Justice looks like my bookshelves

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Justice looks like …” is a special series in the Voices column. Readers will have the opportunity to consider justice from numerous viewpoints. The series is based on each writer’s understanding of Scripture and relationship with Jesus Christ. Writers present their own views independent of any institution, unless otherwise noted in their bios.

You are encouraged to listen to each writer without prejudgment. Then, engage in conversation with others around you about what justice looks like to you.

Click here for more information about the series. Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.

Justice looks like my bookshelves. My bookshelves at home are full of my favorite books, the ones you grab when you’re trying to remember something, or the ones you grab just for comfort.

My bookshelves also contain photographs of the women in my family who have taught me what justice looks like.

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Justice in women’s lives

My mother appears in her wedding dress, looking forward to starting a family. She grew up the daughter of a single mother in Odessa and saw the New Deal bring her family out of poverty. Her mother worked for the Works Progress Administration as a seamstress. One brother worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and after World War II, the other went to Southern Methodist University on the GI bill.

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She went to the College of Marshall and graduated from East Texas Baptist College on academic scholarships. While growing up, the public schools gave her an incredible education, and she was part of their annual honor tour for seniors, visiting Montreal. She saw the strength of both a government and a church that cared for her family.

My aunt appears in one of the photographs with her Cessna Piper Cub, which she flew with girlfriends beginning in the 1950s, scouring the Southwest in “Powder Puff Derbies.” She traveled and worked and helped to raise her nieces and nephew, marrying when she was 49. Her marriage modeled a partnership, as my Uncle George joined Auntie Laurie and her girlfriends on their trips.

As the head statistician at Blue Cross Blue Shield, my aunt’s sense of justice and fairness tolerated no slothfulness, but much grace.

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My daughter is in two photographs on my bookshelves, one in her wedding dress and the other in a blue jean jacket from high school. She’s now a public school teacher, wife and mother of two amazing children.

Her generation has a different sense of justice. Her justice is not just for her children, but for all children. Her justice recognizes the privileges we’ve had as white women.

We all have stories of being hushed in church, of being told leadership is male and God is a man. But my daughter sees even more clearly, past the “benevolent patriarchy” of our church culture into what life is like for others.

“Weathering” of racial discrimination

She has two brothers, and when those brothers were teenagers, I did not have to worry about them being shot by the police if they got in trouble. I may have worried a few times about a call from the school or a police station, but I was not fearing for their lives.

What would it be like to have to worry about them constantly, that they might be pulled over for nothing or for a minor infraction and pay with their lives?

During this pandemic, we are worried and stressed, having to make constant decisions about what to do and what is safe. I’ve asked myself, “Is this some of what life may be like as a Black woman, who experiences years of stress?”

This cumulative stress is the “weathering” of racial discrimination throughout life, having to think, “Is this safe, and is my son safe?”

“Weathering”—a term coined by Arline Geronimus in 1992—explains why infants born to late-adolescent Black women were healthier than those of Black women in their 20s, while the opposite was and still is true in white women.

These disparities are not explained by income or education, yet still exist. Indeed, a middle-class, college-educated Black woman is more likely than a non-Hispanic white woman with a high school diploma to give birth prematurely.”

As Baptists, we often focus on individual sin and salvation, but we also are part of the larger world. Our actions reinforce the social policies that perpetuate the injustice of weathering.

We reinforce it when we want the best schools for our children and merely adequate schools for others. We reinforce it when our children have good health care, but others wait for days. We reinforce it when we ask friends to help our children find jobs, but others go without this social capital.

Galatians 3:28 calls for a more just world, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

My prayer is, as my mother taught me, that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Jean Humphreys’ first experience in the Baptist world was going to Camp Paisano as a toddler. She resides in Arlington, Texas. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.

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