This morning I read these words, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48. The context of this text is not referring to the day of worship we keep, or the style of worship we embrace, or the way we dress. In context, it’s talking about each of us growing in our love for our fellow man. We are emulating the perfection of Jesus “only when we love with an ALL embracing love.” (John Stott) My heart is broken because I have seen much less than perfection in three recent events, the killing of #AhmadArbery, the killing of #GeorgeFloyd, and the racist display towards #ChristianCooper. And one cannot ignore the obvious commonality in all three of these events—white people using their privilege to physically harm (in two of these cases) or potentially harm black Americans.
While this privilege cost two of them their lives, and there is nothing more horrific than that, it was the incident in Central Park that illustrates why the other two events can happen.
Amy Cooper said to Christian Cooper (no relation), “I’m going to tell them an African-American man is threatening my life.” She, however, did not say these words because she genuinely felt threatened. If she had, why would she approach him and take her eyes off of him to make the phone call? Why was she not screaming like she was in trouble until she was far away from Mr. Cooper and until the police were already on the phone? In my heart, I believe that Ms. Cooper said what she said because she understood something clearly. She understood the same thing that the police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd understood. She understood the same thing that the men chasing down Ahmad Arbery understood, which is; if there is a dispute between people of different skin colors, the individual with the lower levels of melanin is likely going to be believed over those with higher melanin. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong! In other words, and I’m speaking to my white brothers and sisters here, we hold privileges that our black brothers and sisters do not have!
In addition to her shared understanding with the police officers in Minnesota, and the men who chased Ahmad Arbery in Georgia, Amy Cooper correctly expressed the core problem in modern society. Namely, that “racism is real, and I can use it to my advantage.”
The saddest part about each of these incidents is that any semblance of justice was likely only brought about because there was a camera present. In the case of Arbery, the men who ended his life were finally arrested because a video recording of the incident surfaced more than a month after his killing. In the case of Floyd, we know that when cameras are not present, there has been no justice for victims of similar incidents. If we go back far enough, even when I was a kid, we know that even with cameras present, sometimes justice is not done (remember Rodney King?). Finally, I want you to ponder how the incident with Amy and Christian Cooper (again, no relation) might have turned out if the police HAD shown-up? What if they heard the account of a white woman who said an African-American man was threatening her. Who ends up in handcuffs in that scenario? The frantic, screaming, white woman claiming to be attacked? Or an African-American man standing his ground?
Folks, we have a problem. It’s called white privilege. And while most of us don’t take advantage of this privilege in egregious ways, many of us remain part of the problem. It’s a problem because we only allow our privilege to confront us when we have horrific, unspeakable video evidence placed before our eyes—which is the reason I’m writing this post—and that, my friends, is not enough! We have not done enough.
Until we acknowledge our racist and prejudiced feelings—even our potential for those feelings—we will not change. Until we acknowledge the existence of white privilege, it cannot change.
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.
We begin emulating the perfection of Jesus “…only when we love with an ALL (red, yellow, black, and white) embracing love.”
Let us begin the process of perfection today by acknowledging there is a problem in our world, in our nation, in our church, in us.