Trayvon, George and 42, Part Three
Professor Cornell West of Union Theological Seminary has been noted for the saying “race matters.” He is an unabashed liberal who regularly rages against conservatism and capitalism. Suffice it to say that he and I are about as far apart in both the theological and political arenas as two people can be. However, in this case, I agree with Dr. West. Race does indeed “matter,” very much so. Unfortunately, it is the manner in which race matters to most of the world that comprises the most formidable obstacle to solving today’s divisive state of race relations.
I began this series examining the differences between what has been called racism in the past and the current view of what constitutes racism. Since the last article, a number of commentators and celebrities have weighed in on the Zimmerman verdict and what it means for racial relations. The almost unanimous judgment of all commentators, whether liberal or conservative, is that the result is further division and hostility in racial relations. To these people race matters because it defines those who claim to belong to a certain race as human beings. In other words, race matters because it is the defining part of what makes us who we are. As shown in that last article, this is Biblically and biologically false.
In contrast, the manner in which race matters according to the Word of God is in uniting us all as one race, the human race. As a united race we are all subject to influences such as culture and ethnicity which help shape our identity. When we as humans decide contrary to what God has already decided about race, it should not surprise us that our definition serves only to make matters worse. It should also not surprise us that when a true leader has embraced God’s definition, matters improve. The most prominent of that kind of leader was embodied in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
When Dr. King made his famous statement that people should “be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he publicly embraced the Divine declaration that we are in reality all part of one human race. He understood this not as a social reality for this truth was not recognized in society. Society instead embraced a definition of race from human origin based on fear and hatred. Dr. King recognized that race as it was defined and applied in society was both false and evil. He also saw that in order for this to change, he had to apply God’s definition of race to his own heart and convince others to do the same. For a brief shadow of time, a time I was privileged to see as a child, the witness of Dr. King through non-violence showed the world the promise of equality and harmony as one ‘human race.’ Though I was too young to truly grasp what was happening, I intuitively understood that it was right and good. I vividly remember when Dr. King was assassinated, I also began to understand that evil was real.
Unfortunately the witness and legacy of Dr. King has been tarnished and twisted by modern day race ‘hucksters,’ such as those who descended upon Florida to gin up racial strife for their own benefit in the Zimmerman case. To this day, they continue to distort the verdict and facts of the case. In fact, a beautifully crafted painting was “unveiled at the Florida Capitol Rotunda Friday” depicting the shooting of Travon Martin. Zimmerman is shown standing and shooting at a fleeing Martin whose head is a mirror so that onlookers see their own face. The title of the work is “We are all Travon Martin.” Beautiful though it is, it bears no resemblance to the facts of the case. Martin was not fleeing, he was attacking Zimmerman. Zimmerman was not standing, he was flat on his back receiving blows from Martin. This exacerbating of racial division is the result of the false conception of race we have embraced in society.
What will it take to change this false conception of race in our world? It will take each of us to emulate Dr. King and apply the true definition of race to each of our hearts, and convince others to do the same. There is no magical formula. No legislation will accomplish this goal. Only the holy conviction of the human spirit determined to live this truth can accomplish true unity as members of one race, the human race. I sincerely pray there are people left who have such conviction in the wake of continuing efforts to foster more ‘racial’ division among us.