Hope in the Face of Intractable Racism

The church provides two gifts to the conversation on race.

The avalanche of stories of police mistreating African Americans—from pulling them over for “driving while black” to shooting unarmed teenagers—has caught many white Americans by surprise. With legislation passed during the civil rights movement in place, and an African American President, many people believed racism had been quenched. It makes many wonder, after all the progress, whether that’s even possible now.

The short answer, of course, is no: Racism has not been quenched, nor will it be in our lifetimes. But hidden in that answer is some realistic hope.

Many well-intentioned leaders, intending to “eradicate all forms of racism,” champion laws and programs to end or at least debilitate racism in America. But laws can only do so much. Eventually, we’re stymied by continuing racial tensions, as Matthew Loftus, a physician outside Baltimore, noted for First Things:

Conservative commentators and liberal do-gooders alike look at Sandtown, the neighborhood that I live in, and shrug their shoulders…. Police officers justify brutality towards citizens because conditions here are brutal, which only makes the nihilism stronger when people who have never been respected by the law in turn have no reason to respect the law.

When despair is in the air, both the powerful and the disempowered agree: Peace and justice can be secured only by violence.

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