Tacit Complicity in Racial Injustice

I recently attended the Christian Unity Gathering of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA.  The theme was “A.C.T. to End Racism—Awaken, Confront, Transform.”  I entered the world of African-American experience from narratives spoken by speakers in seminars.  Being a white, suburban male, I appreciated hearing stories about the African-American experience in the US.  One speaker said that probably every African-American in the audience at one time or another, probably several times, was told to be careful in how they act and respond to white authority figures in public.  One participant who worked at a high-profile financial institution shared an experience in which he was pulled over by police on his way home from work.  He was pulled over for no other reason than the fact that his skin was black.  His race mattered more than his high standing in the financial institution.  We learned that 80% of police are white.  I recalled a story of one African-American man who told us he always has to keep his hands in plain sight whenever he enters a convenience store, so the proprietor would see he isn’t carrying a weapon.

White people like me don’t often hear stories like these.  And I think that it is fair to say that I don’t actively promote racial injustice.  But I am part of a socio-economic structure in which racism is embedded.  Statistics could be produced about income disparity, job disparities, incarceration rates, and silence in educational institutions about racial atrocities like the 1919 Red Summer in Elaine, Arkansas or the 1921 massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I took away from a dinner speech one important idea that I took to heart.  The speaker talked about the silence of white people in the presence of racism.  By keeping silent in the presence of racism, we are tacitly supporting the structural injustices in society.  I thought about a racial slur that a man sitting next to me in a blues club made about another patron down the bar from us.  I said nothing.  I thought about the many disparaging remarks a new acquaintance made about First Nations’ people at a dinner party.  In order to ingratiate myself further in this new friendship, I said nothing.  While we may not actively promote racial inequities, by silence in the face of racism we are complicit in the structural inequities of Western society.  Awaken, Confront, Transform.  In the future, I intend to do just that.  The conference awakened me.  I have the power to confront.  And the hope of transforming.

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