America's original sin of racism is playing out in Ferguson, Missouri. Demonstrators are on the streets again as the grand jury refused to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown.
How did we get here? What happened in Ferguson? In short, an unarmed black teenager was shot twelve times and his body was left in the middle of a public street for four hours. Of course there are more details, witnesses, and back stories. Almost four months of demonstrations and police actions immobilized much of the city and it is not over. Ferguson is on fire and demonstrators from Los Angeles to New York hit the streets.
To understand this moment, we have to understand that Ferguson is yet another unraveled thread in the closely woven fabric of racism that has cloaked this country for 500 years. We must keep pulling on the Ferguson thread if we are ever to unravel the impact upon the United States of slavery, lynching, exclusion, criminalization, terrorization, and demonization of black people.
Today, white Americans are largely insulated from the realities lived by black people. White people who have black friends often think that racism is old school thinking. Pundits on TV unashamedly tell African Americans who address ongoing discrimination and oppression to "Get over it, slavery is over!"
White people claim to be color blind but are really blind to the fact that black people are arrested and incarcerated six times more often than whites. They are blind to the fact that the unemployment rate for blacks is twice that of white people. They are blind to the fact that White households have six times the wealth of African American households because of racism. Slavery might be over but racism is not!
As a spiritual leader in Metropolitan Community Churches, I work with people of all backgrounds. Our denomination was founded on accepting all people regardless of our race, gender identity, class or sexual orientation. We are not perfect but we are willing to open our eyes to the truth. The truth is, transgender women of color are more likely to be murdered than any other group in the United States. The truth is, African American same-sex couples live in poverty six times as often as white same-sex couples. black women in same-sex couples are three times as likely to be poor than white women.
We could go on. Actually, we must go on to face these and other systemic disparities and then do something about them. Michael Brown died because of this country's sin of racism. As long as black people are viewed as inherently criminal, there will be more unarmed shootings. As long as black people are seen as being less worthy than white people, schools that serve African American children will continue to be targeted for failure and used as a pipeline to prisons.
The Ferguson protests are about challenging a system set up to shoot to kill African Americans. Melissa Harris-Perry released a powerful ode to unarmed black men who were killed by police. "From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country," Harris-Perry said.
Black people are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, and killed. The less money you have the more likely this will happen to you, but even in rich neighborhoods, African Americans opening their own front doors are viewed as criminals.
We created racism and we must dismantle it. Like apartheid, like the Berlin Wall, like slavery, racism can be dismantled. We must keep pulling on the threads until the fabric of racism has completely unraveled.
By now, I hope you are asking, "What can I do?" First, know that you are not helpless in the face of systemic injustice. Second, know that only with the voices and actions of people like you will racist systems ever be eliminated. Third, know that specific policy changes would make a huge difference in people's day-to-day lives.
Tell your government officials to:
• Provide universal early childhood education to all children;
• Fund each public school child equally across the country--stop funding schools based on surrounding property taxes;
• Increase access to state colleges and universities;
• Eliminate for-profit prisons with contracts that guarantee filled beds; and
• Require police departments to hire according to demographics in their community.
Will these policies eliminate racism? Not entirely. Would they begin to level the playing field? They would, without a doubt.
Many like to call the United States a Christian country. If the Christians in this country actually started to follow Jesus by releasing the prisoners, feeding the hungry, caring for the children, and opening their eyes to God's demand for justice and love for everyone, we just might overcome.
Rev. Darlene Garner, global elder in Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), is the Director of the MCC Office of Emerging Ministries with a focus on diversity, inclusion, and mission. MCC was founded in 1968 to be a spiritual home for LGBT people and now has ministries in 40 countries.