The Race Set Before Us

17 weeks since the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
15 weeks since the murder of Breonna Taylor.
4 weeks since the murder of George Floyd.
4 weeks since the flood of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.

There are more now: Rayshard Brooks, Sean Monterrosa, Jamel Floyd, and even Justin Howell, a protester shot by “less lethal” rounds by police, is now hospitalized with a fractured skull and brain damage.1

Not to mention the transgender people of color who have been murdered this year in the continental United States — Monika Diamond, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells and Selena Reyes-Hernandez.2

I sometimes listen to the NPR podcast Code Switch which presented an episode entitled, “Why Now, White People?” 3 There’s been so much injustice already, the murder of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) by police and white supremacists. These flashpoints of racially charged brutality are not new — Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many others, so, why now, white people?

During the podcast, Shereen Marisol Meraji, a Latina host, asks white folks, “Why weren’t you out in huge numbers yelling about Black Lives Matter then, in the numbers you are now?” There’s been a smattering of white people at protests before 2020, but now we white folks have come out en masse.

And Shereen is understandably suspicious of the sudden white interest and participation in Black Lives Matter protests.

Gene Demby, the other podcast host, a black man, discusses white people’s own answers to this question of “Why now, white people?” 3 He found three themes:

  • White people moved by other white people: One respondent wrote, “It became inappropriate to be silent, and seemed like there would be less social repercussions for being that white girl who’s always talking about racial inequality.”
  • President Donald Trump: Many respondents argued that the demagoguery they saw President Trump employing on issues of race prompted them to take action.
  • The Pandemic: Coronavirus interrupted our routines, making us stay home, where we consequently consumed more news and social media. When we became more aware of the injustices faced by BIPOC, white folks could no longer claim ignorance. This experience of communal vulnerability awakened us to a sense of empathy.

The podcast includes an interview with Nicole Fisher, a social psychologist, who predicted the current social unrest in a Forbes article published in March 2020.4 Shereen, Gene and Nicole settle on the apparent reality that white folks would not be participating in such numbers without the pandemic. “Why now, white people?” The pandemic, that’s why.

Hopelessness seems a logical reaction to these stories and to the Code Switch hosts’ conclusions. I wonder where I, a white woman living in Bryn Mawr, am in relation to Jesus in this time of reckoning. I wonder if I turn my back on Jesus in my moments of ally-fatigue, in my moments of anxiety about calling out white supremacy in my friends, family and work. I wonder if I turn my back on Jesus in the moments when I am frozen in the reality that no matter what I do, it will never be enough, never be perfect, never be the exact right thing. I can never fix it all, so, I wonder, why try, when I am bound only to fail? 

And then I think about black-trans-woman Marsha P. Johnson, key leader in the Stonewall riots of 1969, to whom I owe the legality of my own marriage. I think about the LGBTQ+ folks who fought for decades for me to have equal rights under the law, to be able to marry and live without fear of being arrested or even executed for my sexuality.5 I think about the Supreme Court ruling from just a couple weeks ago, where they upheld that job discrimination based on gender or sexuality is illegal.

And that work took decades, centuries even.

There are so many other issues I could point to where the work of people decades ago provided me with justice — a right to vote, a right for bank accounts in my name, a right to drive a car, and even, yes, the right to be your pastor.

People have fought for me to be able to be who I am and follow my calling.

Amongst the imperfect figures leading these movements, the Spirit of God was present in each individual fighting for justice.

Jesus teaches us repeatedly that grace pools in the margins. Jesus is drawn constantly to people who others saw as less-than,6 as unclean,7 as worthy of death.8 He flipped tables in the synagogue, demanding justice for the oppressed.9

No matter where we land on the political spectrum, we must remind ourselves who it is we claim to worship — a poor, homeless, Jewish man of color, unjustly murdered by keepers of the law. A man named Jesus, the Emmanuel, God-with-us.  

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”10 That quotation does not absolve me of my continuing justice work, but it does give me hope that justice is possible. Though we find ourselves repeatedly on Holy Saturday, when Jesus is dead in the tomb, we know that Sunday’s comin’, Easter is comin’, the resurrection, the reconciliation is comin’.  

When I find myself in the valley of the shadow of death, I remember that I have seen the world move from injustice toward justice — and that we can do it again. 

God is in the business of justice and mercy, which means we are in the business of justice and mercy. God invites us “to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus… who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”11

So friends, for the sake of the joy before us, let’s get to work. 


Footnotes

  1. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/say-their-names-list-people-injured-killed-police-officer-involved-incidents/
  2. https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020
  3. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/878963732/why-now-white-people
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/03/21/historyand-psychologypredict-riots-and-protests-amid-pandemic-lockdowns/#6d5fb20114a6
  5. There are nine countries where the punishment of homosexuality is death and 52 where it is punishable by varying years of imprisonment (anywhere from one year to life). https://www.outlife.org.uk/which-countries-criminalise-homosexuality?gclid=CjwKCAjw88v3BRBFEiwApwLevTW-KEinKulWNRGrE5x4Z5lrCC-k6XDOMjgld_EaD-hHiU1b7qKarxoCsrMQAvD_BwE
  6. John 3, Luke 8, Matthew 9, Mark 5
  7. Matthew 8, Mark 1
  8. John 8, Luke 23, John 4
  9. Matthew 21, Mark 11
  10. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/opinion-smith-obama-king_n_5a5903e0e4b04f3c55a252a4
  11. Hebrews 12:1-3, NRSV