Inspired by BGU’s Women’s Leadership Studies course – Kafi Mashariki Carrasco
Because the Trinity is a community and Christians are the community of Christ, I keep wondering why Western Christians consistently answer problems on the individual level and not at the systemic/communal level. A frequent comment I have heard in this season of protests for justice for George Floyd (and the many others) is “this is an issue of the heart” as if changing an individual heart will change a system. If that is what you think, you are not listening to the Black and other people who are protesting. Individuals are a small part of the problem. In 2020, “bad” seed police officers are likely only a few, and many white people actively declare that they do not hold animus against racial groups.
Getting rid of “bad” actors could help the problem, but the truth is that the problem is much larger than a few individuals. The systemic issue is that individuals do hold a communal narrative of the “other,” that when tapped, allows for the deep historical and current racial narrative and arrangement to be resurrected, supported by others of like minds as well as systems, and then acted upon even with video
cameras taping it.
The most recent example of this dynamic is Amy Cooper. Cooper is a white woman who, while maintaining that she was not racist, weaponized Black maleness in New York City. In a now-viral video, she tapped into a centuries-old narrative in the United States about Black male aggression and the frailty of a white woman in need of saving. She did this when she called the police on Christian Cooper
(no relation) even though she was in the wrong public space and was asked to abide by the rules of that public space. Amy Cooper is not a “solo” actor or lone “bad” seed because what she did has been done over and over historically against Black people and continuing in the present. In this example, the police did not respond by arresting Christian Cooper. There are numerous examples, however, where Black
people who were doing nothing wrong were killed. One man was jogging (RIP Ahmaud Arbery, 2020). One woman was driving (RIP Sandra Bland, 2015). One youth was walking in his neighborhood (RIP Trayvon Martin, 2012). One aunt was in HER house while her nephew played video games (RIP Atianna Jefferson, 2019). These are not isolated incidents. Those bad actors whose actions resulted in these deaths insisted they were not “racists,” and yet these acts of racial injustice resulted in the loss of
precious Black lives.
Racial injustice is a systemic issue, one that leverages a collective narrative that has developed over centuries, that needs to be fully acknowledged for what it is and always has been, and then dismantled/interrupted to bring about societal change. By insisting that racial injustice is only a matter of the heart, we allow the real “bad” actor – our collective social arrangement and narrative that
perpetuate racial injustice – to stay hidden under the narrative of the “lone” or “bad” seed. The best way to wrestle with racial injustice is to recognize that we, by virtue of our humanity, possess all of the same capacities as the “bad” actors. “I am a human being. Nothing about humans can be alien to me,” says Dr. Maya Angelou (Oprah Winfrey Network, 2011). In other words, we are ALL part of the problem. We
begin living in the solution when we acknowledge this common humanity. Instead of distancing from bad actors, we must re-attach ourselves to the human family that is separated by our social dysfunctions.
In addition, we need to understand that “one-time” events by individual “bad” actors are instead episodes of systemic historical narratives that get played over and over with different scenes, but the same script. When we have this understanding, we can start to change systems and rewrite our collective narratives. The narrative that supports the Pre-school to Prison Pipeline (look it up if you are unfamiliar) for Black and Brown boys and girls is the same narrative that called “danger” to Emmitt Till, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner, and George Floyd to name a few. This is the same narrative that gives out harsher sentencing for the same drug (crack cocaine and powder cocaine), used by two different communities (one poor and Black/ Brown and one white and wealthy), to make us feel “safer” (i.e., law and order, three strikes, “tough on crime”). To individualize and think that changing individual hearts is the solution, is to assign blame and lets us scapegoat others as the problem, giving us room to be “innocent.” If nothing is systemic, we just wait on the “goodness” of others to right the wrongs in front of us.
To individualize, explain away, and attempt to distance ourselves from injustice also makes a mockery of the most perfect community, the Holy Trinity, as well as the body that Christ established before He ascended, the community of believers, the Church. To separate ourselves into unconnected individual distinct units (persons) is the antithesis of how the Trinity operates and is.
To give God the Glory and lean into the vision of the triune community as believers, when responding to issues of race, racism, and brutal violations of our own humanity, a listening, more human response is not to say ”that is a bad seed,” or “this is an issue of the heart.” To restore our collective humanity, either say, “I don’t know what to say” or acknowledge something in the human experience – like the pain of a grown man calling out for his deceased mother as his last breath is being violently stolen from him. We have all been (and are) children calling for our mother/father/Savior. Call on our common humanity, affirming the paradox that the broken human condition is, at the same time, a reflection of the God of the Universe. Calling on our common humanity does not distance us from each other in the blame/guilt/shame game, but rather re-connects us to the human family through suffering and pain and re-members our place in each other as a part of God’s Shalom Community.
As a way to dig deeper into this conversation (planned BEFORE the simmering pain bubbled up), BGU is highlighting its October 2020 Philadelphia Urban Immersion and DMIN programs in this newsletter. The leadership of the church MUST have the tools of the living God and Emmanuel to transform the world. This immersion is titled “A Tale of Two Cities.” How did the “City of Brotherly Love” go from a haven for Indigenous peoples, religious minorities, Free Blacks and those who escaped to freedom, to a flashpoint city teeming with inequality and broken relationships? Explore the stories. See on a smaller scale what the national flashpoints are, build a more profound theology for who God is and how to see what He sees and names in our midst, and find His work and join in! The Philadelphia Immersion will equip you to lead according to God’s Shalom Community in your city. Our world is hurting, and folks are tired of the same old broken song. Join us in October and let us, as re-membered parts of the body of Christ, sing a new song unto the Lord! (Psalm 40:1-3).
Kafi Mashariki Carrasco
Director of Admissions / Student Services