The Problem With America and Race

America, “methinks thou dost protest too loudly.”

The quote, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” has been resonating with me all week.

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to be covered, with an emphasis on the possibility of his death being a hate crime, many people have protested – loudly and vehemently – that it is nothing of the sort.

Trayvon’s shooting may or may not have been racially motivated, but as I have thought about race in America this week, the thought has recurred to me that America doesn’t understand why race IS always an issue for us.

It is because, in the most simple terms, an issue of trust. Black people, African-Americans, do not trust white America. African-Americans do not trust the actions of white America or the intentions of white America. The relationship between the two races is one of suspicion based on evidence-based actions of white America which have worked to the detriment of African-Americans.

If we take it out of racial terms for a minute, and just look at the two races as two entities in relationship, we can see that the relationship has been “broken” from the beginning, in spite of absolutely glorious documents establishing America as a democracy. From the beginning, white America made it clear – and exercised its power to enforce its clarity – that they believed African-Americans were  inferior and unworthy of receiving rights guaranteed to all Americans by this country’s Constitution.

America’s blacks and whites are like a married couple in trouble, where one has continually abused the trust of the other and the other has developed coping behaviors to deal with the constant disrespect shown. In spite of efforts, some honest and some paltry, to fix the relationship, the dishonesty in behavior and intentions on the part of the “cheating spouse” has continued, and so the relationship between the two parties has continued to disintegrate.

As in many relationships where one has been unfaithful (in this case, white America being unfaithful to the ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the Constitution), the one who has done the cheating has the burden of doing whatever he or she can to regain the trust of the partner who has been cheated on. Counselors will tell cheating partners that if he or she wants the relationship, he or she will have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to mend the bonds of broken trust.

Many partners cannot handle the process of building or rebuilding trust. The partner who has been cheated on is OK for time, but the slightest deviation in word or action on the part of the cheating partner will bring back painful memories, the process of rebuilding has to begin all over again.

Only those relationships where the cheating partner is willing to take the crying, the complaining, the fear, the anger, and the resentment at having been disrespected until  a healing takes place, survive.

When it comes to white and black America, the relationship has never healed, and in fact, white America has too often continued to abuse the relationship between the two races by practicing discrimination and enacting policies that continue to belie a sincere desire to heal the relationship.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the “disillusionment of Negroes” in his book Why We Can’t Wait, written in the mid 1960s. African-Americans, he wrote, struggled and fought for desegregation of public schools, because the quality of education in white schools, as opposed to black schools, was so disparate. “Separate but equal” was an unreality, and all African-Americans wanted, he explained, was a level playing field in the area of education so that African-American children would have the same possibilities for latching onto the American dream as did white children.

Much of white America, however, resented the historic Brown vs. Education ruling by the United States Supreme Court, and at the time of the writing of Why We Can’t Wait, ten years after the decision, many schools had not been integrated because white educators and legislators were still finding loopholes in the laws requiring integration. Integration was supposed to happen “with all deliberate speed,” the High Court had ruled, but its words were ignored…and no court, no legislature, did anything about it.

King wrote that “the Supreme Court retreated from its own position by giving approval to the Pupil Placement Law…which permitted the states themselves to determine where school children might be placed by virtue of family background, special ability and other subjective criteria.” (italics mine)

Though there was verbal non-support of discrimination in housing and employment during the Kennedy administration, Dr. King wrote, the fact of the matter was that government, state and local, continued to allow discrimination under the mantra of “states’ rights.” King correctly observed that though the Emancipation Proclamation had been a signed at that time 100 years before the time in which he wrote, there had been little true freedom for African-Americans.

What is there to trust in this relationship between the American government and its African-American citizens?

The pattern of the government saying one thing, yet supporting and permitting just the opposite, then, eroded the capacity of African-Americans to trust this same government. Perhaps the heart of America and its general disdain toward African-Americans can be found in the fact that the federal government never passed an anti-lynching bill. In the area of justice shown toward African-Americans, the country’s record was dismal, and continues to be. Not only black, but brown and poor people have little chance of experiencing the full majesty of America’s justice system.

And yet, white America expects African-Americans to “be happy and content.” The breach of trust is never spoken of or acknowledged, and the patterns of discrimination continue, in spite of our Constitution.

Though people like GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum carry the belief that “black people are spending other people’s money,” the fact is that the majority of African-Americans have pushed through the system, the laws and the governments which have done all they can to keep them in  second-class citizen status. In spite of discrimination in hiring, housing, lending, education and justice, African-Americans have pushed through and made their own way in a country which has tried at every step to block that way.

But it is unfortunate, the relationship between blacks and whites. The trust is not there, and no attempt is being made to build or establish the trust. Those who have been “cheated on” in a relationship supposedly built on trust can recall, I am sure, their discomfort with their partner after “the breach.” The desire to continue on has been there, but has been made all the more difficult by this breach …and if the offending partner has not only not apologized but has continued to repeat the offending behavior, repair of that relationship is almost certainly not going to happen.

Perhaps if there were a national counseling initiative, a “truth and reconciliation” effort like that done in South Africa, the lack of trust might be addressed and workable solutions found…but as things stand, the relationship between blacks and whites is toxic and volatile. There is no way, as we have heard during the debacle called the Trayvon Martin case, that black people are going to “trust the system” and  be willing to “let the system work.”

Our experience has been that “the system” does not and has not intention of, working for us, not without behemoth effort and push back from a system that seems to be filled with people who resent African-Americans even being in this nation.  African-Americans have tasted the cup of injustice, over and over again, and its bitter taste remains in our spirits.

If there is no trust, there can be no relationship, not between two individuals, not between nations…and not between two races, these two races, called black and white.

A candid observation …

Where are the GOP Candidates?

Did I miss it?

A true American tragedy has happened. A young, unarmed teen has been shot dead, and the shooter has not been arrested. The parents are anguished, the nation, black, white, and brown, is outraged, and I haven’t heard the GOP presidential candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, say a word about it.

There has not been a word from GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum about it.

Gingrich, while defending the “stand your ground” law that Florida follows, has said that the case is a tragedy and has said that a full investigation is warranted. He has even said that the “stand your ground” law “may not apply in this case.”

So, are we to assume that the other three candidates, Santorum, Romney and Paul, do not care about this case, about what appears to be a true American tragedy? Have they no room in their hearts to at least express concern and care for young Trayvon’s parents?

Santorum raised the biggest stink about contraception. He has been vocal about the “attack on religious freedom,” but is he really so out of touch as to not see the vestiges of  injustice in this case?  Mr. Romney has spent literally millions of dollars to attack his GOP opponents; is there not a thread of outrage in him that would encourage him to attack or at least address a justice system that has allowed a gross injustice to occur?

This type of injustice as concerns African-American men, is not new. It is part of America’s reality. Any president, or one who wants to be president, is surely aware of that…and ought to have the chutzpah to speak out against it. After all, if Romney or Santorum were to be elected, he would have to be president of all of the people, not just of their base.

Am I wrong?

Thank goodness for the groundswell of outrage all over the country.  From what has been presented to us, there are serious questions about what happened. What seems sure, though, is that Trayvon Martin should not be dead,and George Zimmerman ought to be answering for his behavior.

Thank goodness, too, that we are seeing the capacity of Santorum and Romney to be willing to be president of all of the people, and their capacity to take a stand on a difficult issue: racism and the justice system in America.

These two men are not presidential. The president of the United States has to be the president of all of us. He (or she) has to have the courage to stand up and against what appears to be wrong. At the least, he or she has to be able to relate to Americans who are hurting, like Trayvon’s parents.

President Obama, who has walked carefully over the minefield called race and racism in America, has spoken out, saying that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon,” but he said he wanted to respect the investigation of the case,  both national and local. That was the right thing to do, the right thing to say. That as presidential.

However,neither  Santorum, Romney nor Paul has shown compassion or backbone, not in this instance.

It’s a significant revelation. It is a telling revelation. It is a troubling revelation.

A candid observation …

Whose Phony Theology?

This morning I heard a news report on “The Today Show”  about the surging poll numbers of GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. He is apparently appealing to Republican voters who like his socially Conservative views, and is ahead of last month’s front-runner, Mitt Romney, even in Romney’s home state of Michigan.

But I don’t write this because of Santorum’s poll numbers. I write this to challenge Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich to be honest politicians, and to win their nomination based on truth and not on sensationalism…AND I challenge news organizations to be honest and accurate as well, seeking truth in reporting and again, not sensational reports that will drive their ratings up.

Peter Alexander did this morning’s report, saying that Santorum is using religion as one of his tools to fight his opponents. We already heard him say that President Obama has a “phony theology,” but Santorum took a jab at the President’s Christianity yesterday, intimating that something may very well be wrong with a man whose pastor was Jeremiah Wright. Said Santorum, “He sat under Pastor Wright for 20 years.”

Enter the now infamous sound bite of Wright saying, “no, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America!” End of clip. As the clip aired, Alexander continued talking, saying that Wright was “forced to resign from his church after making inflammatory remarks.”

My soul fell out of my body. First, the clip…which I will talk about in a minute, but Alexander’s carelessness as a reporter made my blood boil. Pastor Wright did NOT resign; he retired after serving Trinity United Church of Christ for 36 years! In his book, A Sankofa Moment: The History of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Wright writes, “It was during those years between 2001  and 2005  that we began to look earnestly for a pastor to succeed me in leading the flock of God known as Trinity United Church of Christ….We were looking for someone who loved the Lord with all their hearts, their souls and their minds. We did not want anybody coming into the congregation who was playing with the Gospel or playing God’s people, pimping them or trying to get over on them!” (p. 283) The church had a Plan of Succession; his retirement was not new news. Pastor Wright preached his last three sermons at Trinity UCC in February of 2008;  his last Sunday as senior pastor of Trinity UCC was the first Sunday of March, 2008.

The lack of accuracy in Alexander’s reporting is a giant black eye on a news operation which prides itself as being competent and accurate.

But then…that clip. I cringed. There it was again…ten words taken out of context, and done purposely in order to feed into the fear, suspicion …and dislike of President Obama that has never disappeared. From the claim that the president is not American to the charges that he is really a closet Muslim…a non-American, non-Christian, who is in the White House. Santorum is feeding the sharks and he knows it.

That clip came from a sermon, entitled  “Confusing God and Government,” and was actually preached in 2003. In that sermon, Pastor Wright began by asking, “If you were to ask the average Christian, ‘did Jesus cry?’ almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He goes on to tell the story around that particular verse…but then he begins to talk about why Jesus cried, going to the Gospel of Luke, where on Palm Sunday Luke says Jesus wept over the city; “he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace.”

Wright says, “He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their conditions, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression…” He described a people who in Jesus’ day were oppressed by the Roman government; he said these people were tired of their oppression…they were blinded by the pain of their situation…”

He explains how people get confused: “Let me help you with something,” he said. “The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while…War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary,” a sentiment spoken by preaching greats including William Sloan Coffin and Martin Luther King Jr.

Wright talked about the people in Jesus’ day who wanted a new king but who were blinded by their circumstances, and “it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry.”  He continues to develop this thought, saying in the sermon that people were “confusing external appearances with external power.  People look for a miracle, Wright said, which is “just a sign,” but “the deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation, and a God who can overcome any limiting situation…The people under oppression were confusing God and government.”

As he develops his thoughts, he talks about how some Muslims (and he is careful to say “not all Muslims”) confuse God and government who “condone a law condoning killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call it ‘jihad.'” He says we in America do the same thing: “we cannot see how what we are doing is the same al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction our murder and our mayhem.”

“We confuse God and government,” he said. He mentions some of the things America has done in the name of God, including oppressing Native Americans and African Americans…”We believe God approved of African slavery.”  He talks about America’s Constitution which assumed men to be “more equal” than women, and he said, “We confuse God and government; we believe God is on the side of the wealthy.”

The place of the wealthy is forever up for discussion. Jesus, in the New Testament, and God in the Hebrew scriptures admonished the wealthy for not caring enough for the poor.  William Sloan Coffin once said “Our nation is going to have quite a lot to say about how tolerable this planet is going to be. And if it’s as hard for a rich individual to get into the kingdom of God as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, you can imagine what it must be like for a rich nation!”  In other words, the debate about the rights of the rich versus the poor is not new; the chasm between the two has been a subject for prophets and apparently for God from the beginning of time.

In this sermon, Wright makes three points; Governments lie; governments fail, and governments change. He talks about how our government has lied over time “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack.  Governments lie!  The government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. The government lied about Nelson Mandela and our CIA helped put him into prison and keep him there for 27 years. ..Wright talks about well-documented instances in which the government has lied, but ends that section with “God doesn’t lie.

He then talks about how our government (and others) change. “Long before there was a red, white and blue colonization, the Egyptian government was doing colonization. They colonized parts of the Mediterranean. All colonizers ain’t (sic) white…But while the government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian government was the baddest government around, but when King Nebuchadnezzar went crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem, and a hand appeared.” Here, Pastor Wright describes the writing on the wall translated by Daniel, which said to the king that his government would fail. Governments, Wright said, using the Biblical text, change.

But, he said, “God doesn’t change, quoting Malachi 3:6 which says “…thus says the Lord, and I change not.” God, he repeats, does not change, an affirmation and a comfort to people who need to know that God is a constant, no matter what.

Finally he says governments fail. He talks of how the Roman government fail; the Russian government failed; the British government failed; the Japanese government failed …and the American government failed “when it came to treating her citizens of Indian ancestry fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed; she put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, she failed.”

Said Wright: She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing, “God bless America” No, no, no! God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”

Governments fail, he says, but God never fails. He asks the congregants to refer to the Bible, where it says people will be cursed for not treating people right; in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, there are extensive lists where Moses explains why people (and nations) will be cursed and why they can and will be blessed. The fall of Jerusalem came about because the people “forsook God,” and the curse was that God allowed the enemies of His own people to topple them. It is not a pleasant message, but it is in the Bible.

I challenge Mr. Santorum to read the sermon, instead of making sneaky comments implying that there is something wrong with the president’s theology because he sat under the teaching of Pastor Wright. One might argue that a theology that allowed for the enslavement of African-Americans, the oppression of women, and the exploitation of workers is phony, too, if the Bible is to be taken into account.

At the end of the day, though there is one God, there are many different theological perspectives. The Rev. Franklin Graham gave a lukewarm acknowledgement that President Obama is a Christian, though he strongly affirmed that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are. When pressed by reporters on “Morning Joe” about his thoughts about the president’s faith, he waffled, criticizing the president’s policies which to him seem to be more concerned with protecting Muslims than Christians in places like Egypt. “We are not protecting the minorities,” he said, intimating that a good policy would be one that protected “the minorities,” which, in Egypt, are the Christians.

Yet, in America, many Christians historically have not been all that concerned with protecting its minorities.  So, which theology is “phony?” Which theology is “real,” in Santorum’s view or in Rev. Graham’s?

Rev. Graham said “all I know is that I am a sinner saved by grace.” That is the correct Christian jargon, but saying the words does not a Christian make, and, conversely, NOT saying those words when asked if one is Christian does NOT mean that one is not. Rev. Graham is right: the measure of one’s Christianity is found in the way one lives one’s life. Rev. Graham seems to have problems and issues with the president’s policies primarily in the Middle East, making him apparently doubt the president’s Christian belief claim.

As for NBC, I hope Peter Alexander corrects his error, and I hope all of the news operations are careful to check their facts before they put reports out that will only feed the fears and insecurity of so many people. I don’t feel sorry for politicians who rip each other apart, because those in politics know what they’re getting into, but the press has a duty to get the facts right and care about the lives of people it disrupts and destroys when it is not careful.

A candid observation ….

Somebody Ought to Tell the Truth!

In a front page article written by  Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff which appeared in The New York Times on February 12, a gentleman was described as being

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Image via Wikipedia

anti big government. He printed tee shirts for his local Tea Party affiliate, and says he doesn’t need or want help from the government.

Yet, the article said, he gets a payment from the government every year, a subsidy for working families called the “earned income tax credit,”  “he has signed his three school age children up to receive free breakfasts,” paid for the by the federal government, and his mother, who had to have hip surgery twice, is on Medicare – again, a federal program.

This kind of situation is not the exception, but, rather, the rule, and I am finding it harder and harder to listen to GOP presidential contenders talk about how they will slash domestic spending because it represents big government. At the end of the day, politicians are not telling people the truth, but, rather, what they want to hear. The people are not clear on what “big government” is, and politicians are allowing their ignorance to remain, because their lack of knowledge is the pot in which raw emotions fester, and politicians know that many an election has been won by stirring the right pot with the right emotions.

Are people really thinking about what would happen if the host of government benefits we all take so for granted suddenly were not there? What WOULD happen to our elderly if Medicare were no more?  The Times article said that “dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in 2009, a 69 percent increase since 2000.” The article said that older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare. So, if we cut domestic spending, how would “the least of these,” in this case, the elderly, get by?

Rick Santorum said that while Jesus wanted people to help poor people, social justice creates lazy Christians. That statement was stunning in and of itself, but it is disturbing and misleading and leads Americans to visualize “the poor” as lazy and probably members of a minority group. Like it or not, there are certain buzz words that get self-righteous Americans stirred up about who “the American taxpayer” is helping…but what is not being discussed or highlighted is that, again according to the Times article  “the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits.” Now it seems that the doling out of government benefits has been more focused on saving the slowly dying middle class.

There is no doubt that the nation’s economy, in fact, the world’s economy, is in horrible shape.  GOP presidential hopefuls who want to beat President Obama cannot be pleased that the economy seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. That fact takes the wind out of their argument that the Obama administration is a “failed presidency,” but they still beat the drum that the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons the economy has pitted is because of big government and reckless government spending.

Somebody needs to be bold and tell the truth about what is going on. Rick Santorum looks like a clean-cut, all-American choir boy, and he stands on his Christianity, but Christianity  i.e., the following of the Christ – demands a social conscience and a heart for “the least of these.” Santorum has not voiced the truth that “the least of these” is a group growing larger and larger as the income disparity between rich and poor gets wider and wider.  William Sloan Coffin once said that what the “Christian community needs to do above all else is to raise up men and women of thought and of conscience…” Merely advocating for slashing of needed government programs, at the expense of people who have been the backbone of this country, providing the labor and services that made wealth possible for so many, would seem to be immoral, unethical …and un-Christian.

Santorum is talking a lot of religion lately, going so far as to say President Obama has a “phony theology.” I do not understand that phrase, but what I do know is that the Jesus in the scriptures I read would not condone the wealthy getting more wealthy while more and more people are falling deeper and deeper into financial ruin, with the threat of what little help they have hanging over their heads.

I cannot believe God is pleased with what is going on.

A candid observation.

 

 

What Is a Conservative?

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Image via Wikipedia

OK. I am confused.

What is a “real” Conservative? And when did the word “Liberal” become a virtual cuss word for those who are on the Right?

I was perplexed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said last week that he was “severely Conservative.”  I didn’t know what it meant; I am glad that David Frum, in an article posted on the CNN blog, said that what Romney meant to say was that he was, or is, “strongly” Conservative. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/13/opinion/frum-romney-moves)

Michelle Bachmann said she was the “perfect” Conservative, and this week, Sarah Palin intimated that Romney still has to prove he is Conservative enough to be a viable candidate to run against President Obama.

But I am still confused. What is a Conservative, really? What do Conservatives stand for? There seems to be a standard in order for one to call oneself “Conservative.” It’s like the elusive “standard” that exists for being “black.” President Obama has been chided by some for not being “black enough,” and by others for being “too black,” so much so that there is literally nothing else to call him but a Socialist.

In order to be a Conservative, what does one have to stand for? It’s can’t be small government and less government spending, because George W. Bush said he was a Conservative but made the government super huge and spent money like it was going to evaporate. He was “conservative” when it came to interfering with Terri Schiavo…meaning, he was on the bandwagon to make sure life-saving measures were not discontinued…but wait. That couldn’t have been Conservative, could it, when he invited the United States Supreme Court in to make a ruling on the case?

As I have always understood it, Conservatives stand for less government …but that’s not a constant standard, is it? I mean, some Conservatives are mad about “Obamacare,” because they say it’s government intrusion in health care, but isn’t the government already highly involved, so much so that we don’t have the freedom in some cases to choose our own doctors like we used to be able to, and we might be out of luck if we do not get certain medical procedures approved by our insurance companies first? Didn’t the government have something to do with where we are in health care today?

I am not being facetious. I am confused. What is the difference between a “real” Conservative and a Liberal? And what is it about liberalism that makes Conservatives so mad?  Is it because Conservatives think that a government ought not help the poor? Is it the Conservative viewpoint that people are down and out because they want to be and that they are where they are because they are just lazy? Is that what I am hearing underneath some of what Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said? And is the Conservative view that we should let the elderly of our population kind of wing it when it comes to health care? I know Medicare is expensive, but what I am not sure about is what Conservatives are saying.

I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I am genuinely confused. The Conservatives, many of them, say they are part of the evangelical population of this country. That is why they are against gay marriage, and want to overturn Roe vs. Wade…but if they are so attached to The Holy Bible, wouldn’t they have seen the literally hundreds of references about the poor and how God’s people are supposed to take care of them?  Liberals have been accused of being without religion, but what kind of religion is it that the Conservatives, a.k.a. the evangelicals, ascribe to?

I am genuinely confused. Is it just me, or is there a problem here? If Romney is “severely” or “strongly” a Conservative, what does that mean? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said he was a Progressive. So…what do we have here? A new strain of politician? Is Romney a Progressive Conservative? Or a Conservative Progressive? It’s all really hard to understand for a non-sophisticated citizen like myself.

A candid observation …