We Don’t Have to Achieve Reconciliation by Ourselves
By Kersaint Fils Saint-Juste
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I was painfully reminded of an incident I wish I could forget. Back in high school, my friends and I would often go to the mall after basketball practice to hang out and eat together.
On one of those days, I decided to go with a friend, who was also a young black teenager, to the dollar store for some candy. On our way to the store, I remember making eye contact with a tall, white man in plain clothing who was visibly monitoring the store with his partner. I assumed both were undercover mall security guards. Being aware of my own skin complexion and the prejudices that come with it, I looked away, hoping that the meeting of our eyes would not raise any unnecessary suspicion.
But after roaming the isles for a while in search of the best candies and chocolates we could get, what I feared came to pass. The two men walked up to us and made very intimidating assertions, claiming they knew who we were – identifying us as some high school kids they frequently see shoplifting from the Dollarama – and escorted us outside of the store. During the whole time, my heart was racing furiously inside of me. I couldn’t understand why we were being accused of being thieves, without any proof. My only thought was that it must have something to do with my skin colour.
As we stood outside the store with the officers, I felt deep shame as people walked by. I could feel their gazes looking down on us as the typical “young black delinquents.” Although we fervently protested against any wrongdoing, the officers took down our names and banned us from the mall for half a year. They warned us that if we were to show up again, the consequences would only worsen.
The next couple of days were rough. I was scared to tell my parents about the incident because, although we were completely innocent, the criminal image the officers branded on us inserted itself acutely in my conscience. It brought a sense of humiliation that was very difficult to shake off. A week or so later, after I had garnered the strength to tell my parents, they brought me to the mall to confirm what had happened and intervene on my behalf. Shockingly enough, it turned out that neither my name nor my friend’s name was cited on the ban list. And so, we concluded that either the two officers later realized they got the wrong guys and took off our names, or they simply had assumed we were up to no good and stepped in to scare us away. Nonetheless, going back to that mall was never the same again.
Fast forward to the present—as I was reflecting on that dreadful incident, I couldn’t help but ask myself, which is no doubt what some of you who are reading this are also thinking, how could I have been so powerless in such an unfair situation? Shouldn’t I have done more to plead my case and prove my innocence?
And then it hit me: was this not the exact thing going through the mind of George Floyd as the police officers were choking the life out of his body? As he was pleading for just a little bit of air, the police officers completely ignored him. In his case, there were even bystanders pleading for the police to have mercy, yet we all saw how the tragedy unfolded.
In the mall, as I was pleading my innocence, those two men completely dismissed my credibility and banished me from coming back. I felt like, no matter what I said, it did not matter. They had already made up their minds about me, and there was nothing I could say that would have changed that. It is this feeling of powerlessness that I believe most, if not all, people in the black community have to deal with regularly. Feeling powerless to the way others might perceive you as a threat, powerless to the fear that rises inside when crossing a police officer, knowing you could be accused and arrested on a whim, powerless to the suspicious looks you receive when entering a convenience store. And that’s just naming a few.
This past week, feeling overwhelmed and deeply frustrated about everything that was coming to the surface with the murder of George Floyd, I decided to limit my social media consumption and turn to the Word of God in search of His righteous response to racial injustice. I was led to Ephesians 2:11-22, which I believe is an important passage for us to understand if we want to experience racial reconciliation.
In the passage, we see the enormous gap that used to separate the Gentiles from the Jews (Eph. 2:12). This separation was not just an ethnic issue, but one that was ordained by God himself, having chosen the nation of Israel to be His people, over all the rest. Yet, through Christ’s body crucified on the cross, the great wall that separated the Jews from the rest of the world was completely broken down, “killing the hostility” and making us one through faith in Him (Eph. 2:13-14). And this unity is not simply one that stops us from being hostile to one another, but one that helps us BECOME one another, in one body, thereby creating peace and reconciliation (Eph. 2:15-16).
When we compare this ancient division between the Jews and Gentiles to our current man-made divisions, between people who differ solely on skin pigmentation, we realize how artificial our differences really are. We are also reminded that reconciliation is not something we have to achieve by ourselves, since God has already accomplished it through the cross of Christ. Instead, it is a reality every one of us need to walk into and live out.
Taking this good news into account, there are still great advantages in educating ourselves on the history and reality of the issue at hand, as well as finding ways to raise awareness and keeping the conversations going. My prayer is that we would all humbly go before God and look within ourselves at the ways we have failed to recognize and live up to God’s accomplished work of reconciliation. Societal change will only start with individual transformation.
Kersaint Fils Saint-Juste is an incoming 3rd-year Bachelor of Theology student at McGill University and the student president of InterVarsity at McGill. He is really excited about how God will be working on the McGill campus next year, given these unprecedented times. Kersaint hopes to go into ministry after school and is passionate about witnessing abroad to Muslims. In his spare time, Kersaint is a huge basketball fan and loves to watch Anime and read Manga! He yearns for others to experience the transforming love that the Jesus of the Bible wants to offer them.
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