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Slow down for justice

Slow down for justice by Judith Roberts

Sometimes we need to practice slow faith. But is that still the case when it’s a justice issue?

Today, when we deal with racism in the U.S., mass incarceration, injustice in policing -- and globally, the cries of Palestinians and others, do we really see those most affected? Our baptismal covenant calls us to do justice.

I spend a great deal of time traveling by planes, trains and automobiles. No matter where I travel, at some point a child will catch my attention, make eye contact and smile. Children effortlessly make this natural connection, using the most basic and universal form of human expression. Experts say children smile up to 400 times a day. Regardless of their race, ethnic or cultural background, children see me as they too want to be seen. Even in a brief nonverbal encounter, we can see the face of God (Imago Dei) in each other.

As the mother of a 21-year-old, I recall my child, Julian, at that age -- a happy, playful little boy with an infectious smile. I remember his openness and willingness to see and connect to total strangers -- no matter what the setting. I also see the challenges he encounters in the world as a young, black male between the ages of 18 to 35. As a black mother, it hurts my heart to see him pained by the stereotypes placed on black males in society.

I recently had a conversation with another black male regarding the current racial climate in America. Myles is a young, soft-spoken African American man. Like my son, he faces the everyday experiences of being young and black in the United States. He can name the times he’s been stopped and questioned by law enforcement officers for simply walking or driving in his middle-class neighborhood.

Now 24 years of age, Myles has lived in the same community since first grade. He says his mom also fears for his safety, “Every day before I leave for work, my mom reminds me to be careful, especially after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. You just never know if you will be next.”

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” — Henry David Thoreau

According to Harvard psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, “We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.” The two psychologists tested this theory in an experiment known as the “awareness test.” The visual experiment involves two teams preparing for a game of basketball. Viewers were given instructions to count the number of ball passes that the team wearing all white would make during the game.

The majority of viewers counted the accurate number of ball passes but failed to notice the moonwalking bear gliding through the middle of the scene. For many, the bear isn’t detected until the scene is replayed in slow motion. The moonwalking bear is analogous to how we tend to see racism in our society. We can miss what we’re not looking for. Racism dehumanizes people of color -- it is the normalization of devaluing others by not seeing their intrinsic worth. This distortion of reality is not limited to a visual distortion in terms of physical sight. Racism and other forms of oppression also affect our thoughts, our knowledge and ability to reason.

Together may we...

How can we work to make change?

Stop to see the dignity and value in each person we encounter. Slow down to notice when messages of racial superiority or inferiority are playing in our heads. Check assumptions about an individual and/or community. Refrain from rushing to judgment and relying on stereotypes.

Look for inequities within your own community that perpetuate unequal treatment through policies, practices and attitudes toward low-income and/or communities of color (i.e., criminal justice, educational system, healthcare system and housing).

Listen to and learn from people and communities of color about their experiences, history and aspirations.

Speak up and out about racial injustices. Share with others ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s March 25, 2015, message, “Call for Conversations on Racial Equity,” available on the ELCA website at www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7732.

Join with others in your congregation and community to connect faith with public life. Visit the ELCA Advocacy webpage www.elca.org/advocacy and sign up for action alerts.

Offer to host a community forum at your congregation on enhancing relationships with law enforcement. Study the ELCA social statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” (downloadable online at www.elca.org)

Pray for and promote the dignity and humanity of all people.

Judith Roberts attends Bethel Lutheran Church, Chicago, and serves as ELCA program director for racial justice ministries.

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