What Color Is Your Jersey? Your Neighbor’s?
by Naomi King
All our lives we are influenced and shaped and prepared in ways we neither are aware of nor understand. That preparation is easiest to see in our actions, those fruits of our spirits, especially when we do not have much time to ponder or any time to pause and simply must react.
That’s why players with black jerseys spend more time in the penalty box. The larger culture prepares many of us to associate the color black with evil – so many of us that we have now measured, in both ice hockey and football, the expectation of referees that black jerseyed players will commit more penalty-worthy offenses.1
Racial profiling works the same way. Who seems safe and who seems risky?
We cannot live justly without training and preparing ourselves to counteract all of these other influences we undergo every day, often without awareness. Religion can only be a force for good in the world as we help and encourage one another – individually, as families, as communities – to live justly and to bring a merciful justice into fruition.
When it comes down to living justly, it helps to have simple guides that we can hold onto in those times when fear and hatred and greed are most likely to guide us. Love mercy. Love your neighbor. Love God. Love this earth. This is a path of true love of self, because reverence for life, for the Holy, for our neighbors cannot help but grow reverence for our self.
Yet we also have to train constantly. Awakened to color bias, how do we train ourselves to reclaim and grow reverence for the color black? Awakened to our biases about who seems safe and who seems risky, we take deliberate action to meet our apparently risky neighbors, to get to know them and to be known, to work together in something good for this earth and for our whole community, like planting a community garden together. Who seems risky and who seems safe changes out of such experiences and the world has a chance to shift a little more toward merciful, loving justice.
Justice is one of the fruits of faith, demonstrating our moral strength and capacity – and, often, where we need to keep trying, training, learning, and growing. How many years of practice will we need before the next study reveals no color bias in relationship to the penalty box? To answer that, we need to wrestle with our own hearts and attend to our neighbors’. To answer that, we need to be more aware of how often we casually assign one another to the penalty box and learn to live differently.
1Shankar Vedantam, “Power (Dis)Play? Teams in Black Draw More Penalties” National Public Radio, April 26, 2012.
Naomi King lives, laughs, and ministers with City of Refuge Ministries in south Florida and everywhere digital.