we are involved in a war of good versus evil, but good is already defeated if we keep losing the battles to racism, injustice, and the like.

If you and I are to meet on the other side of Jordan, then we are to do exactly what God requires of us:

to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with [our] God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]. —Micah 6:8 (AMP)

Love to you as we march onward… together.

 

Chandra Tyler Mountain, Ph.D., is an English professor at Oakwood University and a scholar in women’s and Africana literatures and theory. When she is not with her guys, in class or her sunflower-brightened office, she is usually roaming, camera in hand, shooting beauty and inspiration, or sitting quietly in the shade of a tree drawing flowers. As a creative writer, she writes poetry, short prose, inspiration, and creative non-fiction. She also maintains Pics and Posts [https://iamchandralynn.com], a weblog about snail mail, photography, and the beautiful facts of life. 

This article originally appeared on the authors blog and is reprinted here with permission.

Main photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash. In-line images courtesy of the author.

 

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10633
2 Likes

Thank you for the continuing education on this issue. It is very helpful to understand the ‘other’ side of the issue from that persons viewpoint.

2 Likes

This issue will not go away in the world. Hopefully christianity at some point will change. The Christology of Jesus which draws individuals to The Way is generally ignored by religion in favor of authoritarian superiority. Christology does not support the fundamental rational for organization. Organized religion is always about preserving the status quo, the powerful interest. Systemic racism is the status quo when the world needs to see true Christology.

2 Likes

Having worked in several prisons, two jails and a juvenile facility, I observed a few things about law enforcement personnel and suspects/criminals/arrestees. Perhaps most relevant to the George Floyd case is that arrestees are often perceived as malingerers i.e., they often feign illness to avoid cooperating with law enforcement/custody personnel. In the case of Mr. Floyd, he said he was claustrophobic and couldn’t get in the police car. He had just been sitting in a car; consequently, his reason for not cooperating did not appear to correspond to the situation. His “I can’t breathe” mantra was likely perceived as the cry of the uncooperative rather than a legitimate health complaint. Chokeholds [a knee in the neck?] are commonplace in martial arts, sometimes broadcast on national television e.g., “UFC” and “The One Championship” but people normally don’t die.

The underlying health problems of the Black community are well known and documented in health literature. Hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes. Even though Blacks and whites smoke at about the same rate, the Black community suffers from more health related issues. If SDA really want to do something for the Black community, how about some health education programs such as CHIPS. Explain why the fried chicken should not be included with the watermelon and that corn on the cob should be consumed without butter/margarine. “Big tobacco” targets their community with tailored advertising and even cheaper cigarettes. If people want to picket and protest, send them to R.J. Reynolds et al , the makers of menthol cigarettes. Big tobacco wants to exploit the “innocent” Black community, to poison it https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0208.pdf#:~:text=among%20African-American%20youth%20in%20the%20United%20States.%20More,particularly%20African-Americans%2C%20with%20intense%20advertising%20and%20promotional%20efforts.

The issue of slavery, reparations, racial injustice are separate issues from Mr. Floyd’s arrest. What is relevant in the case of Mr. Floyd is that he was identified as someone who had just passed counterfeit money. Perhaps he didn’t realize the money he used was counterfeit. He may not have been guilty but he obviously resisted arrest.

That brings us to another issue–the attitude of the Black community toward law enforcement and law enforcement’s attitude toward the Black community. The criticism of both groups runs both ways. Some would say that police attitudes toward Black arrestees evolve through experience. Generally, if an arrestee is cooperative and respectful, that will impact the officer’s treatment of him/her. In most of the recent cases, arrestees have not been cooperative.

Seeking justice regarding slavery is a legitimate undertaking. Using criminals to further that agenda is not. It reminds me of those who have issues with EGW using her comments on masturbation as a way to delegitimize her. There are legitimate problems with her work but validating “voluntary pollution” makes no more sense that legitimizing criminal behavior.

1 Like

The issue may not go away [completely], but we are still responsible for doing the work. Christ knew clearly what He was up against when He walked this earth, but that did not stop Him from working to change hearts. In fact, He’s still doing that now–working to change our hearts–even though we seem sometimes beyond redemption.

2 Likes

Thank you for taking a moment to read the post and for appreciating the point-of-view. Please continue to participate in the conversation and encourage others to do so. Change can happen only if we’re willing to have the tough conversations.

1 Like

Thanks, @Hansen.

I appreciate your experience working in the prison system. It’s difficult, needed labor, and it’s not for everybody. So, hat’s off to those who can do it, and do it well. Perhaps you were one such person.

To me, there’s a lot that’s screwy in your essay, however :grinning:. But I was drawn to one particular conclusion you assert, upon which I’d like you to, kindly, expand, if you would.

It’s where you say this:

Please:

  1. When you say these are “separate issues,” in what ways are they unconnected to Mr Floyd’s arrest?

That is, when you say they are separate, that means there are no—zero—connections between

a) The issue(s) of slavery, reparations, and racial injustice

and

b) Mr Floyd’s arrest

So, what are the connections, that are in the realm of possibility but, that are certainly not there?

  1. If the issues of slavery, reparations, and/or racial injustice were connected issues to Mr. Floyd’s arrest, and/or related issues to Mr. Floyd’s arrest, in what ways—all of them—might they be so connected to his arrest?

  2. How you know your answer to #1 to be true?

  3. By “Mr. Floyd’s arrest,” are you including everything that happened in that process, including P.O. Derek Chauvin putting his hands in his pockets, and the full body weight of his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, for eight minutes and 46 seconds?

In other words, do you consider that nearly 9-minute coda a subset of the “arrest”?

  1. Are you white?

Thank you, in advance.

HA

Chantra, I couldn’t have said it better. There seems to be this sense of victimhood on this subject that has many going off the deep end here. To hear some tell it you’d think there had been no improvement in race relations over the last 50 plus years.

2 Likes

Harry, My post seems clear. Not sure that I can make it any clearer. My viewpoint is largely shaped by my experience with the penal system. If it seems “screwy” to you, sorry for that.

Possibly this article will flesh out my views.https://www.dailywire.com/news/7-statistics-you-need-know-about-black-black-crime-aaron-bandler

The issue of slavery, reparations, racial injustice are separate issues from Mr. Floyd’s arrest. What is relevant in the case of Mr. Floyd is that he was identified as someone who had just passed counterfeit money.

I beg to differ. The issue is that criminals need to be found guilty in court then sent to prison, not die in an alleyway.

1 Like

I agree that suspects are entitled to their day in court. Had Mr. Floyd not resisted a lawful arrest, he would have had his

3 Likes

Since when has resisting arrest been grounds for murder? The officer committed murder in public view and what has followed, the riots and violence, ( not the protests ) needs to be called for what it is as well. Domestic terrorism.

1 Like

Thanks, @Hansen. :slightly_smiling_face:

Your post probably seems clear to you because you wrote it. Thus, presumably, you understand what you meant by its statements.

I assure you that it is not clear to me, in the places where I asked you questions.

Indeed, based on your response, I suspect that it may not even be clear to you in those places. Reflecting on my experience in such matters, if it were clear to you, it would probably be easy for you to rattle off answers to my rather straightforward queries.

Your experience in the prison system does not seem screwy. I complimented you on it, at the outset.

What seems screwy are a number of your conclusions. They seem based in an awareness of the U.S. penal system, and how it functions, but not of the society by which that penal system was, and is, shaped, let alone the history that shaped, and shapes, that society.

Thus, when you make a statement like this one…

…thinking people want to know, what do you mean by this, and how did you reach such a conclusion?

These are logical responses to such a statement. Saying, “I worked in the penal system” is not responsive. It doesn’t make your case, because your statement was not about the penal system. It was about the effects of historical phenomena; their “reach,” if you will.

You say your post seems clear. Why should it be clear, when you don’t support your claim? If its underlying facts are clear, then why did you include the statement?

Also, thanks for the link. However, I don’t take articles on so-called “Black-on-Black-crime”—which I hold to be a racist nominative and spectre—seriously.

I don’t do so, unless they are accompanied by essays about white-on-white-crime, or, better yet, historical analyses of white supremacy as a global system, that being the biggest and most extensive Criminal Enterprise ever devised.

HA

No, No, you are safe. Homicides had decreased in the last two decades markedly until the recent riots. So, since then, yes, you are less safe. But in Oakwood, likely you are still very safe.

Whites kill whites and blacks kill blacks. Some blacks kill whites, but less whites kill blacks, which is the category Ms. Mountain seems to wish to emphasize.

I am not sure what can be done, when in fact Ms. Mountain and her kin are safe, but think they are not. At least from white assailants

Homicide rates have skyrocketed in the big cites since the protests when they had been falling for years. So, I am not sure they have helped with safety.

Highly disputable whether Mr. Floyd’s death meets the legal threshold for “murder.” Mr. Floyd was buying cigarettes with a suspicious 20 dollar bill. None of this would have happened if he did not smoke. Many more Black people die every year from smoking related illness than from police contact. Poor nutrition in the Black community also kills many more people each year than do the police. Big tobacco targets the Black community i.e., tailors advertising, manipulates pricing in order to sell poison which leads to a constellation of health problems, culminating in death. Big tobacco intentionally does this. Sugary, highly processed foods high in saturated fats consumed by the Black community cause and contribute to many more deaths than neighborhood policing. If Mr. Floyd didn’t smoke, this may well have not have happened. Shutting down big tobacco and the local fried chicken shacks makes a lot more sense than defunding the police.

I have several questions/comments about this paragraph:

Do you consider the perceptions of the law enforcement personnel to be correct or wrong, and do they vary depending on the race of the suspects/criminals/arrestees?

Perceptions seem to be the main issue here.

Phobias are much harder to endure when the situation is forced on you than when you enter it voluntarily and can leave at any time.

Resisting arrest is reason for use of force, but once the suspect is subdued, police have no justification for inflicting punishment.

As for choke-holds being used in martial arts, and not normally causing death, are they normally applied for over nine minutes?

Would you have reacted the same way if George Floyd had been white and the officer black?

In case you’re wondering, I’m white.

1 Like

You do understand the legal definition of murder 1 vs murder 2. right?

There is also manslaughter and considering that he was a police officer involved in subduing [not murdering] a suspect, there is likely a lot of room for interpretation of the law [I watched Law & Order numerous times but it didn’t really get into the subtleties of the law]. Even Kamala Harris [1/2 Black and a former attorney general] said it will not be easy getting Mr. Chauvin convicted. Getting Mr. Chauvin a fair trial will not be easy, either

Chokeholds put direct pressure on the blood vessels to the brain. The person becomes unconscious due to decreased blood flow, not respiratory impairment; consequently, Mr. Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” cry was probably not directly related to the [legal in Minnesota] knee in the neck. The mechanical compression caused by Officer Chauvin unlikely compromised his respiratory capacity to a fatal point. What happened to Mr. Floyd was a great tragedy; nevertheless, he was an uncooperative suspect. My guess is that his underlying health condition contributed as much or more to his death than did the mechanics of the arrest. We know he was a substance abusing smoker, probably hypertensive with underlying circulatory issues. Add to that the fear/anxiety/stress of going back to prison, it was too much.

I didn’t say it would be a conviction but the DA is going to charge what they think they can prove thus Murder II. We can differ as to opinion and that’s fine. At the end of the day both of us are just stating a opinion.

I certainly agree. After what I seen lately of people taking videos of Blacks getting arrested, I’d be scared to death if I were Black and got arrested. They (videos) are shocking, and someone wrote, and this is sad, that it is not that there are more harassments like this. It is that they are now being caught on video.
Sometimes folks don’t know a bill is counterfeit. Anyway, I heard about someone who passed a counterfeit bill to a cashier and the police were called. Claimed he didn’t know it was counterfeit, which I believe. He wasn’t arrested, though. Gentleman’s name? Stephen Bohr. That can happen to anyone.

1 Like