What is Institutional Racism? A Preacher’s Response to his own Ignorance

I want to address the racial tension in our country, but this will be a different article than I usually write because I am not going to share my opinion.   Today, I am going to define a term.  We need good, clear definitions, so we can understand each other.  Let me begin with two disclaimers.  First, I am not trying to ignite a heated back and forth between anyone.  Lord knows we need more conversations and less angry debate.  And second, I am going to admit my ignorance.  With all the race discussion around us, I heard the term “institutional racism” or “systemic racism” over and over.  I have to admit.  I did not know with any depth what was meant by the terms, institutional racism or systemic racism.  I only had vague impressions.  In my research, I even found out that institutional racism and systemic racism are synonyms, so I am going to use the term institutional racism throughout this article for clarity’s sake. Today, I want to share what I have learned about institutional racism, just so you can know what this term means.  

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I Was Pulled Over at 2:00 am.: A Preacher’s Response to George Floyd

I could share a bible verse about all people are created in the image of God, or how Jesus showed compassion to the Samaritan minority or James saying God does not play favorites, but to be honest, I am too heartbroken for a Sunday School response right now, and you do not need biblical proof that the death of George Floyd was tragic because of course it was. Instead, I have a story.

A couple of years ago my wife and I attended a dinner and party, which was a fund raiser for the poultry industry of Georgia.  This party was in Atlanta which is about two hours from where we live in North East Georgia.  We left this party around midnight, and it was about 2:00 am. when we rolled into our home county, and when we were no more than 5 minutes from our home, blue lights flashed behind our SUV.  

I wasn’t speeding, nor did I partake of an alcoholic beverage at the party we attended.  Since I wasn’t speeding, I thought this was a basic sobriety stop where the officer was checking to see if I was drinking and driving.  I even joked to my wife, as we were gathering together license and registration, that the officer may make me walk a line or hop on one foot.  Ended up, we had a headlight out.  We had a nice conversation with the officer.  We discussed him having the night shift.  I invited him to our church.  In ten minutes, we were home.  

Never at any point was I scared or even worried.  Obviously, I am a white man.  It was 2:00 am., pitch dark, on a lonely Georgia highway.  No other person in sight.  I was not even nervous.  I even made a joke…made a joke…that the officer may make me take a sobriety test.  It is a completely foreign concept that I cannot even imagine being in the shoes of a black man being afraid during a routine traffic stop.  But as foreign as it is for me to be afraid during a traffic stop, we have multiple minorities who cannot imagine making a joke and not being anxious at a police officer walking to their car door.  How on earth can that be true in America? 

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