Last summer I visited the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. The museum recounts the five-year (1940-45) occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany. Visitors are invited to consider the question the Dutch faced: Will I adjust, collaborate or resist? While the museum rightly champions those who resisted, the exhibit got me thinking about the insidious ways day-to-day life and worries keep us from paying attention to injustice around us, educating ourselves about the issues of our day and taking action when we know something is wrong. Our choice to adjust, collaborate or resist is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
The marches, rallies and protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed May 25 while in police custody, remind me that followers of Jesus must continually and actively resist injustice. We must with Amos call one another to “seek good and not evil” (Amos 5:14) and work to make the world more like what God desires: “Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:24, The Message).
Will this time of soul-searching, protests and calls for reform actually produce any meaningful change? I don’t know. I hope so. Change will only happen if we confess and repent of our participation in racism. Those of us who are white must acknowledge the ways in which we have not challenged racism individually or structurally. We don’t know the exhausting fear that burdens black men and women every day of being threatened, arrested or killed because of the color of our skin. As we affirm that black lives matter, we must be ready to be challenged and made uncomfortable as we admit and attempt to address our unfair actions toward people of color.
Those of us who are white have been slow to admit that racism goes beyond how we treat one another and extends to the very systems and institutions of our country—education, health care, banking and financial systems, transportation, real estate, criminal justice, voting laws, employment, policing, the court system, etc. As we join the work for oceans of justice and rivers of fairness and against institutional and structural racism, we must recognize that people of color will lead the way and that because the structures benefit us, we are part of the problem. We must listen more than we speak; ask questions and be willing to be critiqued. This is hard work, requiring continual effort. We must assume a posture of listening and learning not just for a season but for the long haul.