Scripture teaches us that we were each made in the image of our divine creator and therefore we all carry a bit of the holy within us. The Church has taught us to love one another as ourselves, and society implores the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Life is filled with these simple lessons for communal living, and yet our society has lost the ability to be neighborly or at least decent to one another. In the last week there have been four incidents of African-Americans being singled out for seemingly innocent acts of everyday living that somehow threatened the existence of those who didn’t look like them.
In Brooklyn a nine-year-old child was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The woman claimed the boy grabbed her inappropriately, and she demanded action be taken by the police after calling 911. In the video the child is visibly shaken and terrified by what is taking place as onlookers gather around.
While this particular scenario was resolved with a simple surveillance camera video, there are countless other incidents that are not. Too often the unchecked power and privilege of some has led to black bodies lying in the street covered in a white sheet, or brown bodies left in prison cells, or minorities standing in courtrooms without representation or a chance. No one wins, not our society as a whole or the individuals caught up in the latest social media frenzy. The only thing that is accomplished is racism receives a new name and a short cycle in the media.
As a mother, I can’t help but feel for the little boy. While he escaped punishment today, what emotional damage was inflicted on him by having an elder yell at him, threaten him, and unjustly call the police on him? What lessons has he learned about society, power, and his own existence?
The time has come for us to have honest and transformative dialogue about racism and privilege. It can’t be a one-time round table discussion, nor can it be a conversation that we come to kicking and dragging our feet. If we are going to live out the call to love our neighbor, or at least do justice, then it starts with honoring the personhood of all regardless of the color of their skin. No one can sit by idly as another is verbally assaulted or threatened. We all have a voice and can use it to amplify the cries of those who are unable to, or simply too tired to. We can’t just record a cell phone video and think that’s enough because our children matter and should never be in a situation where they are powerless and fearful.
We cannot grow weary of fighting against racism and its injustices because we can never be free until we are all free to enjoy the pursuit of happiness and daily living without worrying who has a phone to call the police today.
Trayce Potter is Minister for Youth & Young Adult Engagement for the United Church of Christ.
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