When We Get Tipped Over

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During times of crisis we cannot help but expose the state of our inner self. There are always “bottle tipping” moments in life–moments when we are turned upside down and the content of our hearts are on display. We often react on instinct, and in a world plagued by the ability of instant self-promotion, ugly inner truths often appear quicker externally than the slow examination of conscience normally would allow.

Our world is being tipped upside down. The inner hearts of many are on display for the world to see. For the protestors, it is the cry of justice–a voice often ignored by the majority deceived by an ingrained sense of power. A sense of power many have conflated with a sense of survival and thriving. This false claim of the proper ordering of human society–that one group can only survive and thrive at the expense of another–will always be the locus of the oppressors energy. The instinct of the oppressor when their world is tipped upside down is to restore the status quo by any means necessary.

Systemic racism in North America is inherently white hued and conservative. If we did construct a way of life best suited for us at the expense of the other, to say that the Old Regime must survive, that the statues must remain, and that no social transformation is necessary, the past-to-be-the-forever-present will be forever closed to the racialized. Another response is to create a fairy-tale version of the past, one where Robert E. Lee is a “good man” and Sir. John A. McDonald was merely subject to the views of his time. In this reality, history conveniently becomes a safe haven to garrison subversive ideas against humanity until needed for another battle. In this fiction, monuments are value-neutral and not icons–benign structures and not symbols. Never before have George Orwell’s words been more true, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” The fundamental flaw of all conservative ideology is the potential to immortalize the inhumane as tradition. Some things are meant to stand the test of time. Socially constructed racial inequality is not one of those things.

While Progressivism has its own disposition towards abuse, the traditionalists carry the burden of this social reformation. I speak as a member of one of the most powerful institutions in the history of humankind. It is my kin who used divine revelation to justify the enslavement and abuse of those of non-European descent. That some of my fellow Christians are silent in this call to justice or openly deny the reality of white nationalism demonstrates failed discernment. To pretend systemic racism does not exist is intellectually insincere. To refuse to educate oneself on the basic precepts of this discussion communicates intellectual laziness. I struggled knowing whether or how to write this post. As a friend recently wrote, “The last thing we need is the faint commitment of virtue signalling, which is merely a promise written with disappearing ink. Such easily issued words are just as easily forgotten.” But this can’t be about securing personal moral high ground or satisfying one’s sense of guilt. If it were, my naive statements like, “But I have black friends, my family came to this country to escape discrimination, I’m not a racist” would suffice. My knee-jerk, passive responses, are inadequate. What is required now is radical gospel-shaped activism.

Christians should recognize radical solutions to universal problems. Christians should be the first to line up for the job of self-evaluation and prophetic social reform. If we truly believe as Christians that Homo sapiens is one community made in the image of God, we must be willing to experience the uncomfortable social deconstruction of our socially constructed whiteness as an objective instigator of discrimination. Friends, the dive into Christianity’s racist past is deep and cold. There have been lights along the way. But now we must resolutely embrace the difficult Christianity of sacrificial relationship.

The kind of relationship where a white person who is committed to Jesus Christ will be willing to have his home burned down in the name of justice for his black brother and for the right of his black brother to buy a home in any community he wishes to live.

Skinner, Tom. How Black Is The Gospel: A Decisive And Truthful Message For Today’s Revolution. 1970.

We must embrace the duty of self-reflection in the context of society. Those who abuse power certainly are not doing such a thing. The powerful control. The powerful dominate. We see this in the obsessive focus of the powerful on the “rioters” and not the brutality of their kin. It’s as simple to see as scrolling through the tweets of some of the worlds biggest influencers. A rioter has power-yes. Power over a window, a television, or sadly yet a store owner, but his power is temporary, local, and individual. A rioter harms–yes. But rioting is a flash point in time. A system of oppression is multi-generational, reaches far, and can rob an entire group of their human dignity. To zero in on a moment of anger is to miss the long fuse leading up to the flames. In discussing the LA riots of 1993 that followed the acquittal of Rodney King’s abusers, American author Toni Morrison once said,

“What struck me most about those who rioted was how long they waited—the restraint they showed. Not the spontaneity, the restraint. They waited and waited for justice, and it didn’t come. No one talks about that.”

Charlie Rose interview, January 19, 1998.

In the recent words of Cornel West, “White America ought to give black people a standing ovation that after 400 years of being terrorized we refuse to create a black version of the Ku Klux Klan.” That the message of Black Lives Matter is on display with paint and not bullets is a testimony to the inner soul of this movement, a movement that is gospel-shaped and for the betterment of us all. The question for us now is, are we finally going to see it?

Published by mdburkholder

Matthew D. Burkholder is a graduate student of theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto.

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