American Democracy has not been Democratic

Is there anything that will make the masses of white people own up to the fact that there is such a thing as white supremacy in these United States, that it has existed for years, and that it has produced “side effects” which continue to affect African-Americans today?

I listened to Bill O’Reilly go toe to toe with Dr. Cornel West, and in their discussion, O’Reilly said he did not believe there is such a thing as white privilege. (http://newsone.com/3168784/cornel-west-schools-bill-oreilly-on-white-supremacy-trickle-down-economics/) O’Reilly is an historian of sorts. He knows what the history of this nation has been as concerns black people. So when he said that, I just sat back, frustrated.

Nowhere do we hear from this nation’s white “leaders” except, maybe, from former President Jimmy Carter, that America has a sordid past as concerns its treatment of black people for which there needs to be atonement. While America blasts ISIS for brutal behavior, her leaders keep her brutality under wraps. The lynching of black people, a huge reality, is something we just don’t talk about. We, Americans, burned black people for being accused, not necessarily convicted of, crimes. We denied people “fair” trials by juries “of their peers.” White people, claiming to be Christian, led by their pastors, treated black people like rabid animals, not human beings with needs, feelings and emotions. White slave traders broke up black families as they looked for the best “deals” to wield the greatest profits for America’s growing economy, and now they complain about the broken black family which too often has no father figure present. White politicians ignored the right of all children to get a good education, denying funds to schools in black rural and urban areas for those schools to provide solid educations for black children. White systems made it impossible for black people who fought in America’s wars to get loans for homes and for education, once they returned home from serving their country. White law enforcement officers often participated in violence against black people; white presidents turned deaf ears and blind eyes to the needs of black people.

I read about the lynching of Sam Hose (http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/502), accused of killing his boss, and I wept. The going reason for lynching black people was that black men were raping white women. Facts show, however, that it was white men who were raping black women – without ever having to pay for it. Black women were pieces of meat, owned by white men. They were desecrated and humiliated, and were impregnated at the same time. I am sure some black men raped white women, but in many cases, the sex between black men and white women was consensual. White women would lie and say they were raped in order not to be killed by their husbands. Why won’t white people talk about how they are not so “holy,” not so “blameless?”

White people have no idea about how their racism has impacted black people, making masses of black people live in fear. The Great Migration, brilliantly written about in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, happened in large part because white people terrorized black people in the South, behavior sanctioned by and participated in by politicians and law enforcement officers.

Surely, Mr. O’Reilly knows this and more, and surely, he recognizes that emotional trauma like this – which has not stopped – yields side-effects. Surely too he knows that mass incarceration, on top of black people having limited access to employment, has resulted in disintegration of the African-American community. Surely …

White people seem oblivious to their history. They seem, for the most part, to want to keep their heads in the sand; many refuse to admit that the Civil War was about slavery (states’ rights meant states wanted the right to own slaves). They refuse to admit that Jim Crow worked to dehumanize black people, even as it worked to undo the freedoms black people enjoyed for a short time. They will not own that their participation in job and housing discrimination was something they could do because they were and are white – that their whiteness gave them the privilege of participating in a system which was bullying black people further and further into second class status.

All this happened as white Christians abdicated the dictates of Christianity to live in and with agape love for all people.

America’s democracy has not been democratic, not for black people, and white people will not own it.

A candid observation

God, Black People, and Katrina

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and parts of Mississippi. Katrina was vicious, surely, an unwanted and uninvited visitor to an area of the country used to unwanted guests, but she was much more rude and imposing. Her winds and her rain devastated parts of Mississippi, and her power caused storm surges and broke levees in New Orleans, in effect murdering innocent people caught in the firestorm.

One could not look at the images on television of people, mostly black and poor, standing on roofs for days, waiting to be rescued. It was hard to shut out the images of people walking in the hot, blazing New Orleans sun, across the Danzinger Bridge, looking to get away from the flood waters that were swallowing their homes. My heart was broken as I saw pictures of dead people on that bridge, waiting to be picked up. The one picture that sticks in my mind is that of an old woman, in a wheelchair on the bridge, dead.

It didn’t help to hear the stories of people in the convention center, even though Katrina’s wind and rain had caused a hole in the center’s roof. The people were there, sitting in seats normally inhabited by people enjoying entertainment of some sort. Now, those seats were filled with desperate people, in a facility where there was reportedly no air conditioning, no electricity, no running water …The images even now haunt me.

I sat in Columbus, Ohio, a pastor of a church wanting to do “what Jesus said.” I have always wanted that. The people down South were suffering. We had to do something. So, we organized a campaign to collect needed items to take to the people. Health supplies. Bleach. Diapers, Food for babies and adults. Water. Clothing …you name it, we collected it. People from all over the city and outlying suburbs came over to Advent United Church of Christ, bringing supplies and by extension, love, for the people who were suffering. We were able to get an 18-wheel truck and we filled it  …and we drove to New Orleans. The truck with supplies, and us in our cars, with the determination to help “the least of these.”

In my mind, “the least of these” were primarily the black people. Those were the people whom I saw on roofs, crying for help. Those were the people who were on that bridge and in the convention center. They were the ones who had been, in large part, unable to get out of New Orleans before the levee broke, causing that dastardly flood. I considered them to be “the least of these.” We were going down there to help my people.

But God.

I have to admit, I am angry at God a lot, because I blame God for allowing racism to flourish. I blame God for not changing the hearts of white people who are filled with hatred and a sense of superiority and entitlement. I truly believe white Christianity, for the most part, has failed when it comes to racism. The white Church has allowed racism to flourish; it has advocated for segregation in its congregations; it has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries of African-Americans who have been deemed to be the scourge of not only the United States but, it seems, the world. The god of white people has not insisted on agape love, not insisted on justice for “the least of these,” and has not pushed for mercy.

The god of the black church has been different, created out of what I call a “crazy faith” that has been the fuel for hope in spite of the injustice meted out by the government and the church. Author James Baldwin called the faith and subsequent hope of black people in America an “ironic tenacity.” Black people had to develop and embrace a faith that said trouble would not always be. Ida B. Wells, who fought against lynching in this nation, talked about her faith that was defined in large part, said James Cone in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree,  to “black cultural resistance to white supremacy.”

As we traveled to New Orleans 10 years ago, I fully expected to be able to get to the suffering black people.

But God.

We were stopped in Mississippi before we were able to get to New Orleans. I think the reason why was that there were so many people traveling there to help. We looked around; the place where we were stopped was completely devastated. We were in Pass Christian. There was nothing …We drove through deserted streets and saw homes and business flattened. There was no electricity. The houses that remained had marks on them to indicate that dead people had been found inside. On one street, there was a lonely dog walking, looking lost and forgotten. We fed him and I wondered how long it would be before he was rescued.

Anyway …we had this truck, full of supplies, and in our meandering, we came upon a church. There was life there; we could see people. We were excited and we drove as close to the door as we could. We were there! We were going to help “the least of these.”

There was one problem. All of the people …were white.

Damn. I wanted to leave. I had wanted to help the black people, and here we were, in this deserted, God-forsaken place called Mississippi, where I was sure many of my ancestors had been lynched and discriminated against. Mississippi???? God! Are You kidding me?

We began unloading stuff, things that these people needed. After a while, one of the people from Columbus came to me and asked, “When are we going to help the black people?” I just muttered and said, “soon.” In our group, we had black and white people, Jewish people as well as Christian, but for me, this wasn’t their trip, not as far as the ultimate goal was concerned. I wanted to help black people, and here we were, stuck in Mississippi, helping white people whose ancestors, at least, had surely caused misery for the very people we wanted to help and who were still in misery because of Katrina.

After we had unloaded much of what these people needed, I was jumping down from the truck, and this little old white lady, with white, fuzzy hair, came up to me, with giant, crocodile tears in her eyes. She hugged me. And then she just said, “Thank you. Thank you.”

I have never forgotten that day. I still have feelings about how that day worked out, how we ended up helping people whom I no intention of helping. I have grown too cynical to believe that our stop in Pass Christian that day made a difference in the hearts of white supremacists in that group. I blame God, like I said, for not doing a sweep of hatred in the hearts of people.

But the one thing I know is that God taught me a lesson that day, about what God and religion are supposed to be about. I am not sure I appreciate the lesson, but in spite of myself, I did learn.

Who can understand the ways of God? Surely, not me.

Emmett, Trayvon and Michael

It is a notable fact that in our country, major racial strife and a subsequent movement followed the lynching of young, black men.

That is not to say that black women have not been lynched. In fact, black women’s bodies have been brutalized by whites in this country in a way nobody likes to talk about. It is a great irony that while white men were lynching black men to protect their women from “the black beast,” which they considered black men to be, they were in fact raping black women with abandon. Because white people did not consider black people to be human, what white men did to black women was discarded and considered as a right they had in doing what they wanted to their property.

That’s another piece altogether.

But in thinking about what is going on now in this nation’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear that it has been the brutalization, the lynching, of young black men which has periodically set the country on fire. Not only have the murders of the black men been a catalyst for social upheaval, but also the lack of justice in their murders has stoked the fires of resentment and pain carried by black people in this country.

The protest today is centered around the police killings of young black men, but in the cases of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, it has been white vigilantes who have done the killing. In both cases, the murderers were tried and acquitted of wrongdoing. Their lives did not matter; the pain of their parents and loved ones did not matter, either. Emmett Till was killed on August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi, yanked from his uncle’s house in Mississippi as he slept because he allegedly winked at a white woman. He was beaten beyond recognition and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Emmett’s murderers had a trial but were acquitted after only an hour’s deliberation by the all-white, all-male jury.

We all remember that George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin and Officer Darren Wilson was not even bound over for trial in the killing of Michael Brown.

What struck me as I thought about these three young men was that they were all lynched. No, not in the classic “rope hanging from a tree” sense, but in the sense that their killings were done by white people who believe it is their duty, almost, to rid the world of those whom they deem to be unworthy of living. While Emmett was thrown into the Tallahatchie River, Michael Brown was allowed to lie on the hot pavement of a city street while officers in Ferguson built a case around his not being “a saint.” The murderers of Till tried to hide his body; the murderers of Brown left his body exposed so that the world could see what happened to people who messed with police.  Trayvon was not hidden or left lying exposed like Emmett or Michael, but his body did lie in a morgue for three days, listed as a “John Doe,” though he was killed feet from his father’s residence in a gated community in Florida. Tracy Martin, his father, had been looking for his son since the night he was killed; the morning after he didn’t come home, Martin called the police, looking for Trayvon. It was only then that he found out that his son had lain in the morgue for three days.

Three young men, one 14 years old, one 17 years old and another, 18 years old, were killed because they were black; being black made them “suspect,” and worthy of being brutalized.

None of these young men were treated …like they matter. From being stalked and “looking suspicious” as was the case with Trayvon, to engaging in a youthful flirt with a white woman in the case of Emmett, to refusing to treat a police officer, Darren Wilson, with appropriate deference, these young men lost their lives.

And too few people in the white community care about it.

If it had been my son, gunned down and then left in the street for hours, I would be furious now, just as I would be furious had my son been gunned down because he “looked suspicious.” I would be even more furious, deeply hurt, and probably inconsolable if my son’s killers were acquitted of any crime.

This nation has a plethora of mothers (and fathers) who are carrying the deepest of hurts and grief …and measured fury. The parents and loved ones of Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and literally hundreds more black people …are carrying hurt, grief …and fury. Their sadness is part of the fabric of this nation; it is an ever-deepening undercurrent of America.

The presidential candidates have, so far, all but ignored the Black Lives Matter movement. The participants in the movement are being cast off as “troublemakers.” They are. There needs to be trouble when injustice keeps on happening. If there is no trouble, nobody will listen.

Mamie Till started this wave of trouble-making when she would not permit the white people who killed her son to keep his death a secret. They thought it was over when they threw him in the river, but Mamie made them look for her son. They thought it was over when they said they would bury her son in Mississippi, but Mamie refused to let them. She took her son home to Chicago and had his horribly destroyed body photographed so that the whole world would see what the white people had done to her son.

Sybrina Martin, Trayvon’s mother, and Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr, the parents of Michael, sought justice for their sons and were deeply disappointed as the justice system refused them. Not only did the lives of their sons not matter, but neither did their lives matter, apparently, as parents seeking justice.

These three young men, robbed of life, clearly did not matter to the men who shot and killed them; they are mentioned here only because their parents  refused to remain silent.  The parents of others robbed of life in this way …are refusing to remain silent. The young people who are marching and chanting and demanding to be heard are marching because they know their own lives are in danger. They know they do not matter much, either. They also know that the only way anyone will listen …is for them to be “troublemakers.”

I think Emmett, Trayvon and Michael …and all of the others who have been gunned down largely because they were black people in America …would like that. I think their deaths ..deserve that. Their lives, and the lives of all the others …mattered.

A candid observation …

The Comfortable and the Disinherited

I struggle with wondering if the races, white and black, can be reconciled in America.

If, or since I believe in an all-good and all-powerful God, I have to believe that it is possible. And …since I believe in crazy faith, I have to believe again that it’s possible.

But the rift between “the comfortable” and the “disinherited” is a big one…and it has been there from the beginning of our history. “The comfortable” seem to think that the cries of “the disinherited” are a lot of noise. “The comfortable” will say that since there is a black man in the White House, then all is well. “The disinherited” ought to be quiet.

But the fact is that “the comfortable” really do not know or care about “the disinherited.” Though many people, black and white, are “pro-life,” “the comfortable” have no idea of what life is for “the disinherited.”  They don’t know about the horrible schools that the children of “the disinherited” have to attend, while they know that “the comfortable” have wonderful, well-equipped schools just minutes away. They don’t know, or don’t care, that even now, urban schools often have the worst teachers, the most outdated books, few if any computers, no air conditioning and/or inadequate heat. They don’t know about how the children of “the disinherited” often do not have coats and gloves and hats and boots in the winter …or if they do know, they don’t care. They do not know, and therefore cannot care, what these horrific schools must do to the psyches of the children of “the disinherited.” In one of Jonathan Kozol’s books, Savage Inequalities,” he writes about a public school in East St. Louis where sewage overflowed into the kitchen. “The school had to be shut down because sewage flowed into the basement, through the floor, then up into the kitchen and into the students’ bathrooms. The backup occurred in food preparation areas.” (p. 23)  Can you imagine what that smelled like? Can you imagine the horror the children of “the disinherited felt? Too many of “the comfortable” cannot. They blame the parents for the plight of the children and they turn their heads.

They don’t know about the concerted efforts today to dismantle the voting rights of “the disinherited,” trying to make it as impossible now for black people to vote as it was 50 years ago, or worse. They do not care that the legacy of law enforcement in this country is that far too often, law enforcement officers took part in lynching, and that the “justice system” was never just for black people. They do not know that for “the disinherited,” there was no such thing as a jury of one’s peers, because black people have been historically tried by all-white juries. They don’t know about the traveling electric chair that was used to execute people in the early 20th century, or about how when one young black man’s execution didn’t work, (there was something wrong with the chair), they put him back in jail and then took him back to that chair after the kinks were worked out. So much for not believing in “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Read The Execution of Willie Francis by Gilbert King)

They don’t know how America’s legacy of slavery and white supremacy has absolutely tarnished the quality of life for black people, even in this, the 21s century. “The comfortable” don’t know about being kept from getting a job until “every white person has a job.” (Read about it in Timothy Egan’s book, The Worst Hard Time). “The comfortable” don’t know about being afraid to look at white people or being accused of doing the same. They do not know about being afraid to change lanes today without using one’s signal (Sandra Bland) or to be stopped for a routine traffic stop (Sam Dubose) or being afraid to carry a toy weapon in an open carry state (John Crawford). They do not know what it is like to know that all an officer has to say is, “I was in fear for my life” to be deemed justified in using lethal force against another human being who…most often …is one of those dang “disinherited.”

The ways of life of “the comfortable” and “the disinherited” are so very different. Can the chasm be crossed, so that “the comfortable” see the plight of “the disinherited?” And, if they see, can anything be done to “tenderize their hearts” so that the lives of “the disinherited” are less traumatic?

One of my friends told me that the term “white supremacy” is insulting. To use it, he said, was insulting. There is no such thing …Another one of my friends said there is no such thing as evil. I said that lynching was evil, and she disagreed. I think she gave me her reason, but I did not hear. I could not hear…

With that kind of separation between these two races can there be racial reconciliation?

If I believe in a good God, and if I believe in crazy faith, then my answer has to be “yes.”

But I am struggling on this one. “The comfortable” will not willingly look and see “the disinherited,” not without something major and traumatic happening to them.

A candid observation …

Policing in America

A friend of mine caught me off guard when he said, out of the blue, “Police here are radicalized.”

It’s not like this guy is a bleeding heart liberal. He’s a middle of the road, sometimes Conservative, sometimes Liberal guy who used to be a police officer. He has been in the military …and he has a lot of soldier and police officer friends. “A lot of those guys are really nice guys,” he said quietly, “but there are a few who have been radicalized.”

I had to ask him what he meant. When we hear the word “radicalized,” we usually think of people who have been snagged by ISIS and trained to be brutes. Radicalized Muslim extremists, if the news is to be believed, are the ones to be aware and be afraid of. They are the ones who bomb buildings and cut peoples’ heads off. They are the ones who do suicide bombings. The way they are described, they are pure evil, worthy of being extinguished from the face of the earth, or at least from the face of America. So, the term “radicalized” caught me off guard.

“What I mean is, these guys have been taught to hate black people. They have been taught that black people are bad and are to be feared. They grow up with that and then they become police officers. It’s perfect for them. They have the law behind them; they are free to kill “the bad guys,” who, in their minds, are often black. They are like the modern KKK. They don’t wear white sheets anymore. They wear blue uniforms and have badges and they carry guns. They are as free to kill black people as was the KKK. Trust and believe me on this one.”

His tone was somber. He was angry but he was serious in his analysis of what is going on in America today. He knows well the line that police say, “I was in fear for my life.” “That’s all you have to say,” he said, “and you are pretty much justified in using your weapon.”

I had to look up the word “radicalization.” According to the National Counterterrorism Center, radicalization is “is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.”

Is that what happens to people who are taught to hate?

We know that in America, hatred has been the seedbed of white supremacy. In spite of belief in God and claims to be Christian, it has been hatred, not agape love, mercy and forgiveness that have been the central beliefs of those who have killed, maimed and discriminated against people because of their color. That is indisputable.

So, are many white children in America radicalized from an early age?  And is radicalization of a white American who grows up to shoot, lynch, beat and discriminate against people of color any less a threat than is a religious extremist who is involved in ISIS? Is ISIS any better than the Ku Klux Klan?

There is yet another piece to this police issue in America that is problematic. We all remember last year in Ferguson when the people were in the streets, mostly peaceful, and the police came out in full military gear. It was like a war; the police were the “good guys” and the black people protesting the death of Michael Brown and so many other issues, were “the enemy.” It was hard to watch, but it was clear that the police were positioning themselves as those in power. There was nothing the people on the streets could do to beat the tanks and military-style weapons. Ferguson was a war zone …and the police …had the power.

This power issue seems to be at the heart of racism, white supremacy and police brutality. Not all that long ago, it was the power that white people had that made black people afraid and caused the Great Migration. White people knew they could accuse a black person of something and there didn’t even have to be a trial. A black person could be and was killed often on the back of an unsubstantiated accusation. Black people wanting to vote could lose their jobs, their homes …and their lives. It was fear that drove black people ..fear caused by the unrestrained and unharnessed power of white people.

Any challenge to that power – then and now – is deadly. When one looks at the tapes of what happened to Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose, it is clear that it is not only racism that is operating, but a brute show of power. Both officers in both those incidents became incensed when their authority was challenged. Challenging the authority and power of white people has always been dangerous for black people in this nation. Police, it seems, (and this is not just white officers, but officers in general), have been seduced by the power they have, and they do not tolerate being challenged. For many officers, it appears that  the show of power extends into their private lives; study show that officers are two to four times more likely to engage in domestic abuse than the general population.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/).

It feels like we need to understand the landscape of the issue with which we are dealing if we want to effect change as concerns policing in America. Many of these officers are nice people, that is for sure …but many others are brutes …or thugs ….who do violent things to people – people of color or their own families – because they can. It seems that this systemic violence which is a part of policing in America needs to be studied carefully so that something can be done to stop the tragic deaths of people who have done nothing or, at best, committed some minor traffic infraction.

Just a thought …and a candid observation.

American Politics Immoral and in Opposition to the Will of God

American politics is an immoral endeavor, a reality which uses money to protect the rights and interests of the few over the many. But if ever there was and is a time for “we the people” to speak up and make our voices heard, it is now.

Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz …are all saying obnoxious things. Trump’s statement about Mexican immigrants ended up being widely criticized, but didn’t stop his rise in the polls. Mexico, he said, is not sending their best. Said Trump:  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” In spite of offending Mexicans, Trump has refused to apologize.

Mike Huckabee said that President Obama is basically leading Israelis “to the door of the oven,” as he criticized the pending “deal” with Iran. He, like Trump, has refused to apologize to any Jewish people whom he might have offended.

The offensive remarks will continue as the wide field of GOP presidential hopefuls gears up for the fight that will be necessary to win the Republican nomination. That’s politics.

But there are two facts that are infuriating. One, I would bet that not one of these guys will seriously deal with the crisis in America that has been growing in scope since the murder of Trayvon Martin. Across the nation, the Black Lives Matter movement has been loud and vocal, protesting the deaths of black people at the hands of police, mostly white. A huge swath of American people, African-American men, women and youth – have been crying out for justice as the police officers who have killed unarmed black people have done what they’ve done with no accountability. The latest claims by police that Sandra Bland and Kendra Chapman died by hanging themselves by hanging while in police custody have only added fuel to the fire. One more black woman, Ralkina Jones, died while in police custody as well. All three women died while in police custody within the span of a month – and yet not one of these political candidates have addressed the issue. That is a problem.

The second fact that is infuriating is that all of these candidates are spending literally billions of dollars on their campaigns. Billions. There are children in this nation who are homeless and hungry and these guys are spending billions of dollars. There are people who once had jobs and lost them, their homes, their livelihood and their hope …and these guys are spending billions of dollars on …what? Television ads which will spew their negative rhetoric against each other, working to manipulate American citizens and get them to vote for them …while masses of American citizens languish in poverty, despair and injustice.

We will hear a lot in this campaign about the Iran deal, how it’s wrong. We will hear about same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, and how those laws need to be repealed. We will hear about how there will be a wall built between America and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.

But I would bet we will hear little to next to nothing about a justice system which is not just, but which appears to be a tool for the system to put African-Americans away. I would bet that we will hear little to next to nothing about how American policies and practices have created the cradle to prison pipeline; we will hear little to next to nothing about police malpractice, and about a system which allows police to do basically what they want with whom they want with no fear of having to answer for it.

We will not hear about how something must be done to stop the slaughter of unarmed black people by police. We will hear nothing about the substandard schools in America’s cities and in its rural areas. We will hear nothing from those who say they are pro-life about how they ignore the issue of life once a fetus becomes a baby with needs. We will hear nothing about how poverty in this, the land of the free and home of the brave causes millions of children to go hungry in the summer when there is no school.

It is disgusting, the way these candidates ignore the cries of “the least of these,” and basically blame them for their plight, and it is troubling that they will not feel obligated to address America’s very real problems which are based on and come from, racism and class differences.

The only way they will address these issues – and they should be made to address them, is if “we the people” force the issue. I heard somewhere that change comes when the masses demand it. We all know that Frederick Douglas said “power concedes nothing without a demand.” Well, if ever there was a time for a demand, it is now. The young people in the Black Lives Matter movement have begun the process, but they cannot do it alone. We are in a time that is every bit as critical as was the time in the 60s when the masses gathered to demand the right to vote and to go to any restaurant or public facility they wanted. This is not the time to be quiet or to sit still.

As society has changed, the cry “We want our country back” has grown louder and louder. What is that country that they cry for? It is a country based on racism, exclusion, sexism, homophobia, militarism and materialism, for starters. It is a country where white people have been in control of everything. The cry is to go back to that America …but we cannot let that be the case. This upcoming presidential election is an opportunity for “we the people” to bust some walls down, to demand to be heard, to make the candidates address the needs, the hearts and the concerns of “the least of these.” Now is not the time to be quiet, still, or complacent.

No person should be president of this nation unless he or she is genuinely concerned about the masses of people. In order to make sure they understand that fact, the masses should demand to be heard. American politics is immoral because it ignores the dictates of the Bible so many politicians claim to love: We are to take care of “the least of these,” according to Jesus the Christ. If we cannot and will not do that, we do not deserve to call ourselves a Christian nation.

A candid observation

Sandra Bland and the Perpetual Absence of Justice for Black People

This morning, I am mourning.

It is the day after Sandra Bland has been buried, and the police department in Hempstead, Texas, and other authorities, have decreed that Sandra killed herself. This 28-year-old black woman, who was about to begin a new life in a new job, has been tossed aside as a reject by the state. Her body, her talent, her very being was not worth saving and is apparently not worth the honor of a just investigation. To say her death was a suicide is easy; it is an “oh, well!” type of response which relieves the police from having to look further, dig deeper and perhaps own responsibility for the result of what happened after this young woman was arrested for something that clearly was not an arrestable offense.

I am in mourning, not just for Sandra, but for all of the other black people who have been likewise thrown away by the system called justice. I say it that way because it has not provided justice for black people in so many instances. I found myself thinking last night about the Constitution and how it is always lifted as the benchmark for all “right” decisions, and yet, the words of the U.S. Constitution, when it has clearly said that people are entitled to a trial with a jury of their peers, have so often been ignored when it has come to black people. So many times, too often, black people, many of them innocent of the crime for which they’ve been accused, have been tried by all-white juries, filled with people who have had disdain for black people and who had no regard for throwing them in prison and whenever possible, giving them the death penalty. Our justice system has allowed white people to kill or maim black people without fear of reprisal, while at the same time, historically, prevented black people from testifying against white people. No justice. No peace. None.

The police have been on the trails of black people since the days of slavery, when people could hunt down escaped black slaved and kill them if they felt like they wanted to. No reprisal. The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 authorized governments to seize and return escaped slaves and meted out severe punishments for anyone who impeded their capture. (http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts) Though those laws were repealed, the spirit of those laws never died, and what police do today in their treatment of black people feels like those acts are still hovering over and inside the halls of justice everywhere in this country. Black people are no longer slaves, technically, but they are slaves in terms of how they are treated and regarded by the justice system.

I am in mourning.

I am mourning for the loss of Sandra and John and Trayvon and Jordan and Renisha and Michael and Freddie and so many others. I am mourning because they are gone and there has been no justice and I am mourning because their parents and loved ones have been left to fend for themselves as they manage their pain in light of the lack of justice. Could I handle it, were it one of my children who had been so unjustly dealt with by the justice system? I think not.

When Emmett Till was lynched, his mother gathered strength from somewhere I still cannot grasp in order to make the world deal with what had been done to him. .It is said that the people in Money. Mississippi wanted to just bury young Till’s body quickly in Mississippi but that Mamie said, “Oh, no.” She traveled to Mississippi and it is said that she could smell the stench of her son’s body as it lay in a local funeral home some blocks away as soon as she got off the train. She pulled strength …from somewhere. She marched to that funeral home and made herself look at her son’s mutilated and decomposing body. He was swollen and nearly unrecognizable as the young kid she had sent to see relatives …but she stood there and looked at him and recognized the ring of his dad he had put on before he left Chicago. She took her son back to Chicago and had an open casket and allowed the media to take pictures of her son as he lay there, because she wanted the world to see what “they had done” to her son. When the two men accused of the crime were put on trial, she traveled back to Mississippi and was in the court every day of their trial …and had to pull that strength …from somewhere …when they were acquitted.

No justice. No peace.

Black people are killed and have so often been said to have committed suicide. In working on a project with Ruby Sales of the SpiritHouse Project, I read report after report of black people who ended up dead while in police custody and so many of the reports said the victims had committed suicide. I had to stop periodically and, as my grandmother would say, “gather myself,” because the tears would not stop flowing. They were tears of pain, of anger and of incredulity. The justice system offered these reports as truth, and expected parents and family to just accept their words as truth. How could they? How could they offer such insulting explanations and expect us to just get over it and accept it …and move on?

There’s a reason the chant is “no justice, no peace,” and that’s because for anyone, when there is no justice, there is no peace. Fred Goldman, whose son, Ronald Goldman O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering, had no peace when Simpson was acquitted. The nation had no peace, and has no peace, as the killer of Jon Benet has not been apprehended. No justice. No peace. Had the killer of John Lennon not been apprehended, and convicted, there would have been no peace.

So, why are black people, who so frequently have no arrests, no convictions of the people who kill their loved ones, supposed to have peace in spite of there is so often …no justice?

This nation has a huge swath of people who are in perpetual mourning. Not only are there people in mourning, but there are parents and relatives who are uptight whenever their young ones are out. Black people are not safe here. Black people cannot count on the police or the justice system to protect them and make sure there is justice for them. There is too often no justice; there is no peace.

The parents and family and friends of Sandra Bland are crying this morning not only because Sandra is gone but also because now they have to deal with this system which has the reputation of casting black bodies away and not seeking justice. The families of Michael Brown and John Crawford and Trayvon Martin are left holding their grief in check while justice slides through the sieve into which their loved ones’ cases have been placed.

No justice. No peace.

All we can do is keep on trying, keep on pushing for justice. It ought not be this hard, but it is and has always been. As exhausting as it is to fight, African-Americans have to stay on the battlefield. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

There is a demand. Justice. Without it, no peace.

A candid observation …

Trump, God and White Anger

White people are mad.

A significant swath of white Americans have been angry since Barack Obama won the White House. Winning it once ws bad enough; winning it  second time was a brutal kick in teeth.

The anger of this so-called “silent majority” has been and is consistently honored on Fox News, but politicians in major elections have voiced this anger in different venues. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann drew pretty significant support in their political aspirations largely because they voiced the passion and the pain of white Americans who believed then and still believe that America was created for white people. Rand Paul, running in this 2016 race, said unashamedly as be began the  trek toward the presidency, “We’ve come to take our country back.” His statement drew wild applause. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/04/07/rand-paul-set-to-announce-presidential-run/).  He then gave a nice political ditty, outlining all the ways in which he believes America lost her way, but the passion is in the undercurrent, the things nobody really wants to say: many white Americans think too many people of color – beginning with black people and now being compounded by the immigrants coming to America in droves …are in this land compromising and changing not only the character and flavor of the land but in fact its very purpose –  and they are mad.

Donald Trump is gaining in the polls because he is saying publicly what so many white people say in private. The legacy of America – which is not democracy and egalitarianism, but which is, instead, oligarchy and inequality – is being tampered with. The Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Majority Movement in North Carolina, says America doesn’t have a Republican or Democrat problem, it doesn’t have a Liberal or Conservative problem…but it has, instead, a “heart problem.” And the heart of America, in spite of those who might argue against it, is one of white supremacy.

Perhaps the depth of this anger – this unspoken, for the most part – is illustrated by the fact that some Evangelicals are speaking support for Trump in spite of the fact that he has said publicly that he has never sought forgiveness  from God. He said when he does something wrong he just tries to do something good or right. ( http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/)  Fair enough, but this nation has made a big deal out of being Christian, and one of the central tenets of Christianity is seeking and giving forgiveness. What does that say about the religion of Conservatives? Have they somehow compromised the requirements of God and Jesus the Christ? Can you trust, theologically and religiously, anyone who blatantly and arrogantly says he purposely ignores the commands of the Christ?

White anger is not new. That anger rose up after Reconstruction when whites fought to undo every gain that was made during that period of time. Whites fought a “new civil war,” determined to win, not with guns, but with government. They pushed blacks out of political office, compromised and/or took away their right to vote, created policies which in effect created ghettos, and kept blacks basically subservient to whites in all the ways they could. They were angry that they lost the war; they were angry that new policies made the ground between blacks and whites more level, and they were not going to have it. The creation of Jim Crow made it virtually impossible for blacks to be treated as equal human beings, but tht wsa the plan. Whites wanted their country back, and that country did not include black people doing what they felt was saved and relegated for whites only.

Donald Trump knows that sentiment; he obviously feels it and it is clear that many, many Americans feel it, too. Whites are angry that Barack Obama won the White House – twice. They are mad that laws have been created to protect the LGBT community, going so far as to allow same sex couples to marry. They are angry that illegal immigrants – many of whom they use to keep their lawns kept up and their houses clean – keep coming into this nation. They are fighting to take America back to the “good old days” when white people operated and protected a land which did not provide “liberty and justice for all,” but instead kept folks under control, using the law and the courts. Their idea of democracy was a land where whites were in control and everyone else was under their thumb.

It feels like Trump and this “silent majority” are acting rather like spoiled children. They cannot get their way as easily as they once could, and they are angry about it. It feels like they will do all they can, in whatever way they can, to get things “back to normal.” When even the Evangelicals are willing to give a presidential a pass when he has said publicly that he ignores the command of God the Father and Jesus the Christ to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, you know that the anger is real.

It is very real. And it is very dangerous…

A candid observation …

Black Fathers, Wailing

 

 

 

We are near the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, and the image above is one I have not been able to get out of my mind.

Mike Brown was demonized and characterized as a “thug” who deserved what he got by many following that fateful day last August. Even as he was left lying in the street, the powers that be sought to “undo” him and in effect blame him for his tragic death by pulling up incidents that proved “he was no saint.” The police in Ferguson were more concerned, it seemed, with saving their tails than with dealing with this young man and giving him in death the respect they had not given him in life.

Not his father or mother were allowed to touch him as he lay on that hot pavement for hours.

This was their baby. Whatever he had done, he was their baby, their child, and they were not allowed to go near him.

I have to be honest. I cried as I watched this horrific drama unfold. I shook with anger as I listened to the police demonize Mike before they said a word about what happened, and how.

I visited Ferguson, a couple of times. I stood at the makeshift memorial that was constructed on the site where Mike had lain … and it gave me goosebumps.

There were a range of emotions I navigated as I awaited to see this young man finally put to rest. I watched with a mother’s eyes and felt with a mother’s heart as I watched his grief-stricken mother, Lesley McSpadden, enter that church. His father seemed to be holding up…

But he wasn’t. There is something that happens when a child dies; attention is given to the mother and the father is almost completely ignored. I noticed that when as a pastor I saw and attended to women who had lost babies due to miscarriage. The mother was allowed to mourn out loud; the fathers remained stoic.

Michael Brown Sr. looked like he was holding it together on the day his son was buried. I guess I breathed a sigh of relief; my attention then stayed on his mother.

But the tragedy of what this society has done to black men hit me full in the face when I saw this picture of Mike Brown’s father wailing at his grave site.

I realized that this society so marginalizes black men and boys, and is so smug about proclaiming that black fathers are absent, that we do not embrace the humanity of these men who are fathers, who are there for their children …and whose souls are ripped apart when their children are snatched away due to violence – street or police-induced.

Those who wanted to continue the dehumanization and criminalization of Mike Brown continued. They scoffed at the fact that he had gotten through high school and was going to college. They didn’t care. Their only sentiment was that he had brought his death upon himself.  He was no saint, they kept saying.

What college-age young man is?

I wondered then, and more so now, if those who wanted to sit in their smugness even bothered to lift their eyes to see the pain of his parents as they talked about him. His mother said he was “sweet,” but those who had demonized him dismissed that claim, as the videotape showed him pushing the store cashier.

What, sweet kids don’t sometimes do dumb stuff? Sweet kids don’t smoke marijuana? Sweet kids don’t “feel their oats” sometimes and do things that are really out of character for them?

Did people see the pain of both parents …including the pain of Mike’s father? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xORC3Kfhw0Y)

I can only imagine the pain that Mike’s parents felt the day they buried him…but the picture of Mike’s father wailing as he sat in front of his son’s coffin said more to me than anything I had read back then …or have read to date.

I remember my friend Joshua DuBois, whose wife is expecting the couple’s first child soon, giving an impassioned statement about how black fathers care. He reminded a nearly all-white gathering that it is wrong to continue carrying the belief that black fathers are absent and do not care about their children. Yes, some are absent …and that would indicate that perhaps they do not care, or cannot care at a given time in their lives.

But black fathers, black men …are human …and love their children every bit as much as a white father. They ache for their children, especially for their sons. They walk around knowing they are moving targets for police officers; they know that their children, again most especially their sons, are targets for street crime as well as for police violence against them.

Black fathers do not rest. They know the terrain and the territory on which their children walk.

The fathers of all these slain young black people are wailing … Society may not see them and may refuse to listen to them, but they are wailing.

Just look at the picture of Mike Brown’s father if you are inclined to disagree. That father’s pain …is palatable …and not isolated just to him.

America, will you ever see?

A candid observation …

 

The Heritage of Hatred

Confederate flag

 

I have been watching and listening with interest to the conversation surrounding the Confederate flag. Whites (and some blacks) who want to keep the flag on the grounds of the State Capitol keep talking about the flag representing their heritage, and they say that heritage is about the bravery of the Confederate sons who died defending the Confederacy and what it stood for.

It stood for slavery and for hatred of black people.  The heritage which so many are trying to preserve was based on and infused throughout with, hatred.

The heritage of the Confederate South was based on its refusal to let go of the “right” to own black people. The heritage held that “negroes” were the property of white people, and could thus be treated in any way the master saw fit. The heritage included the need for the white supremacist South to hold onto and to increase its number of slaves so that the economy of the South could continue to flourish. The heritage and the subsequent fight was about the right to own slaves, and about preserving the inequality between white and black people.

The heritage which so many want to preserve and remember included lynching black people for nothing, for crimes of which they were accused but which they had not committed. The heritage was about raping black slave women while putting out the “word” that black men were raping their women. The heritage was about ripping black families apart, ignoring the screams and wails of mothers as their children were ripped from their arms; it was about splitting apart black husbands and wives.

The heritage was about making it illegal for blacks to learn to read and write; it was about allowing black children to go only so far in school, because their owners wanted them in the fields, making them money.  The heritage was about using all-white juries to convict black people of crimes, about keeping silent when a black person was accused of a crime that everyone knew had been committed  by a white person. The heritage was about white law enforcement officers either staying quiet about a lynching, or taking part in the lynching …or both.  The heritage was about a federal government which did little to protect African-Americans, about a United States Supreme Court which did more to squelch the rights of black people than to increase and protect them.

The heritage was about white people doing what they did to black people because they did not consider black people to be fully human. Indeed, Charles Carroll wrote a book which was a favorite back then, The Negro, a Beast.”  The heritage was about using the Bible to justify racist beliefs and practices; the heritage, in effect, used God’s name in vain.

This heritage had no compassion, no conscience, no desire for noble and, dare I say it, Christian behavior for or toward black people.  This heritage was marked by narcissism, seeking to protect the interests of a people called white, who elevated themselves to have dominion over any people they wanted.

This heritage allowed black people to be lynched, allowed white mobs to storm jails and drag blacks accused of crimes out, only to take justice into their own hands. This heritage had no mercy, no love, no human decency.

So, yes, that flag represents heritage …but that heritage is one of hatred and degradation of a people.

That, my dear friends, is what you are talking about when you talk about “heritage.” Your ancestors fought that war and died …to perpetuate inhuman treatment of one people by another.

Tell the story…hold onto your heritage, but do it in a museum. Remember your heritage in private and don’t make those whom your ancestors died to keep enslaved and degraded, have to look at and remember that heritage on a daily basis.

It is only right that the flag come down. Heritage defined, and that heritage notwithstanding.

A candid observation …

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