Earlier this week, I read this excellent blog post on Colorlines: Could I Be Both Trayvon Martin AND George Zimmerman? Although parts of me did not want to admit it, this author’s underlining premise, that I could be both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman was true! The fact that Zimmerman, in addition to having anglo ancestry, is also a person of Peruvian descent compromises our thoughts around his whiteness. And that does not make me feel comfortable because then that means this is a case of a person of color discriminating against and oppressing another person of color. Which in my mind changes things be it ever so slightly. But after reading this post I realize Zimmerman’s lack of whiteness doesn’t change anything at all. In fact in confirms that he, though a person of color himself, possessed internalized racism toward other communities of color. Which also means that he still could be found guilty of racial profiling.
We, and by we I mean people of color, could easily be him. Instinctively, I know that we most closely identify and see ourselves as Trayvon Martin, people that have been oppressed, exploited, discriminated against and misunderstood, but we have to likewise come to the grips with the fact that we also might wrestle with this same internalized racism that George Zimmerman himself did. I already know that this idea does not go down easy. But let me offer this definition from the Re-examination Counseling Committee:
Internalized racism occurs when people targeted by racism are, against their will, coerced and pressured to agree with the distortions of racism. Each of us targeted by racism fights, from childhood on, as long and as hard as we dare, to maintain a sense of ourselves as good, smart, strong, important, and powerful. However, in our societies, racist attitudes are so harsh, so pervasive, and so damaging that each of us is forced at times to turn racism in upon ourselves and seemingly agree with some of the conditioning, internalizing the messages of racism.
See what I mean? As a result of the oppression and exploitation that we have all endured, in addition to the ongoing clamoring for resources, position, and prestige, we each have a tendency to struggle with internalized racism. We probably wont ever go as far as pulling a trigger like Zimmerman, but still, we walk around with preconceived notions and prejudices against our own. It may not end up being as deadly as this particular situation, but the fighting and animosity leaves our communities weaker. How can we stand, how can we move forward from this if we persist in division and unconfronted bias against one another?
The truth is we can’t. We wont survive. We wont succeed. We wont break free of this hell that we endure until we can get to a place where we are not only aware of bias but working diligently to overcome it. But you see, the first step here is awareness or admission of our guilt and the role that each of us plays in Satan’s dirty little game.
Yeah, I said it: Satan’s dirty little game. You see, the other thing that we do not realize is that this war is not really between humans who simply fail to get along but with evil, wicked forces in high places (Ephesians 6). This thing is all out spiritual! Anyone who knows me knows that I am not one to go looking for the devil under every nook and cranny of the world, nor do I like to put every little problem that we encounter on him – he gets way too much credit in my opinion. However, when you look at all the things that racism and internalized racism causes, Trayvon Martin’s death as evidence of this, you have to understand that this is nothing more than a classic divide and conquer strategy.
Coincidentally, I found myself listening to a radio broadcast earlier in the week that dealt specifically with this topic. Chip Ingram’s sermon series ‘Diabolical: Satan’s Plan for Planet Earth (including you)‘ spoke to the power that prejudice holds over our lives, which keeps us in our own little boxes and worldviews and renders us incapable of understanding the God-given value in people who are different than ourselves. In his message he talks about how such bias hinders the gospel from being preached in the way that it should, which I completely agree. However, I would also suggest that it keeps us from being able to live in a society where people can feel safe, loved, and valued – like who they are and all that they bring to the table matters.
Chip suggests a few things that we can do to work past our internalized racism one of which I will share here. Prayer! Not to sound or be overly simplistic, prayer really does change things including our own hearts. We need to pray and ask God to raise our level of awareness in our own lives. God knows us better that we know ourselves, and in prayer he reveals things that are hidden and suppressed in the inner recesses of our hearts. Psalm 139 says it the best:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
As God reveals these things in our lives, he enables us and gives us the grace to change. And as we change, and start repairing our view toward others, our interpersonal relationships change. Subsequently systems and institutions change. Walls that once divided us, that once held us captive in fear, guilt and shame start to fall down. And alas, we have a society where it is no longer possible for a young black male walking down the street in a hoodie to ever be mistaken as suspicious and subsequently killed.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21.1-4, TNIV).
Don’t forget to get your copy of my book Dancing on Hot Coals today!