After the killing of George Floyd, now two weeks ago, through blatant (white) police violence in Minneapolis, a wave of protest against racism has engulfed the world–not only in the United States, but also in Europe and elsewhere in the world. We also saw numerous protest manifestations in the Netherlands, sometimes with 10.000 or more participants.
The events of the past two weeks and the underlying systemic causes are characterised by an enormous complexity. In a number of cities, peaceful protests were hijacked by hordes of rioters, who were sometimes labelled ‘extreme left’ and sometimes ‘ultra-right.’ The role of the American president was dubious, to put it mildly. He showed a deplorable lack of empathy. His words contributed to the spiral of violence, as did his embarrassing photo session, in front of a church, with a Bible in his hand. The summum of his lack of tact and empathy was his remark that George Floyd is now looking down from heaven with approval on how this “law and order” president has curbed the riots by “dominating” the streets of the big cities.
The protests in the U.S. and beyond can of course not be viewed in isolation from the past, in which the black population was treated in a degrading manner, and from the endemic problems in the police force. Mixed in with this are the sad consequences of the Corona crisis, which is causing economic chaos, with an explosive increase in unemployment. As a result many people are looking towards the future with mounting despair. And on top of this, the pandemic creates an all-pervading fear: is this going to strike me and my loved ones? Will there be a second peak in infections? And how long will it be before we can live ‘normally’ again?
The last two weeks have once again emphasized that systemic racism is an immense problem. This is not restricted to the United States, although there it has some extra dimensions, partly due to the history of slavery, the Civil War and its aftermath. But it should not be forgotten that black Americans are not the only segment of the population that is discriminated against on a large scale. Mexicans, Portoricans, Chinese, indigenous peoples, and other groups are also considered by many as second-class citizens, not to mention those who have come from Muslim countries.
In the Netherlands, too, discrimination is not limited to those who are ‘black.’ Moroccans, Turks, Poles and other groups, some of whom came as far back as two or three generations ago, as well as people who adhere to Islam, and who often distinguish themselves by their dress, still experience the dire consequences of discrimination.
What about the church in general? And what about my Adventist faith community? Over the past two weeks, Adventist church leaders have (rightly) come out with statements condemning the murder of George Floyd and the grave injustices done to black people. But most of these statements do not admit that the racial problems within the Adventist Church are unfortunately still far from gone. And these statements fail to mention that discrimination doesn’t stop at skin color or ethnic descent. Discrimination against fellowmen (and often fellow-believers) with a non-heterosexual orientation, and against women, is still a shameful (and sinful) denial of the fundamental biblical rule that all people are completely equal. The words of those who protest against racial and ethnic discrimination – however appalling this is – but are complacent with regard to other forms of discrimination, will sound far from convincing.