In the weeks since two separate grand juries decided not to indict white police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in the homicides of two black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, race has been at the forefront of many conversations. It’s a discussion fraught with tension, at once recalling America’s terrible past of African enslavement and bringing forth the reality of present-day disparity and continued struggle, even in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.
This tension has come to a tipping point, as protests spill onto streets across the United States; professional athletes wear “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, recalling Garner’s last words; and calls for justice come from all corners.
But what’s next? How do we, as Christians, begin to dismantle the stereotypes that can lead to the type of violence that ended the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner?
A recent TEDx Talk by author and diversity consultant Verna Myers offered three concrete ways we might “extinguish the Ferguson in all of us.” Unsurprisingly, each of these actions can be connected to Biblical principles Christians hold dear.
1. Imago dei
Myers begins her talk by saying that we must admit the explicit and, more importantly, implicit biases we have toward others. Implicit association tests have revealed that both whites and blacks hold more positive views towards whites. These biases can often have unintended consequences, particularly for black men.
If, as Myers says, “Biases are the stories we make up about people before we actually know who they are,” we must work against that by seeing all of humanity in terms of imago dei - made in the image of God. Racial understanding must begin with this truth: that God made all of us in His image and that we are all equal, as created human beings. We must begin to see one another as individuals and train ourselves to stop making dangerous assumptions that can have deadly consequences.
2. The Gospel of reconciliation
Seeing humanity as created in God’s image does not, however, mean that we are all the same. On the contrary, it means that our differences are a part of this whole system through which we live and move and breathe, part of God’s diverse creation. Myers acknowledges this when she address the idea of colorblindness - the stated belief by many that they don’t “see” color. It’s a “false ideal,” according to Myers. “The problem was never that we saw color. It was what we did when we saw color.”
Seeing humanity as created in God’s image does not mean that we are all the same.
Indeed, colorblindness renders a person of color further invisible. Instead of seeing the whole person, a part of them is virtually erased. This reductionist view also overlooks systemic and institutional racism, which is built into the very structure of our society.
Reconciliation does not call for erasure of culture, ethnicity or experience; it calls for those things to be reconciled through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in relationship to one another. Embrace diversity, Myers says, and be intentional about expanding your social circle and building authentic relationships.
3. Salt and light
As Christians, we are called to be both salt and light in this world. That means we are called to be the moral conscience of society. Myers’ last point is one that may be difficult. She says that it is up to each of us to call out stereotypes, prejudices and racism when we see it or hear it, “even to the people we love.” The main reason for this, according to Myers, is because children are watching, and to allow such attitudes to go unchallenged will continue the cycle of discrimination for another generation. We are to call out this behavior - even if we are to witness it from a relative at a Christmas gathering - with gentleness and respect. As James 1:19 says, we are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Yet in doing so, we must also speak the truth.