Monday, May 2, 2016

Racism in the first degree

I knew what the outcome would be even before the jury foreman read the verdict.  So did practically everyone who watched.  “Not guilty,” the foreman read.  With that simple pronouncement the case of the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson was over.

What troubled me wasn’t the verdict.  I knew what was going to happen.  I wasn't watching Court TV in the 90s.  I was watching FX's recent dramatization of the O.J. trial in the miniseries "The People v. O.J. Simpson:  American Crime Story.”  The verdict was handed down over 30 years ago.  

What troubled me was this — by finding O.J. "not guilty" the jury found us guilty of racism in the first degree.

If it had been a courtroom novel, not a dramatization of real events, I would have marveled at the cleverness of the defense team.  Their defense was simple: divert attention from O.J. by putting the LAPD on trial.

First, a bit of history.  Two years prior to the O.J. trial, Rodney King, a black taxi driver was beaten by four L. A. Police officers — all white — following a high-speed car chase.  The officers were charged with assault, but later acquitted of all charges.  The black community in Los Angeles was enraged.  They saw it as more proof that blacks and whites don't live by the same rules.  Riots broke out in the streets. Fifty-three people were killed and over 2,000 were injured.   That memory was still alive and well when O.J. went on trial.

The physical evidence against Mr. Simpson was, in many observers’ opinion, overwhelming and indisputable.  Unable to refute the physical evidence against their client, and knowing the racial tension in Los Angeles, Simpson’s defense team put the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on trial.  Their defense was simple:  the people who were killed were white.  O.J. Simpson is black.  The LAPD is trying to frame Mr. Simpson just because he is black.  Suddenly O.J. wasn’t on trial.  The LAPD was.  More to my point, racism was!  In finding O.J. Simpson not guilty of murder, the jury found society guilty of racism.

It’s been over 150 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, exactly 150 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1866 granting citizenship to emancipated slaves regardless of race, and over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, yet racism is still a part of our culture.  The riots in Selma in the sixties, the riots in LA in the nineties, the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and our own city just last year are painful reminders that just because we elected an African-American man president doesn’t mean racism has been uprooted from our culture.  Like a noxious and resistant weed, it still grows.

I don’t think of myself as racist.  You may not think of yourself as racist either.  But I’m learning that racism has many faces and forms -- things like white privilege and unconscious bias.  And it’s not all a black and white issue either.  Sometimes it's brown and yellow, white and red.  Racism isn’t just a matter of pigmentation.  Sometimes it's one nationality against another, one tribe against another.  

As with many issues, it’s complicated.

Complicated though it may be, racism has no place in the body of Christ, no place among the people of God.  In Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, black nor white, yellow, brown or red.  We are all one in Him.

Diversity is one of our stated values as an association.   There are approximately 600 churches affiliated with Union Baptist Association.  Did you know that approximately one-third of our churches are predominantly Anglo (white), one-third are African-American and one-third of our churches are comprised of people from around the world that do not speak English as their primary language?  As such we reflect the ethnic, culture and linguistic diversity of our city in our churches.  

We work to reflect that diversity in our associational leaders as well as in the churches that belong to UBA.  We don’t do it perfectly, but we try and we’ll keep on trying to do it better by modeling equality and oneness in Christ. 

Racism is still a problem in our country, but in UBA we strive to be part of the solution.

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