When Despair Wins

There is a community of young, black activists in Columbus, Ohio, which is mourning today.

They are mourning and they are in shock because one of their foot-soldiers, MarShawn McCarrel, apparently killed himself yesterday. The report say that he killed himself on the steps of the Ohio State House, a location from which many marches have begun.

MarShawn was a poet and an activist, who was fierce about fighting for the dignity of black people. Up close, he was shy and unassuming, polite and well-mannered. To think that he is gone is almost too much to bear.

As I listen to GOP politicians talk about Americans being angry, I am angered because in their dialogues about anger, they do not consider the anger and frustration and sense of despair of black people. Many older black people have learned to manage their hopelessness, but the young people, those in the streets and in the malls and in the courthouses demanding dignity and justice…have not.

Not a single GOP candidate has bothered to mention that the despair of black people is valid. It is a despair with which we have lived for generations. Not Trump, not Rubio, not Cruz, not Christie…none of them seem to give a horse’s ass about what black people go through because of white supremacy.

Not a one of them (of the ones I mentioned) have voiced concern and/or outrage over the lead-filled water given to people in Flint, Michigan, but I would bet that all of them will, in the future, be on some bandwagon to do something with black kids who have behavior problems – forgetting that lead affects people in horrific ways for years. Lead poisoning affects everything from IQ to the ability to have a healthy body. Not a one of these candidates, and too many white people – care about that. They say that they are pro-life, but they only want life for unborn fetuses and for white people.

They want their country back, a country marked by racism, sexism, homophobia and an economy which puts way too many people on the bottom, without thought of what poverty does to people.

They don’t think about what black and brown kids feel when they go into schools that are shoddy and broken, where heat doesn’t work in the winter and air conditioning doesn’t work in the summer. They don’t think about or care about what it must feel like for little black children to see their white counterparts with fine, fancy schools and they are given the worst facilities imaginable.

They don’t care that in many urban schools, the toilets don’t work, the windows are broken, and the books are old. They don’t think that these little children have feelings, and grow up believing they are inferior because they are treated as though they are inferior, like they do not matter.

The kids, the young people, who have taken to the streets, are tired and angry. They are tired of being ignored. Tired of being marginalized. Tired of being shot down or shot at. Tired of being labeled. Tired of getting second best. But none of the GOP candidates talk about that anger. It is only the anger of white people who feel like perhaps they are losing control of their grip on America that seems to matter.

My heart is breaking today because this young man is said to have committed suicide. He fought until he couldn’t fight any longer. His anger turned inward, where it morphed into depression and finally into despair. He went to the place where unjust laws are made, and he killed himself.

Those running for president should care about the despair about all people, not just their base. White anger is no more sacred than is black anger. And black anger in America has a history grounded in the policies and practices meted out because of white supremacy.

In the Bible it says that God will turn our mourning into dancing. I guess God didn’t get to MarShawn soon enough.

A candid observation…



The Pied Piper of America

There is a children’s story about a town that had a plague of rats. There were so many rats that it was unbearable. A man came to the town – Hamelin, located in Germany, dressed in brightly colored clothing. He listened to the people who were, of course, distressed about the rats and he offered to get rid of them if they would pay him. They agreed and he took out a musical instrument and began to play and the rats followed. He led them to a body of water and they all jumped in and died. The Pied Piper of Hamelin did what he said he would do …and the people were overjoyed …but they reneged on their promise to pay him. He left the town, angry.

But he returned a short time later, dressed differently, and began to play his musical instrument again. This time, there were no rats, but his music enticed the children to come. About 130 children followed him, laughing, skipping, singing …and none of them were ever seen again. Two children were spared, one, because he was deaf and could ot hear the music and another because he had left the group to go back to his town to get his coat and just couldn’t catch the group.

I thought about that story as I have reviewed the growing following of Donald Trump. The rats are the economy, the immigrants, the establishment …and the people who have for too long felt marginalized and ignored are feeling the power of this man Trump who has come into a mythical Hamelin to get rid of the vermin. They want their lives back. They want to stop worrying and fretting and they want to be heard. Donald Trump has come wearing a cloak made of golden threads that the people see as threads of hope for them. He says he will fix everything, and all of the people will be better off. He needs no help from anyone; like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Trump has his pipe, or flute, from which comes music smacking of sexism and racism and homophobia and Islamophobia, and the people are elated. The “vermin” of American society, at least in their eyes, will be driven out by the  Piper Trump. They promise him their votes as he rids them of the vermin which are stealing their capacity to live the American Dream. He will get rid of the Mexicans, the Muslims, he will put the Black Lives Matter folks in their place, and make sure there are no ridiculous background checks, which he says is a violation of the Second Amendment. He is going to get rid of health care for all Americans, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, he is going to bomb ISIS out of existence, he is going to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and make Mexico pay for it.

The people are elated! The vermin will be gone. America will be great again!

The people will pay up, at least the first installment. If they don’t vote in the primaries, he will humiliate them and call them traitors and stupid or worse …They will vote. His opponents will continue to tiptoe around him for a while longer …but even when they get more bold and go after him as he has gone after almost everyone, the people of Hamelin (aka America) will support him, because they want their country to be great again and it just cannot be great with all these …outsiders …and changes going on. They will pay up…but they’re going to make him mad, or if he is elected president, the Congress will make him mad, or maybe the Supreme Court, or maybe Russia or maybe North Korea or maybe Syria or maybe even Israel …and then, watch out.

The Pied Piper will seek vengeance. The question is …who will he lead into oblivion as he lives out his tantrum?

America, America, can’t you see it? We have our own Pied Piper.

A candid observation …

White Paranoia

In an article written in Harpers Magazine in 1964, political historian Richard Hofstadter describes the heart and soul of, it would seem, many a white person in these United States. In this essay, Hofstadter says that white Americans, primarily from and of the Right Wing are angry; they feel dispossessed, he says, feeling like “America has largely been taken away from them.”  He writes:

…the modern right wing…feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitians and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of America power. (http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/)

Hofstadter lays out, in that same article, “basic elements” of contemporary right wing thought: 1) the belief in a sustained conspiracy which reached its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was put into place to undermine free capitalism and to bring the economy under federal control; 2) a belief that top government is infiltrated and influenced by  Communists, and 3) a belief that the nation is “infused” with a network of communists. (see same article, cited above, pp. 81-82)

The paranoia these days is not so much the Communists, but are, rather, “the Muslims.” Our 21st century paranoid and fear-mongering politicians seem unable at best and unwilling at worst to make the point that not all Muslims are terrorists, even as they ignore the terrorist acts which have been and continue to be carried out by white Christians; they ignore for the most part what white terrorists in America do while they work at feeding the fear of a mass of people who feel dispossessed and angry and scared. Many to all of the world’s problems, these candidates seem to say, can be traced directly to “the Muslims.”

What in the world causes this kind of paranoia within the right-wing? While I am sure there is some left-wing issue I need to address, what sticks out for me is this right-wing hysteria which always seems to have a target on which to pin the blame for its policies and actions. Religious historian Karen Armstrong has said that it is when there has been too much change that we see a rise in right-wing, paranoid rhetoric and a return of religious fundamentalism. The operative word is “change.” It seems that many Americans are all right so long as  “things remain the same.”

Of course, that is foolhardy. The essence of life is change. The America that the Founding Fathers envisioned and shaped has long since outgrown that definition. That America was one where white supremacy was the rule, where white, Protestant men were the kings of the road. There was no room for the rights of women, blacks, Hispanics, members of the LGBTQ community. White men apparently believed that that America was the only legitimate America, and as the years have rolled by, the consistent changes have roiled the souls of apparent American purists.

There has been much change, and change is always difficult. I remember in seminary the “inclusive language” movement got its start; I remember being appalled at the new reality that said using male pronouns was wrong, that saying “King” and “Lord” was wrong; I was irritated that words of some of my favorite hymns had to be changed to accommodate the cry for gender equality. In some instances, when “politically correct” lyrics were printed in a program booklet, I purposely sang the words I had grown up with and loved.

And yet, the change was in place, and the reason for the change was valid. The Founding Fathers had no use for women; their ideology was white male- based and white-male driven. Women were tired of being considered second class sex-objects. In spite of my objections, the change was going to take place.

Change has continued to be the foundation of our America, and while it may be difficult for many to most, it is the right-wing that has responded with fear, hatred …and paranoia. Change does not mean that America will be no more; change means that America will be better. Oppressed groups do not need “outsiders” like Communists to spur them to seek liberation and dignity; radical Muslims are no more numerous than are radical Christians and Zionists. The human spirit pushes for that on its own and those who resort to terrorist tactics feel their dignity has been debased. They fight for it, right or wrong, but it seems that in this country, the only fight for liberation and dignity which has been deemed valid is that of white people. The American Revolution was a fight for dignity and independence.  White people have loved their freedom and privilege but people of color, women, same-gender loving people want their freedom as well. It is the height of arrogance to believe that oppressed people are satisfied with their lot.

Hofstadter makes the point that the paranoia we are seeing today in the hue and cry of the right wing is not a new phenomenon; there is  a history of the right, decrying and denigrating groups including Catholics, Jesuits, Masons, and, as already mentioned, “the Communists.” The author says that “the paranoid style is an old and recurrent theme of America.

Because there is so much change occurring, this nation is not going to see less hateful and racist rhetoric, but more. It is hard to listen to, from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina …and all the others. Those of us listening to their words can only remember that this sort of thing is not new, that this nation has survived these types of racist outcries in the past and this nation will survive this one. The paranoia which has resulted as the result of too much change is a fear that the “old America” is gone; the goal of the alarmists and hate-mongers is to “take the country back” and to “make America great again.” What they do not understand is that the America about which they are nostalgic is long gone. There is a new America and indeed a new world which American politicians on the right have not yet acknowledged …and they never will. Hofstadter notes in his article that “we are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.” (p. 86)

A true and candid observation …

Black Lives Don’t Matter to GOP

I watched the much-touted GOP presidential debate last evening with bated breath. Would these candidates indicate that they knew about and cared about the war around the value of black lives that is tearing this nation apart? Would they indicate that they care about African-Americans who are literally fighting for dignity and fairness in this land?

They did not. Not one question about the Black Lives Matter movement was asked; not one candidate admitted that what is going on in America is a serious problem.

Kim Davis and her quest for religious freedom was mentioned, and passionately so. Planned Parenthood was mentioned, with everyone seeming absolutely horrified that, according to a video that has surfaced, body parts of fetuses have been sold by Planned Parenthood. Of course, there was much discussion about the hated Iran deal, about what Russia is doing, about the nation’s security in general. That was expected and necessary.

But there was not a word, not a mention about the crisis going on in the streets of America, with innocent and unarmed black people being arrested, harassed, shot, injured, jailed and killed, by police officers. Not a word.

White America (and Dr. Carson) seems not to care about what is going on. White America is caught in its insistence that whatever happens to black people at the hands of police officers is warranted – that, in spite of plenty of videos to date that have indicated otherwise.

How come Rev. Mike Huckabee can be so concerned about what he calls “judicial tyranny” and not care about the domestic tyranny called police brutality? How can he, a Christian minister, ignore the fact that young black people are being treated like chattel, still, suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them? Why is the plight of one Kim Davis more heart-wrenching to him than is the plight of all these African-Americans who are being profiled and attacked by police …with little chance that the offending officers will be held to accountability for their actions?

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote that “the universe is so structured that things do not quite work out rightly if men are not diligent in their concern for others.” (“The Ethical Demands for Integration”) In 1962, he wrote that “it is sad that the moral dimension of integration has not been sounded by the leaders of government and the nation.” White people are adamant about there being “law and order,” and will insist, most of the time, that “the law” be obeyed. In the case of black lives, that means being quiet and acquiescing to the commands of police officers, be they in the right or not. Dr King wrote, in that same essay, “they sounded the note that has become the verse, chorus and refrain of the so-called calm and reasonable moderates: we must obey the law!  He said that the issue of national morality was before the leaders of that time. That same issue of national morality is before us now, but the GOP candidates are ignoring it.

Dr. King further wrote, in “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.” That urge is upon us now, GOP candidates. Whether you like the movement and action of the Black Lives Matter activists or not, the move is on to end the oppression which is and has always been wrought by the “justice system” in this land.  Dr. King wrote in that same letter, “The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out.”  That is what you are seeing, yet ignoring. The souls that are marching in the streets and lying down on highways are souls that are sick and tired of the anguish they carry around daily. They are tired of believing that there will be justice when law enforcement acts in criminal ways. Dr. King wrote that it is “immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.”

Whomever becomes president of the United States will need to look squarely in the face of Justice and know that she will require the soul of America to answer for its injustice to so many of her citizens. Just as society dared, really, President Obama to speak up too much for the case and causes of black people,  the Black Lives Matter movement will dare the new president ti ignore the cries of people who are tired of justice …being unjust.

It was insulting, last evening, to hear those candidates completely ignore the cries of people who are alive and fighting for freedom while they spoke for the lives of babies not yet born.

They showed that black lives don’t matter to the GOP.

A candid observation …