Can we all breathe yet?

It is a number of weeks since I have posted anything here, but the time is right to reflect on the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

As we all know, George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for many minutes, during which time George pleaded that he could not breathe. It was all caught on camera, as a good number of similar incidents have been in recent years, highlighting the violent abuse of power to which the black population of the United States are disproportionately subject.

Many have protested in cities all across America and indeed the world, including our own country. Racism is as widespread as the coronavirus, and has been deadly for much longer. While many of us are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel of the current pandemic – a time when we can live free and breathe easy – the constricting and dangerous evil of racism will not pass so quickly. It has been centuries in the making, and has become endemic.

The history and outworking of racism in the United Kingdom is certainly somewhat different to how things are in the United States. For them plantations, the Civil War and civil rights are key concepts. For us the transatlantic slave trade, Empire and the Windrush generation give a local shape to this global evil. But the underlying issues are the same – a blasphemous disregard for the dignity of others made in the image of God.

So how do we respond?

I made a small contribution to a response of solidarity by Baptist ministers in the UK, but that was easy.

Leaders in all four denominations to which Cambourne Church belongs have issued statements of solidarity. Black lives matter. But such statements alone fall short of what is required.

A phrase I first heard several years ago seems apposite. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” It was from the lips of an Australian general seeking to root out bullying and sexism in the Australian army, but the principles are the same. Ignoring racism and silence about oppression do not amount to neutrality. Until we can all breathe easy, none of us can. This is not a black problem. It is a human problem, which impacts disproportionately on black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

We must not just avoid racism, we must call it out and oppose it.

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