Steps towards racial justice

RSS By: MNYS Anti-Racism Task Force

Our Anti-Racism Task Force members will be taking turns in writing posts that shed light on issues surrounding racial justice work in our church and society. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors.

My Son’s Future

Aug 08, 2016

by Joel Bumol

Joel Bumol has been a member of Oceanside Lutheran Church for over seven years. He is a family doctor working in the Bronx and is a member of the Anti-Racism Task Force.


I worry about the future. As the sun sets on another week of violence in the United States of America, I put my son to bed and worry about the future. My son Jude is black. In 15 years when he is an adult, he will have to face realities about being a black man in America that I, as a white man, never had to experience.


The cynical parts of my personality are not optimistic for change after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this past week almost 2 years after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri. The tragic death of these two men was followed by yet another tragedy in Dallas, where five police officers upholding the law to allow for peaceful dialogue and protest were killed. This story is not new. My son was not a month old when 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.


Prince Jones, who Coates had known through Howard University, was similarly killed at the hands of law enforcement.

The story of black men being disproportionate victims of police violence is also not new. Last summer, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' open letter to his son, Between the World and Me. Fifteen years earlier, Prince Jones, who Coates had known through Howard University, was similarly killed at the hands of law enforcement like Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and far too many others. Like any parent, I was already fearful for the future for my son. The thought of his future being at greater risk because of his skin color, and the assumptions others might make about him because of how he looks, are the thoughts that can lead to anger, division, blame and more fear. Jesus is weeping.


I often think back to a time in my honors English class in high school where we were wrapping up a discussion about race in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I remember giving a short speech about how I saw people as people, that I thought we should all be "colorblind" and that race should no longer be a source of division. I think back to this moment and often cringe. The fact of the matter is our society is not post-racial. Racism and inherent biases and prejudices are alive and rampant. And before my son was born, as I white person I had the privilege of forgetting or ignoring that this was a problem in our day to day world.


If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
-Desmond Tutu

One of the things I have learned about being a Christian is that it is not easy. We are called to love others without conditions, to fight for justice where there is suffering, and to speak truth even when we do not want to hear it. We have a God and savior who truly invited everyone to His table, who shattered all divisions and erased all lines. How quickly after His death do we forget these lessons and fall back into what is convenient and easy. To my fellow sisters and brothers who are white, how easy it is to continue our day to day lives and forget the horrors that racism exacts on our sisters and brothers of color every day.


I am blessed to have been working as a family doctor in the Bronx for the past five years. One of the projects I am involved with are well child group visits, where infants receive their well child care in a group setting rather than traditional individual office visits. Recently I had the privilege of observing three young infants interact in a group--one African-American, one Hispanic, and one Middle Eastern. There was nothing but joy in their eyes as they played with each other. Any future prejudice they learn will be entirely our fault--not just from the vocal racist, but from the silent majority who did not work against racism and for equality.


So after finishing Coates' book, I felt I needed to do something. Giving money, participating in worship, and volunteering time are all important, but I know from Jesus' life and teaching that challenging the status quo and speaking truth are necessary to living the Gospel. Here is truth: Racism is real and alive and present today. It is not popular to say this. Our sisters and brothers of color, because of ingrained individual and structural stereotypes, live in fear from the police who would seek to protect all of us. Jesus would be and is on the front-lines calling for an end to racism and any system that creates divisions among us. Having tough conversations about subjects like race, and how we move forward on these issues guided by Jesus' teachings, are at the heart of Christianity. If it feels hard or challenging or uncomfortable, then it means we are probably moving in the right direction.


So today my Lutheran sisters and brothers, in the wake of these recent tragedies let us live out the Gospel. Let us work to have tough conversations about racism and prejudice without fear of judgment, persecution or resentment. Let us find resurrection out of death, and work towards a future where my patients can continue the same joy and laughter at age 60 as they do at age 6 months. This road is not easy, but neither is being a Christian. Despite all the sorrow around us, I am ultimately hopeful for our children in the years to come. I have faith that we can continue to bend the arc of history towards justice. We will not get there by being silent, being too afraid or being unwilling to have conversations about race. And as a parent of a young black man, I implore that we start today. My son’s life may depend on it.