Where Do We Go from Ferguson?: Race Relations in America A Year after Mike Brown’s Death
Sunday August 9, 2015 marks one year since white former police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. This shooting resulted in weeks of organized, disorganized, and sometimes violent protests, while also igniting a much needed dialogue about race and race relations in the U.S. Since Brown’s death, numerous questionable shootings and deaths involving white police and black men, as well as protests, have occurred—forcing Americans to think and at times uncomfortably to discuss the black and white divide in this country. As the Brown family continues to mourn the death of their son, as Wilson and his family continue to suffer as a result of the controversial shooting, as residents of Ferguson protest in anticipation of the one year mark of Brown’s death, and as a result of many racial tensions since Brown’s shooting and death, it is good and right to ponder again the current state of race relations a year after the shooting and death of Brown.
Since August 9, 2014, I think it’s fair to say that many Americans in the media and on the streets have been forced to think and talk about race. Fox News, CNN, and other major media outlets have discussed race relations a lot in the past year. These outlets have often presented incorrect information about the construct of race or they have often overemphasized one perspective of race over another. Still, media outlets have been fixated on race. Everyday Americans outside of the media have also wrestled with race. They have thought about issues related to white privilege, race as an ideological social construct, social injustice within the criminal justice system, and many other issues related to this discussion.
Racial Justice Movements
Numerous movements promoting racial justice have emerged since the shooting and death of Brown a year ago. Of course, the Black Lives Matter movement existed prior to Brown’s death. But the movement has expanded throughout the U.S. since Brown’s death. In addition, other movements promoting racial justice have emerged as well. Perhaps one of the most shocking developments in the movement of racial justice, since Brown’s death, is the efforts within the evangelical movement to engage the conversation of racial justice and racial reconciliation. This is shocking because the American evangelical movement was birthed in the context of racial injustice and was in fact a large supporter of racial injustice against African-Americans, as many of its key leaders were in favor of slavery, held slaves, were in favor of Jim Crow, fought against equal rights, or simply refused to speak against racial injustice. The current evangelical movement has progressed a great deal beyond the days of legalized segregation, but many within this movement, and the institutions created by it, continue to profit from the endemic racism into which the movement was born. In spite of this, many evangelical leaders, who benefit from a legacy of racial injustice within the evangelical movement, are speaking out against racial injustice and are standing with black and brown people in the fight for racial justice, risking both their evangelical power and privilege within the evangelical movement.
Where Do We Go from Ferguson with Race Relations?
When we consider the racial struggles in this country since Brown’s shooting and death, we must ask ourselves where do we go with race relations from Ferguson? The simple answer is “we must go forward.” But the question is how? As a Christian, I offer at least four answers.
First, Americans must be honest about our racist past to answer some of the complicated questions in our racist present. Racial progress will be difficult, if not impossible, if we deny that our country and the evangelical movement were born within and as a result of racism. Moreover, progress will be difficult, if not impossible, if we deny that racism still systematically and individually exists in the U.S. Second, we must accurately diagnose the problem. The Christian gospel tells us that racism fundamentally exists because of sin . And the gospel shows us that Jesus is the solution to racial division. But history tells us that racism is an evil ideology of hate. This ideology of hate shows itself by means of violent or prejudicial actions. However, racism still exists even without violent or prejudicial actions because of sin and because it is an evil ideology of hate. Third, Christians and Christian churches must boldly press the claims of the Christian gospel onto a racist society , and we must be willing to stand against any and all forms of racism with the gospel and with legal and peaceful means whenever we see racism raise its ugly head. Four, as citizens and residents of the U.S., we must hold our leaders accountable. If they commit injustice instead of uphold justice, we should take the necessary legal steps to ensure that justice under the law will be upheld for all citizens and residents when our leaders fail to promote justice for all citizens and residents.