One Saturday night in college, I drove my friends to a club in Atlanta. I don’t remember exactly why, but, I walked back to my car without my friends. I noticed some black men standing in the parking lot. Scared, I jumped into my car and moved to another parking lot.
The men had done nothing wrong. My fear was irrational. I had been taught my whole life, through society, media, and non-verbal cues that black men are dangerous. No one had ever said, “When you see a black man, run away.” However, I internalized the unspoken message and acted.
Our culture internalizes the lie that black men are dangerous, which leads to disastrous consequences.
Every day we see the disastrous consequences of our institutionalized belief that black men are dangerous. Emmitt Till was lynched because he made the mistake of offending a white woman. Throughout our history, the motif of the dangerous black man has given our society permission and excuses to murder black men.
Ahmaud Auberry was hunted down by three white men and shot. The DA wrote a letter justifying the murder by saying that the white men had the right to try and arrest Ahmaud Auberry because they assumed he was breaking into a house. Auberry's murder was justified because our fear of black men has created racist systems that leave black bodies dead on the streets.
When Amy Cooper called the cops, she was using the racial systems to threaten a Christian Cooper, whose crime was confronting Amy Cooper's unwillingness to follow the rules of central park. George Floyd's senseless murder was yet another example of how fear of black men has led to the militarized policing that fills our streets with the bodies of black men and women.
These stories -- and many others -- happened because we have a stereotype that black men are dangerous. They are not isolated incidents, but inevitable conclusions when we allow racist stereotypes to take life in our societies' lore.
And it’s not just black men. We see Latino women as loud, so they are asked to be quiet. Black children are seen and treated as adults, leading to black children receiving harsher punishments than their white counterparts. These false and misleading stereotypes get adopted as truth.
The consequence is a racist society that treats all people of color as a stereotype while giving white people the privilege of being individuals allowing their actions to be individual mistakes.
All of these stories of racial injustice – and my own actions of locking my doors when I see a black man – create a system of beliefs that hold our society captive.
And it’s time to say enough.
Jesus asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus invites his followers not to look at the sins of others, to look in the mirror. It’s easy for me to call the people in these stories racist. But the only difference between them and me is that the stories played out to the violent end.
The anger that rises up when I read these stories is an invitation to lament my own racism. God is inviting me to see the dangerous stereotypes I believe and to repent. I can’t just talk about other people’s racism, without first begging forgiveness for my own.
But when I turn to God – recognizing my own sin and begging for forgiveness – he slowly helps me undo the racist fables I’ve come to believe. Showing me that we are one beloved community.