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 …

The Prayers of the Fervent White Supremacists

            I have always been bothered that people who believe in and live by the principles of white supremacy call themselves “Christian.” It has been anathema to me that one could lift up the name of the Christ, who taught by example that all people matter, even while practicing discrimination against Black people, certainly, but against other groups of people as well.

            The God of white male Protestants has been alarmingly approving of racial, sexual, and Xenophobic, homophobic behavior and beliefs, as well as anti-Semitism. It has been troubling, causing many to fall away from Christianity and from the church, and some completely rejecting the person and ministry of Jesus the Christ.

            That God – the God of white supremacists – was called upon by white supremacist, MAGA Trump supporters during their attack on the Capitol Building on January 6. In a scene which sickened me to my core, one of the insurrectionists called upon the rioters to stop and pray to the Lord Jesus, asking Jesus to bless their efforts to overturn the American government. (https://faithfullymagazine.com/capitol-hill-attack-video-pray/) They bowed their heads. They lifted up their hands, and they prayed.

            “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” they cried out loud.

            It should not have surprised me. White Protestant Christianity has represented the very opposite of what I was taught Jesus was about, but throughout American history, white Protestants have invoked the name of Jesus to support their racism. Racism might be wrong, some would say, but it was not a sin; slavery, they would add, was created and sanctioned by God. 

            It is notable that some of this nation’s most rabid racists called themselves Christian and were quite religious. Sam Bowers,  who when alive was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, believed that God had called him to “embark on a holy war for white supremacy.” Bowers was a devout Christian; he taught Sunday School, and before he sent members of the Klan out to carry out racial violence, would lead them in a prayer, and often had them fast as well. He ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who dared register to vote and get other Black people to register as well, and to his dying day (he died in prison in 1982 after finally having been convicted of Dahmer’s murder) never uttered a word of regret. 

            In his mind, as well as in the minds of so many white supremacists, what he did had been ordered by God.

            The late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was also a devout Christian but was rabidly racist. He, too, felt that his racism was something God was comfortable with, because “the Bible” sanctioned it – racism, as well as slavery. He was once questioned about his Christianity and his lack of willingness to “love his neighbor as himself.” Wasn’t that racism, he was asked, an abrogation of Christian principles? Byrd said no, it wasn’t. He knew the scriptures, he told an interviewer, and he acknowledged the command to love one’s neighbors, but, he said, “I get to pick my neighbor.”

            I thought about his words, and about Bowers’ devotion to his Christian faith. I have no way of knowing, but it is highly probable that, in spite of the racist violence he fomented and in which he participated, he died believing that God was smiling on him, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

            Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 are probably members of a Protestant church somewhere; many are regular church goers. Some may have had a prayer meeting before they traveled to Washington. This is what they knew: that Jesus was their savior and Trump was their president. What they believed is that their savior was going to usher in their president, with the anointing of God.

            The image of them praying in the Senate chambers is sobering, but their belief in God-sanctioned violence to protect and preserve white supremacy is more than sobering. It is offensive.

            Their God is not my God. It never was and it will never be. Their fervent effectual prayers are not the same ones I would pray. The God I learned about in Sunday School is not the same one that they learned about. There is but one Bible, but apparently, there are at least two Gods.

            A candid observation…