31 years ago, our 12-year-old son was experiencing problems in his History class. He repeatedly told us his teacher was racist because “all the black kids, including me, are treated differently.” As white parents of four, three who are mixed race, we approached the principal about the unjust treatment. His immediate response was one of denial, “There is no racism here. It’s school policy!”
School conferences became our opportunity to meet this teacher. When the teacher invited us into the classroom, he looked very puzzled as we introduced ourselves. He thought for a while, then slowly put his finger on his head, and as he twirled it, hesitantly said, “You mean…the kid…with the curly hair?” We confronted him about our son’s concerns about his grades and unfair treatment. The result was equitable treatment. As parents with white skin, we intervened and our mixed race child got justice. But if our skin had been black or brown, there would have been no justice. That is an injustice! To this day, our children experience this type of injustice. In fact, racial profiling occurred recently to one of our children — in Juneau! Experiencing racial profiling creates lack of trust, tremendous fear, and reluctance to seek out justice through appropriate authorities.
My wife, Laura, and I both grew up in families that were 100 percent Norwegian. Since our marriage in 1966, our immediate family has grown from 2 to 23 people. Our family is now 75 percent people of color! We are a rainbow. The racial make-up is nothing but a blessing. The racial profiling, we could do without!
Even when our children were babies, our family experienced racial profiling. We were turned away from a motel, because of the color of our children’s skin! Our realities of racial profiling call us to action! Responses have covered the spectrum from empathy and compassion to denial and rejection. One of our greatest joys is feeling the transformation from rejection to loving acceptance of the diversity that is our family and our world.
Justice is not an isolated reality. It applies to all people equally. Justice is not submission to powerful forces that seek to protect themselves and their self-interests. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Justice is saying “NO” to injustice. Saying “YES,” to justice means actively working for fairness and equality for all who suffer injustice. We seek justice for those who are abused and forgotten, the weak and the disabled, the elderly, the exploited and suffering, and those without hope and voice. We say “NO” to the injustice of repressing voting rights, hindering access to health care, denying immigrants citizenship, preventing a woman’s right to choose and be treated equally, and equality for LGBTO people. Whenever we “otherize” people, love, compassion, empathy and equality are replaced by mistrust, fear and excuses that isolate us.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Each person has a story reflecting his or her life journey. Each person’s wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of others. Our stories are woven together and involve honoring, accepting and understanding each other. The Bible says, “…do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). God created a world where there are differences beyond our imaginations. Our lives are filled with opportunities to bridge, appreciate and invite differences that create growth opportunities in our lives. We can replace our hesitation with an invitation to live in harmony.
May Desmond Tutu’s advice guide us: “Do a little bit of good wherever you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelms the world.”
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.