This morning, my son’s best friend—I’ll call him Danny—got dropped off at our house before school. Normally, Danny rides the school bus that picks him up near his own house. But this week, his parents are driving him over here so Danny can ride the bus with my son. That’s because last week, a whole bunch of kids on Danny’s bus decided to download an app that makes a whipping sound when you shake your phone. Every time Danny walked up and down the bus aisle, he heard the sound of dozens of cracking whips.
Danny is one of only a handful of Black students at my son’s middle school. The White kids who decided it would be funny to make whip-cracking sounds toward the one Black kid on the bus may be ignorant of much of the historical context that makes that a particularly horrifying decision. But they knew enough to decide that Danny was someone Other. Someone different from them. Someone who could and should be cruelly tormented.
I want to be shocked that this is happening now, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, in the outskirts of a city that just a few short years ago, held Black Lives Matter protests for over one hundred nights in a row. I know that plenty of righteous indignation about racism grows here. So I want to be shocked about the race-based bullying on the bus—but I’m not, because I’ve lived in this community for eight years now, and I know that right up alongside the BLM signs has grown a whole different kind of rhetoric. I’ve seen the Proud Boys rallies and the Confederate flags in my neighborhood. I know that hate grows here, too.
My next impulse, if I can’t be shocked, is to be judgemental. How can those kids think that’s okay? I wonder. What are their parents modeling for them? What is going on with all these racist families around here?
With the judgment comes pride. At least we’re not like that, I think to myself. We’re the house Danny feels safe coming to. We’re the good White people.
Then I realize that I’m doing to the kids on the bus the exact same thing they did to Danny. I’m Othering them. I’m assuming they are fundamentally different from me.
The truth is, I’m just as guilty as they are of making othering assumptions about the people around me. I’ve never shaken a whip-cracking app at someone because of the color of their skin. But I’ve jumped to prejudicial conclusions about people’s wealth, education, and socioeconomic status. I’ve given preferential treatment—often, so subtly I hid it even from my own conscious mind at the time—to those whom I thought of as my own kind of people. I’ve adopted an ugly false authority—again, so subtly I couldn’t even see it—over people I thought of as less than me. As Other.
And even as I’m learning to recognize all this Othering in myself, I’m tempted to turn it into a new kind of Othering—making myself feel like I’m somehow better than the people who are doing the very same things I’ve barely learned to try not to do.
You, therefore, have no excuse, writes the apostle Paul, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1).
It’s a mess. Thankfully, it’s a mess the Gospel can transform. This particular situation reminds me of three truths of the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection:
- God cares about injustice even more than I do. It’s not wrong to be outraged about what’s happening on Danny’s bus. It’s a terrible thing, and the Gospel shows us that God takes terrible injustice seriously. Whenever I am grieved about the way someone is being harmed, I can be sure that my Heavenly Father is ever so much more so. The cross of Jesus shows us just how much God grieves what’s wrong with the world.
- We all stand before the cross on level moral ground. Recognizing that I’m just as guilty of Othering as the ones I want to condemn reminds me that there are no morally superior people in God’s kingdom. This is not to say that everyone is equally guilty of every kind of sin. Given any one particular kind of sin, there are doubtless some people in the world who have only been harmed by it, and some who have only perpetrated it. But no one is innocent of everything. All have sinned; Christ died for us all. We stand together in need of a Savior.
- In Christ’s resurrection power, we are being transformed into a new humanity. In the early church, both Jews and Gentiles rejoiced that Jesus had broken down the wall of hostility that formerly divided them, making their two disparate groups into one united body (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus does the same thing today. What joy to watch as Jesus brings a unified Bride together from every tongue and tribe and nation! I’m praying that even the tormentors on Danny’s bus will one day join in the gathered people of God.
Glory to God who makes all things new.
By Sarah Sanderson