Let the Dreamers live: A call to action
By Sabrina Dent
Every person arrives in the world the same way. That is, without any choice. Before we were born, we did not place an order with the universe to determine our race, class, ability, gender or geographical location. These are factors that simply are intrinsic to our existence. For some people, our parents, grandparents and ancestors made choices that led to our being residents of this magnificent creation we call home. Therefore, we all have the same birthrights on Earth. Yet, history indicates that human beings determine some to be of more value than others in this world.
Take, for example, “The World’s Peoples: A Popular Account of their Bodily and Mental Characters, Beliefs, Traditions, Political and Social Institutions” (Hutchinson & Co., 1908) by A.H. Keane, L.L.D. Based on physical anthropology of individual groups, the book not only contributed to the segregationist position but also advanced a derogatory perception of people of color around the world.
While it is one thing to acknowledge diversity and differences, it is detrimental to humanity when a man described as a “virulent racist” is affirmed by the scientific community and viewed as an expert for policymakers. His ability to categorize people around the world based on observations of their physical characteristics, perceived cognitive abilities and interactions within their native communities serves as a reminder that, if racist people are empowered to make policies and decisions about a group’s identity, then they will attempt to limit who can live a dream.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” For centuries, Christians have often ignored human rights issues because they were not directly impacted by them, or they relied on prayer for God to miraculously act on atrocities carried out by humans. Immigration issues are not new to America. Whether through legal transport of slaves from the West Coast of Africa and the Caribbean or the escape from countries in crisis of families seeking a better life, humans have always been impacted by their arrival to this land, which was unethically confiscated from native indigenous peoples.
As a proponent of human dignity, I am convicted by the words of Bonhoeffer to speak out against the plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. I have witnessed women and children survivors of domestic violence seek shelter while pursuing citizenship in this country. Therefore, I protest the idea that government can criminalize a person’s right to live, exist and dream without knowing their circumstances. Given our complex history, such action is both American and un-American.
Christians boldly proclaim that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, or imago Dei. We need to continuously affirm this belief for all people regardless of race, gender, class, education, physical ability, religious belief or absence of belief. Children who open their eyes for the very first time in Zimbabwe or Mexico are just as precious as children who open their eyes in the wealthiest and poorest cities in the United States. Now is the time to speak out against all forms of injustice that impact marginalized communities, to take action to change systems that create division and hierarchy, to challenge policies that provide some individuals with privilege while stripping others of their humanity.
Again, none of us was born in our skin by choice. Those of us with status and power have a responsibility to advocate for those who are disenfranchised. When we are silent about the suffering of our fellow human beings, we fail to embody the significance of imago Dei. I challenge us to honor humanity and God by doing our part to let the dream live.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to Christian leaders from the Birmingham jail, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Sabrina Dent is a doctor of ministry candidate at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, Richmond, and director of recruitment and admissions at the Religious Freedom Center, Washington, D.C.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.