Where is Racial Injustice?

It’s right in front of you.

Photo credit: Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about my experience seeing divisions in person at an NFL game last weekend. I was floored by the response to that post, which was extremely positive.

However, there were some who disagreed with me. That’s fine! In fact, I think it’s good to have a dialogue between differing viewpoints. That’s how you work through difficult issues like this. But there was one comment I received that made me pause. Someone I didn’t know asked me — “Where has there been racial injustice?”

“Where has there been racial injustice?”

Maybe it’s naive of me. Maybe it’s because I’m white and I haven’t personally been the victim of racism. But that question floored me. I honestly could not believe that someone would ask that. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but it did.

I also saw many people sharing their own riff of a familiar line when it comes to the NFL protests during the National Anthem. People say, “Well, if they really want to make a difference, they should give specific examples of what they’re speaking out against.”

NEWSFLASH: They have.

That’s a New York Times Op-Ed from Eric Reid — the NFL player who joined Colin Kaepernick as the early NFL protesters. There have been others to express their sentiments in similar fashion. Which led me to wonder…

…why do people doubt their sincerity?

Maybe it’s not that you doubt their sincerity. At the outset of this post, let me say that taking issue with the form of protest because you feel it disrespects the military, or the flag, or the National Anthem is an acceptable position to hold. First off, it’s not my job to be arbiter of this discussion. This post is simply my opinion after careful reflection and research. But you can certainly hold a differing opinion. Our country affords you that freedom.

But is this discussion truly about disrespect? Where were the calls for respect of the military when then-candidate Trump attacked Senator John McCain for being a POW? What about when he disrespected Gold Star parents? I think that, for many people, they truly do have concerns about the message sent by protesting during the National Anthem. You have every right to pose those questions. I just think, unfortunately, we need to pose the same questions to our President.

Beyond that, I do not think that these players are taking issue with the flag, the military, or the National Anthem. What they are taking issue with is systemic racism in the form of police brutality, mass incarceration and a host of other societal ills.

Look, I also saw posts on Facebook from mothers of sons who are in the military. I have never had an immediate family member serve in the military, and I have never served. So I cannot begin to understand what that is like. What I can say is that I accept the fact that those mothers feel they cannot support these protests because they feel their sons are sacrificing so much for that flag. They and their sons are sacrificing so much for our country. Our military deserves so much respect for putting their lives on the line to uphold our freedoms. While I’m there, the same can be said for our country’s police officers, firefighters, first responders and other service men and women. The vast majority of those people serve our country admirably.

I would only ask that you also consider that many mothers of Black men and women in this country fear for the safety of their sons and daughters every day. In America.

Many mothers of Muslim sons and daughters fear for the safety of their children every day. In America.

Unfortunately, I could continue. But I hope you begin to see my point. I am not devaluing the experience of military parents. You are making a major sacrifice. Your experience is valid, and I am in no way trying to downplay your experience. Please hear me — I hold the utmost respect for military service men and women and their families. I am only asking that we also consider the experience of marginalized people in our society. I don’t think that these two experiences should be viewed as being at odds.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. As soon as I say that, there will be people who say that the level of racial injustice I’m discussing isn’t true. That it’s fake news. Before I go any further, let me direct you to a Twitter thread from my friend, Michael Yoder. He eloquently explains how he navigates this discussion. Below is an excerpt, but I encourage you to click the link above for the full thread.

I have gone through a journey very similar to what Michael describes. As a White male who grew up in a middle class family, I wasn’t affected by racism growing up. I’ve had to go through a lot of learning and a lot of growing. And that process isn’t over.

If you really are asking the question that was asked of me on Facebook — Where has there been racial injustice? — I would like to use this post to help you find answers. I know that not everyone will agree with me. I’m not trying to force people to adopt my opinion. There are some out there who probably don’t care to know about the instances of racial injustice in our society. Those people are probably not still reading this post. But I honestly think there are many out there who really don’t know that these injustices are real. If that’s you and you’re still reading, let me give you examples that I have seen in our society that have made me pause and consider. These are the reasons I support NFL players in their protest. More than that, these are the reasons I support the conversation those protests have fostered.

Police Brutality

Let me start with the specific reason why these players began protesting — police brutality. Names like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are well-known, but there are many other examples like Gregory Gunn, Samuel DuBose and Brandon Glenn. Those three were all unarmed black men who were shot by police. In two of those instances the police officers were charged with murder. In the third, a murder charge was recommended.

I want to make it clear, I think the vast majority of police officers do their work admirably. They are brave public servants in our communities. I think most police officers deserve our utmost respect.

I also have never undergone police training. I have never been in a situation where there is someone with a gun and I need to make a split-second decision. Those are the types of situations police officers face every day. Consider the following scenario where a traffic stop quickly turned into a situation where a police officer was shot in the jaw.

Thankfully, that officer was not killed in the line of duty. But all police officers are forced to do their jobs with these situations constantly in the back of their minds. I don’t know what that’s like. I can’t even begin to imagine it. Again, I think the vast majority of police officers are brave public servants who do their jobs admirably.

But just because most police officers do their jobs admirably, that doesn’t mean I should overlook instances of police brutality.

Any time that a person uses their position of power to exert undue levels of force over someone else is wrong. That is not deserving of ANY respect. Even just one such instance is too many. Unfortunately, there have been more than just one.

I understand that police officers are forced to make split-second decisions that are often dealing with life and death. All I’m trying to say here is that I think there is enough cause to stop and consider why Black lives are often on the receiving end of these fatal altercations. And if your answer to that is that Black people are criminals — well I hope the racial injustice inherent in that statement is clear enough that I don’t have to discuss it any further.

These are hard situations. If we all want less and less of these shootings in the news, I think both police officers and the general public benefit from taking a close look at what happened and why.

Incarceration

Did you know that there are private, for-profit prison systems that have minimum occupancy thresholds? I can’t even see the logic in that! Or what about the fact that there are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States? Taking numbers from the 2010 census, that number is more than the entire population of Houston, Texas. I first came to realize these issues by watching the documentary 13th by Ava Duvernay. I’d encourage anyone to watch it.

Specifically on the subject of minimum occupancy thresholds, the fact that these prison systems are private companies means they are looking to turn a profit. To do that (by meeting the minimum occupancy thresholds), there are also mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for minor drug crimes like marijuana possession. Those mandatory minimums adversely affect minority communities.

When large systems like this are set up to adversely affect one community over another, the marginalized community needs to find ways to expose this injustice. That is why protests like the ones carried about by NFL players are necessary and worthwhile.

Racial Jokes/Indifference to Racial Issues

This one is more personal for me. When I was in high school, I would make racial jokes from time to time. I regret every one. Each one was insensitive and wrong. But the fact remains, I told them. In fact, just a few months ago, I had to apologize to a friend for making an insensitive joke.

I say that to tell you that I’m not perfect, and I still have a lot of growing and learning to do. That is a journey that am I still on today.

But it is not funny to stand in a place of privilege — in our country, being a white male certainly falls into that category — and make jokes about those who don’t. Those jokes can be hurtful. They’re wrong.

If I take a look at myself and friends who have told such jokes, I think it comes from a place of being indifferent to race issues. Thinking it’s not a big deal. Thinking that racially-charged words can be freely tossed around. If we don’t check ourselves and deal with that type of thinking quickly, we get situations like the one that played out in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Or the situation that unfolded when a man was interviewed about his opposition to the removal of the Confederate flag. During the interview, he refers to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a racial slur.

I’ve had to learn and grow. While I never used racial epithets like that, I have my fair share of regrets in how I’ve handled race issues in the past. But I’m glad to say I’m a different person now.

I don’t say that to puff myself up or get you to praise me. I say that because we’re all at different points of the spectrum. Let’s all focus on trying to learn as much as we can about the experiences of others.

Don’t Look the Other Way

As a Christian, I believe that sin has been embedded into the human experience ever since Adam and Eve. Racism will always be in the background. It won’t be defeated this side of heaven. But that doesn’t mean we should sit idly by and look the other way.

I also believe that Christ offers hope. As we grow in greater and greater knowledge and experience of His love, I believe we’ll be better equipped to love others. But that still leaves us with a question…

What should we do?

I think each one of us can do our part to learn, grow, and live at peace with our fellow brothers and sisters. We start that process by listening and learning.

Go out and read articles about race issues. Learn about another culture. Look for ways to grow in your knowledge of the experience of other communities. Watch movies like Do The Right Thing or Get Out. Consider things. Talk to friends. Enter dialogue with humility.

I like what my friend Zac said recently when I talked with him about these issues:

I ask the person I’m chatting with to take 3 friends out to coffee who are black, and encourage them to honestly ask what their opinion is on race relations and detail out what their experience has been like as a black person in America.
In general, the person either realizes they don’t even have that many black friends (a big step) or they spend time hearing about these issues from somebody they love, care about and trust.

Those may seem like small things to do in the face of something as large as systemic racism. But I firmly believe that if each one of us takes small steps to grow it will help our collective communities begin to take steps forward. But it starts with us. Individually. We can all do our part, but it starts with acknowledgement.

Racial injustice is real. It is prevalent. We can’t stay silent. We can’t look the other way.


Before this article was posted, I shared the draft with multiple friends and community leaders of different races and different professions (including one police officer). My heart here is to attempt to answer the question that was posed to me on Facebook — Where has there been racial injustice? — while acknowledging that these are tough issues with a great deal of nuance. I invite anyone to continue the conversation in the comments below. I only ask that comments be conducted in a civil manner. Thank you for reading, and I sincerely wish you all the best. — Aaron