It is just over a week since the tragic event that has shocked the world with the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Many of us will have seen the video of the last few minutes of his life and been horrified by what we saw.
Since then, protests have spread across America, anger and resentment has surfaced, violence has spread. Some of us will have seen Terrence Floyd, George’s younger brother, speaking out against ongoing violence while standing at the place where his brother was killed.
Many people in many countries have spoken out against this act, much has been shared on social media as people seek to stand in solidarity with the injustice and oppresion they see – the inequality that is still seen to divide people of different ethnicities and skin colour.
What can I contribute – as someone who lives under “white privilege”, as someone who hasn’t experienced the abuse and oppression that many round the world do?
As I was thinking about that question I thought back to different times in my life when I had seen examples of racism or, alernatively, privilege.
One time when I particularly experienced privilege due to my being white and from a rich country was when on a trip to Thailand I gashed my leg quite seriously and there were real concerns that it could become infected (which it did). My host took me to a local hospital to be treated and I suddenly became aware that I was being led past a long queue of people waiting to see doctors, nurses. etc. I felt this was wrong – as well as being unnecessary – and tried to protest. But I was told this is “how it is” and that even the people whose queue I was jumping would want this to happen. My position as a tourist who would be benefiting their economy meant I was seen as a higher priority than the local people. A difficult moment.
In my early years in IT, I was working in a team where the boss often referred to his deputy as a “waste of skin”. It was a term that I really struggled with although the person to whom it was addressed – someone from Asia – didn’t seem to mind, but I have no idea what he was thinking. I like to think that I spoke up about it but it is a long time ago and I don’t really know.
On the same trip to Thailand, with a group of other Baptist ministers, we suddenly found out that one of our friends, an African, was only being accepted -within the local church – because he was with a group of white people. If he had been on his own he would not have been received so positively, our status was rubbing off onto him. A really distressing thing for me to realise and to reflect on, but how much more distressing for him.
I have had the privilege of leading a church with people from 20 different nationalities. Their different perspectives and cultural backgrounds brought a buzz, a sense of life. But work continually needed to be done to avoid them being pressured to constrain themselves to the “white way” of doing things.
I have also spent time with people who complain about their new neighbours, saying they are scared of them simply because of the colour of their skin.
These are just some occasions when I have become aware of people being treated differently because of their ethnic background or skin colour. Sometimes I was able to try to do something about it, sometimes – to my shame – I was not.
But I wonder how many times it has happened around me and I have been totally unaware of what was going on? How have people, my friends and colleagues, felt about my lack of understanding and my silence in those situations? I don’t know and, for any to whom I have caused hurt in this way, I am deeply sorry.
What then, particularly as people of God, should we do?
Jesus encourages us to pray that God’s kingdom comes to earth, that His will is done in the same way as it already is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10). And in the book of Revelation we get a hint of what that will be like:
Any idea of segregation or relative priority or privilege will be gone and we will be totally united together before Jesus. And the song we will sing reminds us of what He has made possible
This is the bright future we can look forward to – something we are called to pray for, but also something we are called to work towards.
Let’s be prepared to seek that unity, that togetherness, so that we can all enjoy it together now instead of waiting until we get to see Jesus.
A call to be more aware of – and to stand against – racism, oppression, segregation, discrimination, in any form.
And a commitment to seek to do so to the best of my ability.