Good Friday and Racism

The conjunction of Good Friday and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is appropriate. Racism, like discrimination of all kinds, is a symptom of the soul-sickness that was finally and forever uncovered by Good Friday. This “original sin,” our primal brokenness, has to do with our distorted desire (Girard) and our deeply sensed existential lack (Kierkegaard). A lack we attempt to slake through acquisition and self-elevation (twisted desire). That’s the abstract.

Here’s the personal: Good Friday is not about a vicarious substitution that saves me from a wrathful God. (The only wrath going on in the Easter story is ours.) It’s about a shot to the heart that cracks open my habit of trying to fill my “lack of peace,” my lack of self, by stepping on someone else. And concordantly, it’s about my willingness to be co-opted by any movement, club, church, campaign, crowd, that defines itself on the basis of being not like some other group, and so lifts me, by virtue of my belonging to it, to a status above the fray and field. A status that I cling to through violence, if necessary. Violence of any form that I’ll always have a way of justifying, “redeeming.”

racial_illustration This day, designated by the UN to focus on the problem of racism, I just discovered, marks a horrendous event that took place on March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, where 69 peaceful demonstrators were killed during a protest against apartheid.

Here was a case where societal disintegration–the fomentation inherent in apartheid–was resolved through the identification and killing of a chosen victim, (the group of peaceful protesters). Beyond instilling fear through a show of force it was hoped that the killing would reinforce and re-form the social unanimity and cohesion of the National Party and the white populace. In fact it was the beginning of the end of apartheid.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the reason this kind of scapegoating no longer works is because of the Easter event. The redemptive violence on Good Friday is of the same order as that of racism. But because of Easter the justifications for racism and discrimination of any form fail. The “victim” is now visible.

And if the victim can no longer be hidden through justification we are without excuse if we refuse to do nothing. And so Good Friday also exposes our refusal to grow, or our acquiescence to immaturity within the shelter of a non-growing group–the same group that also shields us from the knowledge of our immaturity.

Good Friday invites us to grow. The Easter event asks us discard our notion that creation is a completed event in the distant past and instead see creation as an ongoing event in the present where we are continually being called into a great forgiving and creative love.

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