“Racism is a double-edged sword that pierces the soul…”
That is how I began an essay I wrote for my 10th grade English class. To this day, I still find these words to be true, although now I would preface this to mean that the most painful thing about the cuts caused by this sword is that they are invisible and the antidote is not a “quick-fix”.
While I have had my share of encounters in which I have been unfairly mistreated due to the colour of my skin, I have heard stories that have been far worse. And upon hearing them, although they have not been my own personal experiences, I still feel the knife wounds.
Once when I was visiting Washington, D.C., I had the fortunate experience of being able to visit the statues of both Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King. Both Jefferson and King came from different time periods but ultimately stood for the same ideals and principles. King, in particular, is known for his weighty speech, where he advocated for a dream to see people of all races, cultures and religions uniting together in harmony. Jefferson was known to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and once cited these words as the nation gained its independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Sadly, these men never came to see their dreams fully realized in their lifetimes. In fact, because of what they stood for, they were often ridiculed and mistreated. Despite this, they refused to let this vision for a better future die within their hearts.
For those of us alive today, it can be hard to imagine the times of Jefferson and Martin Luther King, where racism was often seen in a more direct and cruel form. A time where men and women were chained, enslaved, tortured and abused simply because they possessed a different skin colour than their oppressors. But to deny that such things ever happened, makes us susceptible to repeating the errors of our past, for “…there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
While many would be quick to say they believe in equality and the rights of humanity, the reality is: Racism still exists. But for centuries, there have been groups of people that denied that the Holocaust ever happened, yet shocking new research reveals that up to 20 million Jews were killed under Hitler’s reign. There are also those that deny that slavery exists today, but according to International Justice Mission, there are an estimated 45.8 million held in slavery today, which is more slaves today than ever before in the history of mankind.
“The colour of one’s skin cannot and should never be a deciding factor in determining what one is handed in life.”
So why do we sometimes miss racism today? Because like a serpent’s venomous bite, some forms of racism kill silently. Also, because its effects are so furtive, most people have a hard time attributing the real culprit in the equation.
This has come to be known as systemic racism, which can be defined as forms of racism that occurs when organizations, institutions or governments discriminate — either deliberately or indirectly — against certain groups of people to limit their rights.
Systemic racism can also appear in different ways, one of which can be fewer employment opportunities, higher poverty levels for certain groups of people, and broken-down criminal justice systems. Today, startling statistics reveal a hard truth about the current barriers for African-Americans on the quest to racial equality:
- Black college graduates are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white college graduates
- People of colour are also significantly overrepresented in the prison population, making up to 60 percent of the people behind bars.
- Blacks have the highest poverty rates at 24%, compared to an overall poverty rate of the population, at 13.5%.
- As of last year, U.S. police killed at least 258 black people in 2016, 39 percent of which were unarmed.*
The journey is far from over.
But we have to keep moving on the path to greater change. When it comes to race relations in Canada, our early beginnings appear to have shown some promise. Ontario was the first province to respond to social change when it passed the racial discrimination act of 1944, which was followed by other sweeping legislation. And in October 1971, Prime Minister Trudeau introduced a multiculturalism policy, which grew in response to assertions that Canada was a “bicultural nation” and barely recognized other ethnic groups.
Yet, the true power of such legislation is not just words on paper, but a set of actions taken by those committed to a movement, where people are not “judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The colour of one’s skin cannot and should never be a deciding factor in determining what one is handed in life. It also shouldn’t pre-determine or colour how we treat one another, and the kind of love we dish out.
The God I know is African, Jamaican, Indian, Chinese, Pilipino, Hispanic, Dutch, French, and Aboriginal, and created people of all different races simply because He is a lover of beauty. Divisions based on race, culture or economic status, religion or any other reason, is not of God but emanates an odour that comes from a much lower and debased source.
We are living in a day of age, where it is no longer acceptable to deny the realities that our world has presented us with. It’s time to face the hard-hitting truth. And the truth is that anywhere where people are shunned, or seen as inferior because of their skin, racism lives. In a nation where those of a specific racial or cultural background and targeted and murdered mercilessly, racism lives. Where unemployment and poverty levels are highest among minorities, racism lives. Where crude jokes and stereotypes against one’s race and culture are promoted and even deemed acceptable, racism lives. Where a developed country denies freedom to a targeted group of foreigners seeking refuge, racism lives.
Officially, the time when we recognize the achievements of Blacks is about to end. But the celebration of the value and dignity of human life of all races and cultures is something we have to do every day. We must have a fuller understanding of the inherent value we all possess, regardless of colour. Especially upon recognizing that we are created by a loving God, who “is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11) In other words, He doesn’t play favourites. We simply can’t afford to let racism wound another before we speak out about it.
And in the face of such hate, the solution is not to hand out more hate. But in the words of Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” We can march all we want, but we if don’t have love in our hearts, any efforts to challenge such hate would be in vain.
Together, let’s drive out the forces of hate with love.
*Despite the fact that this article relied heavily on U.S. statistics and focused exclusively on African-Americans, the author does not deny that cases of racism and discrimination do not occur today with other minorities in Canada and other parts of the world as well.
Copyright: luaeva / 123RF Stock Photo
Did you like this? Sign up and receive weekly updates of our latest faith & advocacy stories.