By Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp
These days, I find myself grateful to God even in the midst of the controversy and confusion in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The ‘grace’ of the moment is that the incident has prompted a number of very important conversations, worldwide, on racism, police brutality and accountability, the rights of citizens to self-expression and economic inequality to name a few.
In my own space, the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, some of these discussions, especially the conversation on race, are difficult topics which people would normally avoid.
It has nonetheless been heartening to see that the overwhelming majority of Trinbagonians, much like people all over the world, feel a keen sense of solidarity with African-Americans over the unjust killing of Floyd and have no problems admitting that ‘Black lives do matter’.
Today then, I would like to offer a few pieces of advice for my brothers and sisters who are wondering how to get through this difficult and confusing time and how to conduct these difficult conversations:
- Do not be afraid! We will get through this! My Christian belief leads me to place my trust in God and not in myself. God holds the key to the future! Important social change has never been an easy, clean or ‘anti-septic’ process. Change, even good change, is untidy.
- Do not use the misdeeds of a few (rioters and looters) as an excuse to disavow and de-legitimise an entire movement. The vast majority of protesters are men and women of goodwill, acting in a peaceful manner. It is important for all of us to keep asking the question ‘Why are all these people marching, all over the world?’
- Be patient! Things that you may take for granted may not be apparent to others. This may be a time when many people may have to ‘unlearn’ the assumptions and biases which up to this point have supported them through life. This can be quite painful.
- Especially for my non-Black friends and fellow citizens: when I say, “I love me” this does not mean “I hate you.” People’s affirmation of their blackness is an expression of self-affirmation and love. They should not be taken as an affront. This is particularly important for a community whose self-image has been severely impacted by the ideology of racism.
- For my Black brothers and sisters. It is important to remember that anger is a good thing. But, like fire, anger is a great servant but a poor master. Anger can rouse us up to act against situations that we find humanly oppressive. It is also true however that left uncontrolled, anger can lead to bitterness. The Black experience is not exhausted by anger. Anger should never be what defines us. There is always room for love, for enjoyment, for laughter, for creativity and even for forgiveness.
- Get comfortable with the fact that God’s love can be very particular. This idea has deep roots in the Bible. This is one of the most difficult “sticking points” in our conversations. We as Christians feel at ease to say that God loves everyone. This is absolutely true. It is also true to say that in situations of conflict God takes the side of the disadvantaged, the dispossessed. The wronged. It is quite okay to say God loves black people, or God loves women, or God has a special care for the marginalised, indigenous people. In the book of Exodus, God did not deal in the same manner with the slaves (the Children of Israel) and their slave masters (the Egyptians). Both peoples could legitimately claim to be God’s children, but God intervened on behalf of some of His children (the People of Israel) and freed them ‘with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm’. This is the story at the centre of our Christian faith, God’s particular love for “little people”, those who have no power. Mary, the Blessed Mother of God echoes this particularity of God’s love in her Magnificat where she says about God “He casts down the mighty from their throne and raises the lowly” (Lk 1:52).
- In our discussions imagine that we are guests in each other’s homes. The image of a ‘good guest’ helps us to avoid extreme or even offensive language. It leads us to speak to others with respect so that we elicit respect in return.
Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp is a Holy Ghost Father (Spiritan), lecturer at the Seminary and parish priest of Erin.
Photo: An image of George Floyd is seen in New York City June 27, 2020. In a July 1 statement, the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana, said Bishop Timothy L. Doherty has suspended Father Theodore Rothrock of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Carmel from public ministry for referring to Black Lives Matters protesters as “maggots and parasites” in a Sunday bulletin article June 28. (CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters) See PRIEST-SUSPENDED-BLM July 2, 2020. Editor’s note: For editorial use only.