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.
This week we saw those disastrous consequences unfold. Two men were waiting for a friend in a Starbucks. Afraid that the men were up to no good – that they were dangerous – the manager called the cops, who arrested the men.
A fourteen-year-old black boy stopped to ask for directions while walking to school. Because he was perceived as dangerous, the woman who opened the door screamed. Her husband responded by shooting at the boy. Luckily the man missed. But a boy almost died for the crime of being perceived as dangerous because of his skin color.
These two stories 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.
The manager of Starbucks, who called the cops, is a product of a racist society that believes black men are dangerous. The police officers that arrested the black men, the woman who screamed and the husband who shot at the kid are all part of that racist society. Their actions collectively – 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 end. I need to see what dangerous stereotypes I believe. 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 undue the racist fables I’ve come to believe. Showing me that we are one beloved community.