by Josh Punnoose
During high school, conversations about my own ethnicity, or the experiences or values common for people within a geographic area that shaped a person, were rare. As a result, I came to project my experiences as the same for everyone in America. For example, growing up my parents would wake up early every school day to make healthy lunches for my brothers and I and extensively search for educational summer programs to expand our minds. Without knowing that this experience was part of my ethnicity, I created unrealistic expectations for other people’s families and would judge them as not as loving as my own. Realizing this as part of my ethnicity however, forced me to recognize that the way I was raised was not better or worse than someone else’s but that it is just different as it is based on a different set of values.
Similarly, during college, I learned that the way that I interacted with the law was not the same for everyone. I learned that the law disproportionately affects Black, who are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites. Part of the reason for this is because the way that our laws are structured. For example, though powder and crack cocaine are very similar (crack cocaine is powder cocaine mixed with powder and baking soda), 1g of crack cocaine, which is more common in poorer Black communities, is given the same sentence of 100 g of powder cocaine. This along with mandatory minimum sentence robs large populations of Blacks of a future since it’s harder to get a job with a criminal record. With difficulties in obtaining employment, the effects of poverty are carried down to the next generations, making it harder for future generations to create a future for themselves. This fact led me to realize that the problems facing the Black community are systemic in nature since they have been incorporated into the laws and the effects of the law on one generation are passed down to subsequent ones.
Yet this intellectual understanding of the racial injustices did not translate into becoming an activist against injustices affecting the Black community. I would only engage in conversations about race with people who would agree with me because I knew that engaging with dissenters would only bring conflict. As a result, I became very racially apathetic, never acting on the convictions that I professed. I felt the shame of this mindset this past week when we talked about racial inequalities. However, on Wednesday we were reminded of God’s grace and his ability to remove ALL sins, including the racial ones I had been committing. Though I know that engaging in conversations about race with those that disagree with me and fighting against racial inequalities will be difficult and messy, I want to try to embrace these opportunities because I know that these issues are on God’s heart and that the mistakes I do make will be covered by God’s grace.
by Josh Punnoose