June 4, 2020

It’s Not Them. It’s Us.

Two films I’ve been meaning to watch finally got seen in these weeks of quarantine.  They weren’t light, airy romantic comedies or dark, suspenseful thrillers.  Courageously and honestly, they pulled back the curtain on the real story of Black experience in these United States.  Both films are set in an era when Black lives clearly didn’t matter. 

It’s tempting to watch, and say complacently to ourselves, “My, we’ve come so far.” 

We haven’t come nearly far enough.

As an Indian American woman, the story of my immigrant family is one of those American dream success stories some like to tout as evidence that things are just fine. We came to the United States so that my parents could attend graduate school. Both of them were recruited to jobs before graduation. We bought homes exactly where we wanted in New York and then in California. I attended the schools I wanted to attend and enjoyed all the opportunities I sought.

Ours wasn’t a fairytale, however. As a person of color, I saw my parents ignored in checkout lines in favor of White customers. I remember the McDonald’s worker who spoke rudely to my mother—because she was South Asian—when my mother ordered Happy Meals for my sister and me. There were job opportunities for which my parents were told they were “overqualified,” though time and again the job interview led them to believe that wasn’t actually the case. 

But we still lived well. We road-tripped a lot and never worried about police even in states where we were stared at when passing through. When my sister and I started driving, our parents never had to tell us what to do if a police officer pulled us over. At age 17, when I was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign, the only thing I feared was what my dad would say. For the record, the cop gave me a warning and told me to have a nice night.

Even though my family experienced aspects of a culture of prejudice toward persons of color, I regret how long it’s taken me to fully understand how unfair our country has been toward my Black brothers and sisters. How can any person who professes to love and follow the Saviour who died for all witness official injustice toward some, and not be moved to action?

Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd? They are two names among too many.

For many of us who follow Jesus, there’s a sad tendency to look at atrocities committed to others with sadness or pity, and only rarely with genuine indignation. But even our empathy may mask a troubling undertone:  “It’s too bad. It really is. But at least it didn’t happen to me or to mine.” Something bad happened to them, but it didn’t happen to us.

And that’s exactly the problem.

For too long we’ve lived comfortably in our bubbles of “us” and “them.” And that’s why uncharged Black men and women are dying at the hands of those tasked with protecting ALL of us. Only the cameras on smartphones have revealed the reality of what is occurring. Only vigorous, persistent protests to the elected officials charged with managing security forces will bring about the change that justice demands.

Wake up—all who call themselves sons or daughters of the Heavenly Father. There is no “us” and “them” if Jesus is one Saviour for all. What happened to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd happened to all of us, and our response has to move far beyond sad thoughts and weak prayers.

What must we pray for, honestly? For the courage to confront the prejudice in our own hearts; for the courage to work alongside our Black brothers and sisters to stomp out the evil of racism in our culture. Christ has been calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves for more than 2,000 years. 

“Lord Jesus, take any trace of racism—or apathy—from our hearts. That’s it. Amen.”