A personal response
The events that have unfolded since George Floyd’s very public killing has caused me to catch my breath, pause — pause, and exhale.
As a writer I often find myself penning a poem to process my thoughts and feelings in response to confronting issues. The rawness of my poetry at this time reflects the place of pause I find myself in as I catch my breath.
But in writing these poems, I realise that not a thousand words nor a single word can fully articulate my strength of emotion. Like a wound that is constantly scabbed in my day-to-day lived experiences, the reality of life as a black woman is magnified again and again when public events like the George Floyd case occur.
As a person of colour, I’ve experienced a range of emotions in the last few weeks: tired, crushed, angry, frustrated, bewildered. My parents lived with racial injustice. I live with racial injustice. And, if things don’t change, my daughter’s generation will live with racial injustice.
It’s incredible that, in 2020, we still witness persecution and aggression against people of colour. Black and brown skinned people have endured decades of injustices. In recent history we note: the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan (among countless others), the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Windrush scandal, an increase in knife crimes among black youths, and the higher impact of Covid-19 deaths on key workers from BAME backgrounds. How many more black and brown lives have to be lost before we work together – black, brown, and white – to see a real change in society?
In this place of pause, I reflect on the Church’s response. I’ve been encouraged by the Archbishops’ and Bishops’ statements expressing solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But statements and tweets are not enough, in that, for the Church to communicate a commitment to diversity, the Church needs to examine its own systems, structures and leadership. It is vitally important for Christians and churches to intentionally show up and show out at this juncture in history. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, we observe that Jesus came to be a voice for the voiceless and to transform the lives of the oppressed and wounded – as Christians we know that every life matters, deeply. And thus, black lives must matter too! When black lives are systemically devalued by society, through institutionally racist systems and structures, there should be an outpouring of outrage in our communities. Even if our churches are majority white, many of these churches are located in (or in close proximity to) communities where our friends, neighbours, shopkeepers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, nurses, cleaners, care workers, and other brown and black skinned people live and work. But even if we live in a remote white-only village, if we want to live in a society that offers human flourishing for all people, this issue affects us all. When Christians stand together to say “Black Lives Matter”, we offer a Christ-model that teaches we are all made in the image of God.
Because every life has value in God’s eyes, and because we are called to be God’s love and compassion – that walking towards the pain of ‘the other’ – there are a number of ways in which we can respond to racial injustice.
- Pray: We can be intentional in praying against the unjust structures and systems which impact people of colour adversely
- Examine: We should examine our hearts and our conscience, being honest about our unconscious biases and the position our privilege grants us
- Engage: We can engage with the discourse (no matter how uncomfortable it feels), do the work by increasing our knowledge and educating ourselves on the issue of racial injustice
- Challenge: We should challenge racist and derogatory comments (even those said jokingly or flippantly) because indifference and complacency is an evil that is destroying the fabric of our society
- Stand Up: We can stand up against all forms of racism, whether covert or overt; including societal injustices that result in socio-economic and health inequalities
Jesus models for us how God loves justly, and how we, as Christians, can love publicly in a world of inequality. Together we can leave a legacy for the next generation, a future where black and brown skinned people feel safe and valued in society.
Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo
tongues of flame
sear bones, sinew and muscle
wrapped in brown skin
limbs writhe against batons
lips swell with beatings
eyes bleed, jaw cracks
wrapped in brown skin
shackled. starved. raped.
gouged. hunted. choked.
lynched. poked. injected.
stripped. drowned. expelled.
trampled. airbrushed. kneed.
medicated. gassed. gunned
years of white knuckles and heels
kick up dust clouds
in cotton fields, ghettos, tower blocks
brown skin burns,
turns flesh to dust dust dust
fills nostrils, clogs windpipes
I can’t breathe
By: Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo