The Persistent Widow and Racial Injustice Fatigue

Ferguson Protest


Occasionally we hear people – almost always but maybe not exclusively – complain that they are tired of hearing about race. What they mean by this is that racial injustice exists makes them uncomfortable. I understand why. When I first woke up to this reality it made me uncomfortable. I had been in my own blissful little world where everyone got what they deserved.

I’m tired of talking about it, too. The difference is that I won’t hide myself away pretending it isn’t happening. Fortunately, there’s another option: being a part of making the conversation no longer necessary. If you don’t like talking about racial injustice, you’re in good company with the people who don’t like experiencing it. Team up with them and do something about it so that nobody has to experience or talk about it again.

This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow:

Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 CEB)

Yes, Luke explains that the parable is about persistence in prayer, but I think it is fair to apply the same idea a little more literally to real life issues of justice. I think history bears out this reality, with the most obvious parallel being the various types of nonviolent protest during the American Civil Rights Movements.

Injustice is never solved overnight. It is almost always solved only when the oppressive group is worn down. Learning about the Freedom Riders, for example, the interesting tipping point was when there became so many people in jail that it was too expensive to maintain it all. The United States is getting close to a similar point more recently where their tendency to imprison black people for the slightest crime is costing the economy a huge amount of money.

Many of the protests in light of recent unjust decisions are starting to take on a similar tone. One hashtag often used is #ShutItDown, which demonstrates the idea well. I have a couple of times actually laughed out loud at responses from the powerful (mostly white). They are seriously upset when the Macy’s Day Parade has to change their camera angles to not show the protesters (they could have shown them). They are seriously upset when Black Friday protests kept them from getting the best deals on a new TV. They are seriously upset that their commute home is a bit longer with protesters on the road.

And yet many of those people who are complaining about these things never stop to consider why it is happening. If you think it sucks to only get 30% off a TV instead of 50%, try raising children with the constant fear that they will be shot by the people who are supposed to protect them in the playground without warning, try watching TV while the media is praising another group that has promised to use violence against you (the KKK to protestors), try having slurs thrown at you on a regular basis, and so much more. I don’t have to worry about these things, so my biggest inconveniences in life are missing a good sale. Maybe it takes me missing out on some of my petty things to realize how much bigger problems exist for those less lucky with their birth.

So pray persistently about injustice, yes. It’s Advent, so that old and simple prayer of “come, Lord Jesus!” is particularly apt. But don’t forget that we, the Church, are already Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Be persistent in setting up outposts for the Kingdom. Respect the humanity of oppressors, but don’t be afraid to make them uncomfortable if that is what will help them see the harm done by their actions.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.