The verdict is in and, for many Americans, the trial went the way they hoped. A jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. Justice was served, at least for now.
Why do I say for now? I have noticed that many clergy and bishops are posting prayers online from the Book of Common Prayer, the guide for Episcopalians. The words being quoted are beautiful and important. However, if all we do is make posts on social media then I believe we are missing the deeper calling of recognizing the unjust system that we live in. While the judgment means one person is going to jail for a heinous crime, it doesn’t mean we have arrived or even come close to true justice. The depth of this moment means white people have much, much work to do. Coming to terms with hundreds of years of white privilege, of conscious and unconscious racism, must be addressed. Until white people understand the depth of racism, the joy over one verdict will be short-lived.
Recently I was in a meeting where a person said she had never seen racism at the school she spent 12 years attending. I believed her. She probably didn’t because she is white. White people don’t live in the world where the majority of people look at them differently. White people don’t have to explain they are law-abiding citizens. White people are given the benefit of the doubt when approached by police. When a white person buys a home it never occurs to them that their neighbors may not like them because the color of their skin. You see, white people have privilege just by being white.
The verdict is in but let’s not believe that we have made it to the Promised Land. White clergy and parishioners have much work to do. I include myself in this. We need to muster the courage to confront racism in our parishes. Our calling is to respect the dignity of every human being. Until white people can walk a mile in the shoes of our black and brown brothers and sisters then we will never truly understand how we have perpetrated a false sense of oneness.
I give thanks for our legal system that worked today because history tells us it doesn’t always. I also give thanks for the reconciling love of Jesus who calls us to be reconciled to one another, for it is in the undoing of the bonds of racism where we meet our neighbor in grace and hopefulness.
The Rt. Rev. Morris K. Thompson, Jr.
Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana