The past week has seen a lot of retrospective commentary around the year since George Floyd was murdered by a uniformed police officer while other officers looked on and did nothing. I’ve heard interviews with social leaders saying both that change has happened in the months since and that we still have a long way to go. I’ve certainly read a lot that concerns me around the militarization of our nation’s various police forces and the resultant presumption by officers that anyone they encounter is to be regarded as an enemy.
The past week has also given us a number of retrospective articles and books around the centennial remembrance of the Tulsa massacre, in which a white mob destroyed the entire successful Black neighborhood of Greenwood, killing, looting, and burning until nothing was left and an estimated 300 bodies were mostly dumped in unmarked graves (that are now being excavated by archaeologists). There is no question that those white people saw successful Blacks as the enemy, and it is appalling to me that race relations have improved so little over the past century.
Back in April, after Derek Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder, I read a brief blog post by my friend Paul Moore that pondered the bigger picture in America. One line in his post stood out for me: “As long as identity is fused with social location there can be no real justice.” I want to reflect further on this idea because I think it weaves together some important strands in our common life these days.
Paul was reflecting on the fear held by so many white Americans that they will be “replaced” by the growing number of people of color. He points out that replacement isn’t literal. Instead, it’s about being displaced (my word) in positions of “power and privilege.” To me, this is key. It was the success of that Greenwood community in Tulsa that the white mob just could not stand—or let stand.
When we cannot treat everyone equally—when we insist there must be hierarchies, power, and control—people will always view the other as a potential enemy. Therefore, it is our social location as much as our identity that is the underlying problem. I’ve been appalled at the way Christianity has been coopted by white nationalists who fuse those ideas and thereby distort the image and message of Christ. The underlying issues are much less about Christianity than about white privilege and white supremacy in an increasingly multicultural and multicolored nation and world.
I’ve also been appalled with what I have learned in the various books that our antiracism group has read over the past year. White identity fused with social location at the top of the American power structure has served to suffocate justice for too many “other” people throughout the history of the United States of America. Perhaps the difference now is that social media and a proliferation of news outlets have allowed other voices to be heard, to speak up, to witness to the abuse of power and privilege, and to share videos of murder, injustice, and abuse.
It’s Memorial Day, which was created to commemorate war dead. There’s a long-running undeclared civil war in this country that has left tens of thousands of people dead over the past century and more. On this Memorial Day, I don’t have solutions for our systemic evil, but I no longer shy away from calling it such. I’m in good company in that regard. In order to have justice, we need to have social equity and equality. There must be no special social location for one group over another, whether it’s by skin color, educational opportunities, social connections, or any of a number of other factors.
Yes, that’s radical. I hope I’m channeling Jesus, who insisted we resist in whatever way we could (“walk with those Roman soldiers two miles”), and the Apostle Paul, who insisted there were no differences between Jews and gentiles, slaves and free people.
From my perspective, our single social location should be child of God.
What social locations do you enjoy? How might you work to bring everyone onto an equal footing?