Child Q and institutional racism
Police strip-searching a 15 year old black school girl without an appropriate adult present is a further example of how society's norms need to be challenged - and surely the church needs to make its voice heard on this, writes Baptist Union justice enabler Wale Hudson-Roberts
George Floyd was less fortunate: his heart collapsed under the sheer weight of the police brutality. Child Q survived her ordeal. Or did she?
The story goes that the police were invited into the school because cannabis was smelt on her. Child Q, aged 15, was then taken out of an exam and stripped searched, a process which involved the exposure of her intimate body parts, even in the knowledge she was menstruating. This heinous behaviour took place on school premises without an appropriate adult present. The four officers found no cannabis.
Whether it’s her zest for life, passion and commitment for education, trust in people and the system, the moment the police violated her body her flame for life was immediately quenched. In a moment she became an adult. Her innocence shattered.
On 25 May 2020, Minneapolis officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Mr Floyd had brought cigarettes with a counterfeit 20-dollar bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived on the scene George Floyd, aggressively pinned down between three officers, was unconscious and showing no signs of life.
The experiences of Child Q and George Floyd are both symptomatic of a system that refused to respect their humanity. They are horrific examples of institutional racism. Child Q’s experience followed the Sewell Report, which did not attribute institutional racism as the primary force behind the exclusion of countless numbers of Black and Brown people. Instead, it played around with lofty concepts and made a few robust recommendations while dancing around the issue that eliminates Black and Brown people from the mainstream. For being ‘roughed up’ by white police officers in 2020 draws sharp parallels with the experience of our parents in the sixties and seventies. The external and internal forces that crushed the Windrush communities remain firmly intact.
Institutional racism is not the only factor that drove the mistreatment of Child Q and the death of George Floyd. What theologian Willie Jennings describes as “Whiteness” is the second.
Whiteness is not an ontological category. It interprets the world through the lens of privilege, power, and entitlement. It feels it has the right to show scant regard for the lived realities of the ‘othered.’ Much of the world is shaped in its image. The parts that are not are eventually colonised in its likeness. Whiteness regards itself as the global force to be reckoned with. Entitlement is its language.
In the case of Child Q, entitlement aligned with privilege was writ large. The police did not consult the parents of the child. I mean, why should they? After all, they are the law emblazoned in white. This gives them, so they believe, licence to flesh out their whiteness in whatever way and sphere they deem appropriate.
How can this global construct of Whiteness be deconstructed?
As a starting point it requires the privileged among us to continue to reflect on the Divine community, God’s interdependence. All the partners in God’s trinitarian life are united in a single coherent unified divinity. Their individuality and diversity are defined by their relationships with each other. The divine partners indwell one another without losing or compromising their differences. It is love, love for self and love for others that binds the diverse life of God in an undivided unity.
This model of unity in diversity is eloquently explored by a White Western theologian, Miroslav Volf in his influential book Exclusion and Embrace. The image of embrace captures the possibility of making sacrificial and vulnerable space within oneself for the ‘othered.’ Volf argues that only by making such space for the other can we begin to see and respect the world and theologies that others see and read. This does not demand a loss of self, instead it calls for a limiting of self.
Reflection, whether it be on the words of Jennings or Volf, must at some point lead to action. Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, the organisers of Black Lives Matter, reinforce the necessity for action to follow reflection. Black Lives Matter shot into action with a social media hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot Trayvon Martin in 2012. The movement’s response to the murder of George Floyd firmly placed it on the international landscape. More recently Black Lives Matter has spearheaded demonstrations worldwide protesting police brutality.
Our Christian history is replete with names that have converted words into action and challenged whiteness. Sojourner Truth is one such person. Sojourner was perhaps the most famous African American woman in the 19th century, and for good reason. She was not just an evangelist but a women’s rights activist and became known for her speech with the famous refrain ‘Ain’t I Woman.’ Similar activists worth noting include Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela. Today’s church, emulating yesterday’s church, needs to practise a theology of protest. I was delighted to hear about the hundreds of protesters that marched through east London on Sunday in support of Child Q, the crowds rightly chanting ‘power to Black girl Child Q’ and ‘safe schools.’
But where was the church? A theology of protest invites the church to embody its creative anger and while speaking truth to power demand that ‘justice rolls like a river and a never-ending stream.’ If there is an incident that should have eclipsed the importance of press releases and the circulation of statements among church bodies, it is this one.
Ideally, faith and society need to continue to parade the UK streets chanting ‘Ain’t I a Woman.’
Image | Alexis Bahl | Pexels
Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Justice Enabler of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
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