Torn Between Representation and Justice
Over the past four years, many of us saw the worst side of those we thought we knew well. Relationships went awry, and long-standing friendships were irreparably damaged as America’s political climate revealed old ideologies under a new face: Donald Trump. What we saw throughout the Trump administration shouldn’t be solely attributed to him. Still, his rhetoric and actions inspired people who were doing the work of white supremacy and oppression.
Many of us felt that a new administration would mark the end of a devastating era and present a way for our nation to move forward. What we got was the Biden/Harris ticket. Both Biden and Harris have been the subject of critique concerning how their policies have affected Black and Brown communities, and so their nomination left me feeling conflicted and hesitant to support Biden. On the one hand, Biden was a better choice for president than the alternative. I was also excited at the prospect of Kamala Harris being Vice President and all that she represents: an HBCU grad, a woman of Black and Asian descent, and the daughter of immigrants. Harris would represent several underrepresented groups in American politics, but my excitement for the history that she would make dissipated as I began to think not only in terms of representation but also of justice.
Representation is a tool that can be used for the utmost good, but it can also be used to harm. Representation does harm when it takes on the form of tokenism and is used as a weapon against marginalized people. I have no desire to kill the mood for anyone who is celebrating Vice President Harris, but I can’t help but ask the question, “If I was made to choose between representation and justice, which would I choose?”
We have to do more than simply look at who is in the room. We must ask if the room’s door will open to all. We must evaluate the work being done by those in the room. We must question if there’s work that needs to be done that isn’t being allowed by those who have the most power in the room. While I believe that representation is necessary, especially in politics, representation alone does not equal justice. Representation alone will not be what sets captives free.
We should do more than pay attention to what a person looks like or what group they represent. We should also be asking if they care for the same people that Jesus cares for. Jesus is the ultimate standard of what it means to be represented in a way that also brings justice. As the Word made flesh, he is the perfect, sinless representation of humanity. His earthly ministry was dedicated to setting the captives free in body, mind, and spirit. We should place our hope for the ultimate form of representation in Jesus.
It is too early to tell whether this new administration will serve the most marginalized in society or whether they will continue the long tradition of serving the most powerful. What we can do is hold our politicians accountable. We should act as the hands and feet of Jesus, being unafraid to walk in the tension of being critical and hopeful, gracious and bold. We shouldn’t depend on the empire to do what God only can do, but we can also partner with him as he utilizes people in powerful positions to help bring a greater good.