Recently, I was talking to a man named Garrett, who I think identifies as a Christian. He took issue with a recent article published by Relevant magazine that posed the question, “Should Pastors Who Don’t Speak Up About Racism Resign?” It is an interesting question in light of the recent resignation of Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee. He spoke out against white supremacy at the VMAs and was later forced to resign for his remarks. The church thought that it brought too much attention to them and it was not well- received.
But, for Garrett, “Racism isn’t a widespread problem in the church or the country.” For him, the question was totally unnecessary and was part of the problem. The question was making racism a big deal. Asking these kinds of questions and talking about it at all was the reason why there was divisiveness in our country. But, when I shared with him recent incidents of racialized violence, he suggested that these were the only two, namely Charleston and Charlottesville. And it was a small amount of people; consequently, their hate didn’t amount to much. The Ku Klux Klan hadn’t been around that long (They organized in 1866.). When I shared more names and dates, he moved his argument to laws that support race and racialized violence. When that was addressed, he stopped talking.
Because when we know better, we often don’t want to do better, respond differently or change our perspective. Because to answer the question would require the acknowledgement of the truths behind it. And many of us are not ready to do that. Instead, like Garrett, we question the question though that’s not a legitimate answer either.
And we know the answer. Garrett, like so many others, doesn’t care and worse still, he doesn’t care to know. I am sure that he would have produced more questions if allowed. He would rather debate the question than discuss the answer. But, if you don’t know the facts about race and racism in this country by now, you don’t want to know.
So, when we are confronted with the reality of racialized violence, don’t feign disbelief. “How could this happen here?” Too many people have died because of it. Gasps are misplaced here. Instead, the sound more befitting is lament.
For history tells us that this present reality has never been fully addressed. Hundreds of years later, what is there to be amazed by? Opening our mouths in shock is easier than parting our lips during conversations on why and how and when this needs to stop. It is easier to say, “I didn’t know” versus “What can I do?” It lets us off the hook.
“I had no idea that this was still happening.” Pretending as if racism in America is new or at some point disappeared only to resurface in this present moment (and no other) is self- serving. Because witnesses are called to testify. We would rather be judge and jury.
It is also perhaps evidence of our avoidance. We don’t want to deal with race and so we attack anyone who would bring it up. “There is nothing to see here.” But there is. What we don’t want to see is ourselves complicit in our silence, implicated because we have heard this story before and we did nothing to stop it.
Sadly, this response is not new and no surprise.