It’s time to talk about the evil of racism for what it is. It's also time to wake up to its presence in society …and in our own hearts.
I must have been 12, perhaps 13, when my grandad told me proudly what my aunt was doing.
He opened up an Australian newspaper and pointed out a picture of her at an exhibition she had put together.
It was an educational piece about the holocaust.
My Dad’s Cousin And Sister
I already knew the story, it had been handed down from my grandparents to my dad, and from him to me and my sister.
You see, my aunt was only my aunt because she was adopted by my grandparents. Originally, she was my dad’s cousin.
Her parents perished in one of the Nazi death camps, but she survived.
And by some miracle, the authorities were able to discover this little girl’s identity and find her remaining family.
My grandad was a Czech Jew who escaped the persecution and came to England, along with his wife and two small children (yep, including my dad). One of grandad’s brothers also escaped, but the rest of his family were never heard from again.
So, I imagine my grandparents were able to take some small comfort in bringing their niece into their home as their own daughter.
And there she was in the newspaper, educating people about her experiences in the hope that no one would ever have to go through it again.
The Evil Of Racism Rears Its Ugly Head
I have many such memories from my formative years. But why am I telling you this now?
Well partly, I want to give you some context for what I want to say next.
But I want to shine a light on the issue that has raised its ugly head once more: the evil of racism.
And I’m not just talking about the in-your-face racism of the Nazis or other right-wing factions of the modern world. I’m talking about the covert racism that is found in so many of our organisations and institutions.
Dare I say it, it’s about the racism that is hidden in our hearts. And yes, perhaps even in my own.
Racism By Another Name
I might not call it racism, of course. I may give it another name and try to ignore it.
Maybe I’ll put it down to my paranoia or even fear of the unknown. I might be aware of the subtle biases and cues inside of me. But then again, I might not.
It’s the hard-wired part of my brain that takes in people and makes a judgment based on my very first glance.
These are the emotional impressions that turn me against “them” simply because their use of the English language isn’t as well developed as mine. Or because they (or I) happened to be in a bad mood today. Or, horror of horrors, because their skin is a different colour to mine.
So, I’m proud of my Jewish ancestry but I'm also painfully aware that I’m a white British, middle-aged family man, with all the potential positives and prejudices that entails.
Racism In The Light Of International Scrutiny
Of course, racism is a huge subject that cannot be covered in a single article.
The murder of George Floyd has somehow pushed the issue firmly into the light of international scrutiny. That event was horrifying enough, but what’s followed is an awakening of public conscience that has been far too long coming.
As Chris Kimbangi put it, in his article racism is more than murder:
“What has shocked me even more than this recent event, is the surprise of many people that this type of injustice even takes place, in “2020”. That’s because most racism isn’t “news-worthy”, its subtle. In reality for many BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people, like me, we face racist comments, slurs and assumptions on a daily basis - many from well-meaning individuals that carry unconscious bias.”
- Chris Kimbangi
The Lord spoke to me at the beginning of this year about 2020 Vision for his prophets.
I have to be honest that I saw it coming and yet was totally blind to a large part of what God wanted to do through it. So here we are.
I don’t want to jump on a bandwagon and simply react to circumstances, but be part of an ongoing conversation. I know it should continue beyond today, but I have no idea how that will happen.
One thing I do know is that we need to learn lessons from history.
Let’s Pull Down The Statues
One of the things most of us remember about childhood is the songs that we grew up with.
In the eighties, I was into Indie tracks and a bit of punk, when punks were real punks and challenged the establishment. One of my favourite tracks of the time was Drag it Down by New Model Army that went like this:
“They started work this morning, down at city square,
They’re pulling down the statues of our great grandfather’s hero.
The new books said he wasn’t such a great man after all,
And anyway, remember that the times they are a-changing.
Pull it down, drag it down,
Drag it down, pull it down,
Til there’s nothing to look up to
But the brand names on the posters all around.”
- Drag it Down, New Model Army
The song goes on to say how “they proved on television last night God was just a lie”, that we should give up on traditions and “build the disco that we need for our young braves”.
I always saw this for what it was: a plea to not forget our history, but to appreciate what has been passed down to us.
It’s an irony then, that there is now so much talk in the news about tearing down the statues of historical slave traders …and I find myself conflicted.
As it happens, I’ve been watching a history program called A House Through Time.
The current series is following the occupants of a house in Bristol, from when it was first built in the 18th century, through to the present day.
In the first episode, David Olusoga explains that the house was built on the profits of the slave trade. It was the first house to be built in Guinea Street. And the road is called by that name because Guinea in West Africa is where most of the slaves were “procured”.
Bristol is well known as one of the historic centres of slave trade in the UK from that time. And while I was watching the above program, a Black Lives Matter protest in that city pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, another slave trader.
I don’t believe in coincidence. So I asked the Lord what he was saying through this.
Dictators or Educators?
I don’t have a full answer to that yet, but one thing that comes to mind is the difference between dictators and educators.
If you asked me whether I wanted to pull down the statue of a man connected with the slave trade, then I’m fairly sure I would say, “Absolutely! Why was it even there in the first place?”
However, if I pause for a moment, I have to ask how willing we are to overlook the fact that nobody is perfect. More importantly, how willing are we to rewrite history?
Dictators like to rewrite history. They remove all the old statues and replace them with images of themselves. They change the history books in order to put themselves in a good light.
This is the pattern of all time: Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon did it in Bible times. Hitler had his monuments. So did Saddam Hussein.
Most of us would be happy to tear down the image of a tyrant, but the argument is less clear when it comes to many others.
Let’s be honest, most of our heroes are also flawed. If we were to put them under the microscope, I suspect we would feel very uncomfortable indeed.
Educators, including the best historians, try to explain to the next generation what happened in the past. They try to teach history “warts and all” (to quote Oliver Cromwell - another flawed man and sometime dictator of England).
Educators explain how things came to be as they were and why we should live differently.
Is it better to cheer in victory in the moment as we bring down the false idols of the past? Or is it better to leave them standing, label them for what they are and use that to help teach the next generation?
If you belong to a protestant church, would it shock you to hear that Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation wrote a book titled, “On the Jews and their lies”? Copies are purported to have been on display at the Nuremberg rallies.
In my aunt’s case, she could have spoken hatred of the Nazis and got people to burn copies of their books. But instead, she used her experiences to teach peace, understanding and reconciliation.
Racism Is Evil But God Is Good
In no way am I excusing the actions of slave traders. What they did was evil, no ifs and no buts.
I just think that we need to be wise and think through the best ways that we can promote the cause of our black brothers and sisters.
The first chapters of the Bible make it plain that the devil’s agenda was to bring division and hatred between people, from the very beginning to this day.
However, God’s agenda has always been to bring reconciliation and love to all, through the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross.
That salvation includes all of us. His agenda is not just to change our individual lives, but to transform the whole of our society. And that includes our attitudes towards and conversations with those who are different to ourselves, no matter who they may be.
The Common Man
I once watched a TV movie, “A Man For All Seasons”.
It was based on a play about the trial of Sir Thomas More, who was executed for treason in the time of Henry VIII.
I was particularly touched by Roy Kinnear’s portrayal of The Common Man, a character who appears in various guises throughout the play.
One minute he is a servant, in another scene, a boatman. Eventually, he is More’s jailer and leads More to his doom.
Finally, he turns to the audience and makes a statement about our complacency. We watched the events unfold, but failed to take action.
The Common Man speaks to us of the role that we all play in allowing the evils and injustices of this world to continue, whether by our action or our inaction.
As I have continued to pray this through, I believe our focus should be to continue to ask the Lord what he is saying at this time. We desperately need his love and forgiveness to break in and change our hearts towards one another.
Beyond what I have written above, I am convicted to share a public apology to my black and asian friends.
I never really listened to their fears and worries about the prejudice they endured - because I never asked how they felt about it.
So please accept my apology for ignoring the issue of racism for so long. I am sorry for not speaking up when I should have. Please forgive me for being complacent and allowing this issue to continue in the hearts and minds of the people I live among, for so long.
I think I want to write more on this subject, but more than that, I want to listen.
If you have been affected by racism or prejudice, or know someone who has, then lets seek the peace, love and reconciliation that Christ bought for us. Let’s seek it together.
How does the Lord want you to respond to racism and prejudice, at this time?
Let Us Know Your Answer In The Comments Area, Below.