Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

As I Was Saying

Over the past few weeks, many Americans were surprised by the apparent murder of three African-Americans: Ahmaud Arbery ... Breonna Taylor ... and George Floyd.

There is nothing new about such cases—there is a long line of such deaths throughout American history. The only difference in recent years is that we now have cellphone footage of these occurrences.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four police officers sparked many days of unrest and outrage, not only in Minneapolis but in cities around the country. Though some are shocked by this reaction, none of us should be surprised. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us more than 50 years ago, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

America is a society suffering from the infliction of a major head wound. It is a wound that was self-inflicted 400 years ago through the institution of slavery and has never healed. It is an issue foundational to America. The black/white, slave/free legacy and current mindset must be dealt with before any peoples can be free in this nation.

This major head wound has had a Band-Aid placed over it. It has become an invisible conflagration just below the surface of American society. Over the ages, we have lived in a world where this underlying conflagration is masked by a thin patina of civility—a condition often confused with peace.

There are two realities: one lived by black Americans, where we see the reality of the head wound, the smoldering conflagration, the patina of civility; the other enjoyed by white Americans, viewed as a meritocracy where all peoples have an opportunity to succeed.

White Americans often ask, “What’s the problem?” “Why do you make everything about race?” This is largely because they cannot see or feel the unseen world in which black people live.

As African Americans, we see this first reality clearly. This unseen world raises its ugly head every time we are regarded differently, treated differently, or treated fearfully. We experience it when we are not allowed to jog, look at a vacant home, take out our wallets, play cops and robbers in the park, walk home with Skittles wearing a sweatshirt with a hood, or bird watch. When sometimes we are even not allowed to breathe.

Would that it were possible for all of us to see these worlds completely. But that is only possible if we could see the world through each other’s eyes. In our current condition, and with our current divisions—physically, culturally, socially, economically, and spiritually—this is well-nigh impossible! Fortunately, we serve a God of the possible!

Actions we can take ... in addition to thoughts and prayers

Lament

Find someone of a different race and engage with him or her

  • ensure that you treat the person as a peer, not a project
  • listen well—this will only happen in an atmosphere of trust, so be prepared for a long-term engagement
  • observe well ... ask questions ... tell stories about your life, and ask for comparable stories about theirs
  • look for ways that you are different—seek to find out if these differences cause difficulties in the life of your new acquaintance

And finally, when faced with the reality that your new acquaintance is impacted by issues beyond their control,

  • share your insights with others and find ways to act.

May we lament, pray, and act together so that we may approach God’s aspiration for us all.

Galatians 3:28 NIV

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

About the Author

Colin P. Watson Sr. is the executive director of the CRCNA. He is a member of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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