The Brokenness Within Ourselves
Apr 04, 2019
By Joel Bumol, member of the MNYS Anti-Racism Committee
In the past month of news, the Virginia state government has been in turmoil over several scandals, including the governor and attorney general of the state admitting to dressing in blackface in their youth. Though both men have apologized for their past use of this horrible and racist American practice, I found it particularly troubling that a poll released at this time revealed this is hardly a condemned practice in this country. In the poll, 23% of the respondents found it acceptable for a white person to dress up in blackface, with 56% saying it is unacceptable and 22% saying they are unsure.
Blackface is one of many examples of American culture where people of color are marginalized and mocked for the entertainment of white people. For a history of the use of blackface in the United States, I would highly recommend listening to or reading the transcript of an NPR podcast episode of Code Switch titled “From Blackface to Blackfishing.” As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. This includes the beauty and diversity found in God’s people. The ridiculing and commodification of these gifts of God are an affront to the very nature of Creation. When reflecting on this recent news headline, I can think of examples of racist jokes that I learned as a child before I even had an understanding of race in its current context. In the vastly white town in the vastly white school that I attended, this wasn’t challenged or thought of as wrong, at least by those unaffected by the jokes. But this is about more than jokes or entertainment. It is a mockery of the very image of God. Words matter, and the weight of dehumanizing racist language and practices in our culture has a lasting impact on those it was intended to target and harm.
As Christians, we are called to love and respect the holiness of each person and her image in the eyes of God. It is reprehensible and disgraceful that 100% of Americans cannot or will not denounce the practice of blackface. In order to fully love our neighbor, we need to acknowledge our neighbor’s struggle, story and perspective to facilitate healing, understanding and community. For white Christians, there is a long list of listening, deeper understanding and restorative justice work to be had to fully love our neighbors and acknowledge sins of racism experienced by our sisters and brothers of color. Understanding must lead to acts of justice that dismantle our current unjust systems and structures. It is not enough to know better- we must translate our talk to action. I would use this post as an invitation to other white Christians to take time to learn about the struggles of people of color in this country, especially those that are less known and more uncomfortable to discuss. This includes those who have made efforts to learn about the sins of racial injustice as well as the past and present history of racism in our culture. As a white person and white Christian who has taken time to learn about and study these subjects, I perpetually find myself learning more and having a deeper understanding of the struggles of my neighbors. Those with privilege should never presume to know enough. The act of confronting the sins of our past and present can lead us down an uncomfortable/difficult road, but it is a necessary one to travel if we are to live into God’s vision and hope for justice in thisworld. Only through understanding the whole person can we mend the brokenness within ourselves and this world and bring about the healing love of Jesus to each other.