When What Is Broken Cannot Be Fixed

Sometimes, something is so broken that it cannot be fixed; it must be replaced.

Not long ago, I got into my car and tried to start it up. Nothing happened. So, I figured my battery was dead – puzzling to me because it was fairly new – but that’s the only reason I could figure out why it would not start. I called AAA and the tech tested the battery and said it was fine. Something else was wrong.

He tinkered around a bit and finally figured out that the gear shift wasn’t completely locked in the “Park” position. He was able to move it to “Neutral” and the car started. He said something was wrong but that as long as when I was driving it I kept it in “neutral,” even when I parked it, it would be OK.

I was comforted, because I had a lot to do, and one of the things I was doing at that time was driving Uber. I had lost a couple of clients because of the car, but once I found out what was wrong, I was on my way. I picked up a group of college kids on their way to Central America. We talked and laughed and when we got to the airport, I did what I always did: I put the car in “Park.”

As soon as I did it I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t move it to “neutral.” Whatever that AAA tech had done (he had finagled something) I could not do. And so I was there, stuck in the airport. I called AAA and they couldn’t do whatever they had done before. I had to have the car towed.  I had been sitting in that space for two hours waiting for the tow truck, only to be told they could do nothing.

I took the car to a mechanic recommended to me by a friend. I had purchased a new gear shift component since that’s what the first AAA person had said was defective. But when the new part was put into the car, it was still impossible to put the car into gear.

The mechanic was puzzled, and so he asked me to give him some time to explore and see what was going on. Several hours later, he called and said, “The gear shift parts are being held together by zip ties,” he said, “and it looks like one of them got loose.”

Zip ties? This was a 2006 car. I had never had any problems, so this was major, but zip ties? The mechanic said that this problem had probably occurred before and it was decided to “fix” it with zip ties.

The part was not fixable, he said. He replaced the old zip ties with new ones and said I should be OK, but I was rattled. The idea that something so vital for the life and operation of the car was being held together with zip ties was scary. The part was not fixable, and a new part was more expensive than the car was worth, and so I had to get a new car.

Sometimes, things that are broken are not fixable. As this nation grapples with the explosion of rage and anger and hurt and grief that is spilling onto our streets and around the world, I keep hearing people say, “we need to heal.”

Yes, we do, but we cannot heal with the toxic, broken system that is the legacy of America still in place. We have been applying zip ties to issues of human rights and human decency since the inception of this country. The zip ties re-worn; we cannot shift ourselves back into “normalcy.” Our foundation needs to be replaced, and only then when the possibility of the same poisonous, degrading, oppressive behaviors and practices never being thrust before us again can we begin to talk about healing. The wounds doled out by the oppressive system have taken all the band-aids, all of the “zip ties” they can handle, and now the oozing of pain will not stop. The system needs to be “done over” so that the glorious words of freedom and justice and liberty for all can be realized.

Nobody ever wants to start over. It is cheaper to “fix” than it is to “replace,” but when replacement is due, it is due. Fixing will no longer work.

Perhaps someone will understand that this nation and its people are at a crisis point that is going to demand more than conversations and task forces and the changing of offensive African American images on syrup bottles and boxes of rice to images that do not remind everyone of the knee that white supremacist practices have had on the necks of all of us – white as well as black – since the Founders put together the Constitution.

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes said, in a recent interview with Bill Moyers, that white people do not even realize all they are missing by refusing to be in community with African Americans, but he said the question must be asked of them, “Haven’t you had enough? Isn’t 400 years of you sucking the lifeblood out of us enough?”

Hopefully, the answer is yes. Hopefully, we can take the zip ties out of the gut of our nation and work to become a nation where all people are valued.

A candid observation …

(c) Susan K Smith

Your Whiteness Will Not Protect You

Whenever there is social unrest, artists – including writers, poets, essayists, musicians, dancers, spoken word specialists, painters …come out. They come out and express through their talents and gifts the soul of those who does not have that capacity.

Many new songs and written pieces have emerged during this troubling time in America – caused first by the invasion of the coronavirus, and then by the shooting deaths of three black people – Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – whose situations made the news. Arbery was shot in cold blood by white vigilantes, and Taylor and Floyd were killed by police officers.

And though I have wanted to write, I have not been able to. The grief I feel is so deep, unlike any grief I have felt in my life as I have worked to try to expose, explain, and eliminate as much racism as possible by teaching people what is up, why history matters, and that they have the power to change things.

But this grief is different. It is a grief that began when Donald J. Trump became president. From the beginning, I could see that he was bad news for black and brown people. His mere presence, his arrogance, his lying, his disregard for America and America’s constitution, his sexism, his race-baiting, and his tacit encouragement of racial violence, got into my soul early on.

More than that, the number of people following him, lifting him up as some kind of messiah, saying that he either was God or was sent here by God, boggled my spirit, and the silence of white evangelicals bore a hole into a part of me that had made me believe that though their theology was different from mine, they still had – somewhere – some basic Christian principles. They claimed to be Christian, after all.

But since his election, I have seen nothing but the eroding of the gains all kinds of groups and individuals have made. I have seen GOP senators, representatives, mayors, governors, and cabinet members bow at his feet. I have cried out loud as I have watched his attorney general run roughshod over the justice he is supposed to seek. I have watched this president silence those who have sought to report dangerous happenings in the government, and put in place sycophants who are more afraid of him and what he will do than they are concerned with the lives of the people of this country.

I think the breaking point came last week, as that video of the white officer killing George Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck, did it – put my soul in this place of deep grief. The murder itself was horrendous, but it was the smug expression on that officer’s face (I refuse to use his name) that got to me. It told the story of white supremacist thinking and attitudes that have always existed. His face said, “I can do what I want and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” His face said, “yeah, I hear this man begging for his life, but I don’t have to listen to him and I will say that his demise was his own fault.” That expression said, “I am a cop and I can do whatever I want,” and his expression said, “Fuck you all.”

I still shudder as I remember how his face got to me. I shudder when I think of how this president has said nothing publicly to comfort that man’s family or the families of the other black people who have essentially been lynched. While he urged the Michigan governor to speak to and negotiate with white men with assault weapons who stood in her capital building, angry because of the “shelter in place” rules, he has called those who are angry because they are tired of black people being dehumanized, criminalized, and eliminated – either by poverty or by law enforcement.

The president is making no bones about wanting to mobilize those who have been craving a war between the races for some time. His militarization, or deeper militarization of law enforcement, is sickening, and the silence of his sycophants is even more sickening. He is working to undo this government and his friends in high places are helping him. His jaunt to St. John’s Episcopal Church after law enforcement forced peaceful protestors out of LaFayette Park with tear gas was gut-wrenching to watch. His bodacious and disrespectful pose in front of the church holding a bible – and the silence of evangelicals about it – is still sickening to think about. His calling peaceful protesters “terrorists” while ignoring the very real and disturbing presence and work of white nationalist and supremacists is not surprising, but troubling.

He is standing on and in his whiteness.

But I have to say this: Your whiteness will not protect you. People who are white are going to suffer just like black and brown people. Your whiteness will not protect you from poverty, illness, and the inability to get health care or necessary medicine. Your whiteness will not exempt your children and loved ones from getting COVID-19, because the virus, unleashed, doesn’t give a damn about one’s race, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Your whiteness will not keep you from suffering because you cannot get unemployment benefits – and ultimately, to the politicians – your whiteness will not protect you from being voted out of office. James Baldwin said that people make a moral decision to be white – meaning, they choose to lie in the comfort of the false construct called white superiority, enabling them to ignore the people around them.

But it will not protect you, because viruses spread. Just as the coronavirus is spreading, so is the virus of racism. The infection may not have reached you yet, but it will, and when it does, I hope you have enough chutzpah to endure it. History says you won’t. You have gotten so comfortable in your whiteness that you have grown weak; you have not had to exercise and strengthen the spiritual muscles the oppressed have had to develop. You will feel the pain you have inflicted on others. What you have put into the universe will not only come back to you, it is on its way now.

A candid observation.

The Expendability of “Essential” Workers

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has said repeatedly that “slavery never ended. It just evolved.”

I have been thinking about that statement as I have watched and listened to conversation about “essential” workers as we live in this pandemic.  They include health care workers, janitors, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, waiters and waitresses, bus drivers, police and fire personnel, those who run the subways and more …and yet, it seems to me they are the people considered to be most expendable by the federal government and by the businesses which employ them.

So many of these “essential” workers have lost their lives and/or their jobs, but from the federal government, I hear little concern. Instead, there is a push to get the economy alive again, with corporations joining forces with the Trump administration to get the people back to work. And the president is apparently being urged to open the country – come what may – by nervous corporations who are losing lots and lots of money as this virus ravages through the country.

In this country, 3.8 million people have lost their jobs. The federal government and big businesses are very concerned about that number.

The latest insult to the lives and dignity of these workers came this week as the president issued an executive order ordering meat-packing plants to stay open, in spite of outbreaks of the coronavirus in several of them. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/28/trump-meat-plants-dpa/) At least 17 people who work in these plants have died of COVID-19, and over 5,000 have been affected by the disease. A report today said that some workers who are afraid to return to the plants or to any businesses opening before the recommended wait time for fear of contracting the virus are facing the possibility of losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work. (https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/29/847937625/workers-scared-as-trump-orders-meat-plants-to-open-during-coronavirus-crisis) (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/29/unemployment-coronavirus-safety-223216)

The workers are being placated and are being told that there will be extra or adequate protective gear for them, the same necessary gear that health care workers – again, essential workers – have been begging for which they have not been able to get in the numbers they need for the past two months.  Not to worry, dear meatpacking workers. The protective gear will keep them safe. If it doesn’t?  Unfortunately, the attitude seems to be “well, we tried.” If any of the workers get sick and/or die, the focus will be replacing the deceased by immediately hiring more people to do the work.

Period.

The government feels like it is being run by the president and corporate presidents that consider human beings to be mere commodities, and those not in the highest ranks of the plantation infrastructure – from cabinet members to legislators to some local politicians – are acting as the overseers. Their job is to keep the plantation open and thriving.

It is heartbreaking to see the lack of concern for human life being shown by the president and by big business. In this country, over 60,000 people have died – more than those who died in the Vietnam War – and yet, there has been no outpouring of concern from bedfellows big government and big business, a tawdry partnership if there ever was one. The only thing that matters is the making, accumulation, and sustaining of wealth and power. If some of those who are making these individuals and their businesses wealthy, then so be it. “The partnership” has many supporters, people who are a part of the 99 percent of Americans in this country who are struggling to survive, even as the one percent hoards wealth. Many of the supporters have said that it is no big concern if some people die in the work to save the economy. That must make “the partnership” smile, but the sad reality is that their lives are expendable too, to themselves, apparently, as well as to those whom they support so vehemently. As long as they can work, they matter. When they can no longer help fill the coffers of the wealthy, they, too, will be disregarded and forgotten.

This is none other than slavery by another name.

I have – as have many of us – read about how enslaved Africans were forced to work, regardless of how they felt physically. Pregnant women would work in the fields up to the moment of giving birth, which means they worked while in labor. All of the slaves worked in oppressive heat and humidity; those in the rice fields stood knee-deep in mosquito-infested water for hours each day, which made malaria a common malady. The mortality rate among those enslaved could be as high as 90 percent, but neither the plantation owner nor the overseers cared. The goal was to keep the money coming, and the essential people – the enslaved Africans and their children – were needed and used until they got too sick to work or they died. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2956.html

We are seeing the same attitude today from the federal government and from some state governments. Yes, the status of the economy is bad and frightening, but the fact that there is no concern for or even gratitude being voiced for the work these people are doing is telling. People, it seems, of all colors, but especially brown and black, are still commodities, objects, not human beings, worth their weight in gold because they make the ruling class wealthy, but at the same time, worth nothing because of their color and economic status.

Bryan Stevenson is right. Slavery never ended. We are seeing its evolution now. The soul of this country is terminal. And that being the case, so is the image and the myth of the “exceptional” United States of America. Essential workers are truly essential – to everyone – but in the eyes of the moneyed class, they are also expendable.

A candid observation …

The Tragedy of Being White, Wealthy, and Privileged

As I have watched and listened to people talk about how it is okay if some people die in order to save the economy, I have literally shuddered. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) said in essence that allowing some people to die in order that the economy might be saved was the “lesser of two evils.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/14/politics/trey-hollingsworth-coronavirus/index.html)

Specifically, he said “…” it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

He has not been the only GOP lawmaker to have expressed such sentiments. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that lots of grandparents would be willing to die of the virus in order to save the economy. He also expressed his belief that American adults ought to be “willing” to sacrifice their lives for the economy. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/dan-patrick-seniors-are-willing-to-die-to-save-economy.html)

The blatant disregard for human life in order to realize political goals has been mind-blowing. Some Americans – mostly, it seems, white, wealthy, and privileged – seem to be totally out of sync with what is going on in the lives of the masses of Americans. Not only are they doggedly determined to maintain their wealth and power, but they are also determined to stack the courts locally and federally who will assure their political points of view and values are instituted and saved. The footage of the GOP lawmaker in Wisconsin, covered from head to foot in protective gear to protect himself from the coronavirus as he assured voters and the media that the people standing in line to vote – not likewise protected – that they were safe, is a haunting image. (https://www.businessinsider.com/wisconsin-gop-leader-says-voting-safe-dressed-ppe-gear-2020-4). People were forced to participate in in-person voting in the middle of a global pandemic because the GOP wanted a Republican to win a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  People risked their lives and went to the polls and were able to keep that candidate from winning, but at what cost? How many Wisconsinians are going to come up sick with the virus because of the lack of care and empathy of the GOP?

Yet another lawmaker, Attorney General William Barr, said that it’s necessary for people to get back to work and to stop running home and “hiding under their beds.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/attorney-general-william-barr-fox-news-coronavirus/2020/04/09/dfda1f94-7a12-11ea-a130-df573469f094_story.html)

What these statements reveal is the complete lack of ability of the wealthy, white, privileged Americans to understand anything other than wealth and privilege. In their remarks can be heard the disparaging criticism of the shelter-in-place orders, and a glaring lack of compassion and empathy for the people who are dropping like flies because of this virus.

I have heard little compassion from any people in this group for the health care workers, for the transit and grocery store workers. Neither have I heard much concern about the fact that so many people are dying alone, leaving their loved ones without the opportunity to say goodbye, nor have I heard concern about the people who will inevitably get sick and possibly die because they cannot afford to stay at home.

It is mind-boggling. The only thing I really hear is a concern about the economy – which is important, surely, but not more important than the lives of the people whose labor has provided the work needed to create the wealth and the privilege of those who seem not to care one iota about what they are going through.

As I have listened to the comments from the president about how the number of ventilators being requested by governors is too high, and have heard reports about how there have been so few ventilators that sometimes one ventilator has had to be used for two patients, I have found myself wondering what he or any of the privileged wealthy would react if they were being treated that way. When I looked at pictures of health care workers wearing garbage bags to protect themselves, and I heard and read about how many of them have had to use the same mask for several days, I again wondered what the privileged would say had they been exposed to that kind of scenario.

Their lack of awareness or concern about the health care workers and their patients again caused me to pause. Because they remain isolated from “the rest of us,” they are too frequently divorced from what the masses go through. They have convinced themselves that crime is relegated almost exclusively to the poor, discounting the white-collar crime that has helped make many of them wealthy or that crimes of sexual deviance and assault are as common within the wealthy privileged set as it is with the poor. They live in a world within “the” world, seeing what’s “out there” as being impossible to ever stain their lives.

But of course, it does.

Wealth, with its attendant privilege, has created a class of spoiled human beings, narcissistic, self- serving humans who seem incapable of caring or even thinking about those less fortunate, instead blaming them for their financial fragility. While not all wealthy people deserve this description, enough of them do. In the case of this pandemic, just as was the case during the Ebola crisis, they seem not to understand that germs and illnesses do not care about one’s wealth, race, or political affiliation. They also do not seem to understand that if the poorest of us are not healthy or free, none of us are. The virus that begins in the slums eventually makes its way to the suburbs. The virus doesn’t care.

It’s strange that they don’t get it. If the president reopens the government on May 1, and people on Navy ships and in senior citizens’ homes, and in prisons, in the grocery stores and pharmacies and on the subway are still getting the virus, the very wealthy are going to get it, too.

Their lack of empathy and concern for others will cause damage to and the deaths of so many humans that this country could have avoided.

But their wealth blinds them to that truth, and because of that, many more people – including them and their families – are going to suffer.

A candid observation.

 

In the Name of Biblical Principles

           There was a lot that was wrong and immoral about the state of Wisconsin refusing to postpone in-person voting yesterday, forcing people out of their homes while the nation is under a “shelter in place” order due to the coronavirus.

The sight of the people standing in those incredibly long lines, where they remained for hours, wearing masks and gloves and standing some distance apart so as to honor the social distancing requirement was troubling because what we have learned about this virus is that it is vicious, tenacious, and is no respecter of persons. I wondered how many people would get sick and/or die because the government forced them to make a choice between their right to vote and their health. They chose the former.

It was and is admirable that the Wisconsinites want to honor their right to vote; it was and is admirable that they decided that they weren’t going to let “nobody turn them around” when it came to taking charge of their lives.

But it was a slap in the face of Christianity, a religion which many claim but others basically ignore even as they lift up their belief in “Biblical principles.” As I looked at the images of those people, who, I later learned, stood in line even as heavy rain and hail pelted them, I suspected that it was Christian Nationalists who were responsible for their being there,  and not who I will call “traditional Christians” I wondered which “Biblical principles,”  according to Christian nationalism, were being respected or honored.

I especially wondered as the speaker of the Wisconsin General Assembly, in full protective gear, said that voting on that day, in those spaces was “perfectly safe.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/politics/wisconsin-robin-vos-protective-gear/index.html) If it was so safe, I wondered again, why was he completely covered?

Obviously, the insistence of the government that the primary election not be postponed was a decision made without conferring with God, right? Probably not. It is safe to assume that the Republicans – many of whom might be evangelical Conservatives, did confer with God, did pray and decided that they had heard God say “go ahead.” The god of the Christian Nationalist movement believes, supports, and pushes those issues which they believe will “return” America to her greatness; they have, according to author Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, a “biblical worldview” which “also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders,” she says.

“The fear of Christian nationalists is that this country has strayed from the truths that made it great,” Stewart notes. Part of the truths was that everyone had his or her place – blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants – but over time that established order has been destroyed, and one of the group’s goals is to restore America to her mythical “greatness” by concentrating the power in the hands of those who best know how to run a government.

So, yes, those who ordered that the election – the in-person voting – go on as scheduled probably felt fairly confident that they were doing the will of God. They would probably say that they were merely following a “Biblical principle,” because they believe that “legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage,” says Stewart.

When people or groups do things in the name of God – be the group American Christianity, Christian Nationalism, Islam, Judaism or Zionism – it is nearly impossible for them to consider that they may, in fact, be wrong. Neither the Wisconsin General Assembly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, nor the United States Supreme Court saw anything wrong with exposing large numbers of people to a virus that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. So entrenched are they in their ideology – which they call religion – that they seemingly did not even have the capacity yesterday to worry or care about the people whose lives they put in danger. Christian nationalism, says Stewart, is not a religious creed, but …a political ideology. What they want is power – at the expense of anyone who is in the way, and by any means necessary.

The Biblical principle they leaned on yesterday was probably the one that says the people are to follow the directions of their elected leaders, something Paul, in the Christian Bible, did advise people to do – but somehow I don’t think the God of us all – including the Christian Nationalists – would have approved of putting all those people in physical harm for the sake of attaining a political goal.

A candid observation…