Black or African American

Re-examining Our Dusty Lenses

by Verdell A. Wright

Two weeks ago, a young girl was assaulted by a Student Resource Officer at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. The internet was ablaze with commentary once the video of the incident went public. Outrage and grief overflowed from Facebook statuses and tweets.

Particularly for African Americans, and especially for African American women, the short video showcasing the teenager being dragged across the floor by a man more than twice her size aggravated the wounds inflicted by racism that are never truly allowed to heal.

Black youth are often viewed as criminals whether they commit a crime or not. And even when they may commit a crime they are treated far more harshly than their white counterparts.

Mourning, however, wasn’t the only outcry on social media surrounding this event.

A large population of people of all hues saw the same video and felt no pain. Rather, they saw it as a slightly unfortunate situation, perhaps one where the officer behaved too harshly, but nonetheless one that ultimately would’ve been avoided if the teenager had simply complied with authority. Lack of respect and poor child rearing were the co-conspirators of this incident, with the officer escaping much, if not all, of the blame.

Not once where the myths of the exceptionally criminal culture of black people and culture, the trope of the angry, defiant black woman, or the perception of black youth as older than they are interrogated as the dusty lenses that they are, lenses that obscure the gross injustice to this girl that was assaulted.

There’s a reason this incident matters in relationship to our faith and efforts for LGBTQ inclusion.

By looking at the center of the Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth, the dusty lenses and rusty hearts that encourage people to applaud the harm of a child can be corrected. Jesus was born into the lower classes of society, a status created by the invading power of the Roman Empire and their pact with upper class Jews who ran the temple in Jerusalem.

People in Jesus’ station in life—poor, lacking formal education, and barely scraping by in the hills of Galilee—were viewed as delinquent and backward, deserving of their lot in life.

Jesus’ life and ministry, where he advocated for the ones who were being crushed by the deadly alliance of the Jewish one percent and Roman power, led him to protest in the temple and subsequently be arrested. He was then crucified as a criminal.

By the logic that many used after this incident, Jesus deserved to die.

He was from a lower class, and as such, Jesus’ right to human dignity was minimal. His death on a cross was rightful punishment for his lack of respect of authority (he did ruin property, after all). His existence, his material body was only good for the advance of people higher up the ladder of success, and if that body didn’t maintain its determined lowly place then it needed to be destroyed to remind everyone of the proper social order.

Consider that in light of how LGBTQ people are treated. Often deemed disgusting and immoral before any evidence to prove otherwise is collected, people who identify themselves within this community are subject to physical and emotional abuse, economic disparities, and a whole host of other impediments.

The sufferings of LGBTQ people are often seen as the result of poor parenting and a decision to participate in an immoral culture, causing people to view them through dusty lenses.  As a community well acquainted with having their very existence a source of hatred, the mainstream LGBTQ community must invest in the national movement of Black Lives Matter.

It is an infamous truth that the mainstream movement has historically focused on gay rights to the exclusion of any intersectional race analysis.

There are many white people who supported marriage equality one day and made a demon out of the girl from South Carolina the next. The example set by Jesus and the conditions of his life altogether demonstrate a foundational theological truth: people are carriers of dignity and are to be treated as such.

The idea of inclusion will always ring hollow if the issues that impact Black people and other people of color are not a part of the strategy. Not only do laws such as RFRAs and other religious exemption bills pose a danger to them, but these communities are also dealing with the rigors of racism.

Flanked by the issues of racism on the left and bigotry on the right, any inclusion efforts that do not directly address the systemic violence against Black people are devoid of the true intentions of Jesus’ ministry efforts.

So the next time inclusion comes up as a discussion, think for a second.

Does your version of inclusion only start and end with people who are white, able-bodied, and cis-gender, or does it extend to people like the young lady in South Carolina, who suffered a massive injustice?

If your answer is no, then perhaps you too need to clean your lenses.

Photo via flickr Public Domain