One of the more instructive responses to the continuing unrest after the killing of Michael Brown – at least for me, as a white American – has been an interview Chris Rock did with Frank Rich in New York Magazine. (Once again, comedians prove to be our modern-day prophets.) Shared in the context of the protests that have been taking place in Brown’s town of Ferguson, Mo., Rock’s thoughts also speak to Christians committed to the restorative work of racial reconciliation around the country.
It’s a wide-ranging interview, covering some incisive observations about the state of comedy and the current political landscape. Here’s the most pertinent exchange as far as Ferguson is concerned:
Chris Rock: When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Frank Rich: Right. It’s ridiculous.
Chris Rock: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Frank Rich: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?
Chris Rock: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.
There’s a gauntlet being thrown down here. Rock’s comments suggest why racism continues to fester in America – namely, because white people haven’t made enough “progress.” He also illuminates why the reaction in some black communities has been rage after that racism becomes blatant, as it is in the testimony of police officer Darren Wilson, in which he describes Brown as a “demon;” in the decision of a mostly white grand jury not to indict Wilson; and in the news just this week that another police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, would not be indicted for the killing of another black man, Eric Garner.
Ferguson has been a reminder of how far away we are from Scripture’s vision for us as a people of God, at once “neither Jew nor Gentile” and richlydiverse. As sin, racism will always be part of the groaning of creation, but must we give it this much leeway?