Not too long ago I piled with some brothers into my friend’s truck. Our destination: “Race + Justice in America”—an event hosed by The Atlantic, one of the nation’s most revered, respected, and historic magazines. I’ll explain what this event was, how it was from my seat, and link to some resources along the way. (Really, you should check out all the talks as the whole event seemed challenging and promising.)
What was “Race + Justice in America”?
On Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, The Atlantic hosted Race + Justice in America. The event was a summit—a one-day conference—focusing on the issues of race, ethnicity, mass incarceration, policy, police, and other pertinent social justice issues here in America. The event was called in no small part because of the exposure of police killings, namely of unarmed black men, as seen virally in the media these past two years. These slayings have reinvigorated a national discussion on police, justice, and how this country might best harmonize and legislate these two forces to promote human flourishing. The Atlantic sought to further facilitate the conversation at their event, which comes on the heels of “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a long-form article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, whom many now deem the leading black intellectual of our time. Earlier this year, Coates published his letter to his 15-year-old son entitled “Between The World and Me,” a memoir renowned novelist Toni Morrison praised as “required reading.”
Attempting to lift Coates’ conversation from the “page to the stage,” The Atlantic hosted its summit in the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C. The location itself speaks to the ethos of the summit. The Lincoln theatre is situated on D.C.’s historic U Street, which was donned “Black Broadway” in the days of Jim Crow segregation. U Street was where premier black musicians and artists, such as Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey, were allowed to showcase their work to black audiences which were denied entrance into other theaters. Black Broadway suffered tremendously during the Civil Rights riots in 1968—almost all shops on the avenue burned or were broken into—save the hallowed half-smoke’s home, Ben’s Chili Bowl. And so, the surviving theater appropriately hosted some of the nation’s leading minds on some of the nation’s most difficult issues. To learn more about the event, see this video:
How was “Race + Justice in America”?
I couldn’t see much of the event as it was hosted during the work day, and a brother had to work! Therefore, I’ll speak to what I enjoyed most—seeing The Front Porch’s Thabiti Anyabwile chop it up with Coates.
Responding to Coates’ long-form articles and speaking to the hopelessness Coates issues in Between the World and Me, Anyabwile wrote “The Case for Hope.” The Atlantic’s publishing of Anyabwile’s work demonstrates their cooperative spirit—their desire to link arms by placing multiple voices from different vantage points in conversation with one another to rectify the problems before us as individuals and as a nation. I pray many follow The Atlantic’s model—conversing openly, honestly, and respectfully with others they might not agree with to further bring about progress.
As I see it, Anyabwile and Coates, though they agree largely on America’s ethnic and racial problems, could not disagree more on the ultimate solutions for these issues or who determines them. Regarding solutions, Coates seems to suggest that the struggle itself is the solution in our universe—a universe that has a moral arc bent toward chaos and is founded by a god, an arbirter, who is himself an atheist. Coming down from the ethereal realm, Coates does argue that his tangible solutions to America’s ethnic disparities and injustices involve reparations, which makes sense given that Coates’ monumental work is his “Case for Reparations“—a long-form article that set the record for website hits for The Atlantic in a single day. On the other hand, Anyabwile—who clearly articulated the biblical gospel early in his dialogue with Coates—spoke of the justice of a perfectly good and sovereign God who is returning again in the person of Christ to judge all persons. “There is coming the greatest and most perfect criminal justice system ever known,” Anyabwile said. Anyabwile further spoke of the need for hope rooted in something permanent in this dark, fleeting life; Coates questioned the legitimacy of this hope, especially for non-Christians.
I’ll call it here and leave you to Coates and Anyabwile’s conversation, but one last thing: after the conversation, I lamented that these brothers didn’t get to speak for longer. Coates described the conversation’s brevity best: “They always make us stop just as these things are getting good.” Of course, I understand their brevity given that the day, full of good talks, had to come to a close at some point. Yet now that I think about it, I appreciate their conversation’s brevity. Their brevity reminded me that the ultimate solution lies in neither of these men. Their brevity reminded me that the problems before us cannot be resolved only by these men; we must work, think, and carry out justice as well. I pray we all might look to the one who has carried out justice and righteousness fully and will do so finally—the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed Anyabwile and Coates’ brevity reminded me that this life is fleeting though God’s righteousness and grace are not. God’s attributes are a permanence I want to put my hope in. Join me in setting your hope there, too.
C’mon up on the porch and enjoy Coates and Anyabwile’s conversation: