A Gathering Voices Post by Rev. Martin Otto Zimmann
In mid-January, it was announced that the North Miami Beach police were using mugshots of African-American males for target practice. To add insult to injury, the person who discovered the targets, Sgt. Valerie Deant of the Florida National Guard, recognized a photo of her own brother amongst the images used (he had been convicted for drag racing in the year 2000). The chief of police, J. Scott Dennis, defended the practice.You can read more about this issue here.
This is reprehensible.
Not long after this story surfaced, I started seeing pictures of clergy posted on Facebook, inviting the North Miami Beach police to use them for target practice. There is a Facebook event page inviting people to participate. Many of my respected and beloved colleagues are taking part, using the hashtag #usemeinstead. I can’t bring myself to do it, because for me it would be the easiest thing in the world to do, and then act as if I have truly done my part in creating a solution.
Before I go further, let me state that I have no problem with people who feel called to do this. I am only speaking for myself and the sin of my own moral ambivalence. All too often, when something upsets me, I post about it on Facebook, Twitter, or even Linked In and suddenly I feel morally superior for doing so.
But for me, posting about an issue is the very least thing I can do about it, and this is where my advocacy tends to end. Instead of writing an e-mail to George Vallejo, the mayor of North Miami Beach, it’s easier to post a photo. Instead of calling my senators or my representative in Congress, it’s easier to assume that they won’t do anything anyway. Instead of making a sign and organizing a protest in my hometown, it’s easier to find a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and post it to my timeline.
When I do something trivial like this, I feel somehow less responsible for my complicity in supporting a racist culture. Now I can ignore the burden of my white male protestant privilege, because I have done something (the very least of something) to level the playing field for the socio-ethnic disenfranchised in my community.
This is a lie, and it is very compelling.
Remember, I am speaking only for myself—I am not judging anyone who has joined this online movement, because it is not for me to judge whether or not they are capable of doing more. I can say, however, that if you are like me—an educated, healthy, middle-class white guy—you might want to ask if you have done enough.
Jesus reminds me of my moral shortcoming in Matthew 5:41: "And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." For me, the first mile is becoming aware of my white privilege. And to do that I need look no further than Dr. Peggy Mcintosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” This is where I discover for myself that even though I harbor no overtly racist feelings, I am a passive racist by virtue of my complacency.
If Jesus is telling me to go the second mile, then I have to do more than just post my moral outrage online. Even this blogpost is not enough.
I am not going to prescribe a solution for white folks about how to transform their passive racism into active anti-racism, because I am still figuring it out for myself. Or as Jesus put it so well, I need to work on the big chunk of lumber in my own eye before I start pointing out the slivers in the eyes of my colleagues.
In the meantime, I will pray. I will wrestle with the issue behind the issue—why do we live in a world where people deem it necessary to be trained to shoot other people: black, white, or otherwise? If we Christians are serious about bringing God’s reign to fruition here on Earth, then we need to begin unpacking another backpack that is loaded with the cultural baggage of hundreds of years of prejudice and racial disparity. We need to have serious conversations about reparations and reconciliation. We need to stop yearning for a world of racial harmony and start living in one now.
About the Author:
Pastor Martin Otto Zimmann holds a PhD in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He has taught at Siena Heights University in Adrian Michigan and Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio on a variety of topics, including Ethnic Studies, Literature and Composition, Climate Change and Sustainability, and Apocalypse Theology. His hobbies include sustainability and earth-conscious stewardship, including urban farming and goatherding. He is on the advisory board of the Interfaith Sustainability Center in the Middle East. For the past eighteen months, he served the English Congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.