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Racism’s Roots Found in Prejudices Learned at Home

It’s done. Death penalty and it’s over.

Dylann Storm Roof, fueled by hate groups in which he participated, walked into a Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting. The 21-year-old Roof was greeted warmly. The church was hospitable.

As the meeting neared its end, he muttered something like, “You people rape our women. You are taking over my country!” He began shooting church members.

Roof was arrested within 48 hours and confessed to the massacre. Both a Democrat president and a Republican governor espoused pathways to his execution. So does this end the story?

One week after the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev entered a Boston courtroom, having remained silent since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013.

Victims spoke directly to him; they expressed their pain, declared his failure to achieve whatever morbid goals he had, and hoped to conclude the painful drama now into its third year.

He expressed regret for the first time. He was sentenced to death by legal injection. Is it over? Problem solved?

Death penalty verdicts have a way of concluding news stories, but they don’t end the suffering and pain of a crime that has torn at the soul. I’m not writing about the death penalty or gun laws or the confederate flag.

Laws and government mandates cannot remove the pain and suffering or the deep hatred incarnated into any racists that reaches into the lives of innocent people to injure, kill and devastate.

Openness to change on these issues indicates some willingness to feel the pain of others, to rethink from a different viewpoint, but what is happening in these racists’ acts is beyond law or mandate.

A more recent literary definition of racism moves from consideration of race ethnicity to frame racism as “dislike or hatred of a common grouping of people with passionate emotion.”

It boldly steps across the lines of social acceptability. Like experiencing the taste of spoiled egg, the foul sulfur taste of racism is undeniable.

We recognize racism more quickly when it is against “our kind.” We smell its stench before the media reports it.

However, racism blasts away indiscriminately. It attacks all manner of groups of people. Racists see no good in any “common group” they target.

For racists like Roof, racism knows no good African-American, even after sharing their hospitality and good prayers. For racists like Tsarnaev, racism knows no good American.

Toxic racism blinds its prisoner from seeing a good Caucasian, from knowing a good Hispanic or from thinking that there is a good police officer.

Toxic racism sees neither good Muslim nor good Jew. It declares there is no good homosexual. It asserts there is no good Republican; conversely racism declares that there is no good Democrat.

It believes there is no good poor or unemployed person; conversely it sees no good person among the wealthy.

The toxic concoction, convected to a higher temperature, pushes an infected mind to commit inhumane acts and drives its victim to create victims.

Prejudice is much more subtle, a basic part of our worldview. The definition of prejudice is an unfounded judgment upon a person or people without reviewing all the evidence.

It is by design a collection of vague generalizations, placing irrational assumption of guilt across swaths of people.

Prejudice is as accepted as part of the human design. Yet prejudice is the kitchen where we cook our racism.

Know beyond doubt, as long as we accept and condone prejudice in the mixers and ovens of our homes, racism will be served.

Hence, prejudice must be first addressed in our own homes, in our own kitchens. The higher our toleration for prejudice, the greater likelihood of racism to serve up another extreme horror story.

Jesus addressed prejudice when he said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck of your eye’ while the log is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

This text is the power unto salvation in the redesigning and alterations of our kitchens.

It is key to our faith if we are to reduce the possibility of toxic recipes finding their way out of our household ovens, and worse, into our world. Our Lord’s teaching is gospel with the power of God to save us.

Ferguson, Charleston, New York City once and again, Baltimore, Charleston again and even Boston from distant memory, declare to us that it is time to redesign and remodel our kitchens.

Prejudice must be removed from our kitchen designs so racism won’t continually appear in our recipes for living. God hungers to transform the food we serve and consume.

Larry Coleman is senior minister at Churchland Baptist in Chesapeake, Virginia.