Since Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Americans have been forced to confront anew the reality that race remains a dividing line among us.
Today, practically all evangelicals would consider abhorrent the notion that black lives have less inherent value — moral, legal, or otherwise — than white ones. They rejoice that slavery, Black Codes, and Jim Crow are no longer enshrined in law, and they condemn their forebears’ involvement in such evils. Indeed, many of their church denominations have crafted formal documents repenting of these and other past racist wrongs.
It is not difficult, then, for white American Christians to look at a legal system that now ostensibly treats all citizens the same and conclude that it is just. They can also look into their own hearts and, while perhaps identifying and confessing some stubborn forms of prejudice, absolve themselves of malicious intent toward their black neighbors.
Through this lens, whatever racism remains in society surely cannot be “structural,” since the law prohibits racial discrimination. It must therefore be isolated to a small minority of hateful individuals and thus beyond their responsibility to address in any proactive, coordinated manner. “Privilege” feels pejorative in this context, implying that white individuals must be cheating to gain an unfair social advantage. And whoever said black lives didn’t matter, anyway?
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