Current Events Guest Bloggers Racial Justice

What’s in a Name?

When someone’s name is taken away, that person is dehumanized. In a very real way, our name is our identity. No one has the right to take it away or change it.

Yesterday was George Floyd’s personal funeral, and many still wonder why we’re focusing so much attention on one person, one child of God, one name. Here’s a thoughtful reflection by my friend Pastor David Brown that gives new meaning to the protestor’s cry to “Say his name” and why Donald Trump’s rhetoric is dehumanizing, dangerous, and beneath the dignity of his office. -JB

By David Brown |June 6, 2020

(Like many of you, I have so much going through my head and soul in these days that it is difficult to put it all in words. This is a less than perfect attempt to share in a public forum some thoughts I have today.)

I just got off the phone with one of my older brothers. We don’t talk often but when we do the conversation goes on for quite sometime, touching on many topics. One thing he said tonight has been tumbling around in my mind for the last hour so I had to write.

Don is a Vietnam vet. He was on the ground near Khe Sanh 1967. He was a squad leader. He had made the rank of sergeant. He got a purple heart. He doesn’t talk about Vietnam much.

Tonight we got to talking about the state of our nation and it’s leadership. Don said the president’s words remind him of what they were taught in Vietnam. “You don’t look at the enemy as human. You give them all a name. You lump them all together. To us they were just ‘gooks’. “

When someone’s name is taken away, that person is dehumanized. When someone is less than human, liberty is granted to do to them whatever the privileged want. Say to them whatever the privileged want to say, whether it is true or not. Create laws that will keep them locked up or looked down upon or isolated in that part of town where there is no chance to make a better life.

So, we have all kinds of pejorative names for humans of the darker hues whether black, brown or red, that makes them less than human and automatically elevates the position of we white folks.

We create a name like “illegal alien” (or a “caravan”) for those who are looking for a taste of freedom and opportunity that we white folks take for granted. A name that makes them less than human, and thus protects our country from being “invaded” and “taken over”.

Trump has given a name to every one of his political enemies…I can’t even remember them all…Crazy Nancy, Pocahontus, Sleepy Joe, Little Marco…and what he is doing is making them less than human and thus he can say anything about them that he wants and thinks it’s all right. One of the many scary things about this is that his base thinks it is all right to do so and that it is funny. The whole Republican Party apparently thinks it is ok because no one to my knowledge has ever called him on it…the the very president of the United States dehumanizes his opponents by name calling.

Which brings us to the recent events in Minneapolis. After talking to my brother, the chant, “Say his name!” has taken on new meaning. Lisa and I visited the George Floyd memorial on 38th and Chicago this morning, with Tim and Heather and our 5 year old grandson. ( Tim and Heather wanted to take Beckett and explain to him what happened there. They had the conversation about a man who died at the hands of a bad man because of his skin color.) The thing that brought tears to my eyes were the painted names on the street of dozens of black people who have died at the hands of police officers. Names. Individuals. Humans.

In a very real way, our name is our identity. It belongs to us. It individualizes each one of us as a unique human being. No one has the right to take it away or change it. It is my hope and my prayer that the name…the man…George Floyd will be remembered as the one who reignited the passions and desires of this nation for racial equality and justice…that black lives don’t just matter, that black lives are human…and that those desires come to pass.

Furthermore, the next time you hear the president call someone a name, or group people together in a derogatory way, think about what my brother said. And ask yourself, is this the kind of leadership our nation needs?

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

0 comments on “What’s in a Name?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: