Handling the Nods and Winks of Arrogant Injustice

On this, the eve of learning the fate of ex- Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd in 2020 as the jury deliberates, there is a thick heaviness that hovers over Black people, who wonder if his guilt will be dismissed with a nod and a wink.

 Many have dismissed even the idea that he could be acquitted, citing the “compelling evidence.” But in the history of violence perpetrated against Black people in general, and by police officers in particular, compelling evidence has rarely really mattered.

 There was “compelling evidence,” a video of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers which “shocked” the world, and yet, a jury found that the officers were justified in beating this man nearly to death.

 And though everyone knew that those accused of killing Emmett Till were guilty, they, too, it took an all-white jury just one hour and five minutes to acquit Till’s killers. They boasted afterward, saying it would have taken them less time to bring back the verdict if they “hadn’t stopped to drink pop.”

 The arrogance that accompanies those who are accused of crimes perpetrated against Black people is always front and center, and always hard to take. This arrogance could actually be “seen” in the face of Chauvin as he looked defiantly at bystanders taking the video that showed the world what he was doing. He displayed a slight smirk, and in his eyes was the message that there was nothing any of them could do that would make him have to answer for his behavior. By virtue of being a police officer, his smirk revealed his belief that no matter how angry some might be at him, he was protected.

 It is the smirking and the defiant face of Chauvin, juxtaposed against the agonized face of George Floyd, which sticks in my mind. It is no less offensive than have been the faces of police officers and civilians who, in the past, have been acquitted of the crime of murder committed against Black people.

 And it is maddening.

 If those images could be erased from the collective minds and memories of Black people, there would be room for glimmers of hope as the jury deliberates the fate of Chauvin, but we cannot erase them, and we know that there are far too many people who believe that Chauvin had the right and the duty to exert excessive force in taking down Floyd for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin’s smirk was indicative of the “nod and wink” attitude of police officers who with impunity disproportionately kill Black people.

 Psalm 37 tells us not to fret “because of evildoers neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity, for they shall be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb,” but the souls of some Black- and white – people do not feel reassurance in those words as we await the Chauvin verdict, because history has shown that this society prefers “nod and wink justice” as opposed to accountability of whites for crimes committed against Black people. “Nod and wink” culture is a subset of Anglo-American culture in general. It has always been with us and promises to linger.

The arrogance which is part of the “nod and wink” culture challenges the words of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who said, “…morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one should feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” The arrogance of the “nod and wink” mindset reveals that too many feel neither guilt nor responsibility; arrogance keeps those emotions at bay in too many people in power. We live in and wrestle with a society that cannot shake itself from the side effects of a steady administration of the emotional drug called white supremacy.

We will wait. We will work on not hyperventilating as our hope for justice rises and falls within us with each breath we take; we will work on inhaling hope as we exhale anxiety and memories of justice delayed and ultimately denied.

And we will try not to fret.

Amen and amen.

Who’s Canceling Whom?

It is singularly incredulous that members of the culture which has worked to cancel every culture but its own since the inception of this country is now labeling anything – any action or decision – with which it disagrees as “cancel culture.”

            From the moment white people set foot on what would soon be named “America,” they have canceled the culture of others, beginning with the Native Americans. White settlers engaged in heinous brutality against those who were here when the settlers arrived. ( https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shocking-savagery-of-americas-early-history-22739301/) Later, Indian termination, by which this government worked to disband Native American tribes, take their land and sell it, and finally relocate Native Americans from their reservations to urban areas, was an official policy of the United States from the 1940s until the 1970s. While this government wanted Native Americans to pay taxes, they also desired them to disappear into the Anglo-American culture of this country. They effectively worked to cancel Native American culture.

            This government, steeped in white supremacist ideology,  made decisions about other cultures, about their worth or lack thereof, and on the basis of the government’s  opinions and decisions, lawmakers and politicians actively worked to cancel those cultures completely out. The message was clear: if a culture was not Anglo and Protestant, it was unworthy of existing.

            The belief was communicated that the only people or group that had worth in this country were Anglo-Americans; Africans were brought to this country only to build the economy and thus, the country. The displaced Africans were pressured to forget their land, their beliefs, languages, and customs, and were subtly taught that to be “beautiful” or to be successful, they had to buy into Eurocentric conceptions of beauty and capitalistic individualism, as opposed to the concept of community which was much more the cultural foundation of African peoples.

            What the majority culture was establishing was its opinion of who had the right to speak and make decisions about what happened in this country. As long as members of other cultures stayed in their place, they were tolerated – but never respected. And in its quest to maintain power at all costs, the majority culture its stake in setting the standard by which all who lived here would have to abide; beliefs, mores, and laws were codified through the making of laws and policies which determined which culture was to be dominant.

            Members of other groups had little to nothing that the majority culture felt compelled to consider. As an example, there was a coup in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 because white people in that city were incensed that Black people had gained so much political power. Angry whites conspired and planned not only to overthrow the government which they decided had given too much leeway and paths for Blacks to be elected to office, but also to run Black people out of their elected positions and out of the city altogether. Whites who were supportive of Black political and economic power were targeted as well. White people, the leaders said, would never submit to domination by the “Negroes.” Their coup was successful, and no Black person was elected to office again in Wilmington for over 70 years. (https://www.history.com/news/wilmington-massacre-1898-coup).

            Anything that was Black was judged unworthy and therefore worthy of being eliminated – canceled –  from Black music to Black dancing, to Black beauty. The message given through the pressure exerted by the majority culture was for those who “did not belong” to assimilate. There was a similar disrespect for people of Hispanic descent; as more and more Spanish-speaking people entered this country, the pressure to get them to cancel their culture and their language has only intensified. Americans who look different because of their national origin, their religion or their culture are pressured to abandon their culture and do whaever they need to do to “fit in.”

            Conservative, Republican, white nationalist politicians, however, are now using the term “cancel culture” as a way to gaslight people who have completely succumbed to white supremacist fear and paranoia. These white Americans are afraid of being overrun by people of color. There is a deep fear that this country will soon no longer be dominated by white people; different dates have been given for when that phenomenon to become reality, and none of those dates are too far off. The anti-immigration rhetoric that is being thrown around is a reflection of this fear. The powers that be are no less paranoid today about being dominated by Black or brown people than were the people in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898. They want to cancel democracy – such as it is in this country – because they believe that it allows too much freedom to too many different groups of people whom they have decided are unfit for freedom, dignity, civil and human rights, and equality. As activists are challenging the reminders of the white supremacist history of this country by targeting the presence of statues of people in the public domain who were staunch white supremacists, the paranoia of those who believe that only white people have the right to full citizenship in this country is growing.

            The challenge is to figure out how to neutralize the damaging and dangerous rhetoric that these fear-filled leaders are spewing. Language has power  The only thing, or perhaps the primary focus of the last administration was to cancel the need to be “politically correct,” which meant encouraging white supremacy ideology to flourish. The former president and his followers felt the need to reassert the racist American principle of white supremacy, and worked to eliminate – or cancel – the “deep state” which had given too much respect and power to Black people and so many others who were not members of the majority culture. As angry whites chanted “You will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017, they were expressing their morbid fear of white culture being overtaken by other, nonwhite, non-Protestant cultures. Whites have long believed that this country is being overrun by blacks and Muslims and to stop what they see as an out-of-control train, they are working to cancel every culture that is not white.

            They are doing this even as they call legitimate work to extend rights and liberties to all Americans a ploy to get rid of them – in effect, “cancel culture.”

            The former president understood how white fear, white paranoia, and white anger based on bigotry operate.  We, who are outside of their group, must strategize and decide that we will not be canceled, in spite of the efforts being made to do so.

            We have come too far to do anything less.

How Do the Faithful Oppressed Pray?

            As many people, Black and white, but especially Black, are watching the trial of ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, it is safe to say that many are waiting with bated breath. The instances of white officers getting away with shooting and killing Black people have been too many; even in cases where videos have captured the actions of the accused officers, making many believe that the justice system would have no choice but to arrest, indict, and convict the accused, they have been acquitted or exonerated before even having to go to trial.

            It is not a sure thing that Chauvin will be convicted. If he is not, I was asked, what will happen?

            I don’t know, but I do know that internalized pain eventually erupts; one can only take so many hits to his or her concept of and need for justice before the pus that forms from the untreated wound caused by injustice pushes its way out.

            What, then, or how …do the faithful oppressed pray? What types of prayers are pastors of Black congregations offering to and sharing with their members? Or are they praying about it at all? Are they avoiding the elephant in the room because, frankly, they do not know what to say or how to say it?

            There has been a frustration that many Black pastors, theologians and scholars have grappled with for generations. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist? James Cone tackled the problem of a God whom the Bible says is no respecter of persons, but who has not interceded and stopped white supremacy – which supports the dehumanization and criminalization of Black people. Cone’s answer was the development of Black Liberation Theology. Black people  have wondered where God is and why, if and since God shows no favoritism, hasn’t God stopped the insanity called white supremacy?

            The frustration with God by leaders of oppressed people shows up in the Bible. Moses, pegged by Yahweh to lead the Israelites from Egyptian captivity to freedom, expresses the frustration in Exodus 5:22-23, saying, “Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people. (italics mine.) 

            Many Black faith leaders feel Moses’ frustration. God has, in fact, been manipulated to act as a protector and supporter of white supremacy. Throughout American history, white Christians – in both the North and the South – believed and preached that God was in favor of segregation and against the mixing of the races in any fashion, including education and burial, thus, they preached the rightness not only of segregation but of lynching as well. Many white Christian hailed their God as one who supported and ordained their cultural leanings.

            God looked the other way, it seems, during the violence carried out by whites against Black people during the Civil Rights Movement. In history, God has certainly either looked the other way or refused to see – and stop – the violent desecration and ruination of entire black communities perpetrated by white people who believed Black people did not and should not have the right to vote. “Good Christian” white people resonated with the words of one Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, who said, as he riled up white people to violent insurrection against black people and the government in Wilmington, North Carolina because the whites resented the power of the Black voting bloc and their considerable presence in state government, “Here in the most quiet and conservative of the original 13 states…we are reduced to the pitiful necessity of choosing whether we will live under the domination of Negroes…” (David Zucchino, The Wilmington Lie, p. 147) Whites in Wilmington did, in fact, succeed in murdering hundreds of Black people in that 1898 insurrection, destroyed Black homes, churches, and communities, and were successful in driving Black people out of office – and keeping them out until the early 1970s.

            As the Black residents of Wilmington saw what was going on, the religious leaders urged them to pray, assuring them that God would hear their prayer and stop the murderous rage of their white brothers, but to no avail. The riot and insurrection went on as planned – and in the end, the whites revised the story to read that it was Black people who had instigated the riot and that they had only retaliated to save their lives and the lives of their families.

            There are many accounts of Black people praying against those who oppressed them, but in spite of the prayers, the attacks and the oppression that is a part of an Empire run by white supremacists have continued.

            What, then, do the oppressed pray? How do the faithful oppressed have conversations with God and what is the desired outcome?

            It spite of the prayers of Black and other oppressed people, white supremacy has not disappeared and is not in danger of doing so. Do we pray for the ability to hold on? Do we pray for new vision and new tactics? Do we pray for new leaders? We have done all of that; we have held on and the nonviolent direct action taught by the Rev. James Lawson and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is probably the reason more Black people have not been killed by white supremacists with guns.

            But at the end of the day, what should be the corporate prayer of the faithful oppressed? What should we be praying now, in light of the quest for justice for George Floyd and unprecedented voter suppression laws being created? ? How do faith leaders train their people to handle their hurt, frustration, disappointment and anger over racial oppression that never ceases?

            Surely, there must be an answer and some specific words that can be codified and shared with us all as we wait, with bated breath, to see if a murderous police officer will be punished for what he has done.

Black People Waiting, Again

            As the trial for the accused officer who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd begins today, Black people are again in a metaphorical waiting gallery, where we will watch and hope that justice will be done.

            In our history, we have always been in courtrooms – sometimes on the main floor, sometimes sitting in the back or in the balcony – but we have been there, over and over, waiting for justice to roll down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

            There was the trial of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, where nine Black boys, ages 12-19, were accused of raping two white women. They were tried by a white lawyer – and all but one of them, a 13-year-old, were convicted of rape by an all-white, all-male jury and sentenced to death in spite of there being no evidence to support the rape allegations. (https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/scottsboro-boys)

            Black people waited…

            Then there was the trial of the men accused of lynching 14-year-old Emmett Till. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were accused of the murder of young Till, but despite of clear evidence that they had in fact killed Till, they were acquitted by an all-white jury who deliberated for less than an hour. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-trial-jw-milam-and-roy-bryant/)

            Black people waited…

            There was the trial of Anthony Ray Hinton, who was accused and convicted of murdering two white men, in spite of clear evidence that he could not have committed the murders because he was at work at a warehouse and had clocked in, in addition to being seen by coworkers. The evidence did not matter; he was convicted and spent over 30 years on Death Row. (https://www.al.com/opinion/2015/03/our_view_the_evil_in_the_antho.html)

            Black people waited…

            Black people waited as the case of the officers charged with the murder of Eric Garner went before a grand jury. Garner had been approached by police as he sold loose cigarettes on a New York street and was put into a chokehold as officers worked to arrest him. But Officer Daniel Pantaleo, accused of murder, was let off the hook; the grand jury ruled that the action of Pantaleo was justified and decided not to indict him. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-york-city-officer-eric-garner-s-chokehold-death-won-n1030321)

            Black people waited…

            When George Zimmerman went on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, black people waited. Zimmerman was indicted but the jury found him innocent of any crime. (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/us/george-zimmerman-verdict-trayvon-martin.html)

            Now, Black people are waiting, yet again, to see if an officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds will be convicted of any crime. The attorneys for the officer will work to impugn the character of Floyd – as is a common practice – in their effort to get Derek Chauvin, the accused officer, acquitted. Black people will be waiting and hoping for justice, but there is an undercurrent of doubt and a deep suspicion that the justice system will again prove that its justice is more for white people than for Black.

            As the trial began today in Minneapolis, Black and white people were seen kneeling outside of the courthouse, in a ritual that reflected the belief that only God can make the man who stole a father, husband, brother, and son from his family by kneeling on his neck get the punishment his actions warrant.

            Everyone wants justice when they are wronged, but for some reason the majority culture of this country does not seem to believe or lean toward bringing justice to and for Black people. Our white supremacist system remains stubbornly stuck in its beliefs, one, that Black people are inherently criminal and are therefore deserving of any actions against them given by police, and two, that Black people are not fully human. It is as though they do not comprehend the depth of emotional and spiritual pain Blacks have suffered at the hands of this system. With that mindset, the majority culture indicates that Black people could not possibly need justice.

            So Black people and their allies are again waiting, waiting for the scale of justice to indicate that the crime and not the race of the officer or of the victim is the only thing that matters. The anxiety of people across this nation and indeed the world is palpable. The world is waiting to see justice.

            Hopefully, this time, the anxiety will be relieved by a verdict against the accused that says black lives truly do matter, and that no person, white police officers included, is above the law.

            A candid observation …

What I Really Want to Say

            This political season has caused almost unbearable stress for the country and for some individuals – like me.

            I  am glad the former administration was voted out, but I am angry about the debacle that happened between the election and the inauguration of President Biden. The day Biden’s victory was confirmed, people took to the streets to celebrate, COVID-19 notwithstanding. It reminded me of the munchkins who danced in “The Wizard of Oz” after the Wicked Witch of the West was melted – or something – after Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. 

            How the munchkins celebrated! And so did Americans when the final result of the election was reported.

            But then the foolishness – the evil foolishness- started. The Big Lie. The court cases. The performances by so-called attorneys. The call to martial law. Our dancing of celebration stopped and once again, we – or at least I – found myself wound up, worried, and restless.

            Social media is a good place to vent but I cannot really vent the way I want to. I cussed out loud the day of the insurrection. I cuss when I see and hear how the “justice system” is letting many of those accused and arrested for their part in the insurrection get bailed out. Whenever Mitch McConnell speaks, my stomach turns. If I have cable news on (which is rare and will continue to be so) and the anchors are talking about “the former guy” (thank you, President Biden, for this perfect moniker!) I mute the television.

            On my Twitter feed, there are things that I see which make me want to write out my basest thoughts, like “I hate …” and I fill in the name of the person of whom I am thinking. As I watch Marco Rubio jump from place to place, issue to issue, trying to land, I groan. His recent claim that he is pro-union made my disrespect for him deepen even more. I not only laughed out loud, I cussed a little louder than usual. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/03/marco-rubio-amazon-union-alabama-oped-woke-capital.html) I cringe as I hear Republicans (and now, Gov. Cuomo) use the term “woke,” like they know what it is. They do not. And when I hear Republicans – political and civilian – use the phrase “cancel culture,” I want to sit them down and talk about what it really is to be canceled in this country.

            I watched Nikki Haley jump from lily pad to lily pad, one day supporting the former guy and the next day wanting to be back in his good graces, asking permission to visit him at Mara Lago – to which he said no and I could not swallow my disgust. Where is her dignity? Where is the dignity of any of these sycophants who have made the former guy a god on earth?

(https://www.politico.com/interactives/2021/magazine-nikki-haleys-choice/)

            Then there is Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose antics and arrogance are beyond ludicrous.

            I want to say things like, “the Republicans have no souls” as they continue to spread the Big Lie and other little lies and do absolutely no viable work in Congress, wasting taxpayer dollars by making “Dr. Seuss” books their points of conversation and outrage. I want to say “I hate Mitch McConnell” as he tries to assert the power he did for years, blocking bills that would have helped millions of Americans have easier lives and I cuss in my house as I read reports of how Republicans, none of whom voted for the American Rescue Act of 2021 are now trying to save their political butts by touting the good it will do for their constituents. I want to say that the Republican Party is the party of racists, that it is a party that has no vision except that of stoking, nurturing and incubating the racial fears that so many white people have. I want to say, as I listen to how the former guy really was in cahoots with Russia when it came to trying to manipulate the 2020 election, and I want to say, “I hope you get found out. I hope you get arrested. And I hope you go to jail.” When I hear that the former guy is intent on exacting revenge against Republicans who had the courage to cross him, I want to write what we all know: that if you dig a hole for someone else, you very well may fall into it, and I want to say that exacting revenge is just stupid.

            As I watch the clips of all that happened on January 6, I want to say that those who touted “Blue Lives Matter” were and are hypocrites because their actions clearly showed they don’t care about police officers at all. When I see pictures of the insurrectionists climbing up the exterior of the Capitol Building, when I see the pictures of them breaking windows of the Capitol, I still shake with fury, but when I see them carrying American, Confederate, and Trump flags, claiming to be patriots, I cuss and when I hear that they attacked police officers with American flags, I say things that I will not write here. When I heard Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc) say that he wasn’t afraid of the insurrectionists because he could see that they were patriots who loved their country, but that if the group had been members of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, he would have been worried, I called him a racist and when he denied he was a racist, (of course he did that), I put an adjective in front of “racist.”

            As I watch the Republicans cow-tow to the former guy, I want to say that the Republicans are cowards, with no morals and no ethics – and I want to add that their spinelessness is disgusting.  As I watch and have watched people defy wearing masks as a means of helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, I want to say, “I hope you get the virus, but I hope you don’t go to the hospitals where health care workers have been working their buns off for over a year, trying to keep people alive.”  When some of the former guy’s administration got COVID-19, I wasn’t sorry, and I cannot even describe the fury I felt when I learned that the former guy and his wife got the vaccine in private to protect them from the virus he called a hoax, a barrage of words came out of my mouth. I renewed and reviewed my opinion of him as being weak, dishonest, and hypocritical, and also reviewed my opinion that over 500,000 people have died from COVID 19 because of his lack of leadership. The fact that he sneaked and got his virus before he left office just affirmed my opinion.

            Then there are the actions of the Republicans to suppress the right to vote of Black people, and as I think about that, my cussing increases exponentially. The audacity and the arrogance of these people is astounding. I want to say, “Y’all cannot win unless you cheat.” I want to say, “Y’all have no compassion or capacity to care about anything other than your own fear of Black and brown people having their voices heard and their needs met.” 

            Oh, there’s more, but I don’t want to dump it all on anyone who might read this. But like Fannie Lou Hamer said, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am tired of white supremacy. I am tired of white folks who whine and cry and cheat in order to win elections. I am tired of racists saying they are not racist. I think folks should own their racism so we can stop fooling around with this “American exceptionalism” myth. The only thing America is exceptional at is holding onto and incubating its belief in white supremacy.

            One more thing: everyone knows that if the Democrats are going to help make the crooked places straight, – i.e., get their policies passed – then they have to use the power that they have now. This wrangling by some over not bothering the filibuster is insane. Their indecision makes me cuss out loud. I think they should remember Mitch McConnell, and know that if the tables were turned, he would do whatever he wanted in order to get his agenda passed. It’s what he did while he was majority leader. The Democrats should, as Joe Scarborough once said, “fight like the Republicans.”

            That’s all for today. I feel better. I got some of it out.

            Thank you for reading these candid exclamations.