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Why I Don’t Care About Darfur

OK, that title is a bit of an overstatement. Of course, I care about Darfur. After all, how can anyone who professes a Christian faith overlook 400,000 people brutally victimized over the past five years and more than 2 million more displaced?

The answer is simple. They cannot. When confronted by Jesus’ and the prophets’ decree that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice,” one cannot help but be moved to action. The whole testimony of the Scriptures affirms our responsibility to speak for those whose voice has been silenced; to cry out for those who perhaps do not even know to cry out for themselves. Why then do we overlook the ravages of social injustice and inequality occurring in our country, in our cities and perhaps even in our neighborhoods in favor of more fashionable causes?

Over the last 10 years, Africa has become chic. George Clooney has petitioned the president on behalf of Darfur. Countless movies have been made. Even Brad and Angelina have adopted children from Africa. Madonna has recently followed suit. However, not only celebrities appear to be cashing-in on the Africa-craze.

It seems as though every time I surf a Christian website or open a Christian publication I read of a new, hot organization that is changing the African landscape. Undoubtedly, the Christian Church must rush to end human rights violations throughout the world. However, we must be very careful that we do not step over our own neighbors to do so.

As of 2001, approximately 17 percent of all African American men and eight percent of all Hispanic men in America were incarcerated. This compares to only 2.6 percent of Caucasian men incarcerated during the same period. While only one out of every 30 white men are imprisoned, one out of every six African American men and one out of every 12 Hispanic men are imprisoned. Moreover, according to the United States Department of Justice, 62 percent of all inmates are of an ethnic minority. Sixty-two percent of our inmates come from just 27 percent of our population.

However, the problem is not contained within our prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the likelihood that the average black man will be incarcerated in his lifetime is more than 30 percent! More than one in every three black men will see the inside of a prison cell in their lifetime. However, the Department of Justice estimates that only 10 percent of Hispanic and six percent of white men will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

These disproportionate incarceration rates affect not only the men, but also their families. Sixty-two percent of all black children in America live in single-parent households. Perhaps this is contributive to the astronomical incarceration rates of blacks. Moreover, perhaps this is also why black men are seven times more likely to murder another human being. Perhaps these fatherless and motherless homes are why the average black male is six times more likely to be murdered.

Regardless of cause, one cannot argue that there is a crisis in America’s minority communities. Granted, the struggles of urban minorities in America cannot be solely attributed to the ethnic cleansings in Darfur. To do so would be a disservice to both. However, why is it that so many Christians focus on social justice overseas while neglecting the need for social justice next door?

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With overwhelming racial inequalities, what is the Christian Church doing to bring abundant life to black children, who are six times more likely to be murdered and five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts are? With such a minority of society comprising a majority of our penitentiary inmates, how can we not ask, “Why?” When 62 percent of black children grow up in homes with only one parent to carry the burden of the family, the Christian Church must not look away. Who will cry out for those in America who are slipping through the cracks?

How can you fight racial inequality here in America? Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. I imagine if there were we would not find these issues so insurmountable. However, if post-colonialism has taught us anything, it is that a community must be empowered to change itself. Organizations such as Prison Fellowship do just this. They minister to prisoners both inside and outside of prison; through Bible studies, discipleship programs and mentoring of both ex-convicts as well as youth. It empowers individuals to take control of their lives. There is also a stark lack of ministries helping former convicts acquire and keep steady employment. Lastly, speak out against unjust laws. Laws such as the “three strikes” law, mandating a life-sentence for anyone convicted of three felonies, unfairly targets at-risk individuals. A life sentence for three instances of narcotics possession only conceals the unsightly problem of drug addiction in our minority communities. We use our state and federal prisons to conceal the problem, rather than face reality and make a decided effort for rehabilitation.

If absolutely nothing else, we must change how we look at the poor and underprivileged around us. An end to inequality always begins with the advantaged speaking out on behalf of the disadvantaged, intentionally laying down power. These young men are not criminals waiting to be caught. They are young men with Vegas-odds against them.

When I say “I don’t care about Darfur,” what I really mean is that I refuse to ignore the injustices in my neighborhood, and in my community. The Bible teaches that we should fight all injustice. We must fight to end the genocide in Darfur. However, we must also doggedly fight for social justice here in America as well. We must oppose the destruction of human life throughout the world. Yet please do not overlook it being destroyed next door to do so.

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