Passive Racism

Mark Johnson | October 13, 2020

This Tuesday (Oct. 13), I joined with the Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vincity planning group at their morning press conference held at Shiloh Baptist Church. They updated the community on the ongoing work for economic empowerment and concern for local police practices in response to the needs of the African-American community.  I've included their full statement below.

Before you read it, I wanted to offer a distinction I’ve found helpful in my own life while working on similar issues.  This practical insight distinguishes between active racism and passive racism. 

Active racism is the overt, conscious, offensive, and repugnant attitudes, words, and behavior we normally associate with someone we might call a racist.  It is what most mean by the word “racism” itself.  I would imagine we would be horrified to discover we had behaved or said something in such an ugly, insensitive manner that it would be deemed racist.

But passive racism is more discrete and more difficult to notice and identify.  Passive racism relates to the way systems, policies, institutions (and the individuals who participate in them) are subject to implicit bias and who thereby perpetuate racial bias.  Passive racism is often unconscious and left unchecked. If a person in the dominant majority is not adversely impacted by racism, then what concern exists to address it? 

As a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, privileged, older male Baptist pastor, this distinction between the active and passive forms of bias is vitally important in the practice of my ministry.  I might compliment myself for not being an “active” racist.  But I have no such excuse for my complicity in “passive” racism.  I must recognize how I have benefited and continue to be aided by a system offered to me because of my standing and history, even if it remains a system still able to oppress, deny and abuse my neighbor, the very ones I am called in Christ to love as much as myself.

By understanding and confessing the passive forms of acceptance and service I offer to an unchanged world reveals the ways I have unwittingly supported a condition I say I am committed to helping remedy and remove. Passive complicity takes many forms and can be applied to many examples of protecting civil rights for those in the minority.

I have found that when I make the concern of the poor, disadvantaged, and oppressed far more important as if it was my own personal pressing concern, I am far more capable to empathize with the victims of injustice and am far more motivated to engage in the necessary work that notices their struggles and advocates on their behalf.

Please keep this in mind as you read this updated press release from my African-American friends, colleagues, and partners in the gospel work.



When we shared our original statement on June 4th, we were clear that, though our call for action was unprecedented for Lexington and vicinity, it would be accompanied by an unwavering commitment to working with others to affect racial justice and equity, with regard to the criminal justice system and economic inclusion. It is with that commitment that we continue to demand action, watch for progress, and shed light on where we are in this endeavor.

On Lexington Policing

The Law Enforcement Subcommittee of the Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vicinity met
with Chief Weathers to discuss no-knock warrants, police worn body cameras, and the need for an independent citizen’s review board as a component of the police disciplinary process. Following the substantive discussion, we were encouraged by Chief Weathers to meet with LPD staff, who oversee those areas, to better understand the dynamics of those operations, which we did. We are thankful to those staff persons who met with us to engage in these crucial conversations pertaining to police reform and the improvement of community-police relations.

With that being said, we maintain our initially stated position on no-knock warrants. Though this practice is very rarely utilized by the LPD, we contend that the potential benefits of executing a no-knock warrant are far outweighed by the clearly apparent potential for the tragic loss of innocent lives. We, therefore, continue to call on Mayor Gorton to permanently ban the use of no-knock warrants.

Furthermore, we appreciate Chief Weathers’ and the LPD’s acknowledgment of the need for greater utilization of police body cameras to increase the transparency of police and community interactions. We are also encouraged to hear of Chief Weathers’ commitment to fitting his entire department, including safety officers, with body-worn cameras by January 2021. We will continue to monitor this process.

However, issuing body cameras, wearing body cameras and properly utilizing body cameras are three different things, as was reflected in the June 26th Herald-Leader article that cited well over three hundred incidents in which officers failed to activate their assigned body cameras in both 2018 and 2019. Therefore, we are still calling for Mayor Gorton and Chief Weathers to strictly enforce police policies and procedures pertaining to the use of body cameras, and to implement new ones to the extent current policies and procedures are insufficient to bring about absolute compliance.

Finally, with regard to policing, one of the intangible takeaways from our various conversations is the critical need to rehabilitate the state of community-police relations. As such, we still contend and call for, an independent citizen review board. As has been noted by experts that shared during sessions of the Law Enforcement, Justice & Accountability Subcommittee of the Mayor’s Commission for Racial Justice and Equality, the need for an independent review process is essential to ensuring the community’s level of confidence in local law enforcement. Therefore, we continue to call on Mayor Gorton and the city council to exhaust every avenue, available to them locally and in Frankfort, to maximize citizen participation during the police disciplinary process.

On Economic Inclusion

With regard to racial disparities and inequities: housing, health, education, employment and criminal justice disparities all stem from economic disparities. Therefore, serious commitments by the University of Kentucky, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, and Fayette County Public Schools, to economic inclusion via increased racial minority business spending, are an absolute requisite to achieving comprehensive racial equity and justice in Central Kentucky.

Therefore, we thank Commerce Lexington for convening a series of meetings with key representatives from each of the aforementioned entities. And today, we are announcing publicly what we have asked each of these entities to do.

So, we have asked for, and are seeking, the following next steps from each of these organizations, with regard to racial minority business spending:

1. Disaggregation of all minority business spending figures for fiscal years 2016 through 2020, in order to determine how much each organization spent on procurement by race;

2. EngagementinacollaborativepartnershipwithBlackFaithLeadersofLexington& Vicinity (BFLLV) and a collection of racial minority business leaders of our mutual choosing;

3. Commitmenttoworkingwiththegroupsreferencedabovetodevelop, implement and execute a minority business spending plan that is:

Intentional (which will be demonstrated by their willingness to accept our call for collaboration);

Transformational(Lexington’spopulationisroughly25%non-white and nearly 15% African-American, which demands that at least 15% of institutional spending must be done w/ racial minority-owned firms if this community is to have an economic transformation.); Measurable (hence, the need for disaggregation of all metrics by racial designation); and Consequential (for those achieving and not achieving the 15% standard)

Note: When demands, such as these are made, undoubtedly some will call for a disparity study to be conducted. So, we would like to note that the possibility of a disparity study in response to our call for greater minority business spending presents two concerns, and those concerns are that disparity studies are very expensive and they take up to two years to complete.

The Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vicinity declare that we do not have time to wait for the outcome of a study before taking major steps toward tangible progress in racial minority business spending. Therefore, our fourth demand that we have shared with each entity, with regard to minority business spending, is that there must be:]

4. Substantive consultation with BFLLV prior to deciding to embark upon a disparity study in order to determine:

how immediate and ongoing progress can be made toward the plan described in item #3 above and

how possible disparity study findings would impact our stated demand for 15% of spending, with racial minority-owned businesses.

We already know that we do not have enough racial minority-owned businesses in Central Kentucky, and we do not have them largely because large area institutions have historically ignored them and/or refused to do business with them. So, a serious commitment to minority business inclusion necessitates a mutual adoption of each of these action steps, and we are hopeful that each of these items will be agreed upon with UK, LFUCG, and FCPS at our next meeting facilitated by Commerce Lexington. And we will keep the community posted.

With Regard to Voting

With regard to voting, Lexington, Kentucky, and America have got to change. And protesting is the language of people who have not been heard, and the pleas of black people have rarely been heard in the history of this community, this Commonwealth, and this country. But the best way to bring about change is by electing people who agree with the changes that need to be made. And given the twin pandemics of racial injustice and COVID-19, and the threats to the Postal Service, Social Security benefits, and Affordable Healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions, it is without a doubt that we are in the midst of the most important election that we have had since the Civil War. Therefore, the Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vicinity are calling on everyone to vote by Tuesday, November 3rd.

And we are encouraging everyone, who is able, to vote early, starting today, at a designated location. Or if voting absentee, please remember to sign and seal both the outer and inner envelopes, and deliver it to a designated drop box location. So, again, when it comes to absentee ballots, make sure you sign, seal and deliver them because we need to make sure that every vote counts.

And we are encouraging every person of faith to make your ballot choices based upon which candidates have shown the greatest tendency to represent others as they would have others to represent them.

And finally, we say to all voters who claim to be Christians, one day the Lord will return. And He has already said to us that He will separate us all like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He has made it clear that He is watching and will say to those who really are His, “Come and inherit the Kingdom, prepared for you . . . “ But He will also say to those who only looked like they were His, “I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger (that means I was an immigrant), and you didn’t invite me in. I was naked, and you didn’t give me any clothes. And I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t come to see about me.”

And those who pretend to love God will not understand what Jesus is talking about when He says this. But Jesus explains that He takes how we treat the people who are the most vulnerable so personally that whatever we do or do not do with regard to them is as if we did it or did not do it unto him.

So, the Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vicinity call on everyone to vote with the most vulnerable people, among us, in mind.

That concludes our official statement at this time.

3 months


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