Birthdays, Racism, Heartbreak, and Hope
Saturday, August 12, was my birthday. I woke up that morning looking forward to a day with my family and dreaming about what the upcoming year might hold. Forty-seven years ago, on that day, my white mother and Native American father welcomed their new son into the world at the Indian Hospital in Claremore, OK. My parents were young and poor. Therefore, the natural place for them to give birth was the Indian Hospital where the bills would be low.
While grabbing my first cup of coffee on my birthday, I switched on the television to catch up on the news. The images that first caught my eye were those of white supremacists marching with torches the previous night through Charlottesville, VA. The news anchors informed their viewers the white supremacists were planning a larger gathering later that day to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue. In addition, a gathering of counter-protesters was planning to be present to oppose the white supremacists. I turned to my wife and said, “This is not going to end well.”
As my birthday continued, the news began to emerge that violence was erupting in Charlottesville. Armed white nationalists were clashing with counter-protesters and police. Alarmingly, news broke that a young woman had been killed when a white supremacist ran his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. In addition, two Virginia state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed as they monitored the situation from above. By the end of the day, America mourned the day of my birth with the reminder that racism is still very much alive in this country and three lives had been taken due to its evil presence.
There has been much said and written about the events of Charlottesville, from vague non-committal denunciations to full-throated condemnations. Like many, I have listened to and read thought provoking responses over the last few days. All of them add up to be part of a collected voice opposing racism and white nationalism. Therefore, I have decided to add my voice to the collection. Even though I am only one voice, I add my words with others so that together our voices will echo across the nation.
If I could pinpoint a few emotions that continue to re-emerge in response to this weekend’s events, they would have to be anger, sadness, and heartbreak. America continues to hide our heads in the sand when it comes to the issues surrounding racism. We love to pat ourselves on the back for the strides we have made in this country (which are positive). However, we often neglect to understand how racism continues to affect us today.
We have truly never addressed the systemic problems of racism. This neglect continues to cause vast divides and deep wounds, some which have been cast long ago but are manifested in today’s culture. America can no longer afford turn our heads and ignore the dark stain of racism. We must strongly, and without hesitation, denounce with words and actions all forms of racism that attempt to place one group of people over another. As people of faith, we have been given a Holy Text that speaks about the evils of racism and the divine desire to bring races together under our human commonality.
Jesus was the great liberator of racism, classism, and gender biases. Jesus welcomed everyone into his presence offering them a hope that transcended their circumstances, empowered them for the future, and attempted to transform a system that was biased in nature. If Jesus was biased against anything, it was a system and culture that valued one group of people over another. Jesus loved all people, leveling the playing field so that all can live as equals.
There are people today that do not believe in this equality, but believe that God has created an Anglo class to rule over others. This is known as theological dominionism, a worldview based upon the exclusion, oppression, and extinction of other races and cultures by a “superior” people. This was never the way of Jesus; nor should it be the way now. The Lord’s inclusive example led the Apostle Paul to write, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
While humans display a vast array of skin tones, the blood that flows through our veins remains one color. It’s the same color of blood that was spilt on Calvary…the same blood poured out on the lands of North America and in the hulls of African slave ships…the same blood staining the blue and grey uniforms of the Civil War…and the same blood that was shed on the streets of Charlottesville on August 12…my birthday. My prayer this day is that a new birthday emerges from this tragedy, a new dawn where the world finally unites in condemning racism and throws their unwavering support behind the ideals of Jesus and equality.
Anyone defending the opposing ideals of white supremacists has no part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor should they hold a position of influence over others. Let me be even more clear, there is no place for racism in a society that claims to cherish Christian values. Jesus died for us all, breaking the shackles that divide us from God – and from one another. While we have witnessed the ugly results of racism over the last few days, the truth of the matter is that racism has always been with us lurking in the shadows waiting to rise in force. Therefore, anytime racism attempts to rise as it has done this past weekend, the faithful should collectively rise to denounce it and offer a righteous and holy path forward…a path traveled by Jesus…a path taken by many others before us…and a path we must now walk. If there is to be any hope for our future, then we must step forward to make the dream a reality: the mountaintop where the beloved community of ALL God’s children dwell.