The Springfield police have determined that the swastika spray-painted on the door of an African-American woman’s house was a “prank.” This “prank” also included eggs thrown at the woman’s house and a smashed car windshield, by the way, and similar vandalism at another home on the same street.
Some “prank,” huh?
Okay, so let’s go with that. Let’s assume that it was supposed to be a prank, that the people responsible didn’t mean anything by it, it was a joke, it wasn’t a blatantly racist hate crime. Let’s leave aside that notion for a minute and ask this question:
Does that make it better, or worse?
Some will say, “It was a prank, so it’s all good. No harm done. Moving on."
But I do not share this perspective. In fact, if spray painting a swastika on someone’s door is considered a “prank,” that kind of makes it worse. It means the racism is systematically ingrained, insidious and hidden. And when racism is hidden like that, it’s harder to resist.
Somewhere along the way, the people who vandalized the houses were taught that it is okay to “prank” an acquaintance with a symbol of racist genocide. Somehow in our system, the police are permitted to make a determination that an overt act of racial hatred is a harmless prank. Sometime in our history, we arrived at a point where spray-painted swastikas are no big deal.
I’m sure there are a variety of answers to the where and how and when we got here questions, but there can only be one response: resistance. That is, if we are to take our baptism promises seriously. In baptism, United Methodists promise “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” and that includes forms that are systemic, hidden and ingrained in our culture.
You can hide racism in an astonishing number of ways, it turns out. And there it lurks, justified and excused, festering until an opportunity to erupt presents itself. And it always does.
Resistance to systemic racism means that, no matter what the intentions of the people in question, we are called to condemn their hateful act. By the technicalities of the law it may not be a “hate crime” as our system defines a “hate crime,” but that makes it no less reprehensible. It is abhorrent, evil, and antithetical to the very identity of God.
My friend Susan Schmalzbauer put it so well when she said, “A swastika is not a whoopee cushion.” No matter what the Springfield Police report says, this was no prank.