I am a Racist, and, So are You

This is the title of an essay I wrote looking at what has opened up for us due to the killing of George Floyd. In this 4 page Word document I attempt to get to the heart of the issue, and hopefully bring some healing and compassion for us all.

I am a Racist and So are You

Of course, I am thinking of George Floyd. (This is written on June 2, 2020.) What a tragedy, and I am upset at what happened to him. And this man was a fellow Christian who was actively reaching out evangelistically with the Gospel in his neighborhood.

The guy with his knee on Brother Floyd’s head—what was that about? Was he afraid for his own safety? Would not seem so. Three other cops were visible, just right there. Floyd was hand cuffed as well. But I noticed all four of the cops were nervously looking around and around with their hands near their weapons.

My brother Bruce

Bruce, gone now for four years, retired as chief of police in Pasadena, CA. There was, and is, a large black population in that city. Two decades or more ago Bruce wrote a manual on how to secure a city when there was some kind of violent event taking place. We talked about it, and he told me that one of his focuses was on looting. It could get bad. Bruce’s manual has been used by cities across America. And, Bruce’s girlfriend, a great lady, was black.

One of the things I learned from Bruce is that, during a major protest or march gone bad, there is a lot of fear experienced by police. Turns out that behind the badge and the gun is a human being who may be scared to death. How many cops around the country are killed each year in carrying out their work?

The brain has a tendency to freeze up; thus, untoward events can take place. Is this what happened in Minneapolis? No one knows, but there is a possibility that the “fight or flight” hormone charge kicked in.

This does not, however, excuse what happened to George Floyd.

Was the cop racist?

My answer is, most likely. How could he be the only one in the world who is not? If we can be honest about ourselves for a minute, I think many of us would admit to having some or a lot of racism deep within us.

I grew up in a black and white neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The family who lived behind us was black, and the son and I spent lots of time together. In the military also lots of black friends. That said, I still had some tinges of racism in me.

Then we moved to Los Angeles, and near us, a few miles away, was San Fernando Valley with a large Mexican population, and we had gang wars with some of them during my high school days. Did I pick up some prejudice then? Sure, I did. We also had gang fights with the blacks at Belmont High in the city, and also with the Buddha heads of Hollywood. Thinking about it, I am lucky to be alive.

I am racist

Over the years I picked up any number of racist-oriented prejudices. Some were racial, others economic, some educationally oriented, I will admit also to a lot of politically oriented bias, and this is playing out front and center right now. Religious prejudice? Yes, I have some of that, too. Maybe “some” is an understatement.

The good thing is that I recognize it, I own it. That way my idiosyncrasies might not creep up on me. The person who denies racism, in one form or another, is not being honest or self-aware.

Can black people be racist? For sure, and I have experienced it, especially as a volunteer at San Quentin Prison for the last nearly forty years. Everything is racial there and to a degree most would never understand.

I think that people who receive the brunt of racism have a more difficult time seeing racism in themselves. Almost any significant difference between people will spawn forms of prejudice, some more deeply than others.

“Hey whitey” has been directed at me. Is this a racist statement? Of course, it is. Yet the person who yelled it out might likely deny it was. We so easily see what we suppose are faults and differences in others and are blind to our own. And we have them. He who is without sin, cast the first stone, Jesus said.

You are racist

Are you offended? Or, are you in touch with yourself to the point that you not only can see the prejudices you carry with you but are able to admit them to others, and maybe work to reduce them? They will not suddenly vanish or completely go away by themselves.

This is the way it is for us. On a scale from 1 to 100, where do you fit in? I’m not sure where I fit; in the double digits for sure. How could it be otherwise? Our world is a little bit hellish, for some more than others, and the harder we get beaten down, the more distorted we become. I know that for those who have spent years in prison, the racism they encountered behind bars stays with them. Through my involvement with prison ministry and sports, I have seen and experienced this.

People raised in what we might call a ghetto most often have racism build into them, on both an unconscious level and a deliberately taught level, sometimes for safety sake. Our world is filled with inequities, and to think these will just go away or disappear is crazy thinking. Social Justice—nice idea—but the work it will take to achieve it might end up being discouraging. Is it even pie in the sky by and by? We have to deal with social injustice, a battle we will not win but one which we cannot abandon. And here I am hoping to give us some ammunition in this warfare.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus told a parable about a man, a Jew, who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. This event took place on the Jericho Road, which led from the village of Jericho to Jerusalem.

As it turned out, two Jewish religious types travelling along the road heading for Jerusalem walked around the victim and made no attempt to help. Then a Samaritan man came along.

The story will make no sense, unless we understand that Jews and Samaritans did not get along. They hated each other. The Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews and held to a rival form of worship. The Jews and Samaritans despised each other both racially and religiously.

Big surprise! The Samaritan stopped and helped the man and made sure he would be okay. It cost him time and money and perhaps put him at risk at the same time.

Jesus told this story. Here it is now from Luke 10:25–37: The Parable of the Good Samaritan:

[25] And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [26] He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” [27] And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” [28] And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

[29] But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” [30] Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. [31] Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. [32] So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. [33] But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. [34] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. [35] And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ [36] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” [37] He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Two men had racial prejudice, one did not, or if he did, he did not allow it to determine his actions. The Samaritan would have had every reason to walk around the beaten man and leave him be. Those who heard Jesus tell the story would have instantly understood that. Somehow, the Samaritan had dealt with the hatred he would have encountered growing up.

The lesson

The neighbor is the one who is in need. All else is irrelevant.

Now in this day and age, with so many in need and with so little resources available, and even the road to bringing help laden with complexities, how can we be like the good Samaritan?

Sorry, I have no answer, except to say that we attempt to do what is within our capacity. And it all starts with recognizing our prejudices and overcoming these. Complications arise when the good Samaritans among us are resented by those who are in need. We must deal with both our own and the others’ prejudices in the midst of trying to help. And it is present though largely unseen and unspoken.

Our racism is tribal in nature. It is given soon after birth among those who are part of it and passed along generation to generation. I know it is this way with white people like myself. Although I was raised in a black and white community in Portland, Oregon, but I did not escape being racist all together. Living in Los Angeles, I was a student in the class of racial hatreds. Some of it is yet in me. I admit it.

My wife and I catch ourselves while watching the nightly news. One injustice after another—there have been a number of George Floyds over the years. And alongside the injustices perpetrated by those in control, we see the misdeeds of those who are not in control, from robbery to murder, constantly on the screen, and the images bring up racist emotions. Just last night we saw footage of looters, both black and white, and our prejudices jumped to the fore.

Final word

I am somewhat resigned to the unhappy thought that this side of the Kingdom of God our racism is not going away, including my own. But I can be on guard. I can be aware of my own foibles. I accept that others will act out their inner hatreds and confusion. There will be injustice, there will be riots, and lootings, and killings. This is life on the planet, but we will continue to stand our ground and strive to be a neighbor to those who need one.

Now then, for the final word. Something else from Jesus. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is called The Golden Rule. We know how we want to be treated, so this gives us the knowledge of how we are to treat others. This is not so simple, because we find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to do unto others for their benefit. And I could go on here with the caveats. Still, the words of Jesus give us a platform, something solid to think about.

Let me offer a challenge: Memorize the rule of Jesus, think about it as you live in the world, and attempt to apply it when need arises.

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