When Can We Breathe Again? Thoughts on Institutional Racism

When Can We Breathe Again? Thoughts on Institutional Racism June 6, 2020

George Floyd protests in Minneapolis on May 28, 2020; Dan Aasland; Creative Commons

This interview with three of my close friends addresses institutional racism. George Floyd and before him Eric Gardner cried out while in police custody that they couldn’t breathe. They died shortly after uttering these words. While we are still finding it difficult to breathe due to the Coronavirus and economic recession, we ask when will we as a society be able to breathe again while we combat racism.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing while in the custody of four police officers in Minneapolis, multitudes of people are crying out enough is enough with institutional racism. By way of review, according to one report, “Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other former officers who were also on the scene are in custody and have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.” African American leaders Pastor Clifford Chappell, New Wine, New Wineskins Advisory Council member Phil Berlin, and Chaplain Mikey Lemon provide answers to the following questions on racism, institutional racism, and what is needed to make our society breathe freely again. You can find the full interview with their answers to these questions at the close of this blog post:

What is racism and institutional racism? What are some examples of institutional racism*?

The NFL Commissioner has come out and admitted that the NFL has been wrong on players protesting even civilly on institutional racism. The commissioner now welcomes civil protest. Why now? Is it because the white structural hegemony is finally cracking and we have reached a tipping point in our society?

I hear people of different backgrounds questioning the person and integrity of George Floyd. It almost makes it seem as if they are rationalizing his killing. How do you help people understand what this killing stands for, and what the recent shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery stands for?

All too often, we want order, not justice. We want unity over diversity rather than a truly diverse and equitable unity. Bernice King, the daughter of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., recently tweeted the following statement with pictures side by side of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem:

If you’re unbothered or mildly bothered by the 1st knee, but outraged by the 2nd, then, in my father’s words, you’re “more devoted to order than to justice.” And more passionate about an anthem that supposedly symbolizes freedom than you are about a Black man’s freedom to live.

What are your thoughts about her quote?

When will we be able to breathe again, or really be able to breathe freely for the first time?

*Here are a few books that address institutional racism in depth: Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press, 2001); James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Press, reprint edition, 2013); Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, Tenth Anniversary Edition, 2020).

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger is Professor of Christian Theology & Culture, Multnomah University and Seminary, and Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins. He is the author of numerous works, including Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007). You can read more about the author here.
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