Am I My Brother's Keeper?

written on 25 January 2021 by Jan Pierce

Art by Nat Iwata

I had a conversation with a long-time friend. My friend said:

“You and I have our differences when it comes to worldview. Here are some of my thoughts on current issues of racial injustice and my responsibility concerning them.

We come into this world alone and we leave it the same way. Alone. God gave us family and friends and I’m thankful for that. It’s a blessing to love and be loved by those closest to us.

But even with family members and those closest to us, there is such a thing as personal responsibility. I’ve thought about it a lot with all the talk of white people being responsible for other group’s quality of life. I don’t accept that. What responsibility do I have for people being made slaves centuries ago? What did I ever do to harm one single person? I don’t own those acts.

If folks suffered in the past, that’s a shame, but let’s leave it there where it belongs. Today is what matters. I can’t change the past. My question to them is “What are you doing today to make your life better?” I’m tired of people putting out their hands for freebies and blaming their problems on others. Let them work hard like I did. Let them take responsibility for their own successes and failures.

I say it’s time for every individual to stand up and take responsibility for his or her life.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Not really. I’ve got my hands full taking care of my own life—my own family. That’s my responsibility.”

After much reflection I said:

“I say, "No."

It’s true we’re born alone, but within moments we’re gathered to our mother’s breast, skin to skin. God our creator said it’s not good to be alone and Jesus’ burning desire for his children was that we’d find unity.

So, I say, "No.” No to doing it all on our own. No to bearing the responsibility for every facet of my life with no connections, no bonds.

I say “Yes” to community. Yes, to joining hands in a just cause, giving and receiving, listening and speaking. Sharing life, not greedily grasping all I can for my sole pleasure and reward.

I say “Guilty as charged” when it comes to ignorance of systemic racism. Understanding the depths of the effects of white supremacy embedded in all of our institutions: educational, financial, political, and also in the church is an ongoing learning process. And as Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we must do better.”

Where can I be an ally to the BIPOC community? How can I become more aware of the needs in my community and be an instrument of hope? When do I speak to my white community to expose injustice?

It’s true I didn’t live in the days of slavery. I bear no blame for those horrific events. Yet I benefit even today from the racist systems born out of slavery that favor my white skin. My life has been safe, secure, and filled with opportunity.

How can I judge someone who lives with the support of government aid? My children never went hungry. My children always had healthcare. I’ve never lived poor. I’ve had more than enough. Tell the women working two full-time low-paying jobs to make ends meet, “You need to work harder to better yourself.”


Hard work and perseverance can only do so much in the face of systems mired in decades of white supremacy. My role is to advocate wherever I can for understanding, change, and rooting out of evil.

People, we are not meant to walk alone. We are born for relationship and that implies a messy give and take as we allow our lives to swirl together.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am and that’s why I dare to listen to your words, but respond with a solid, “No.””