I like the show, black-ish. It’s my new favorite television comedy series. That is not a commentary, or a statement made on behalf of anyone but me. I like the show. There may be others who don’t. The show makes me take a look at my own perceptions and biases and understanding of the world and my experience in it. It also makes me laugh.
In my opinion, black-ish does a good job of showing some of the nuances of navigating cultural experiences across generations and from one person to the next. Recently, the family in the show were planning a ski vacation over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. As they prepared, the father, Dre (played by Anthony Anderson), braced himself in preparation for a weekend where he anticipated they would be the only African-American family at the ski resort. After much discussion, Dre’s wife, Rainbow (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) said to him, “Racism does exist, but we may not experience it this weekend.”
The Importance of Vision
I shared this scene from the television show with a church group I spoke to last Sunday. They wanted me to tell them about my trip to Ferguson. One of the women in the audience asked a question that comes up every time I speak to a group about race in America: “What can we do about injustice in our community?”
It’s a question that acknowledges the first part of Rainbow’s declaration: the truth that injustice does, in fact, exist. That’s a big acknowledgement. It’s also a big acknowledgement because it recognizes that injustices happen in your very own neighborhood, church, school, family.
The second part of Rainbow’s declaration is also true: we may not experience injustice this weekend (or next weekend, or the weekend after that). There is a strange tension in this part of Rainbow’s statement. Some of us anticipate injustice, and we brace against it in ways that are both efficient and exhausting; when faced with injustice our worst beliefs about the world and humanity are confirmed and solidified in our hearts. But there are some of us who seek out manifestations of justice, believing the best in others and/or misinterpreting acts of injustice for something else; so that we are stunned when brought face-to-face with injustice in the course of our day. Then, there is everyone in between.
Some acts of injustice are large and sweeping and we all point our fingers and say, “There! That’s injustice!” Other acts of injustice are subtle (micro-aggressions) and might easily go unnoticed, except by the person offended by the act. I witnessed one of these small acts of injustice last week. It happened so quickly, and it was clearly wrong, but it was so subtle I nearly missed it. In my head, I heard myself thinking, “Did he just say that? Is anyone going to call him on that?” He did say it. And no, no one called him on it. Not even me.
I can make all kinds of excuses for not saying anything. I can tell you my defenses were down because this was one of the last places I expected to hear someone say something like that. I could tell you I was at the back of the crowd and didn’t want to call him out in front of everyone. I could tell you I was too astounded to say anything. I could tell you I didn’t want to make a scene. All of these things are true, but they are not an excuse.
The main reason I didn’t say anything is because I didn’t have a vision for what to do, or what I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t have a clearly thought out response for confronting injustice in a way that shows grace and that advances the conversation and allows for transformation. That is what I want. That is what I think people want when they ask, “What can I DO?”
Begin With What You Value
We don’t want to go home at night and fight with ourselves or rationalize to ourselves all the reasons we didn’t do anything at all when injustice showed up on the scene. But this is true, too: We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t want to make things worse. We don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. I think this is the case more than the fact that we don’t see injustice or know that it exists. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I think having a clear sense of what matters to me would help.
When it comes to confronting injustice, these are the things I know about me. These are three things I value, and I stated them earlier, but I’ll share them again here:
- I want to show grace. Grace may sound wispy and wimpy, but it is so much more than that. It is wispy-sounding to the ear, but it is far from wimpy. Grace is strong, and it is resolute, and it does not back down or surrender or give in, even when the pressure is on. Grace sees the truth and, when the truth is unsavory, it opens a door to a better option.
- I want to advance the conversation. I don’t want to shut anyone down, or make them think they’ve committed some unforgivable thing that can never be redeemed. God is redeeming all things, and injustice is not beyond God’s restorative and redemptive reach.
- I want to allow for transformation. In confronting injustice when it shows up, I want to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can work something new in the hearts of each person involved, beginning with me, and including the perpetrators of the injustice.
Does Injustice Matter to You?
Of course, the main thing to consider is whether or not injustice matters to you. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If confronting injustice isn’t important to you, you don’t need to defend that. You simply need to own it and know that, when you see injustice, you are being true to yourself if you don’t confront it. If, however, confronting injustice is something you’d like to figure out for yourself, working your values into a vision could help you know when to speak up, and what to say when you do.
If I’d had a vision in place last week when I heard that subtle comment, I would have extended grace by not calling out the commenter in public. Instead, I would have waited until I could speak to him with no one else around and I would have been respectful. But I would have said something.
If I’d had a vision in place last week when I heard that subtle comment, I would have tried to keep the lines of communication open by not calling the commenter names, or making a judgement about him as a person. Instead, I may simply have asked, “Why did you say…?” and I would have repeated his comment back to him. Then, I would have listened to his response.
If I’d had a vision in place last week when I heard that subtle comment, perhaps I would have prayed. I would have asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I would have the courage, the grace, and the wisdom needed for such a time as that. I would have asked God to transform me in that moment to be an agent of grace, restoration, and redemption.
In the Smallest and Greatest Moments
We’ve seen a lot of brave people in recent days. We’ve seen people shutting down cities to protest injustice. We’ve seen scholars and educators choosing to press through in spite of how the world may seem stacked against them. We’ve seen people give their lives rather than recant their beliefs, suffering violence that causes us to tremble and pray. Many of us are asking ourselves, “Could I be that brave?” We wonder if we’d be able to stand up for what we believe in, when standing toe-to-toe with injustice.
The best thing we can do to be prepared in any situation, is to be filled up with and surrendered to the Holy Spirit. When it comes to confronting injustice, having a vision of a preferred future helps to define why confronting injustice matters to you. And, if injustice matters to you, begin by letting the Holy Spirit be in charge of the moment. Because—in the smallest and greatest moments of injustice—we don’t fight against flesh and blood.
Some questions for you: When it comes to confronting injustice, do you know what you value? What does it mean to you to have a clear vision for a preferred future? Has anyone ever confronted you regarding something you’ve said or done? What did they say or do that opened a door to transformation for you?