You go to the hospital for a routine surgery. Maybe having your gallbladder or appendix removed. Your doctors open you up and see that you have a giant tumor: cancerous, malignant, fatal if not aggressively fought. They sew you back up and tell you the news. “When can you do surgery? Can you remove the tumor? Do I need chemo? Radiation? What’s the plan?” you ask.
“Now is the time for healing and rest. You just had your gallbladder out. You’re tired. You’ve already been through a surgery. Let’s not rush it. Instead, let’s focus on healing. We’ll check on this next year at your annual appointment.”
You would, and should, be rightfully enraged. This is nothing to be trifled with, your very life is at risk. You are in grave danger. And there is hope, but only if you acknowledge reality and act to root out and destroy the cancer.
This is the situation we currently find ourselves in as a nation. The past few years have revealed deep sickness in America: racism, nationalism, mistrust, greed, exploitation. Calls for unity that do not depend upon accountability and honesty are–at best—premature and—at worst—a means of silencing the oppressed.
After George Floyd was murdered, Will Smith (leave it to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to lead us through these dark times) said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” It hit me in the gut. As a white person, I had been able to live most of my life blissfully unaware of the racism that permeates our country. I was not directly affected by racism, so I was able to ignore it. My privilege insulated me from reality.
A dear friend (who is Black) and I shared socially distant cheeseburgers several times over the summer and talked about the state of the nation, systemic racism, the role of white people in anti-racism work, and police brutality. I realized that I was just waking up to the reality she and her family have been living in for generations. She described fearing for her son’s and grandson’s lives every time she heard sirens. She described horrible interactions she has had with local law enforcement—the same local law enforcement that has only ever been a source of safety and protection for me. I realized what Black people have always known: there are two different Americas. The same systems that protect me, victimize people like my friend. This was an uncomfortable truth to recognize, but an absolutely essential one.
White people, I get it. We are tired. We desperately want to return to a sense of normalcy and get back to life as usual. But we are tired because we are out of shape. Like a runner on the first day of track season, we are not used to this and we are heaving on the track, doubled over and out of breath, muscles cramping. We have lived life insulated from the harsh realities that our neighbors deal with every day. That does not mean we get to quit wrestling with the injustices that 2020 has thrown into the spotlight.
We must ask ourselves about the cost of a return to pre-2020 normalcy. The year was a brute (and 2021 is shaping up to be a monster, too), but it was not some freak accident or tragic aligning of the stars, but a revealing of cancer that has been eating away at America for centuries. Many of us have noticed it, now. Sure, we could choose to return to faux-blissful-ignorance, but to do so will be fatal. That peace would be short lived and worthless. Now that we have seen the cancer, we must get to work rooting it out and destroying it.
Christians are often among the worst at calling for unity in the aftermath of great injustice; there is a pervasive idea that Jesus was a really nice guy who wants more than anything for people to get along and have a good time. Like Tom Hanks in leather sandals. This is not consistent with the Jesus we see in the Bible. Jesus called out injustice when he saw it, and in no uncertain terms. When Jesus saw greed and corruption setting up shop in the temple, he turned tables. He tells the Pharisees—the religious elite of the day who thought they had the corner on God—that they are hypocrites who will not enter heaven. He calls them a brood of vipers. He calls for forgiveness, yes, but also justice, and never at the expense of the truth.
For people with privilege (this graphic from Sylvia Duckworth was helpful for me to identify my own privilege) this means that we must continue to call out racism, classism, homophobia, and untruths when we hear them in our circles. When we hear family members, coworkers, and friends spread misinformation, make racist/sexist/homophobic jokes, or say things that are, for lack of a better term, ignorant, we must speak up. We must sacrifice our comfort for the lives of our neighbors. Get used to the discomfort. It is, in the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, good trouble.
We must demand justice, too. We must hold the violent accountable and the liars responsible. We must demand truth. We must root out the cancer before we demand that wounds be healed and life returns to normal. We must be peacemakers, fighting for justice, instead of peacekeepers, desperate to return to the status quo. Like Jesus.