Black History Month provides our society the important opportunity to reflect on our greatest national sin. That reflection should lead us to two very obvious conclusions. First, that we are not as bad as we used to be. Second, that progress is not the same as attainment. In fact, the removal of the most obvious issues and concerns around race in this country only makes the insidiousness of the problem clearer. Once we remove consideration of things like slavery and legalized discrimination, we can train our eyes to see how pervasive racism and its consequences are in our culture. We cannot be lulled into complacency simply because it used to be worse or some people of color managed to reach a level of success, overcoming the impediments that hindered others in our communities.
We still live in a society where stereotypes and biases affect people of color disproportionately. The most obvious place we see this is in our system of policing and the criminal justice system. The statistics are virtually undeniable regarding the over-policing of Black communities and how this often turns violent and deadly. We are not even three years removed from the murder of George Floyd, where it seemed the world finally recognized that Black people were telling the truth about the government-sponsored brutality faced by many in our communities. Yet here we stand today, still arguing about whether the murder of Tyre Nichols fits the profile because many of the officers involved in his death were Black. (As if the issue has ever been about the color of the officer as opposed to the culture of policing and the biases against people of color that lead to this state-sponsored violence.) It seems we have forgotten the lessons we learned when the pandemic forced us to confront the truth. Or it could be that deep down we still know the truth but have decided to take the easier route of feigning ignorance.
Racism and discrimination are so pervasive that they touch almost every aspect of our society. The legacy of discrimination still affects where people of color can live. It creates problems for the development of those communities once people of color are sequestered there. That lack of development has a deleterious effect on the quality of education children can receive. It affects people of color in the job market, both in terms of opportunities for employment as well as their salary in comparison to less qualified members of other races. There are negative consequences in our health care system, both in terms of access to health care and the level of care people of color receive when they are in the health care system. It affects the way we work. It affects the way we play. It affects the way we live. It even affects the way we die.
And it affects the way we worship. The history of Adventism is not spotless when it comes to racism. From a historical perspective, that should surprise no one, but it is also completely understandable. Adventism is a uniquely American religion. By its very nature, it will assume the same problems of the society in which it was birthed. The issue for us today is whether we will wrestle with our own role in this history and whether we will do anything now to make our society (and our church) any better. Will this reflection lead us to do things to improve, or will we be so caught up in our theology and eschatology that we will only do the good in the world that makes us comfortable? This Black History Month, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that we do not quote often enough:
I must make [an] honest confession to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Notes and References:
 We should be clear about how appallingly low that bar is as a measure of success in race relations.
 I think it is always important to note that we are only about 60 years away from the removal of legally sponsored state racism. Society attempts to make this period seem like ancient history. But I would note that when my father was born, Jim Crow segregation was a way of life in many states in this country, and those states that did not have obvious systems of racial segregation simply had less obvious ways of treating Black people and others as second-class citizens.
 From his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
Title image: In Memory of George Floyd, black ink sketch by Wissam Shekhani (CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons).
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