My children and the students committed to my care have to live in this world and be frustrated by it, but they do not have to accept it as unchangeable. They do not have to give way to apathy. They are free to weep and mourn as long as they need to do so, but they can also resist. They can plan, organize, protest and march. They have to resist not because any one event will bring the change that they seek. They must resist as a declaration of their worth and humanity. The resistance to injustice, then, isn’t only for America. It is for their own souls.
There is a version of Black pessimism that says that all that remains is the struggle itself, a shouting into the darkness that our lives matter but real change is impossible. There is a version of Black pietism that assumes our only hope is the sweet by and by, in which God swoops in at the end of all things to solve our problems. But there is a third way, rooted in the idea that a just God governs the universe, and for that reason, none of our efforts are in vain.
Resistance in a seemingly impossible scenario is a deep act of faith. It is a belief that God is not limited by our insufficiency, but perhaps might even be glorified through using limited human instruments for his purposes.
But the only way to have that kind of faith is to tell the truth about the nature of the problem. We have to talk about the world in which George Floyd has his neck compressed for nine minutes and Daunte Wright gets shot to death while unarmed at a routine traffic stop.
I am relieved about the guilty verdict in Mr. Chauvin’s trial. “Happy” is the wrong word when a life has been lost. Juries can’t raise the dead. One court case can’t eradicate the distrust that lingers in the hearts of many Black and brown Americans. A single decision is important, but it can’t fix a system. There is still work to do. Mr. Floyd’s family may have some measure of peace, but he was taken from them nonetheless.
I told my son the story of Adam Toledo’s death as I drove him to baseball practice. It slipped from my lips unexpectedly. The gospel singer Kirk Franklin was playing in the background, and we sat in silence for a while as the choir lauded the glories of God. In that moment, we were not just father and son but a Black boy and a Black man trying to make sense of the task of living that stretched out before us.
When I could wait no longer, I asked him, “What are you thinking?” He told me, sounding somber and somehow older, “I want to do some good in the world, to make it better.” That’s it, I thought. That pain never breaks us. We push forward.
At some point, I will sit down with my son and tell him that justice has been served in the Chauvin trial. But I am not sure that the playfulness in his voice will immediately return. He has experienced something that has changed him. That point eventually comes for all Black boys and girls — the moment when the monster reveals itself and the shape of the fight becomes clear. I pray that the resolve he displayed during that car ride will remain.
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