How often have you said or heard the words, “Well, it’s simple. It’s a black and white issue!” I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about black and white issues. Usually this means that whatever the issue is, it’s either black or white. This or that. Right or wrong. A brainer or no-brainer. Yes or No. There shouldn’t be any questions to ask. It should be a clear cut issue, decision, or event. Nothing to ponder.
Except I’ve been pondering a lot this week. Is it black and white? Is the reason there are so many people unemployed in this country a black and white issue? Is the cause of escalated homeless people in our cities a black and white issue? Is the cause of hungry children going to bed hungry every evening in our country and waking up hungry again a black and white issue? Is the number of people falling victim to gun violence a black and white issue?
It’s black and white when you walk the streets and each corner you turn, there’s someone holding up a homeless sign, “Please help.” It’s black and white when children hold their mama’s hand and walk aimlessly beside them and their mama pleads with a passerby for something, anything to feed her babies. It’s black and white when you celebrate with the mama who praises Jesus for her son’s survival, though a paraplegic now, from gun violence. It’s black and white because there is no question that there is hunger, homelessness, and gun violence in our midst, everyday, everywhere.
And yes, there is no question that it is a black and white issue. It’s called racism. Here’s one working definition for RACISM: RACE PREJUDICE PLUS THE MISUSE OF POWER BY SYSTEMS AND INSTITUTIONS. So, let me just comment on this briefly and let you sort out for yourself what you think.
It may be easier for us to identify with the later part of that definition, pointing our fingers at the powers and principalities of our world, the systems and institutions that enforce unequal rights. But it is only true to the extent that they perpetuate and exasperate what already exists: race prejudice. Paul Higgins in Seeds of Racism, claims that our prejudices are embedded in our very soul, in the soul of America, so much so that we don’t even see it, much less name it and claim it. It happens when we encounter the other of a different color or race in an unfamiliar place and suddenly feel cautious about our surroundings: am I safe? we hear a voice from inside saying. It happens when we are surprised to see an educated black person in a management position, and think to ourselves: how’d he get that job? It happens when you get on a bus and don’t know how to work the bus pass until you watch the 10 black people in line ahead of you do it as a normal everyday routine. It happens when you go to an black catholic church and feel out of place because you can’t seem to lift your arms quite high enough in response to God’s faithfulness in your life, or find it difficult to shout out the spontaneous AMEN’s and PREACH! at the preacher who’s stirring the hearts and souls of all in the pews. It happens when you don’t seem to be able to connect to the heart wrenching cries for freedom in worship on behalf of a whole race of people who were and are held in bondage by a whole race of people like me.
Well, It happened. And it’s happening. And there’s NOTHING black and white about it and there’s EVERYTHING black and white about it. So what are we gonna do?
Tomorrow: Let’s talk. Prophetically speaking, that is.