Promoting Racial Justice and Reconciliation Even When the Protests Are Over
On May 30, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry declared the church’s commitment to racial justice and reconciliation when the cameras are long gone. While our present moment has brought into great clarity the evils of systemic racism in numerous areas of American life, we also know there is no guarantee that this focus will result in long-term change. As Christians, especially as white Christians who make up most of the parish and the denomination I serve, we must maintain our faithfulness long after the cameras are gone if we want to reshape our nation into one were the dignity of every human person is respected and all are recognized as God’s beloved children. Here are six ways we can strive for racial justice and reconciliation beginning today and continuing into the future.
1. Pray. Prayer remains our most powerful weapon in the battle against the powers of racism, injustice, and oppression. Powerful prayer, however, takes time and commitment. Prayer includes confession of our own sinfulness and complicity in both personal and systemic racism. Prayer implores God to change our own hearts and lives. Prayer involves praying for the needs, hopes, and dreams of others, which may require work if we don’t know already what those needs, hopes, and dreams are. Prayer may require going to prayer meetings and worship services where we aren’t entirely comfortable. Prayer may call us to walk through neighborhoods we normally avoid as we ask God to bless and protect them. Prayer will almost certainly open doors to us that require great courage and love to walk through. True prayer involves lighting a fire that will burn away all that opposes God’s love and justice, beginning with what opposes God’s love and justice in our own hearts and lives.
2. Listen. We cannot expect our nation to come together if we are not willing to do so in our own lives. We need to cross bridges that divide us and listen to one another. Especially for those of us who are white or otherwise privileged we need to make time in our schedules regularly to hear the stories and experiences of people whose lives are different from our own. We need to know their pain and their anger. We need to know their hopes and joys. We need to see ourselves from their perspective. Such listening is brutally hard. If we are doing this work well, we will likely be angry, defensive, and confused at times. We will probably want to deny experiences that sometimes seem so different and threatening to our own. And we need to sit there and be quiet and be grateful. Hopefully, if we listen well enough, those with us will feel comfortable enough to share deeply with us and we will hear what we really need to hear. As we do what feels like very hard work for us, we also recognize that those sharing with us are doing even harder work and we need to respect that work. If we are in professional positions, like church leadership, we should find ways to pay people for their time at the same level we would pay our spiritual directors, coaches, or consultants. At the very least, we should be making donations to non-profits, churches or other groups in their name in the range of $100/hour for their efforts. What they offer us is that important.
3. Give. We cannot expect to overcome the economic inequalities in this country without a cost to those of us who are better off. In the absence of comprehensive national economic and tax policies designed to fight inequality, we are left making our own individual financial commitments to racial justice. While particular choices will depend on our personal situations, the basic outline of this duty is to live more simply and so we can give more. We may be buying used cars instead of new, eating more pasta and less meat, or buying a less expensive house so we can maintain a lower standard of living than our income would allow. What we save, we give. Our money may go to African-American churches and community groups, scholarship funds, historically black colleges, or as investment in minority-owned businesses or other development efforts. As we listen to those who differ from us, we can find the places where our assistance can make the most difference and we give generously. Such financial commitment should be difficult and sacrificial. Those difficulties will also be but a piece of what many of our brothers and sisters deal with every day.
4. Vote. Long-term systemic change in the United States still depends on elections. While no candidate is perfect and all political parties with any chance of being elected have an investment in the status quo, we also know that who our elected officials are matters. National policies on everything from the enforcement of anti-red-lining laws to air quality standards to federal consent decrees against local police departments matter. So does who sits on the local school board, who the local district attorney is, and who is making zoning decisions in minority neighborhoods. Especially in an environment where voting rights are threatened, ensuring that we exercise our right to vote and protect others’ right to vote is crucial. Beyond just voting, we have opportunities to be involved in the political process in other positive ways. We can do voter registration in minority communities. We can support and fund-raise for candidates who are newer to the political process but bring important perspectives to the table. We can introduce people to our family, friends, and neighbors. We can do the work to support and uphold the best in our democracy.
5. Advocate. Specifically, advocate for best policing practices and racial justice throughout the criminal justice system. Many of our current protests are focused specifically on the killing of black men and women by police officers. We can work to ensure our police departments follow best practices and have the necessary trainings, including de-escalation training and unconscious bias training. Psychological testing and removal of officers who have not shown restraint is needed. We also need to recognize that as local tax revenues have shrunk in recent years, many forces are understaffed and underpaid. We cannot have the police forces our communities need without commitment and investment. More broadly, we need criminal justice reforms that end the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans. As individuals, we can also prepare ourselves to respond effectively when we see harassment happening in our communities. Bystander training, such as that offered by Hollaback!, is one way to prepare ourselves to support those targeted by harassment of any kind.
6. Be Counted. The 2020 Census will determine electoral votes, funding distribution, and a variety of other important matters over the next decade. Fill out your own census form, and work with the census to ensure that those who are traditionally underreported are counted, as well. If we get the Census wrong, any efforts toward racial justice and reconciliation in the next decade become that much more difficult.