Why Do Black People Feel Like The System Is Against Them?

The best I can tell the analogy is from John Perkins, one of the most prominent Christian, African American voices to come out of the Civil Rights movement. I came across it in the incredibly helpful book Divided by Faith. The analogy has been helpful to me in understanding the frustrations of black people when they are told that “profound racism used to exist but that’s all in the past now so let’s get on with life.” It’s simple but powerful. Here it is…

Imagine two teams are playing a game of baseball–a white team and a black team.  After seven innings, it is discovered that the white team has been cheating the whole game. The score is 20 to 0, and the cheating team apologizes. The white team then wants to move forward and finish the game. However, there is still a major problem: the score hasn’t changed; it is still 20-0.

Has explicit personal racism in America decreased? Have their been significant changes in how African Americans are treated both under the law and in the private sector? Of course. I know of no one who argues that racial problems are just as bad as they were in the time of slavery or Jim Crow or before the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

But the problem is that white people are tempted to think that recognizing the evil of racism, apologizing for it, and no longer practicing it in their personal relationships has ended the problem. The thought is that now black people need to finish the game. But there’s a failure to understand that the white team is up 20-0 with much of the lead due to the racial advantages for which they just apologized.

Income and wealth disparity, educational opportunities, incarceration rates are but a few of the advantages that have contributed to the 20-0 score. Just because personal racism has decreased doesn’t mean that the field is level and the game can continue.

Here’s a story that was shared with our staff team by an African American man near my age who lives in St. Louis, is a graduate of Covenant Seminary, works in a Christian school, and is an elder at his church.

When he was 15 he left the Cardinals game with a bunch of white friends in a car. The driver, a 16 year old girl, made an illegal left turn and a cop pulled her over. Flashing his light into the car, he saw a several kids with only one being black. The officer didn’t give the driver a ticket but singled out the black kid for being out “past curfew” and gave him a ticket.

Those are issues that I’ve never had to face. But they help me understand why a black person would feel like the system is stacked against them. Is it impossible to succeed? No. Sometimes teams rally from a 20-0 deficit and win. But that’s not how it works most of the time. When you’re down by that much it’s hard to catch up.

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