By Kristina Gonzalez | Director of Leadership Development for an Inclusive Church
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. – I Corinthians 12:26, NRSV
I am deeply troubled, and expect that you are as well. I watched with horror the videos of Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s deaths. I was struck by how much like a TV series they looked, only grainier and rougher – and real. Real people. Real bullets. Real blood.
I remember years ago listening to African American colleagues and friends –parents- speak of ‘the talk’ with their children, particularly the boys, about how to conduct themselves with law enforcement. I was shocked. I had no larger societal context for ‘the talk,’ nothing in my experience that affirmed their real and palpable fear. I am grateful for that gracious window. I have a different frame today because of their generosity.
The events of these past days are not new. New, is the ability to experience the horror nearly in real time through means of technology. Denial becomes impossible. Thank God for technology.
So how do we think about this situation? How do we make sense of it?
I have heard much talk of ‘bad apples’ in law enforcement. Surely, there are bad people in every profession, and they must be addressed. However, I am not willing to simply label the officers involved as ‘bad apples.’ The more credible explanation from my perspective lingers in the intersection between our primal brain and embedded racist messages. Research indicates that when we are confronted with a perceived fight or flight incident, the brain relies on intuition, believing that ‘what it sees is all there is’ and on known frameworks [Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman]. I believe that fear of males of color is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and takes over. Boom.
Without the embedded messages, would Alton Sterling and Philando Castile be breathing today? I believe they would, if not for our lack of confronting racism, and the insidious nature of its grip. Yet, they are dead, paying the ultimate price for being Black men in America.
Peaceful protest is the appropriate response to the undeniable problem of racism in America. It is our First Amendment right, and worthy of protection.
Then there is Dallas. Nothing justifies the sniper attack on Dallas law enforcement that claimed five lives and permanently altered many, many more. There is no justification, and there is no tie between peaceful protest and violent action.
My prayers go to the families of the victims – civilian and uniformed – to the shooters, and to our whole society for continuation of the legacy of racism that harms us all. I beg that we avoid a temptation to debate the particulars of each incident. That is easier. Rather, let us pay attention to the patterns of injustice that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that does not exclude that all lives matter, but lifts the real lived experience that Black lives matter less.
As people of faith, are we suffering today? Scripture tells us that we should. Are we resolved to ‘remove the log from our own eye,’ [Matt 7:4-5; Luke 6:42] to understand how our prejudices position others for pain and suffering? This will require hearing the daily news differently; delving into the depths of our colonial history and societal dysfunction; owning our biases, and uncovering the workings of unconscious bias; and acting into justice. We will all benefit.
Jesus paused. Jesus paused when confronted with his own prejudice by the Syrophoenician woman [Mark 7:24-30]. Jesus confronted power and privilege by where he lodged and with whom he ate. The humility with which Jesus entered the world, lived and died, provides our model for right living.
How will I change today consistent with my faith and in honor of those who lost their lives in senseless killing over these last hours? How will you?
For more information, search the web for Implicit Bias or Unconscious Bias. Below are a few references.
- Police Chief Magazine: LINK
- Psychology Today: LINK
- Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow. 2011. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
For more information on advocacy from a United Methodist perspective, visit General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, https://umc-gbcs.org/
For more information on the intersections between religion and race, visit General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church, http://www.gcorr.org/