Beginning in April, images of police brutality towards African Americans have gone viral on social media and in the news; all of which I had been oblivious. I guess I really do live under a Little Rock; I’d like to call it law school. When I finally did realize the civil unrest trends streaming down my news feed, I told myself I would have no part in the clearly heated debates. I remained neutral for some time, but I could not deny that what I saw was troubling to me. I wrote this in the beginning of May at the climax of the Baltimore riots. Unfortunately, the racial tension has now intensified with the South Carolina tragedy at the Emmanuel AME Church. It has caused me to consider the perspective with which I view racial tension as a West African Christian.
The unrest in Baltimore has been on my mind for some reason and with that this verse: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 13:8). I don’t know if it’s me being the type of Christian that uses the Bible to answer everything because I just do not have an answer or if I am the type of Christian that uses the Bible because I believe it really does hold the answer to everything. I think it’s the latter. My present concern though is how do I respond to things like the riots in Baltimore and the events that sparked those riots? I fear for my father. I fear for my male friends. I fear for my husband. I fear for my sons, my nephews, my cousins. How do I live in a world that tells me I should not react to police brutality, or I should join the masses of angry black folk, when all I really want to do is just ignore it all because it doesn’t bother me at all?
The truth is even if it has not come knocking at my door, there is a chance that it will. Moreover, should I not be concerned for the well-being of my fellow Black citizens? Isn’t it my duty, as a soon to be attorney, as a black attorney, as a black female attorney, as a black female, as a black person? Should I not be concerned as a human being? After all, we are all first associated with the human race before we are associated with anything else. The truth is I don’t feel that pressure or that weight of responsibility at all. I think this stems from two philosophies.
First, as a female born in Nigeria and raised in America, I feel a sense of distance to the plight of my fellow Black citizens. I find that this is also true for many of my West African friends. I believe our difference arises from the fact that for most of us Africans, we requested entrance into this country. For us it is almost improper and even disrespectful to bite the hand that fed us. Our fellow black citizens, however, did not request admission; their ancestors were brought here against their own free will. For Africans our story is one of a different kind of struggle – the struggle to succeed in education and in our careers and be better than the generation before us so that we can bring pride and joy to our family and community. This is different from the historical struggles of African-Americans in America which was often marked by constantly proving and seeking to be seen as equal and human and worthy of every benefit, opportunity, or accolade given to the White people.
This does not mean that there should be a wedge between Africans and African-Americans. As a child I observed cruel remarks and behaviors from African-Americans towards me and my fellow West Africans. They claimed that I was a teacher’s pet for always answering questions. They claimed we came to take their jobs. They called us “African-booty scratchers”. They hailed all sorts of insults at us because our names, food, hairstyles, and clothes were different. One high school teacher even told me I sold his people.
Thankfully, those days are gone, at least it seems that way. After all, a typical White American facing two black individuals probably cannot even tell apart the African from the African-American. I remember as a child living in New Jersey and listening to the horrific news about Abner Louima’s (a Haitian man) abuse at the hands of white New York City Police officers. It seemed my childhood is filled with awful memories of Africans being assaulted by New York City cops or being killed in New York City because they were different. The problem for the African-American is also the problem for the African. Both should unite and be concerned for the common good of Black people overall, for there is strength in numbers and
defeat in division. Nevertheless, it seems that Africans view the way to overcome the great divide with White people is by education and successful careers. This is why so many Africans make great strides in advanced degree programs. This is not to say that African-Americans are not capable of succeeding in education.
Certainly they can and they have. However, racial riots give the impression that African-Americans are more interested in civil movements and legal action as a means of turning the tables in their favor. Africans are concerned with their families back home in Africa, many of which rely on their income here in America. Africans feel the time they could be spending rioting is money lost, especially if it leads to them being thrown in jail. As Africans, our concern for our families, our success, and even our pride leads us away from participating in riots. An African youth would think twice (maybe even four times) before joining a riot because their parents, their parents’ siblings, and their grandparents would all scold them if they ever caught them on television rioting, because to them it brings shame to the family. To the family, they could be doing other things like reading their textbooks or finding the cure to AIDS. African-Americans, on the other hand, riot and protest for the very same reasons: for family and for their sense of pride and dignity. Perhaps it’s time that both put aside their differences and realize that the color of our skin is what holds us together and is stronger than the ocean and the history that divides Africans from African-Americans.
And then there is my faith. Racism is not something most West Africans grew up fighting or discussing in our churches. Unlike the African-American history of countering racism through churches, Africans tend to focus their attention in church to other matters such as daily provision for their needs or just a closer walk with God. This too has certainly influenced my theological background.
I believe in living my life to glorify God and in so doing my behavior and actions should rise above the stereotypical expectations anyone has of me. But the truth is this: theoretically, racial tension sounds distant, but in reality it is as tangible as the skin I walk in. It bites and stings and makes me angry in the context of everyday life (ex. My white supervisor calling me a B**** and thinking it’s okay, police tailgating my father, police pulling over my male friends in nice cars). And now with the sudden and tragic incident of racism colliding head on with an African-American church in Charleston, SC, the threat has suddenly become very real. The fear that not even a church is safe for Black people is astounding. How does one
react in a Godly manner to this? I think of Peter and what Jesus said to him: “if you live by the sword, you will also die by the sword”. (Matthew 26:52). Jesus also said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). He said this when his disciples wanted to overthrow the Roman government and make him a king. I also consider when Jesus forewarned that there would be tribulation in the world, but peace in Him because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33). Perhaps that is where my previous aloofness to these concerns originated.
But is that to say that Jesus didn’t and still does not care about the unrest caused by wayward governmental rule and racial tension? I doubt that. The Bible does say we should cast our cares upon Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7). This implies everything matters to Christ. And what about the verses that speak of justice, and relieving the oppressed? (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:17; THE BOOK OF PROVERBS!). It seems only right that I consider the cause of justice as well.
Perhaps Jesus sees a different way of handling such problems. The Bible says we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. (Ephesians 6:12). I think this is even true of social and political issues. Jesus came to deal with a deeper rooted situation beyond Roman rule, “taxation without representation”, civil unrest, police brutality, racism, abuse, etc. Moreover, various passages of the New Testament discuss how Christians ought to respond to governmental authority. Christians are encouraged to honor, submit, and obey governmental authority (Romans 13:1, 6, 7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). The admonishment given to Christians is that governmental authority is not a terror to people of good conduct but to people of bad conduct (Romans 13:3) and anyone who resists governmental authority will bring judgment upon themselves (Romans 13:2). Could it be that the rioting and civil tension between African-Americans and police authority is a result of resisting governmental authority? After all, the human race has always had issues with authority, whether accepting it or obeying it. This is why we have so many laws covering the multiple exceptions and loopholes humans find in an attempt to break the authority they are against.
But what about the wayward and antagonistic behavior of racist authority figures? Authority figures are servants of God for our good. (Romans 13:5). But I think it is agreeable that racism in the form of beatings, unfair treatment, and abuse of power do not equate to anything good for us. Verse nine sums up the commandments as loving your neighbor as yourself. Verse ten further states, “love does no wrong to one’s neighbor. Therefore love meets all the requirements and is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Romans 13:10 AMP). With that said, governmental authorities should govern with love in mind.
One may argue this does not tally because this advice is meant for those who are of the faith. True, not all police officers and governmental authorities are Christians. But the Bible does not leave that door open without a means of closing it. Christians are still encouraged to pray for those who govern over the nation rather than hurling insults and tirades against them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Perhaps this is the way Jesus desires us to take up arms against racism, discrimination, and abuse. But the flesh is weak. (Matt.
Let’s go back to the beginning to see where it all went wrong in the first place. Lucifer was in Heaven and for whatever reason he had a gripe with God. Let’s say Lucifer is the civil organizer of sorts. God, of course, is the government. Lucifer didn’t just want to be like God, he wanted to be God. So he planned a coup d'état of his own. Let’s call the incident with Adam and Eve a riot. What happened? He got kicked out of Heaven and lost every bit of good thing he had going for him. On top of that, the other loiters (angels) were kicked out too. Perhaps it’s a major jump, but I see the recent civil unrest in Baltimore as analogous. People have issues and concerns that they are not properly taking to their leaders. They find other means to get their point across by destroying things or in the case of Charleston, SC, by destroying lives. It will not end well.
The world today is under the control of the devil and that same spirit of not submitting to authority, not yielding to instruction, selfishness, and hate is infused in this world. By no means am I saying Black people should not be treated humanely, but there is a better way to seek change than getting up in arms about everything. The Jewish people wanted their freedom from Roman oppression in Jesus’ times. His way of getting that freedom was different from their way. I believe that is still true today. Let’s also look at Egypt where the Israelites were slaves. It is very likely that Egyptians and Israelites looked similar color wise. So on what basis did the Egyptians think it was ok to enslave the Israelites? Was it just because they bred more? The deeply rooted problem is simply sin. There is no legit reason for this sort of treatment of a fellow human. We see that God delivered the people of Israel by His own hand. Yes, he used Moses, but this shows God opposes slavery and will work with us to get us out of it. God’s way of dealing with issues surpasses what we think. Maybe it’s time we as Black people revisited the methods of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sojourner Truth, and others who looked unto God for deliverance. We are in a fallen world and as long as this is not Heaven, sin will abound in the human heart. As such, there is always the possibility of hate. Hate leads to things such as racism, slavery, discrimination, stereotypes, abuse, and brutality. Why? Because Satan propagated that in this world. I watched a video on Facebook by Anthony Hall where he was explaining that the Baltimore riots are all a plan of Satan. I can see how that works: get people to act just like him at the beginning of time. He said Satan doesn’t see color. He sees humans and that is what he wants to destroy. Likewise Jesus doesn’t see color. He sees humans and that is who He came to save. I think that when both sides of the aisle are changed by grace through faith in Jesus, they can be moved by His Spirit to treat others fairly, to not hate each other, to stop doing things that cause the cops to even be needed, and to come to a common understanding. Jesus came to save us so that we can live peacefully under the loving authority of God.
The spiritual must be manifested in the physical; that means a practical walk. Christians of all races and Africans need to put aside whatever we think sets us apart from the struggles that have plagued African-Americans.
God is not a partial God (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). He is just as concerned about discrimination, racial tension, brutality, and abuse as He was in the days of Moses. We need to pray for the practical steps we can take in assisting African-Americans attain their deserved human dignity. By doing this, we observe Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Eruore Oboh is a 3L at the University of Arkansas, Bowen School of Law in Little Rock. I can be reached by email: [email protected]