HuffPo: One Hug Does Not End Racism: An Advent Message

Love without justice is pure sentimentality. Our Christian Advent message, by contrast, needs to be about the complex and difficult relationship between love and justice, as challenging as that may be to preach and to hear.

This photo of Sgt. Bret Barnum hugging 12-year-old Devonte Hart during a Ferguson rally in Portland, Oregon on November 25, 2014 has gone viral.

It is called “the hug that was shared around the world.”

This touching encounter can seem tailor-made for the Christian season of Advent, the preparation for the birth of the Christ child, and for a message of hope for humanity. White Americans in particular love the hug since it seems to convey the spiritual message that “all will be well” in our racial relations because “Love Conquers All.”


Without some additional biblical and theological work, the “hug” can just “hook” white Americans like me, creating an opportunity to feel good without doing the far more difficult and challenging work of changing the systems of racial injustice that gave rise to the demonstration in Portland, Oregon to begin with.

Individual acts of kindness are necessary, but not sufficient to address the deeply rooted, and widespread pattern of racism that results in lethal violence against unarmed teenagers, as well as in a lack of prosecution of police who kill unarmed teenagers.

It is necessary but not sufficient to address the thousands and thousands of micro-aggressions with which African Americans have to live on a daily basis, as Kiese Laymon, a Vassar professor, writes so powerfully…