TODAY IS RACIAL JUSTICE SUNDAY. These reflections are part of what has been prepared by a group of Christians from Belfast for all the churches in this country to use today (for the full text go to www.ctbi.org.uk):
A comprehensive definition of racism is that it is a system of attitudes, actions and structures at personal, communal and institutional levels which always involves ethnicity and which arises as a distorted expression of positive human needs especially for belonging, identity and free expression of difference. Racism is expressed in destructive patterns of relating, hardening the boundaries between groups, overlooking others, belittling, dehumanising or demonising others, justifying or collaborating in the domination of others, physically or verbally intimidating or attacking others.
Racial justice is justice. Racial justice involves the fair treatment of people. We use the adjective ‘racial’ to highlight that we are concerned about the injustices people suffer as a consequence of racist structures, racist systems, racial discrimination, racist attitudes, racial hatred and racial violence. Our central focus is justice.
‘But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.’ (Hosea 12: 6)
Maintaining love and justice is a daily challenge that calls on us to return to God and to wait for God. On our own, we can often corrupt a quest for justice into a mission for revenge or overlook our own failings as we attack and dehumanise those unjust ‘others’. About ten years ago in Belfast, there had been a ‘racist attack’ in which slogans such as, “Go Home” and “Get Out” were painted on a house next to where a brick had been thrown through a window. In response, a group of local people gathered to show their support for the family and to express their feelings about the incident. The police responded well, local politicians condemned such behaviour and the family received flowers and cards.
One person had a sign with the words “Racists Out!” I understand the motivation behind this placard; however, it raises a number of questions. By calling for ‘racists’ to be put ‘out’ – is this not using the same logic as a ‘racist’? Should we use intimidation or violence to get the ‘racists out’? Where should the racists go? Do we not all have some racist attitudes? Who are these ‘racists’?
‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12: 21)
On our own, our strength and will to maintain love in the face of challenges and differences often wanes and corrupts.
Justice often takes time. Those who are oppressed and treated unfairly usually have to suffer the wait for justice, which can take years, decades, centuries. William Wilberforce began to use his voice against the slave trade in 1785. In 1807, the motion to abolish the Atlantic slave trade was passed. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, three days before Wilberforce died. Slavery continues today.
Racial Justice Sunday happens each year; racial injustices continue each year. People mistreat each other, take advantage of weakness, abuse the power they have, discriminate, debase, dehumanise and degrade….