For years, we assumed that we had become a “post-racial” society. We believed that we were people who valued diversity, democracy and equality for all. In fact, we held our country up as a beacon for others to follow so all people could have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That supposedly is what democracy is all about — a society where all people are treated equally and have an equal right to liberty and justice under the law. We thought we were the “United” States of America. However, COVID-19 and the racial hostility boiling over in the streets of our nation have magnified a reality that was true all along — we are anything but united. We see this in the stark difference between the death rate of people of color from the coronavirus and the biased responses police and our political leaders have toward Black people protesting and white people storming government buildings with assault rifles. Black people who protest because the police are killing them are called “thugs.” Angry white people, spitting on police and threatening the life of a sitting governor, are called “good people,” who are understandably frustrated and are not harmed at all.
White protesters are demanding their rights to a haircut and Black protesters are demanding their right to live!
We are more divided than ever because white Americans have refused to tell the truth about racism. The current realities aren’t making this country more racist, instead they are magnifying the fact that the United States has never been honest about how divided and hateful it is.
This is the world we’re living in, and this is who we really are. The coronavirus and police brutality have only fanned the flames of the division, hypocrisy, white supremacy and xenophobia that already existed. This is America!
I’ve had to come face-to-face with this painful truth as a woman who has devoted my entire life to reconciliation. I remember watching in horror as children were screaming while being taken away from their parents at the southern U.S. border. I wept as I watched the news coverage of terrified kids pleading to have their mommy and daddy back. With tears streaming down my face I said, “This is NOT America.” But in June 2018, I was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. While going through an exhibit on slavery, I saw a picture of a Black baby ripped away from his mother, who was on her knees begging the slave master not to take away her child. Tears filled my eyes again as I saw that taking away children and separating families is not new! This is America!
We have been doing this for a very long time, not only in slavery but also with putting Native Americans in boarding schools, Japanese-Americans in internment camps, and creating and maintaining the public school-to-prison pipeline. I’m convinced we will do it again and again because, as the philosopher and novelist George Santayana said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
That’s why when Black people declare “Black Lives Matter,” some defensive white person will ask, “Don’t all lives matter?” That’s why people will be more concerned about buildings burning down than they will be about a man being killed by police on the ground. This is America and this must stop!
That’s why I’m calling for people of faith to stand for love, justice and equality. This means more than sharing a hashtag or praying about it. It means literally changing the laws of our land and electing leaders who will restore the democracy and the liberty that we say we believe in. We must fight for systemic justice and policies that affect real people’s lives because we can’t continue to say we love people and not care about the policies that keep them from thriving. It is time for the people of God to tell the truth about the racial disparities in this country and be brave enough to practice what we preach!