Racism: no loopholes, no excuses

Adapted road sign "No excuses"

By a CMS mission partner who must remain anonymous – but who refuses to be silent about racial injustice

Today I received an email forwarded by a friend. It was one of many communications seeking to distinguish between the wood and the trees in this furore around race, and especially systemic racial discrimination in the United States.

Being written by an academic person of colour, this particular communication was considered to have more credibility than some ofthe plethora of social media posts out there. And it makes some important points about the extremism of certain elements of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was invited to circulate the email to those in my network, to help educate around the “questionable” morality of those behind the protests currently being staged in cities around the world.

I’m not going circulate that email. Not because it does not raise good questions, not because it is not well-argued, not because I would unreservedly support all factions of BLM. But because I don’t want to be part of what can so easily sound like an attempt to avoid the responsibility to act justly. I’m just not interested in hearing that you might have found a loophole. Why would you be looking for a loophole? An excuse that releases you from the need to change your ways, to re-examine your world and the way you inhabit it?

Yes, there are some unhelpful and extreme activists out there, and there are also so many layers of what is called ‘news’ as to make the truth muddy at best. But here’s the thing: for too long the people of God have remained silent over issues of injustice and, in the space created by that silence, other voices have become loud and rowdy. I am not interested in arguing about whether those voices are now too loud or too rowdy, or whether the language they are using is too volatile.

I don’t want to hear that we need to wait to properly separate out the ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ voices from the ‘not-so-good’ or ‘unworthy’ ones. It is true that there are those among the voices speaking up for black lives to matter who also speak for other causes. Some of those causes are not ones that I would support or want to see gain traction. Nevertheless, there is a roar rising around the world that has reached fever pitch precisely because the people of God – the very people who should at all times and in any way possible speak up for the poor and the marginalised – we have waited too long, weighing our words to the point of saying nothing at all.

Case in point: I would have posted this last night, only I was waiting for my husband to read it before I went ahead. He expressed concern that this phrase might be mistaken, or that phrase could cause offence. While I welcome his input – I asked for it, after all – it very clearly demonstrates one of our current challenges. We can get so tied up in knots about saying the right thing that we end up keeping silent when we should speak.

It’s not bad to measure our words, but it’s more than our words that shall now be weighed. We shall be weighed in the balance that measures righteousness against unrighteousness, and I am afraid we shall be found wanting. If righteousness is being in ‘right relationship’ then to what extent can we be said to be in right relationship with our neighbour? And if we are not in ‘right relationship’ with our neighbour, then can we truly be said to be in ‘right relationship’ with God?

I don’t know what the big answers are. That is, I don’t know how we will figure out the large scale changes that need to be made when it comes to unjustly weighted systems. But let not our desire for the elusive solution stop us from pausing to feel our way around the problem, and to feel our way alongside those who live with that problem day in and day out.

My job right now – and yours, if you are willing – is to figure out what I want my life to look like. Will I find ways to move towards to my neighbour, will I speak up or choose to remain oblivious to unjust systems, will I live generously or in ways that make me feel safer and more comfortable?

Perhaps these are not problems to be solved at all, but rather dilemmas to navigate. May we navigate them with compassion, sensitivity and wisdom, resisting the urge to hide behind excuses, however reasonable they sound.

Published 25 June 2020
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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