By Jacqueline J. Holness
Ever since we began dating in 2010, I have learned, anecdote by anecdote, what it means to live with his physicality. He has expressed frustration about when he walks into a room of only white people or people of other races and immediately senses their anxiety or displeasure. He has described how he has to win over people again and again simply because of his appearance. The irony is that my husband is truly one of the most kind and gentle men anyone will ever meet.
American Race Relations
Knowing my husband made me pay particular attention to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, when it was reported that police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 292 pounds.
After the shooting, various photographs of Brown flooded news outlets. Most of the images that were used initially showed a teenager who may have been perceived as menacing as he gestured in so-called gang signs or expressed expletives with his fingers. However, after outrage was expressed about the negative images, more photographs were released, demonstrating that Brown was like many other American teenagers. According to these new photographs, he was a high school graduate, he liked music, and his young relatives were not afraid of him.
Like the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012, the Brown shooting is a tragic reminder that American race relations, despite our black president and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act last year, still has a ways to go.
Fears for Our Children
However, blacks and whites have different opinions about the Brown shooting being an important barometer for race relations. According to the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of black people surveyed from August 14-17, 2014 believed “this case raises important issues about race,” while 37 percent of white people surveyed agreed.
Despite the disparity between the overall reactions of black and white people to this incident, neither black nor white opinions are monolithic in the wake of the Brown case. A white father to a biracial son, Calvin Hennick admitted in an Ebony magazine article “I Hope My Son Stays White” that he wants his 3-year-old son to retain his light complexion. Hennick said if it gets darker as he grows up, “People will fear him. Not everyone, but plenty of people, and he’ll never know who until it’s too late.”
Lawrence Otis Graham, a black New York attorney, thought he had insulated his son from negative race perceptions by living in the right neighborhoods, having the right social circle, and even giving him a code of behavior that included not running in the presence of police officers unless he was obviously exercising—Graham feared that his son would be perceived as “fleeing a crime or about to assault someone.” Still Graham’s 15-year-old son was called the n-word by a white man who drove by the teenager as he walked on his New England boarding school campus, according to the Washington Post article “I Taught My Black Kids That Their Elite Upbringing Would Protect Them From Discrimination. I Was Wrong.”
The Church’s Response
As the church we are supposed to be at the forefront of race relations, but even a cursory view of our many churches on an average Sunday morning would demonstrate that is not the case. What can we do to correct this issue? I don’t profess to have all of the answers, nor am I the spokesperson for black people, but I think there are three simple things we can do to delve beyond our differences and celebrate our commonalities:
1. Ask God to expose and confront latent bias and prejudice in us as individuals and as the church.
2. Be intentional about the inclusion of different races within our church’s hierarchy, in organizations we are a part of, and in our personal circles.
3. Love our neighbors as ourselves.
At my church’s annual racial reconciliation service last year, I was encouraged when Pointe University Professor Dr. Billy Strother, the invited speaker for the service, announced that he was starting a new church. The Bridge in Newnan, Georgia, will have the focus to “unite people of all cultures to God and to one another in Jesus Christ.” Hopefully more churches will follow his admirable example.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.