By Gbemisola Obolo
‘YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF A FALSE CREATION
RACE ENGINEERED TO ENRICH A NATION
YOU ARE HUMAN FIRST, THERE IS NO HIERARCHY
THIS IS A CALL FOR FREEDOM, NOT ANARCHY
JUSTICE IS MORE THAN A LIFETIME SENTENCE
IT IS A LIFESTYLE, A SYSTEM, A GOD, IT ELICITS REPENTANCE
SO, WE RISE TOGETHER, MOURN TOGETHER, CRY TOGETHER,
STAND TOGETHER AND REJOICE TOGETHER’
Excerpt from spoken word piece by Gbemisola Obolo
Identity is a powerful force, invisible but its ramifications tangible, even penetrating internal and as well as external boundaries. We all identify as something. But what happens at the juncture of multiple identities; identities that are occasionally in conflict. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, I seek to consider one. Being black and Christian, whilst being at university.
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest. The subsequent outrage and upset was instigated by the fact that the officer had his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8:46 minutes. This was not a case of hearsay, rather it was witnessed by the whole world, via a video recording. This was not a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, it was a catalyst for an unprecedented wave of consciousness on racial issues. This was not an event that could be overlooked. Indeed, the contents of the video alone pierced the apathy of many.
However, this was the period where I had to ponder and come to terms with my confusion as to a Christian response, not just to the incident, or frankly murder, but the general sentiment of BLM and the racism discourse.
I think the immediate question that my statement above may provoke, is why? Why did I need to come to terms with anything? Why the confusion? Racism, in whatever form is wrong, period. I do not disagree. Indeed, the Bible calls on Christians to “open [our] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are unfortunate and defenceless; open your mouth, judge righteously, and administer justice for the afflicted and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-7
Justice is not the issue. More accurately, as phrased by #WOKEWeekly Christian edition in a session on this issue, is what is the black Christians appropriate stance in the proactive fight for justice. What does it look like? Simply, activism is often painted as violent, and at times encourages acts of civil disobedience. Well, the thing is, the Bible instructs us to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ (Proverbs 13:1). To be law abiding citizens who oppose wrongdoing, such as civil obedience: catch my drift?
I wish that were all, but the crux of the matter is where does this conversation belong in the Christian community? During my time at the University of Surrey, I was free to live my faith and engage in a range of Christian events and fellowships, shoutout to Chosen. Nevertheless, even in this community who ‘believe’ that we are all one in Christ, there was a clear divide. There are the ‘black’ fellowships and the ‘white’ fellowships. An unspoken rule, a silent segregation. Thus, I wonder if race and racism were ever considered in these fellowships. When not faced with a difference, how can you acknowledge it, much less solve it? When you preach love, how can you be so divided?
These divides were beyond the Christian community on campus, it was in societies, lectures, events but they were normal. I would admit, because of my race, I did feel intimidated in certain settings at university, yet the feeling was commonplace. I felt it the greatest when running for VP Voice this year.
Race is man-made. I will be kind and skip the history lesson, but essentially if not created by God, to what degree should I attach myself to an identity? This perhaps will come across as controversial, but most times (so not all the time, for those who may not understand) I am only aware of my blackness when there is an issue. When I wake up in the morning, I do not look in the mirror and think, girl you black. Instead, I focus on a random spot, that clearly does not want me to be happy in life. Now, as a Christian, I believe my identity is rooted firmly in Christ. Does this create a hierarchy? Does one displace the other? Or is there room for peaceful coexistence?
I know I did not answer the abovementioned questions, it is not an editorial oversight. It is a snapshot of the turmoil in my head. It is the questions that burden the hearts of many like me.
I do not have all the answers, but this is my resolve:
On the point of activism, there is a short and simple answer, activism can be peaceful. Martin Luther King proved that, and it is still being proved to this day. In the current society we live in, we are privy to a range of mediums that can be used to be proactive and that do not offend most moral standings.
Division can sometimes create the perceived notion that something insidious is at play. I do not think that was the case at Surrey. I think social factors play heavily into our choices and as humans, we are generally attracted to spaces where we see like people, people the colour of our skin. However, I do think we need to get to a point where social factors do not hold us on a tight leash. Especially as a Christian.
Due to our history race is a reality as an identity for all. It is entrenched into our very living. I consider it a matter of fact. I am black. For me, it is not a death sentence or a badge of superiority. I know the world thinks otherwise. As I said, in my spoken word piece ‘you are human first.’ We need to start seeing each other as humans, not as less than or more superior than because of factors beyond our control. I do not mean be colour blind, because guess what, we are different colours and shades. See colour and appreciate the diversity God created.
Humanity is what unifies us and until we can be kind to our fellow humans, as Jesus wishes, I think race will continue to be a thing of conflict. The Black Lives Matter sentiment is key because it reminds us that we should not deny ANYONE of kindness or respect. No one is perfect. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
Gbemisola Obolo is a Law with International Relations graduate from the University of Surrey.