Ahmaud Arbery – and Systemic Racism

racismThe wrong place

I will be the first to admit  that many times, the choices we make put us in the wrong places at the right time. Consensual sex turns to “rape” after the fact, and boys get jailed for it. If the young men had not been having sex with a girl who was not their spouse, and if they had thought about her age and what might happen if they continued in their sex orgy and she or her father decided to press charges, they would not have gone to jail. Sometimes we do stupid things and get caught. Other times we get by with it. When we run with the wrong crowd, it ought not surprise us when bad things happen.

I also admit that there are times folks have been shot because they did not respond to authority as they should have. An officer acts in self-defense or thinks the offender is armed when he isn’t. When I haven’t walked a mile in his footsteps, it’s hard to say what I would do (except that I don’t know how to shoot a gun and don’t have a reason to learn).

We told our kids that if they got into the wrong place at the right time because of their choices, they’d have to suffer the consequences. There are places we ought not go, words we ought not say, and things we ought not do just for the simple reason to be safe. Don’t put yourself into a situation where others can say, “If only he had not . . . ”

The wrong color of skin

In Ahmaud Arbery’s case, he was not guilty of any of these. Except, there was the color of his skin. He was jogging in his own neighborhood, minding his own business on February 23, 2020 when he was shot and killed.  The man who filmed the death, William Bryan, 50, was arrested two weeks later and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. No other arrests were made until May 7 when Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael were charged with the murder and aggravated assault in the killing of Mr. Arbery. The state said Travis McMichael fired the fatal shots.

The reason for the killing? The color of his skin and systemic racism. One needs only to read about this event and the people behind it to recognize that systemic racism is real today.

We can talk all we want about racism not being real, and that systemic racism is a thing of the past, but just because we think it and say it does not mean it’s true or that we are correct. When something is systemic, it invades the entire body or system.  A systemic infection courses through the blood and all organs in a body. It affects the entire body – or country.

The county in which I live is 55% non-white. There are folks who recognize that racism is real in our county. Others deny its existence. Prejudice runs both ways and no matter which side you are on, it’s wrong. Tit for tat is wrong, and two wrongs never make a right.

Racism denial

Just this past week, I listened in on a zoom meeting in our county. The head of the organization spoke and I listened in horror to what he said.

He said, “I’m tired of people talking about systemic racism around here. We just don’t have it here.”

You know what I know? I know that when his child was in elementary school he did not allow her to attend a birthday party in the home of one of her classmates. The reason? The birthday girl was black. Don’t tell me systemic racism isn’t real, and don’t deny it when you’re guilty of the same.

The right heart

You know what else I know? When we hear someone talk about racism and the hair on the back of our necks start standing up, it’s time to take stock of what’s really in our hearts.

As long as sin is in the world, there will be racism because Satan knows what havoc brings to our weary world. Yet, we should not be a part of that racism. Be honest. Admit it when it’s there. That’s the only way to combat this unfairness.

Rather than declare we are not guilty, perhaps we should ask God to nudge us if we’re guilty. Maybe we should take stock of the places we will not go or the folks we won’t mingle with – and why. Perhaps it’s time to ask God to search our hearts and clean us out, whether we have racism, prejudice, or hatred directing our thoughts and actions.

When Cain killed Abel, it wasn’t because Abel did something wrong. It was because Abel did what was right. Cain didn’t like the blessing Abel received from God when he could have had the same. Only thing is, Cain refused to do what was right. It was a form of racism.

Racism is not here because of education lack, poverty, or demographics. We cannot legislate morality. The only way to change what happened to Abery, Till, and Turner is to change our hearts.

There’s only one place to do that, and that is to journey to the Cross, where the ground for all is level. When God changes our hearts, He changes our lives, our homes, our community, our country, and our world. While we are not responsible for others, what we do today will influence others, either for indifference or for good.

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Photo credit: iStock photos

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