Our Racially Divided World: A Broken Record Stuck On Repeat

Papa Obeng

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve been made aware of the recent murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Avery in the United States. The tragic and unjust killing of these two black men and the protests which consequently followed has appeared to open a ‘global can of worms’ on the problem which is ‘racism’.

Upon witnessing such acts of racism, the immediate response of any morally sane person is one of anger, frustration and confusion. You don’t need to look very far on your social media platforms to know that is the case. However, we cannot let history repeat itself. We’ve been here before. Someone is murdered because of their race, the media reports it, the people cry and soon after we all forget about it and continue going about our daily lives. And then the process repeats itself all over again. Mark Duggan, Stephen Lawrence, Eric Garner, Sheku Bayoh, Kriss Donald, Sean Rigg…I can go on and on and on listing those who have been killed primarily because of their race.

These recent events raise many questions. How do we deal with this global pandemic which is racism? An invisible enemy that long predates coronavirus. How do we navigate a racially divided world? Where have non-black people gone wrong? How should I as a non-black person respond, and more importantly what can I as a non-black person do to help bridge the divide? I hope I can give you some meaningful answers to these questions.

I’m going to make some contentious statements but bear with me as I unpack my thoughts. It’s very hard to navigate a racially divided world if all we do is loot buildings, burn police cars and steal TVs. It’s very hard to reconcile those within a racially divided world if all we turn to is identity politics and cancel culture. And it is very hard to heal a racially divided world if all we look to do is blame somebody else. Although these are all very much natural responses to racial abuse, last time I checked, none of them appeared to solve the problem.

The problem I have is this. We have made generational advancements in medicine, technology, automation, architecture and in many other areas that are important to our daily lives. But as a human ‘race’, there are still fundamental areas where we have failed to advance for generations. Racial discrimination is one of them. And so, if we are to advance on a societal level when it comes to racial reconciliation, we must sit down and ask ourselves, why has racial discrimination persisted for so long? One objection I commonly hear is, “but you are not being enslaved like your ancestors were”! “You were not refused entry to certain public places or segregated in towns and cities by law because of the colour of your skin”! “Your ancestors had it far worse, therefore we truly have advanced from racial discrimination in the past.”

There certainly is some truth to this objection. There are many liberties and freedoms I enjoy that my ancestors were not able to because of the colour of their skin. But, I would argue, racism has only changed the form in which it presents itself, especially in the context of the UK. The reality is, racism is at its core, the result of ideas and perceptions someone has of another, formed because of one’s ignorance. Society may have suppressed colonial slavery, the use of certain racist terms and overt racial segregation, but for the most part, many of my non-white friends (including those in other minority ethnic communities) are still ignorant of black people. And the inevitable results of that is racial discrimination merely presenting itself in different, more covert forms. And so the first step to navigating a racially divided world is for my non-white friends to wake up and realise this is a racially divided world!

On the other hand, although anger, frustration and hatred are natural responses to racial discrimination, we must not allow these deeply felt emotions to cloud our judgement on how we should best address these issues. We must solve these problems at their root. I have repeatedly called racism ‘ignorance’. The dictionary definition of ignorance is “lack of knowledge or information”. Where someone lacks knowledge, they must be educated, and where someone lacks information, they must be informed.

Thinking about this makes me reflect on my childhood in South East London. One of the things I am most grateful for is the mainstream comprehensive schools I attended. London is a highly diverse place, full of different cultures. And so having spent 14 years in school, between reception and Year 13, all I’ve ever known is being friends with and being taught by people from a range of different backgrounds and nationalities. None of us would have realised this at the time, but attending a school with pupils and teachers from diverse backgrounds teaches you very early on, you are no different from anyone else. Preconceived ideas about people who look different to you are not allowed to develop because your experiences of being surrounded by, and interacting with diverse groups of people teaches you, we may have our rudimentary differences but we are all fundamentally the same. Only this message will fix the broken record, our racially divided world.

But this brings us back to the question; why does peoples ignorance cause them to behave in hateful and unbecoming ways? Sure, we’re all ignorant of at least something, but that shouldn’t lead us to undermine and mistreat others. Moreover, why is it so common for the world to respond to hatred by inflicting even more hatred? Why is it that we have politicians, businesses and institutions using recent events to score political points? Because we live in a world where people live by feelings and not principles, where only our emotions govern how we live our lives and the choices we make. I titled this article “A Broken Record” for a reason. My frustration at us failing to learn from history and repeating the same mistakes over and over again is symptomatic of a wider issue, namely, the inherent depravity of human beings.

It is through the lens of my Christian faith I find plausible answers to these fundamental questions. That three-letter word, sin, is the short answer to the long list of questions I just mentioned. We live in a divided world in every possible sense, because the vast majority of us are purely concerned only with satisfying our own interests— that’s part of our human nature. The solution Christianity offers in this global crisis is the gospel, which literally means “good news”. In the simplest possible sense, the good news is Jesus; his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection. Although constraints will not permit me to connect all the dots here, I think our world needs to heed these words of Christ:

27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

— Luke 6:27-31

When we begin to stop focusing on our own interests and start thinking about how we should treat others, maybe then the world would learn we cannot expect to effectively fight hatred with more hatred, or division with more division. We need a radically different solution to the inherent depravity of human beings. For Christians like myself, that solution is Jesus Christ.

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