America’s conversation about race has, like all of our public conversations, come to consist largely of a running commentary on viral spectacles. Recent weeks have been rife with them—the Oklahoma University SAE video chant and the dreadful scene of the double shooting of police in Ferguson; the awesome images of a sitting and a former president crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, heading a massive multiracial and multigenerational crowd; the face of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, bloodied by Alcohol Board of Control officers.
Between April 1831 and February 1832, two officials of the French government under Louis-Philippe toured Jacksonian America. These two officials—Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont—were on assignment to research prisons in the United States and later produced a report of their findings in 1833. But while traveling through America, Tocqueville and Beaumont were also carefully observing political and social life in the new republic. Both men published works on their observations. Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America (1835/1840) and Beaumont wrote a novel, entitled Marie or, Slavery in the United States (1835). Most Americans are familiar with Tocqueville’s work, but Beaumont’s novel is less well known.
So much religious talk is about naming, about describing a general reality in particular terms. This is important. But in our increasingly secular culture, it’s always striking when someone gets at deep religious truth without bothering with religious language. For instance, Jay Smooth offers a pretty crisp explication here of the nature of sin and virtue.
Mennonites for example are actually 20 percent nonwhite in North America, and mostly non-white when considered from a global perspective. They are not the Mennonite Church you imagine in your head.
Merely speaking about this incident and mentioning racism resulted in the common backlash accusation of playing this mythical item. It is used over and over again by some white people instead of engaging in dialogue through sharing and listening, the choice is made to stigmatize and scapegoat those that disagree that America is mostly a colorblind post-racial nation. There are certain scripts that the white majority learns and rehearses through subtle socialization in dominant culture. Rather than doing the hard work of careful in-depth investigation of the matter, quick cliché dismissals are used to uphold the status quo. The status quo is silence about racism other than pointing out the overt cases, as well as getting into extensive conversation about reverse racism. While I have often gotten frustrated by these little remarks that dismiss black experiences without doing the hard work of listening and wrestling with another perspective, I decided that from now on I was going to “play along” with their game.
For black Americans, the abuse of power by police is not an aberration. It’s a familiar pattern.
I attended a rally last week in Athens, Georgia, expressing unity with the protestors in Ferguson after the failure to indict Darren Wilson. People gathered peacefully, even quietly, and held up signs. The protestors stood in quiet conversations, some with candles, some with children in arms, a mix of white and black and Latina/o. The first speaker to address the crowd was Alvin Sheets, president of our local NAACP chapter. He thanked us for standing with the people of Ferguson and reminded us of the plight of black Americans, both recently and throughout U.S. history, and the great poverty that many in our own community face. As Sheets’s speech drew to a close, he turned to religion: he expressed his belief that the church needs revival.
First, we condemn The Gospel Coalition’s editorial leadership for its moral and pastoral failure in publishing such an anti-black viewpoint. No Christian organization should ever participate in dishonoring the image of God in black people, especially at a time when so many black Americans are in pain. Second, we lament the internalized anti-black racism that Pastor Voddie conveyed in his article and the fact that it has been used to further support White-on-Black violence among Christians. Here, we offer a different perspective, one that we believe honors the image of God in black people.