Thoughts on Ferguson and Race

Here I stand: a Latin American analyzing the Ferguson scene. What follows is a less-than-eloquent analysis, but an analysis nevertheless.

I have little to offer, except to say that I have been racially profiled on several occasions. At one time, when my hair was longer, I was stopped consistently at the airport. I have been asked if my country of origin is Morocco, Peru, or Guatemala, among others. I am actually from Brazil. My country has not been in a war in over 100 years. Lula, our former president, famously said, “why should I go to war? have you seen our beaches?” I feel the same way.

So, here I stand: a foreigner, generally opposed to warfare, a peace-making man, yet, often receiving suspicious looks from authority figures in our culture. To make the situation even more interesting, my father-in-law is a cop, and I have family members who are involved in politics, law, and respected positions in police departments in my home country. And to conclude the matter, I have family members in the process of adopting a black child. So I am in a pretty interesting spot, being immersed in both worlds.

I look at Ferguson with paradoxical eyes. On the one hand, I see simplifications of the situation all over the media. On the other hand, I see folks overly-complicating matters and offering the same old solutions to the race-problem. Here is an affirmation: racism exists. It is not as severe as it once was in American history, but it still exists. I have learned over the years that adopting the full narrative of the right — with whom I have much in common — is a bad idea. But to refuse to listen to the narrative of the left — with whom I have far less in common — is also a bad idea. Both sides have spoken concerning Ferguson. They have spoken so forcefully that you would think that one side is either drunk or lost in the sea of ignorance for not seeing the clarity of the opposing position.

I don’t feel the need to offer such antithetical statements. I think there are narratives on the left and on the right that actually get it right. I think a harmonized position can exist. I am not sure I have the wisdom to put it together coherently, but I do see the possibility.

Senator Rand Paul is right to criticize the justice system, and to recognize that there is a disproportionate amount of blacks in prison:

Three out of four people in jail for drugs are people of color. In the African American community, folks rightly ask why are our sons disproportionately incarcerated, killed, and maimed?

This is a reality that modern Republicans need to grasp. Many do not.

At the same time, Democrats must realize that fatherlessness is a huge factor in leading some in the black community to seek drugs or theft as an escape from absence in the home. White kids from fatherless homes also seek the same, but fatherlessness is a disease in the black community in a way that is not in the white community. Some have observed that homes where fathers are present do not necessarily guarantee a safe environment. This is very true. I have invested some of my time into studying domestic abuse and realize that in some cases, the presence of the father does more damage than his absence. But I am quick to say this is not most cases. In most cases, the presence of a stable father (or father figure) in the home provides greater and healthier options for black teens to thrive in society. The same, of course, can be said for the white community.

[See also, “Ferguson and Salt Lake City.”]

Another element missing is that theology needs to be joined to sociology. A sociological dimension needs to be added to these conversations. The children of Israel did not walk around 20-50 years later after their slavery and oppression, thinking that since time had passed, the Egyptians would now treat them with dignity. No, they were cognizant that the abuses they suffered left a cultural impression on them that they would not soon forget. Culturally speaking, the abuses seen in the South not long ago led to much of the skepticism in the black community toward the police, and that skepticism has bled over to many outside the black community.

We must also be reminded that the fifth commandment serves as an exhortation to honor those in authority. Police officers, for better or for worse, are placed in a position of protection over us. We may choose to reject their help, or to avoid contact with them, but we cannot go out of our way to disrespect or threaten them. We ought to give them the benefit of the doubt, treat them respectfully, and be at peace with them as much as possible. And in most cases, it is possible, but our stubbornness and perhaps previous bad experiences force us to view them with contentious eyes. We need to keep in mind that not all members of the police department in town are created equal. Each one has a conscience. So we ought to treat each one as worthy of our respect. The same, of course, needs to be said of how police officers treat citizens.

A soft answer almost always turns away wrath. We need to keep that in mind. We are not responsible for what people do or say to us, but we are responsible for how we react to what is said or done.

In this entire drama, there have been various redeeming episodes. There were the black men who protected a white man’s gas station, images of reconciliation that have captivated a nation, and an NFL player who spoke publically and directed the nation to Christ as redeemer. Every conflict is an opportunity to redeem the ugly. Some redemption has taken place. But there is no redemption when we affirm only one side of the story and dismiss the concerns of the other side. We owe our brothers and sisters the courtesy to see things through their eyes.


Uri Brito writes for Kuyperian Commentary.