Call It By Its Name

A habit I continually try to cultivate (with wavering success) is to read a daily devotion each morning first thing when I wake up. Before I check social media, before I dive into emails, before I get out of the bed and do anything, I’ll crack open (click on) the Our Daily Bread app on my phone, and read through the message of the day.

A recent devotional was dedicated to justice, telling readers that if they do not walk in God’s way, they open the door to the perversion of Godly values, thus allowing injustice into the world—the main point being that honesty and justice must go beyond our words, and flourish in our actions as well. This I agree with wholeheartedly.

I did, however, take issue with the example used to highlight how injustice proliferates. There was nothing heinous about the example, but I do believe it fell short in significant ways, particularly given the overall message of the devotional. Here is the example:

“In the 1960s, the bustling community of North Lawndale, on Chicago’s West Side, was a pilot community for interracial living. A handful of middle-class African Americans bought homes there on ‘contract’—that combined the responsibilities of home ownership with the disadvantages of renting. In a contract sale, the buyer accrued no equity, and if he missed a single payment, he would immediately lose his down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. Unscrupulous sellers sold at inflated prices, then the families were evicted when they missed a payment. Another family would buy on contract, and the cycle fueled by greed just kept going.” (John Blase, Our Daily Bread, 2020)

Aside from the issue that this kind of predatory practice still occurs today while the above example reads as though this is a problem of the past, the underlying process that results in the “injustice” against Black Americans is never named: racism. What makes this lack of clarity even more compelling is that race is clearly mentioned—African Americans are specifically named (and even though history tells us that the “unscrupulous sellers” are likely White Americans, they are not named either), and we are told that this was a pilot for an interracial community. Race is front and center, but racism is not named directly.

This lack of willingness to name the problem—racism—is one major way racism continues to thrive, particularly among White Christians. How can we hope to address a problem if we can’t even name it? What does it communicate to White Christians when they read about racism yet don’t know it because it is reduced to a personal feeling like greed? It is easy enough to see how this is yet another way that racism gets erased through color-blindness, the ideology that sounds great but in practice really only works to perpetuate the racial status quo and maintain racial disparities and disadvantage.

To be clear, I am not expecting a sociologically-nuanced exposé on racism in this (or any) short devotional, however it is entirely possible that racism could have (and should have) been named directly. Possible, and necessary, if Christians want to rise to the call and example of Christ to stand against injustice, in both words and deeds.