Struggling in the Presence of Hate

         Sometimes, I find myself apologizing to God.

My mother drilled into us that Jesus said  we are supposed to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” She was being Biblical. We all know the Great Commandment that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and is quoted by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of what I call the “ridiculous” and distasteful commands we are supposed to know and follow. It is as problematic for human beings as is the command to forgive. If we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us, we are told, but everyone knows that forgiving those who have caused our souls mortal pain is not only distasteful but extremely difficult.

            The first theologian in my life, my mother, was the one who drilled into me and my siblings “what Jesus said” to do. She said it as we watched images on television of firemen spray children and women with their firehoses and police officers used dogs to attack people who were peacefully protesting against the practice of segregation. “Jesus said you have to love them and forgive them!” my mother called out to us from the kitchen.

            Even as a child I wrestled with what my mother said Jesus commanded, and I wondered if the white folks who were putting vicious dogs on innocent people had to forgive and love everyone, too? As I got older and began to study the history of racism in this country, I wondered even more.

            And I still do.

            Because white people are desperate to hold onto their whiteness, they are acting in desperation, doing all they can to “preserve” the status of their race because they are afraid of this country becoming too brown. The reports that indicate that by 2034 white people will no longer be the majority in this country has them mortified, and so they are working as hard as they can to establish a minority-run government – a government not like that of South Africa. 

            They believe in apartheid. 

            There are people who, no doubt, would say that I am being hyperbolic, but I am not concerned about their rants. What I am concerned about is my own struggle to do what Jesus said for us to do as I watch them run roughshod over this country that Black, brown, Asian, poor, and Native American people built. 

            They have always done that. There are a fair amount of white people who will openly admit that they believe that this country was “built for white people by white people,” and others who gasp and protest at such a suggestion.

            But it is true, and it is also true that far too many white people, even while they are declaring that they are not racist, live in the comfort of being white and do not think much about how white supremacy has poisoned the world. Kehinde Andrews, in his book The New Age of Empire, says that this country “is the most extreme expression of the racist world order.” He also says that America’s “entire existence is based on the logic of Western empire,” and that it became “a Garden of Eden for Europeans looking for wealth and opportunity.” Finally, he says this country “likes to present itself as a victim of British colonialism which freed itself from tyranny and now looks to do the same for the rest of the world.” This, he says, “is a delusional fantasy.”

            But because America lives in the myth of its own moral superiority, it cannot, has not, and will not admit its racism. The powers that be continue to try to keep the truth of this country’s heinous history of racism away from white children, who grow up to unaware white adults.

            And as they continue to walk over Black, brown, Asian, Native American, Muslims…and so many other groups, they perpetrate and engage in behaviors and make policies that hurt and hold back people whom they do not believe are fully human and thus worthy of being treated as such.

            Those are the people we are supposed to love and forgive, even as they refuse to love us back. If they must think of forgiving us, I suppose they would think that they have to forgive us for encroaching upon their privilege.

            Here is the struggle, though. I don’t want to love them. And I am struggling to forgive them for all of the pain they have caused so many. I am angry at them for their lack of concern at what they do to non-white people, and for their arrogance that comes from knowing they can do pretty much what they want to non-white people and get away with it. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who participated in the January 6 insurrection. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who have made wearing a mask to help keep other people from getting COVID-19 a political issue. I don’t want to love and forgive lawmakers who have shown they have no spine or strength, and who are helping to usher this country ruination. I just don’t want to do it.

            The human part of all of us wants “justice.” When we are wronged we want the wronged person to “get his” or “hers.” We want them to suffer as they have made us suffer. If we try to follow the dictates of the Bible, we know that we are supposed to let God do the “getting.” 

            But God moves too slowly. And too often, God seems to be on the side of the oppressor. God has allowed white people to oppress people in this country for over 400 years, and has allowed them to attack Black and brown people for literally generations. In the name of God, white Christians have massacred people of color and taken their land from them here and globally. In this country, they slaughtered Native Americans and took their land, unafraid of divine repercussions because they believed God had commissioned them to do so.

            White people, filled with hate and their God, have committed acts of violence against people in this country from the beginning. Sam Bowers, once the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murdering Vernon Dahmer because he dared help register Black people to vote,, believed that he had been called by God to save white people and white supremacy. He would lead his “soldiers” in fasting and praying before they went out to terrorize and slaughter Black people. White preachers and pastors have taught that racism is of and from God.

            We are supposed to love and forgive people who have been absolutely evil in our lives, and I, for one, struggle with that. I struggle because it’s difficult and I also struggle because I wonder what good it does in the end. I struggle because I am fairly sure that those who would kill and terrorize others don’t give loving and forgiving others a milli-second of thought. These people will never change.

            Years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive Who? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. I think I need to do a second edition. Maybe, through writing out my frustrations with God I can move from frustration to freedom from my frustration and do what God commands, even as I continue to push for the freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, even those who flout their racially-based hatred and work for the demise of me and people like me who they have decided are not fully human and therefore not worthy of equity.

            It is most distasteful, and a horrific struggle …

            A candid observation…

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

Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

The Never-Ending Anger of White People

It seems that the anger of white people in this country has been an issue for almost as long as this country has been in existence.

That, in spite of the fact that their very whiteness has provided them free reign to commit crimes against black people and also has provided them protection against being called into accountability for their crimes. Black people, because of angry white people and a pliant political and judicial system, have never been able to get justice, something which all human beings desire and deserve. And yet, it is the white people who are always angry.

The eruption of white anger is never far from us. It was present in Charlottesville, Virginia when whites marched through the streets voicing their determination that they would not be “replaced.” Their anger resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by an angry white man. Their anger erupted after the Civil War when black people were given the right to live like human beings; their anger led and inspired them to lynch literally thousands of black people just because they could and get away with it.

Their anger erupted when black servicemen and women returned to this country after fighting in wars to preserve this nation’s democracy. Had blacks refused to fight they would have been castigated and probably arrested or worse, but their fighting did not make whites like them or respect them any more. If anything, it made them more angry because whites perceived that blacks had become “uppity.” Whites killed many blacks while they were still in uniform. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

White anger erupted when black people, in spite of all that was done to try to keep them “in their place” went ahead and prospered in spite of those barriers. The infamous massacre of black people by angry whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an episode of American history hardly even whispered about. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/us/tulsa-race-riot-black-wall-street-watchmen-trnd/index.html) Whenever and wherever blacks fought for economic justice, they were often opposed and too often murdered because they dared fight for what was rightfully theirs. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

Whites have always been angry about black people being in this country, though it was white people who brought us here. White people tolerated black people as they built this country and once their usefulness was no longer needed, many just wanted us to go away.

There has been no single entity that has protected black people or insured that they get justice. The fact that the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own house only received a sentence of 10 years in prison, while a young man who missed jury duty got 10 days in jail plus a host of other punitive actions still causes the soreness caused by ongoing racism to smart all the more. In history, not even the United States Supreme Court could be counted on to make sure that black people got justice. (https://www.npr.org/2011/02/24/133960082/the-supreme-courts-failure-to-protect-civil-rights).

But in spite of black people being violated, challenged, discriminated against, and killed by people who killed them just because they could, it is white people who are always angry. Black people are expected to be quiet and not be angry at all while this system walks over them and causes them undue pain and misery, even while denying them justice and a level playing field. From those who were angry at the murder of Emmett Till to those who are insulted that Colin Kaepernick would dare “take a knee” to protest police brutality against black people, blacks who express anger are criticized and mocked. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop).

To make matters worse, too many white people have relied on their religion – their version of Christianity – to justify their treatment of not only blacks, but poor whites, people with HIV/AIDS, and Muslims, for starters. As the country has had to absorb the painful loss of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore), one white religious talk show is saying that Mr. Cummings’ death was (is) “God’s revenge for taking on Trump.” (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/we-know-the-bible-far-right-conspiracy-theorist-says-elijah-cummings-death-was-gods-revenge-for-taking-on-trump).

White anger is irrational. It is disgusting. And it is misplaced.

But it is a mainstay of America. And it is eroding whatever capacity for decency this country has ever had. In spite of this irrational and ongoing anger, black people in this country have been able to endure and prosper, but every now and then, the souls of black folk rise up, asking God, in the words found in the Bible, read by black people and by angry whites alike, a book they claim to love, “How long, Lord?”

It seems that that answer is yet to be cemented in the fabric of America. White anger is a pandemic, and going untreated and ignored, is only getting worse.

Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions, relationships just do not work out. The two parties involved cannot see eye to eye on at least one issue important to them both; sometimes, there are more. The two try to “talk it out,” but they remain entrenched in their own positions. Continue reading “Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing”