Welcome to my series on racism, an attempt to push the conversation in Canada and the United States in light of the re-emergence of racist ideologies gaining momentum over the summer. My focus is to reveal the evil of racism, demonstrate how individually, and corporately as church, we are complicit with oppression, and inform adequate steps forward to start or continue a process of restoration. Before you go forward, consider this: the common expression people with privilege use is either, “please stop,” because they’re dubiously tired of the race narrative, or premature conclude, “that’s not true”.
This and any conversation on racism isn’t meant to illicit a judgement whether a claim or story is valid. That can come after. What must come first, in the spirit of James 1:19, is a posture of listening.
You are undoubtedly aware of the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, VA, in August. The 45th President may have emboldened hate prior, but Charlottesville catalyzed the undercurrent of racist ideologies everywhere to go public. Although I’m far removed from those specifics I still feel the ramifications.
Racism is nothing new, but we are now experiencing the legitimization of racist ideologies as normative components of our cultural identity. This attempt to shift our narrative needs a swift end.
Since Charlottesville, your life probably hasn’t changed much. You probably joined the collective disbelief and outrage, perhaps your church went so far as to make a public statement that Sunday. But ultimately, there’s little impact on your day-to-day routine. You could conceivably carry on with your life without paying more than cursory attention to the growing evil of racism. This is the benefit of privilege. It shelters the story about the powerful, while simultaneously blinding and insulting from evil forces.
For me, it was different.
When the pictures of anti-white supremacist groups went up against “those very fine people”, I was glued to the screen as a lump grew in my throat. It wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered racism, through the screen or in real life, but something made this moment demonstrably different.
Charlottesville, became a pivotal moment for me because suddenly I could feel my own fear. Somewhere in the back of my mind a connection was made. If neo-nazis and white supremacists over there were bold enough to display abject evil, violence, and hatred, what’s preventing the same ideology from rearing itself here? And if that happened, who would be the target?
The target could be me. Evil lurks and it’s coming to get me.
Have you ever felt the presence of lurking evil?
Lurking Evil at Home
Curiously, my position in a way demonstrates a form of privilege, I await evil–it has yet to arrive. That’s not the story of many minorities struggling to right systemic powers of injustice in the here and now, and have been doing so for years, decades, and even centuries. As for the prospect of evil emerging here in my city, on my street; the racist ideologies gaining prominence. I can’t lament for long because evil IS here, and it’s waiting to thrive.
Neo-nazis (the very same we spent an entire World War defeating), white supremacists, sanitized versions of the “alt-right”, are here. In my Western Canadian city, but in your urban or rural town too. Alive and growing in power and voice, or at least it seems. Our media streams show pictures from the American south, but throughout the country Americans are in the midst of the growing tensions of race violence. Most of that predicated on carefully designed systems of oppression that have been in place for decades (centuries), causing present day problems in communities where people ignore the overarching narrative that continues to play a foundational part in the dance.
Race tensions in America are different in Canada yet don’t think we’re immune. We don’t have the same explicit white vs. black dichotomy (not enough black people). We don’t claim the deep wounds of slavery. Yet we have our own demons to bear. Systemic oppression of minority groups based on race is as old as colonialism. Canada has tried to methodically annihilate entire indigenous cultures, and the privileged have benefited from the ploy ever since. (And before you think this is a problem from yesteryear, the last residential school in Canada closed in the early 1990s.)
The hatred for the outsider and the powerless is growing part of our national identity. This form of racist ideology seeks power, and is feeds on fear. The Conservative Party, and fundamentalist groups behind them, are doing all they can to vilify black Haitians streaming illegally across the border in flight from shifting American policies.
Although uncommon, hate crimes still happen, like this recent crime in Calgary.
Politicians are interrupted by white supremacists who’s ignorance only knows measures in skin colour.
Canadian MP, @theJagmeetSingh; gracefully handles #racist; woman; says “we love you” while the crowd chant his campaign theme “love & courage” pic.twitter.com/7ce6I2V9Qn
— Hari Hansrai (@Singh13) September 8, 2017
Calgary’s civic election, my hometown, is dominated by two frontrunners. The brown Muslim mayor, and the white man without a platform. At the forefront, to our credit, religion has never been much of an issue, at least on the surface. Behind the scenes, the white hopeful reaped early success through a carefully executed character assassination campaign relying solely on, “I don’t have a plan, but at least I’m not that guy.” It’s working.
Racism doesn’t need to dominate at the forefront, it can linger untapped under the surface, only to rear its ugly head at our most vulnerable moments. Like the recent terror attack in Edmonton. The way many Canadians dealt with this blow was in a manner they only know how, “send all the Somalis back!” Which makes me wonder again, when we start expelling people based on a shade of brown, when will it turn, as if one cue, to my shade of brown too?
The narrative of expulsion and terrorism shifts, as if it were a formula, when the characters don’t fit. Many accept different news, even when it’s fake, like this premature Tweet by Fox News (an outlet gaining popularity with Canada’s far-right).
In case you need a reminder about the Quebec shooter–he is white.
Racism is here, alive and well. Can you see it? Hear it? Feel it? It’s your Facebook streams if you haven’t noticed. It’s in the voices of people you know. It’s here because it’s in your. It alive and well because it’s also in me. Too many are used to calling out, “snowflake”, or “fake news,” or “please stop,” or “not this again,” when it’s time to do something to tip the scales of racism in the favour of, “accept one another, just as I [God] accepts you.”
What’s the Story?
What story will you chose to bear? What story will you chose to listen? Will you let your story shift even if your inherited privileges were to be lost?
It’s for this reason, if I’m being honest, I’m saddened by the present and have reservations about our future.
I’m this way for two reasons (which I will address in future posts).
- The very faith that raised me is fuelling the engine of hateful ideologies that seek to diminish our humanity in favour of white nationalism. It’s ugly. It looks like secular conservatism more than CHRISTianity.
- There’s a growing indifference that perpetuates and contributes to rising hate. The privileged feel victimized by the unfolding race conversations. The very people, white people, who must lead the push to end systemic racism, have yet to find compelling reasons to recognize how complicit they really are let alone work towards reconciliation.
Will the darkness prevail because we believe our contributions are insignificant? What my reservations lack is a message of hope. There IS hope. There ARE people working diligently, tirelessly, to make the world in their world better. I believe we are now in a watershed moment to account for what we stand for. That means we each have a choice to make, a choice between feeding the violence that’s unraveling, knowingly or unknowingly, or work for towards a better dream.
What dream is this?
It’s God’s dream.
“Love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers. The peacemakers. Does that sound like you? Jesus says blessed are the meek, the merciful, the destitute. Do you bless these people? Are you one of these? If so, your Creator stands with you.
Do you stand with the Creator? And would it even make a difference? Restoration of racism in our country and our world is a God sized task, and you play a role.
Will you stand in the face of evil? Will you reject your dismay. Will you live out the character of Jesus as you glimpse pieces of heaven now?
Up next….Racism in the church.