To those who already know they are right, I doubt a blog or any historical precedence have any affect. Enjoy your coffee.
But! To those willing to wrestle, I humbly submit four ideas to hang your thoughts on.
1. Understand: we are all image bearers of God
The Bible says says “come let us make mankind in our own image.” There are no asterisks next to that declaration. We, all humans, are image bearers of our creator. Black/white, Baltimore citizens/LAPD, your kid’s hippy kindergarten teacher/a serial rapist in prison, that person who still can’t get their coffee order right at Starbucks: and all bear in some way a fractured image of God.
The concept that we are image bearers gives me no space to carry the judgmental dualism that plagues Christian culture. To see any human as anything less that God’s image, we trample the very nature that gives us individual value. So if one turns on the news and sees buildings on fire and say, “Look at those animals,” it doesn’t insult the protesters, it insults God.
2. Consider: Understanding is not condoning
When the Los Angeles riots exploded, I was a preteen. As the images of Rodney King’s beating played on the news, my family grappled what to do. I vividly remember not being angry but being bewildered.
My grandmother refused to stay with us even though she lived four blocks from the epicenter of the riots. Her refusal made me realize that she lived through the Watts riots in the 1960s. So I did a little research project and hunted down anything I could find on Martin Luther King Jr. speaking about the Watts riots. One quote from “The Other America” speech stuck with me:
“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
A man who lived his entire life defending and practicing nonviolence knew rioting was wrong. He did not defend it, but he also understood it. The work that it takes to understand something humanizes politics.
What “I understand” says suggests is that your experience is just as valid as mine. That unity is not requiring uniformity. Saying “I understand” suggests that your dignity is more important than then me being right. We are all capable of irrational action if we feel we are not being heard. Taking that step of saying “I understand”
3. Remember: Events don’t happen in a vacuum
Say one of your friends was having some relationship issues with another person. They seem to argue over trivial things and the solution seems so clear to you. The only problem with outsider advice in relationships is that they rarely accounts for the murky history of sore spots and old memories that got this relationship on the rocks in the first place. Things are far more complex than they may seem. Our relationships are much more like mangroves twisted interlining intersecting lines of history that can’t be detangled in a prescriptive tweet.
Race relations in America are similar. It’s much more than the over simplifications of like: “Why are they rioting? It’s stupid! They burn their own cities!” “Why is every police shooting about race?!” or “All cops are racist.” There is a mangled twisted narrative of hurts, miscommunications, and provocations actually being displayed each time. When you look at Baltimore know that it’s not just about Baltimore. It would go a long way if we pull back and learned to acknowledge our limits of experience.
When looking at Baltimore, if you have never been apart of a systematically oppressed people group or been black in America, allow those that have been to inform your opinion about what the experience is like. When someone from my Christian family tells me of post-racial America, what I hear is: “You are too inept and ill informed to interpret your own life.” It dismisses multiple examples in almost every major city in America and experts from many different races all saying the opposite.
Having said that, I am well aware, along with most of the black community, that every black man that has suffered from the hand of the system isn’t Nelson Mandela. Some of these men could use some rehab. Nonetheless, we clearly still have a problem with race. Sometimes, we could all use what my grandmother would call a little “shut your mouth grace.”
4. Look forward: We are the problem, but we are not without hope
Racism, discrimination and abuse of power all spring from the same well that causes me to imagine myself keying my neighbors luxury SUV when he parks in front of my house. It’s stupid. It’s just the curb. It just grates against my pride to think that he thinks he could do that. These evils that exist in my own life live in the same hearts of a racist cop and the crack dealer that shot my Uncle Charles.
We look to systems to fix a broken system, but systems are made of people. We are not only witnesses, but also participants of that system. Meaning this, Baltimore is not “them.” Baltimore is us.
I believe the forgiveness found in Jesus is powerful enough not only to fix the wrongs of my past, but also to transform how I live in the present. It helps me know how relate to others matters. It helps me see my fellow brothers and sisters as just that: brothers and sisters.
So, on second thought, put your coffee down. Two circles do not make triangle at all.
Propaganda (Jason Petty) is a hip hop artist based in Los Angeles.