George Floyd (May 25, 2020). Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020). Ahmaud Arbery (February 23, 2020).
Most people in the United States (and many people around the world) are watching right now as protests, both violent and non-violent, sweep the country. President Trump apparently feels very safe in the White House guarded (in his words) by the most vicious dogs he has ever seen and awesome weaponry in the hands of his Secret Service detail; young men and women ready for a little action. Black Americans feel no such security.
The violent death of George Floyd, handcuffed and pinned to the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck for an extended time, has stoked simmering anger into a boiling rage. Some community members have chosen the way of Martin Luther King, Jr. and organized peaceful but forceful protests. Others have chosen the way of Malcolm X, using violence to vent their anger and disrupt social systems.
When will it stop? Who will be next? And where?
Police brutality must stop. So must red-neck vigilantism. So must political dog-whistling. So must educational disparities in schools and universities. So must the silence of so many Christian pastors. So must economic injustices. So must “white privilege.” So must inequalities when it comes to legal representation.
The tragic and heartbreaking death of George Floyd, described by his brother as a modern-day lynching, is the fruit of sustained and systemic racism.
Psychologists at Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington have developed what they call “Implicit Association Tests (IATs).” Here’s what they say:
Hidden Bias Tests measure unconscious, or automatic, biases. Your willingness to examine your own possible biases is an important step in understanding the roots of stereotypes and prejudice in our society.
The ability to distinguish friend from foe helped early humans survive, and the ability to quickly and automatically categorize people is a fundamental quality of the human mind. Categories give order to life, and every day we group other people into categories based on social and other characteristics.
This is the foundation of stereotypes, prejudice and, ultimately, discrimination.
Here’s their fundamental premise. We are all inclined, whether by nature or nurture, to categorize and be suspicious of other groups of people. For example, think of common refrains from many politicians and media regarding black Americans, Muslims, and undocumented Hispanic immigrants.
When will the suspicion, isolation, and violence stop? Only when national leaders and media are held to account for their dog-whistling, when churches and Christian organizations confront this cancer in their own ranks, and when homes and families begin to confess their hidden (or not so hidden) biases that deny human dignity and value to some groups of people.
When will it stop?
Not until the Gospel of the Kingdom of God really grips our hearts and drives us to the causes of justice, equality, and compassion.
If a crisis is also an opportunity, then the story of George Floyd is a potential pathway to change and reconciliation, but only if the people of God stand up. Secularism has no compelling ethic. But it will take more than clarity. We have that. It may also require cost and unprecedented courage from Christian parents, pastors, and professors alike. We have One who has shown the way.