jesus in temple

Baltimore and A Country Divided by Race – A Lesson from Jesus

When I read some of the discussions on race, I am struck by a lack of education and insight of a centuries old problem. While I am no expert on the race issue, it is clear that it is very uncomfortable to have an open, honest and frank discussion of the race issue between Black and White people without one or the other becoming easily offended – so instead – it seems discussions are swept under the carpet, hoping they will go away.

I recently read about how Ben Affleck went on a journey to discover his ancestry via PBS in a documentary called “Finding Your Roots” . Ben found out that one of his ancestors was a slave owner and chose to have that part of the documentary omitted (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/22/ben-affleck-embarrassment-hide-slave-owning-ancestor). While I understand that it is embarrassing to admit that your family was part of an ugly side of history, denial to me, is much worse. Denial is the foundation of a lie that allows abuse and injustice to continue.

Unless we seek to educate ourselves on the issue and history of racism, it is difficult to have a sensible conversation. But in my opinion, the system has already been created to deny the severity of the Black experience of racism in America.  America is a nation that is built on slavery / capitalism at the expense of Black people. During slavery, White people built in privileges which favored and empowered White people and oppressed and dehumanized Black people. Unfortunately, the remnants of this capitalist system are alive and well today, despite the abolition of slavery and the acknowledgment by science that race is a social not biological construct, used only for the purpose of power and oppression.

Many White and Black people were not and are still not educated in full about the history of slavery.  Much of this history is distorted or glossed over as “not being that bad” or that “Black people should get over it”.  Unless we start to educate all people, regardless of color,  we cannot truly begin to understand an age old system of persistent inequities and prejudice.

US Marshals escorted Ruby Bridges to an “all-white” elementary school amidst violent outbursts by white people.

This is my simplistic experience of the educational system here in the US. The school curriculum that my children have been exposed to makes mention of the pilgrims and how they came over to the US. There are wonderful “good feel stories” of Thanksgiving and how Native Americans and pilgrims shared food together. Stories of the civil rights movement with regards to Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks further add to the feel good factor of how people who experience difficulties can fight for a good cause which eventually leads to some people agreeing that segregation was bad and that equality was a good thing – Ummm?! Awesome?! Thanks?!

Well… not really. When you look back at the extent of the inequality / inequity / injustice (words cannot describe this), while I am grateful that slavery was abolished, it should never have happened in the first place – but it did.  In the K – 12 educational curriculum, very few history classes, if any at all, explain why there was a racial divide in the first place. Teaching is sketchy regarding how and why Black people were brought to the US.  Eventually, African-American Studies becomes an option at undergraduate level, however, this class is generally attended by a majority of African-Americans.

It is almost as if the curriculum treats the civil rights movement as the history of Black America. Without any intended disrespect to Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks who bravely fought in the civil rights movement, I believe there is a relative comfort for White people when discussing these aspects of the civil rights movement versus the harsh reality of the slavery that led to the movement.  Consequently, the educational system is selective and bias towards the history of White America, being very careful not to portray the evil brutality of White Christians who owned Black people as slaves.

Interestingly, as a side note, my children have learned much more about Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust that occurred during World War 2 (go figure). While this is also a very important time during history that should also be acknowledged, I just do not understand why African-American history is not given the same attention or detail.

Regardless, the educational system cannot deny slavery – it happened. The atrocities by White people toward Black people – that happened too.  Nevertheless, the educational system, as part of a capitalist system seems to be skewed towards ignoring this part of history, because it allows White people to continue to benefit from those built in privileges. Ultimately, unless White people choose to educate themselves, White America continues to be ill-educated and ill-equipped to host a sensible conversation on the topic of slavery, capitalism and the injustice of racism as a consequence.

For example, many are quick to throw judgement on the people of Baltimore who rioted following the death of Freddie Gray after his arrest. Whatever the story behind the rioting and I do agree that there were many who were in it for selfish motives, I am more struck by a people who are just fed up and have had enough. A repeated cycle of hopelessness, fear, despair, poverty, injustice and abuse breeds people who are willing to fight for their cause, by any means necessary. Perhaps, if we understood Baltimore in the light of centuries of oppression, we would have a better understanding of the violence today.  I remember reading a couple of posts on social media, one said “violence is never the answer”, the other said “violence is almost always the answer”.

Jesus destroying the temple courtyard

When I think about Baltimore, I remember the story of Jesus as he walked through the temple watching the people buying and selling animals to make their sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 21:12-13). The Pharisees were making a lot of money exploiting people on this basis. Jesus was outraged, quite rightly, that the Pharisees were misusing the house of God for their own benefit. Jesus decided to take action and he overturned the tables, chased the people out with a whip and destroyed the temple area as he went.  Wasn’t Jesus, like the people of Baltimore, destroying a part of his own community? Bottom line, people get frustrated because they are not being heard. No matter how obvious and clear the message seems, the inequities, injustice and exploitation that was dished out by the Pharisees, and likewise by the judicial system of today was difficult to tolerate any more. Jesus, like the people of Baltimore became angry, rightfully so and in doing so, became violent. While I do not condone violence, it is apparent that violence does seem to communicate a message.

Right now, it would go a long, long way if those White people in denial, educated themselves and then acknowledged the injustice of the past and present. While I am not blaming White people of today for the oppression of the past it is clear that those who fail to educate themselves and who fail to stand up in the light of injustice and oppression ultimately choose to support this capitalist system of racial inequity. But the reality is those people will ultimately and inevitably reap the same injustice and oppression themselves.  This same capitalist economy that was designed to favor Whites for so long and under which people of color were discriminated against, is now making a turn for those people who make up the large proportion of the middle class – White people. More and more so called White middle class families are facing the squeeze of economic instability based on a capitalist society, which no longer favors the majority of White people, but only serves the very elite White people (Watch Wealth Inequality in America – http://youtu.be/QPKKQnijnsM).

No matter how divided this country is with regards to issues on race, we have to remember that the recent publicized slayings of Black men by White cops is not just an issue of race, but a human and civil rights issue. Unless people of all colors stand up, united against this injustice and oppression, sooner or later, we will all be victims of it. I find it interesting to note that the 6 police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are Black and White. Can we truly say that the treatment of Freddie Gray was purely based on race alone? Where there is injustice – we are all potential victims. So do not be fooled, this is not entirely a White issue, or a Black issue, it’s a human rights as well as a civil rights issue.  As long as we remain divided by race, the few elitist white capitalists will always win.

Image result for jesus preaching to the crowd
Jesus, though privileged by his position, advocated for the poor and oppressed.

Jesus could have conformed to the values of the society at the time, which believed the Pharisees were spiritually superior and righteous. Jesus could have sucked up to the Pharisees and enjoyed the privileges of religious protocols as they were practiced back then. But Jesus chose to hang out with the poor and oppressed, the used and abused.  Jesus chose to speak up against the Pharisees and advocate for justice and fair treatment of all regardless of race, gender and ability.

I am aware that there have been many wonderful White people who have stood up for Black people throughout the ages such as John Jay and Susan B. Anthony.  We need more like them.  We need more White people today to unite, take responsibility and own the fact that the system of slavery that benefited White people all those years ago, still benefits them today (but for how long?), at the expense of Black people.  We need more White people, in their privilege, to stand up, come forward and advocate for Black people in the same way that Jesus did for the oppressed.  Jesus took responsibility for the mess the Pharisees created on His behalf, Jesus owned it.  Jesus in his privileged position as the Son of God, stood up against the capitalist system that the Pharisees used to oppress people for their own selfish gain. In anger against the injustice, Jesus destroyed an area of the Pharisees temple that exploited people.  White people need to help destroy the parts of the system today that exploit people too.  Jesus made that difference – White people, especially Christians, can do the same today if they really want to make that difference.

solidarity2
Solidarity – One People.

To this end, I am encouraged by the outpouring of the increasing numbers of White people who protested with Black people in Baltimore.  We need more White people to come forward to fight oppression with and on behalf of Black people. Solidarity is the solution and I urge more White people to educate themselves about the real history of America – not just the civil rights movement.  Blacks nor Whites can resolve the “race” issue alone, with one side fighting against the other. Blacks and Whites and peoples of all nations, tribes and tongues must come together to resolve this issue and advocate for each other. I draw your attention to the pink poster in the picture to the right which says “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – I could not have said it better myself.