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 They don’t know, or don’t care, that even now, urban schools often have the worst teachers, the most outdated books, few if any computers, no air conditioning and/or inadequate heat.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 …

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7 thoughts on “The Comfortable and the Disinherited

  1. Susan, I understand your concerns, and they are warranted. I am going to start opening up (so to speak) on fellow Quakers, challenging them out of their complacency. It seems that is what I can do. I will start being a radical co-conspirator for laying racism and oppression low. Being an “ally” or “accomplice” doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t have a job and make very little money, so I am enlisting in this moral struggle.

  2. It seems like an impossible feat to get the “comfortable” to really understand, and more importantly, support policies and laws that assist the disinherited as long as there is the 99%, and as long as people continue to refuse to give up even a smidgeon of those comforts to help those who have none. It’s a sad reality that seems like it would require another plague to wipe out this world, its ideologies, its hate, and its discrimination and just start completely anew.

  3. I think your final observation, about “the comfortable” (i.e. white people in the US) may well need something traumatic to happen to them to “wake up” and “learn to see,” and then act in solidarity, is quite true. As a white straight male who has made a concerted effort over many years to seek justice, grow in awareness, listen and learn from others, I’ve only seen most white people get WORSE. The 50s-60s Civil Rights Movement occurred when US capitalism seemed happy and invincible, and we could all “share” because there was “plenty for everyone.” But now that the economic system is clearly an unjust sham, white folks have a choice: to bond with others more oppressed to create a New World, or stand alone on their shrinking pile of privilege and go down with the Dying System. A Great Collapse, more severe than the Great Depression, may well be on its way. Then the Spirit will sift out the chaff and the grain.

    Thanks for your sharing your insights and discernments. “Let us march on, ’til Victory is won!”

  4. I am a birthright Quaker, one who was just a little too young (12 y.o.) to go with other members of my Meeting down South to register voters there, who were the disinherited. But I was lucky, as one of the comfortable, to be raised by Quaker parents who were involved in social justice and in seeing all people as our kin. I spent my law career as a public defender representing poor people, often of color, who were accused or convicted of major felonies. I could not have used my law degree to amass personal wealth, given my upbringing. I only wish that more of the comfortable could have had the childhood that I had. And I hope that, now that I am retired and disabled, I will be able to find ways to spread the Good Word and social justice, with which it is inextricably tied…

  5. I am a birthright Quaker, one who was just a little too young (12 y.o.) to go with other members of my Meeting down South to register voters there, who were the disinherited. But I was lucky, as one of the comfortable, to be raised by Quaker parents who were involved in social justice and in seeing all people as our kin. I spent my law career as a public defender representing poor people, often of color, who were accused or convicted of major felonies. I could not have used my law degree to amass personal wealth, given my upbringing. I only wish that more of the comfortable could have had the childhood that I had. And I hope that, now that I am retired and disabled, I will be able to find ways to spread the Good Word and social justice, with which it is inextricably tied…

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