Believing we live in a just world does not mean we live in a just world.
So if people believe slavery doesn’t exist, nothing changes. If they don’t understand the social roots and implications of poverty and hunger, nothing changes. If they can’t appreciate the insidious nature of addiction, nothing changes.
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Last weekend our community hosted a festival called New West Fest. It’s a great convergence of ten of thousands, a downtown street fair with booths, food, and entertainment. As we wandered and people-watched, we saw many folks who dressed, looked, and acted a bit, well, differently.
This sort of event brings together folks we don’t encounter in our everyday comings and goings. Even in a city of only 150,000, the festival highlighted the fact that we usually operate in relatively isolated enclaves of people with pretty similar backgrounds.
The experience reminded me of a conversation with my cousin’s husband Moïse. As a black man, Moïse lived for several years in Jackson, Mississippi. He observed that in a city whose population is 80% black, he could move through his customary routines for days at a time without encountering another black person. His comment verified the de facto segregation that still dominates our supposedly integrated society.
I want to believe we’ve solved the problems associated with racial segregation. Sadly, believing justice exists doesn’t make it so. Just because I live in a relatively just neighborhood doesn’t mean our society is just.
America is racially segregated. We see it in recent events on the streets of Ferguson. We saw it in the sad events of Sanford, Florida. Becky and I have seen it everywhere we’ve traveled, because when you ride a bike you don’t always get to pick out the tourist-friendly spots. The back roads and small towns offer a different perspective.
You can deny the obvious racial divide. You can explain away the objective difference in the justice system experienced by young black men, the black school/white school (and church) divide, the disproportionate rate at which black men are followed, stopped, and questioned by law enforcement—you can do that, for reasons of political or social convenience, but you’re inventing an imaginary just world that simply doesn’t exist for a large number of our citizens.
I won’t judge the specific events that prompted Ferguson’s eruption, but the aftermath highlights an unmistakable culture of racism that’s clearly, unacceptably unjust.
Once you know, you may choose to turn away—but you can’t un-know.
I keep wondering…if Jesus’ followers don’t show these folks what a commitment to justice looks like, who will?
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
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