Originally published by the Rock Ethics Institute of the Pennsylvania State University. Written by Dr. Jon Brockopp, director of the Initiative on Religion and Ethics for the Institute. Published at the Centre Daily Times on October 28, 2016
We Americans like to think of ourselves as an ethical people. For generations, our presidents have referred to America as the “shining city on a hill” and “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” We pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for “liberty and justice for all.”
That word “all” is key. If our lofty declarations are to have any meaning, then justice must be available for everyone, including the vulnerable and the oppressed.
The difficulty is not with the principle of the thing – pretty much everyone I know would move quickly to correct an injustice if, say, they accidentally mowed over a neighbor’s prized peonies. The difficulty is in the fact that acts of injustice often happen out of sight.
Whatever else the Black Lives Matter movement has accomplished, it has clearly shown how hard it is to see injustice happening in our own country.
For example, in almost 30 years of driving, I’ve hardly ever been pulled over by a police officer, and I’ve certainly never had one pull a gun on me. That’s why I found the video of Walter Scott being shot in the back while running away from officer Michael Slager so shocking. As a middle-aged white man, I’ve never seen anything like this. I could hardly believe it was real.
Black Lives Matter helps us to see systemic racism, discriminatory actions that are simply built into the system. Now that I know, I must respond, because I’m willing to work hard to ensure that ours is a moral society. But other forms of injustice are just as hard to see.
Like most Americans, I am an energy hog. Just in living out my normal life of heating my house, driving my car, and flying out to visit my elderly parents, I pollute the atmosphere. No big deal, right? Everyone does it, right?