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Driving While Black

February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, and is celebrated throughout the month of October in the U.K. It is an annual observance for the remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. While the European diaspora was predominantly characterized by voluntary emigration from various European nations to the Americas; Oceania and Africa, the African diaspora was predominantly marked by the involuntary emigration of enslaved Africans to South America and North America.

We are experiencing the fact that three centuries of racial and ethnic injustices resulting from the slave trade are not easily corrected by legislation that developed out of our country’s Civil Rights Movement. Racial tensions in our country persist, and racial and ethnic discriminatory practices, while now illegal, continue. One specific injustice to address here is racial profiling.

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a highly charged term and should not be confused with criminal profiling or offender profiling, which is an investigative tool. “Racial profiling is the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement (e.g. make an arrest or traffic stop). The practice is controversial and is illegal in many jurisdictions.” Driving While Black (DWB) is vernacular for racial profiling when a person with black/dark skin is pulled over by police for a traffic stop without having violated a traffic law and then questioned, searched, or even charged with a trivial offense.

I have elected to address this topic because it recently affected a friend of mine. This is the third time over a 15 year span that it has affected a friend; in all three cases these individuals were unjustly pulled over without receiving a traffic violation and neither had any prior traffic violations or criminal records. In the first case my friend’s elementary school-aged daughter was a passenger and was traumatized by the mistreatment he received in front of her.

As a Caucasian, I cannot fully understand this type of experience; as a matter of fact, this limits my ability to console. But, I do know that in each instance it ached in my heart to observe their pain and frustration from being racially profiled and personally violated as human beings.

Racial profiling has long been an issue of concern for racial and ethnic minorities, but not for the majority of Americans. However, the issue has drawn much mainstream attention since the War on Terror began with Al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Since then, racial profiling has gained the attention of the mainstream media and is frequently in the midst of the ongoing public debate between the rights of individuals vs. the practices our government and law enforcement agencies use to protect our country from future terrorist attacks.

This debate is politically charged in rhetoric surrounding the priorities of the principles of an equally free democratic society for all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socio-political status, etc. and the desire for people to live with a sense of safety rather than fear. Sometimes this debate revolves around privacy and the rights of individuals, such as the NSA’s phone, email, and electronic surveillance practices.

At other times, it has revolved around racial and ethnic profiling debates closely tied to Terry Stops of which the New York City Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” policy is currently receiving the most publicity. Also, the issue of racial profiling was a central issue and concern in the development of the TSA’s random screening practices following 9-11 which involves pulling individuals out of airport security lines regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. instead of targeting individuals of Middle Eastern ethnicity or in conservative Islamic dress.

Racism and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

In the opening of chapter 5, “Confronting Evil” of Healing for the City: Counseling in the Urban Setting, Ellison and Maynard state, “Racism is an invention of sinful mankind.” They further explain, “… there was no mention of race at all with respect to the creation of human beings.”

In Genesis 11:1-4, the people, speaking only one language, come together in order to attempt to build a city and tower to heaven so that they would not be divided and scattered over the earth. This goal was born out of a sinful pride to reach heaven by human effort apart from God. In other words, they were attempting to justify themselves in their own eyes by means of a remarkable achievement.

In Genesis 11:5-9, God says that as one people speaking one language they will be able to accomplish anything that they plan. Therefore, God confused their language so that they could not understand one another. Further, when God destroyed their unity of language, confusion resulted from the diversity of human languages and the ability to accomplish their desired task to build a city and a tower to heaven was no longer possible. In the confusion and scattering, “What became of the pride of the people at Babel?”

In light of the Biblical account of the Fall, humanity, in its sin, has been trying to live in disobedient independence from God, which has resulted in degrees of false pride and isolation from God and one another. As a result, all individuals deal with various degrees and frequencies of fear, anxiety, stress, depression, aggression, oppression, and other social and psychological dysfunctions. In the midst of confusion and the scattering of peoples, sinful pride of humanity against God at Babel has been transformed into the horrendous sin and pride of racism.

It is here that racism leads to a pathological pursuit of significance by means of degrading or oppressing others. Racism occurs when people are insecure or fear people groups that are different from them. So people will denigrate or abuse others in order to feel superior over another and a sense of significance about themselves apart from God. Further, the greater the political or societal power one race or ethnic group holds over another, the greater the degree of injustice that is often tolerated on a broader scale within a society.

The Day of Pentecost: Racial, Ethnic, and National Unity in Christ (Acts 2:1-47)

Throughout human history, the progression of the pride of Babel, with its pursuit of human significance independent of God combined with the confusion imposed by diverse languages, birthed various cultures and races that dispersed throughout the Earth.

Out of the sinful pride of humanity such diversity led to racism, genocide and various degrees of ethnic, tribal, religious and national conflicts and wars all over the globe. However, the Gospel teaches that true peace and unity will come to humanity in Christ just as it did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), which offers a glimpse of mutual concern, compassion, and love characteristic of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the diversities of nations, races, and languages.

About the Author

Dan Lavalla

Daniel LaValla

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. Click here for more information.

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