The COVID-19 virus is called the world’s unrivalled equaliser because it manifests globally and does not discriminate between race, wealth, and status in who it infects and affects. Madonna in her recent video calls this ‘a positive side-effect of the pandemic’. However, looking at the effects of the infections in different groups of our society the suffering is not equal at all. It seems more accurate to view the pandemic as the great exposer of weaknesses in our political, economic and social systems. This “exposure” became real with the huge outbreak of frustration and anger about racial inequality that was triggered by the horrible death of George Floyd. It revealed that the shared experience of the pandemic was not enough to take away the pain caused by hundreds of years of racial injustice.
Just like the corona pandemic, this protest against racism also quickly spread globally. I found myself marching in a rally for peace and against racial inequality, organised by the churches of Amsterdam. For me it was important to make a statement that the Church in the city is not silent in this matter. Protesting, taking a stand, wearing a t-shirt with slogans, and so on, all has its place. I realised, during this rally, that this was just a beginning. The start of the hard work of reconciliation that actually needs to happen. We can protest, but can there be a real change?
The public debate on this topic has become hardened and become divisive in itself. Blaming and shaming of people who, in our opinion, are on the ‘wrong side’ in this discussion. There is a pressure to distance ourselves from ‘those people’. Labelling and politicising the debate is derailing the actual conversation that is needed.
I was touched by a speech by an African American pastor, about the pain of systemic racial injustice of his people. While naming clearly what was wrong in society, he made this statement, “I am a recovering racist myself”. With this vulnerable statement he bridged the gap between victim and those who caused the pain.
When we look deep in our hearts, we might recognise the mechanisms of rejection and exclusion of others who are “different”. The courage to be vulnerable provides the freedom to speak about our personal mistakes, insecurities, prejudices and acknowledge the racial wrongdoing of our society.
Miroslav Volv, a theologian who lived in the midst of the racial / religious conflict during the Yugoslavian war, wrote that the path of reconciliation starts with embracing the other unconditionally. Not based on our moral classification of the other in right or wrong, but based on our common humanity: being made in the image of our Creator. When we embrace another person on this basis, it is not the same as agreeing with or justifying any wrongdoing. It allows us to open our hearts enough to start hearing the story of the other and forges a path towards healing.
St. Paul writes that he no longer judges others as he did before because he was reconciled by God through the grace of Christ. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. Without receiving grace our wrongdoing and motives keep us captive in the past, but grace and forgiveness points us towards the future of change and hope.
The corona crisis brought us closer together and compelled us to care about the needs of others regardless of their background or status. We should not lose this momentum of showing kindness. What if we took this one step further and create opportunities and a climate of grace where stories can be shared by those who suffered racial injustice? As a society we are desperately trying to find a vaccine to make us immune for Covid-19, but the Cross of Christ has already provided the antidote for the exclusion and rejection of other. It’s called Grace!
By Piet Brinksma
Pastor of Rafael Church Amsterdam & Member of Cinnamon Network
Netherlands Advisory Council