Wake up for racial justice

Jul 13, 2016 by

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Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.


What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.


Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers, over the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation has invaded my land, powerful and innumerable; its teeth are lions’ teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines, and splintered my fig trees; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches have turned white.


The words of the prophet Joel (chapter 1, verses 2-7)


Rest in peace, Alton Sterling. Rest in peace, Philando Castile. But there’s no peace here.

They put guns in your hands to kill you. They put guns in your neighborhood so that you kill your brother. They put guns in your hands so that when they kill you, they can justify it. They don’t put guns in your hands to keep you safe — make no mistake — they do it for your destruction — as Joel says, they lay waste your vines and splinter your fig tree.

They will kill you and say that you deserved it. They will kill you and say you did it to yourself. They kill you and convict you of your own murder.

Well, not all of you.

There is a certain undeniable demographic pattern of who is dying at exorbitant rates.

You know who it is. If not, wake up, you drunkards!

Probably all people of color. But outstandingly, our black brothers and sisters are targets. One hundred thirty-six black people have been killed by the police in 2016 so far. They have been targeted since they were stolen from their motherland in the most despicable of ways. No one knows what it’s like to be black in America except black Americans. We don’t know what it’s really like unless we lived in brown skin. We don’t know what it’s like to be constantly profiled and silenced and terrorized and murdered.

But I know there is something terrible out here trying to destroy them. They know it. This is nothing new. It’s called white supremacy, and it’s been passed from generation to generation. It has invaded this land. Its teeth are lion’s teeth and it has the fangs of a lioness. But like I always say, like the great Michelle Alexander says (much more eloquently than I), racism isn’t just an attitude. It isn’t just individuals. It is the way our system is set up. It’s subtle, sneaky, and it’s beguiling.

Perhaps there are racist individuals who work as police officers, but there are officers with anti-racist attitudes, too. I truly believe the nature of law enforcement — the nature of the occupation — can distort people’s humanity. They are pressured to fill cells with bodies. Black bodies. Brown bodies. It’s big business. But it’s beyond that, too. It’s a caste system. White supremacy and stealing freedom is not written out in the instruction manual of our justice system, but it’s in the culture of the occupations. It’s called institutionalized racism.

If it’s not poverty, it’s the police. If it’s not the police, it’s disease. If it’s not illness, it’s stress. If not stress, then poison. If not poison , then violence. All of those.

Lord, have mercy.

Look at what Malcolm and Martin were saying some 60 years ago. Look at what Marcus Garvey was saying before that. Why do you think those prophets were assassinated? Because that is what we do to black folks in diaspora — even if they are compliant and quiet, but certainly when they are speaking the truth. The enemy hates the truth. They say the devil is a liar.

The domestic terrorism that happened in Dallas is terrible; those police officers who were murdered have families and their lives matter. But the thing is, whoever did that (if they weren’t already dead) would be hunted, prosecuted, brought to trial, convicted, executed. The law would follow them if they weren’t already dead. (The one who was killed didn’t get a trial, either, but I’m not going to comment on that this time.) Whereas we see time after time after time after Laquan after Trayvon after Michael after Eric after Freddie, and now after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile… That there is no accountability for the ones who pull the trigger. That there is no justice and those murderers go free. The precedent is set.

Lord, I repent for my complacency in this system. I repent for my docility, for my submissiveness in the face of white supremacy. I pray I learn to stand all the way up and fight for justice. I pray I learn to listen to black voices and take a seat when they tell me to. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. God compels us to do something. But this is our homework.

I’m going to give you the names of three organizations. This week I want each of us to choose an organization, and look it up. See what it is doing to protect our brothers and sisters of color. See if there is something we can do, some way to support one of these organizations. Surely there is. Here are the names of the organizations: The Dream Defenders. Hands Up United. Black Youth Project 100. See, we have the opportunity to work together as a church, to find a way to stand against white supremacy. We can help each other figure this out. There are organizations who are already doing the work. We just have to learn from them. And we have to do our own work, and not overburden anyone with teaching, teaching, teaching us about our own racism.

One thing I know is true is that as a community, as a people, black folks are powerful. Even as the world tries to take their power. They are survivors, even as they lose their loved ones. They are a mighty and beautiful people. So I thank God for their strength.

And another thing I know is true is that God will have justice. God will give healing. Maybe it doesn’t always happen in this life, in this world, but it happens. God will have the last word. The last word will be love.

Amy Aschliman is pastor of Christ Community Mennonite Church in Schaumburg, Ill. This post is a sermon she gave on July 10, 2016.

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