Racism: What is the Christian response?
People across the world were aghast and sickened at the brutal killing of George Floyd by police members in the United States, sparking protests not only in the USA but across the world. This ‘soul sickness’ is viral. We have been unable to quarantine it. Some commentators have observed that these protests have subsequently been manipulated to turn violent, to further political agendas.
To overcome racism, we need to see and love the image of God in every human being and see violence for what it is – an attack on all of us.
In his General Audience on 3 June 2020, Pope Francis said that: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form. At the same time, we have to recognize that violence is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us pray for reconciliation and peace.”
Violence results in loss, as the South African experience has repeatedly showed. We understand – too well – that ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’. Even St Thomas would say that anger is the appropriate response to injustice. What we are witnessing in the world today is the unheard claiming their voice.
In the National Catholic Reporter, Fr Bryan Massingale says, “I understand the desire to have peaceful or at least conflict-free relationships with family and friends. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King said so well, ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal.’ Silence means consent. Or at least, complicity. Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester.”
“At its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, white supremacy is a disturbing interior disease, a malformed consciousness that enables white people to not care for those who don’t look like them” continues Massingale.
Massingale suggests six steps to begin to deal with racism. Firstly, he says, “understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened” by the unheard or the other. The second step is to “sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings.” Then “admit your ignorance and do something about it.” “Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends.” An unconditional commitment to eradicate every form of racism, is the fifth step. And, “Finally, pray.”
In our own country, we must all condemn racism and continue to do so unfailingly. Sadly, in SA, can we say we share the same outrage when it happens here, occasioned by similar violence and brutality? But prayers and conversion are not enough. We need structural change too!
Can we allow ourselves to hear the unheard voices, the cries of the poor and the cries of our world, screaming for justice? Can we accept the challenge to do something about the scourge of racism?