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…

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.

Breathing Easier but Not Easily

            When the announcement was made that Joe Biden had won the presidency in the November General Election, I literally took what felt like a cleansing breath. For four years, I had internalized a type of stress that was ongoing. Every day there was some new attack, some crazy Twitter message. The goal of the former president seemed to be to undo the government as we knew it. Bit by bit, he and his administration chipped away at institutions that had been mainstays of this government.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/07/black-lives-matters-police-departments-have-long-history-racism/3128167001/            

From the first day of his presidency, there was chaos, from making his press secretary lie about the size of his inauguration crowd (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38707723) to making his first official visit to the CIA. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/trump-visits-cia-day-after-inauguration/580003/) I remember thinking that the visit was weird, but as his presidency moved forward, and he showed continued obeisance and deference to Vladimir Putin, I wondered if there was a nefarious reason that the CIA had been in his crosshairs from the beginning. Was he there because he knew he was going to be compromising America’s security? I wondered about it more as he demanded loyalty from the people around him. While no fan of form Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I found it oddly uncomfortable that he would dismiss an attorney for recusing himself from a situation in which he knew he was compromised and that could have cost him his license to practice law.

            The daily attacks on people who opposed him, the daily attacks on “the Democrats,” the daily name-calling, the doing business by Tweet, …all of that made my spirit uneasy. His tenure as president was like a soap opera; there seemed to be very little progress on work to make the lives of Americans easier, even and especially the people who comprised part of his base, but there was sure to be high drama every single day, and people tuned in to see, to hear, and to react.

            Then came the coronavirus, and his totally inept handling of the crisis. I still cringe when I remember how this president said the virus would “just disappear,” and how he suggested any number of remedies to get rid of it. I cringe when I realize that his administration gagged public health officials, how he discounted, discouraged, and politicized the use of masks, and how he seemed totally unconcerned with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. In the deepest recesses of my soul, I found myself believing that he was using the disease to weed out certain segments of the population. Hearing that Black and brown people were more affected by the disease than whites seemed to be OK with him, a reason, perhaps, to ignore the runaway rate of infection.

            So, when the announcement was made that Biden won the election, I breathed easier. I reacted to and rejoiced with people who took to the streets to celebrate his victory. I believed that the 45th president and his administration would just do what others who have lost the presidency have done: accept the results and allow people like me, who were tired of his ineptness, name-calling, and lying, alone.

            But I was wrong. His attack on the results of the election – which he said during this campaign that the election could only be lost by him if the election was rigged – was breathtaking in its persistence and scope. He had a pattern of attacking elections that did not go his way. In 2016, he made the claim, (https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-election-rigged-2016-10) and he did it in 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9i80SrDc74) He said during the 2016 election that he had only lost the Iowa primary because Ted Cruz had stolen the election and said in 2009 that Obama had only won the election because the voting had been rigged. (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-longstanding-history-calling-elections-rigged-doesnt-results/story?id=74126926)

            That he said it was one thing; that he got millions to agree with him and believe him was quite another. The result was his last-ditch effort to steal (ironic as the mantra of his supporters was “stop the steal) the election from Joe Biden, going so far as to encourage his followers to go to the Capitol and stop the counting of the ballots submitted to the Electoral College. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55640437) (https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech).

            The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, a continuation of violence carried out by his supporters at some state capitals, and the disparity of treatment of these insurrectionists and protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement is why, though I am breathing easier, I am not breathing easily. Trump supporters – which include the rich as well as the poor, the highly educated as well as the uneducated, women as well as men…are angry and are calling their attempts to overthrow governments acts of patriotism. They are not finished and they are not gone. And the fact that many of these supporters are members of law enforcement, and many are ex-military, who operate in a country where they know for the most part that there are two justice systems – one for white people and one for Black- makes my breathing tentative. Where will they go next? Who will they attack? And when?  

            Too much of law enforcement seems to be on the side of those who want to overthrow the government.(https://www.npr.org/2021/01/15/956896923/police-officers-across-nation-face-federal-charges-for-involvement-in-capitol-ri) That is not new; law enforcement has historically participated in – or has ignored – violence against black people,  and of course, the Civil War was fought because white Southerners desired to shut the Union down over the issue of slavery.

            The fact that it is not new, however, is not comforting. These people have been emboldened by the rhetoric of the former president and know that they can claim they are using their First Amendment rights in what they are doing and that they will possibly get away with it, (https://www.courthousenews.com/citing-first-amendment-rights-judge-lifts-iowa-ban-on-protesters/) even as some state legislatures are working to put in place laws that would stem the protests of groups including Black Lives Matter. (https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/rights-protesters/anti-protest-bills-around-country) (https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/11/20/criminalize-protests-civil-rights)

            It is worth noting that these actions do not take into account that the BLM protests and what happened at the Capitol are not the same, though MAGA supporters are making that claim. The BLM movement is an attempt to get convince governments to create policies that will stop the legal extermination of Black people by police; the MAGA protests are about wanting to overthrow governments – local and federal – because they are upset with and want to eliminate a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect.

            So, I breathe easier, but not easily. The angry white people with guns are prowling the country; we do not know who they are, but they are prowling, waiting to attack, and still wanting to destroy the government. They are working to make laws that will make it even more difficult for Black people to vote. They are openly expressing their desire to kill lawmakers who have not been loyal to the former president. We are not in a good place in this country and will not be until we deal with the moral corruption of this nation, a morality which has brought us to the brink of Fascism.

            Until we do that, I will not breathe easily.

            A candid observation …