Below you’ll see some common objections to the way we talk about race today. It’s time to stop letting these objections keep us from having a better conversation.
Objection #1: Two wrongs don’t make a right
My response: To understand the protests across the country right now, just think of your most important relationship. Remember the last time you had a big argument? Most likely the issue was already there, but it took anger to bring it to the surface. So it came out hot rather than cool. What might have been a firecracker became a grenade. Rather than letting courage lead the conversation, emotion coiled like a spring. It all flew out uglier than necessary. I’m not justifying the riots this week. I’m only pointing out a pattern familiar to us all. Fear and resentment in black communities need listening ears so it does not have to be shouted or demonstrated.
Objection #2: Haven’t we talked about race enough?
My response: The video of an officer’s knee on a man’s neck did not reinvent an old, settled issue. It surfaced something festering. If you are white and found the video disturbing, don’t assume you understand why it’s so upsetting to your black neighbors. I’m just starting to see how little I see. Just one example comes from a couple African American friends who have been candid with me about what it’s like to be black in a predominantly white culture. A series of small, unjust incidents have added up. After something like this latest national event, they genuinely fear their children may get “profiled” by the police. Our need to feel secure ranks up there with food and water. Most of us take it for granted. This kind of incident makes people need reassurance. So, no, we have not talked about it enough.
Objection #3: What am I supposed to do about an incident across the country?
My response: I agree it’s difficult to know what to do with all the reporting from every corner of the nation. But, faraway events can surface a need in your own community, and they can be addressed through relationships. In our town, it took a shooting in 2017 to bring black and white leaders together. We have a long way to go, but today we have more mutual respect and access to one another. We are now taking time to speak and listen outside the urgency of a crisis. But again, an urgent moment was needed to plant the seed. This latest urgency is a chance to nurture that seed by speaking up and reassure these friends. What seed might it plant with you?
Objection #4: Enough with the virtue signaling
Some of you have heard me comment about the vice of virtue signaling. That’s when people appear to serve a cause with their words but intend only to serve themselves. That obnoxious noise makes other more credible people hesitant to speak for fear of blowing that credibility. But remember Edmund Burke’s famous warning: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to stand by and do nothing.” I understand a lot of manipulation and misinformation has dominated racial issues. It breeds cynicism. That’s no excuse to stay silent about real injustice.
Objection #5: Policing is dangerous
Already this week I’ve heard comments about how little attention we give to officers who die in the line of duty. This uneven reporting is indeed unjust. But let’s not use one injustice to dismiss another. It’s a common debater’s tactic to use an emotional argument to change the subject. But this incident with George Floyd needs more attention than one news cycle. It’s an example of the problem under the race problem: a diminished view of human dignity. Not even someone’s own behavior or rap sheet should affect our view of their worth. The police chief in my town has said well:
“The number one responsibility of a police officer is to protect the constitutional rights of a person. The actions of the Minnesota officers are not indicative of the hundreds of thousands of great officers in our country.”
Every human being is made in the image of God. This basic truth is a plumb line for our thinking about the kind of world we want, where injustice towards one is regarded as injustice towards all.