It’s Not Enough Not to be Racist: We Must Do More

By Marek Zabriskie

There are now two viruses shutting down and affecting our nation and taking lives. One is coronavirus and the other is structural racism. We must fight both viruses. 

Coronavirus has taken over 100,000 American lives. Structural racism has taken countless lives over more than four centuries. In order to minimize the deaths of Covid-19, we came together as a nation and took extreme measures. We must do the same to save even more lives from structural racism.

Coronavirus is a pulmonary disease; that is, it affects your lungs and in severe cases you need help to breathe. In Minnesota, George Floyd called out sixteen times “I can’t breathe.”

A police officer tried to get a pulse for George Floyd but couldn’t detect one. But the knee remained on George’s neck for two more minutes. 

On Saturday, protesters in Greenwich, we were invited to take a knee for the same amount of time that a knee was on George Floyd’s neck. It seemed like an eternity. 

We are 30 years out after Rodney King was brutally bludgeoned by police in LA, and it feels as though we’re back to where we started. 

While our economy has progressed, our nation has regressed to the 1960s in terms of our moral compass, civil unrest, police brutality, injustice, and division across our country. We are watching the largest number of people protesting in decades. 

This is a crucible moment that begs for change, moral clarity, significant action, and effective leadership. We must choose the way of love and act to end racism.

The black average household net worth has not increased in seventy years in our country while the average white household net worth has soared. 

A black person is three times more likely to be shot for a crime. Black Americans were nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to be unarmed before their death. 10% of all black men in their 30s are incarcerated at any given time. 

Over 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and African Americans have been much more likely to be affected by coronavirus. African Americans make up 13% of the US population but possess only 2.6% of our nation’s wealth. 

Black Americans with a college education earn only two/thirds of what whites with only a high school diploma earn. These are signs of systemic racism.

What Africans Americans are calling out for is to be treated by police and by others just as whites are treated. Is that too much to ask? Is that wrong to demand? If you were born black, would you want anything less? But they are so often denied. 

In my last parish, I knew a lot of white men who are shocked and appalled by the idea of an athlete disrespecting the American flag by kneeling during the national anthem. But I wonder are they sufficiently appalled by a white man kneeling on a black man’s neck.

A lot of us say, “I don’t see color.” We need to see color. We need to see and acknowledge the pain that color bears and the history that comes with it. 

It’s no longer enough to say, “I try not to be racist.” We must do more. Whites must demand equality for African Americans. For years, blacks have marched alone, spoken out alone and cried alone. We must stand in solidarity and demand change.

In these past weeks, some police commanders have spoken with protesters and listened to them, shown them respect and empathy and even knelt with them. The protesters listen to them and respect them. This kind of leadership can unite us.

If there’s going to be lasting change, it will only come if all of us take time to listen, stand up, challenge our peers to act differently and work with African Americans for justice.

The President recently held up a Bible. The Good Book calls for social justice, caring for widows, orphans, immigrants, prisoners and the poor.

The good news is that there are signs of hope. Ella Jones was elected the first black mayor and first female mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, six years after Michael Brown was killed by the police. 

In Dec 2014 only 33% of Americans thought that blacks were unfairly treated by police. This June, the number had risen to 57%. All four of the officers involved in killing George Floyd have been arrested. 

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, said, “There is so much room for hope because young people are in the street, and they have hope for a better America.”

As a community, we need to actively and persistently commit to dismantling white supremacy, have conversations about our individual internalized racism, and examine how white supremacy is part of the architecture of our community.

Thoreau said, “Be not simply good – be good for something.” We’re being called as a nation to pivot from being “good” people to being good for something beyond ourselves. 

Ibram X. Kendi wrote, “It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’; one has to be anti-racist. And that feels most possible, most fruitful, and most liberating, when done in community.”

Jesus always called humans to choose the way of love, not the way of fear. It takes courage to choose the way of love. It’s a weak person who chooses the way of fear, to bully or dominate for that is always a mask for insecurity and fear. Fear not, says God over and over and over again in the Bible for I am with you. 

Our nation has been rocked by the needless and brutal death of one man, and by the needless and brutal death of one man we must unite to heal and reform our nation.

By the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie, Rector of Christ Church Greenwich

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