Can White Supremacy Be Cured?

The disease called white supremacy is as deadly to the soul and spirits of those afflicted as is a stage four cancer with metastasis.

Unlike cancer, however, white supremacy is contagious and affects everyone it touches. It is without rationality or compassion; it is willfully blind to the reality that those who claim intellectual superiority are simply wrong. It causes people to compromise the conception of God who presumably made everything and everyone intentionally, and it allows people to distance themselves from the putrid and toxic exudate which comes from the hearts and mouths of those who live by it.

James Baldwin

White supremacists do not see people of color as human beings with emotions, needs and the right to dignity; they instead view people as objects. Their dehumanization of human beings is not reserved for only black people, but for brown people, for Jews, for Catholics, for women, and for the poor (whatever race the poor might be.

That’s just for starters.

White supremacy is a mindset which is most notably practiced by wealthy white men, but which is also supported by white people in general. It is a receptacle for racist thought, but also for sexist and Xenophobic and anti-Semitic thinking as well.  It is a way of life based on power and fear of losing that power. It spawns and provokes violence as a means of maintaining its power because the white supremacist believes that violence is proof of being strong.

White supremacists have lied to themselves for so long that they believe the lies. They feel completely justified in oppressing people who do not fit the mold of what they expect. White supremacy is about power, just as is rape.

Author and essayist James Baldwin bemoaned the seemingly hopeless plight of white supremacists. In an interview with David Frost in 1970, Baldwin pondered out loud if this country was on the verge of a civil war. The Civil Rights Movement had been all but decimated, and the gains made by black, brown and poor people were slowing being reversed. It was an act of abject hatred, a quality which white supremacists inhale and digest, presumably because doing so is the only way they can continue their oppression of others.

The Civil Rights Movement, observed Baldwin, “always contained within itself something self-defeating.” Black people, led by Dr. King, believed “at the beginning” of the movement that “there was a way of reaching the conscience of the people of this country.”

“We did everything in our power to make the American people realize that the myths they were living with were not so much destroying black people as whites,” he said.

White people, he said, “are much more victimized” than was he or black people in general, he said, adding, “it is terrible to watch a nation lose itself.” The country was not on the edge of a racial war, he said, but on the edge of a civil war.

Nothing much has changed.

Spurred by fear of losing their power, white supremacists, led by the current president, are on the prowl, joyfully grateful that the president is “on their side.” If, as Rev. Dr. William Barber says that the opposite of hatred is fear, then what we are seeing is fear unleashed, not caring who might be mowed down in the process of making America “great” again.

This nation was conceived in white supremacy. The Native Americans on whose land the whites from England descended had to “destroy the indigenous people in order to become a nation,” said Baldwin. We are still trying to become a nation and if the truth be told, we are not so interested in being “one nation under God.” In fact, our very diversity and pluralism have been major factors in stoking the fear of the white supremacists.

White supremacists will not admit it, but their wealth and power depend on – and have always depended on – the condition of the people whom they regularly oppress. Mass incarceration, voter suppression, poverty, the attack on social programs – are all tools white supremacists use to maintain their power. They are deathly afraid that their power is in jeopardy; hence, the rise from the underground of their hateful rhetoric and violent behavior – even as they criticize violence which comes from people trying to defend themselves from the attacks of white supremacists.

Baldwin said in 1970 that “for the first time the people legally white and the people legally black are beginning to understand that if they do not come together, they’re going to end up in the same gas oven.” White supremacy has taken root in the soul of America and it cannot be cured; it has gone untreated for too long,

The gas ovens stand ready to receive us – oppressed, yes, but oppressors even more. This sickness is only getting worse, and the outcome of white supremacists being driven by their hatred and fear is not going to be good for them. What goes around certainly comes around, and be sure, their behavior is “coming around.”

A candid observation …

No Violence. Strategy

The entire debacle surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown has been at once fascinating and energetic …and yet, troubling.

I am not so concerned with people, spurred by the media, concentrating on the violence, putting it down as barbaric and primitive, though it is interesting that white culture has seemingly forgotten its own history of violence. White culture, especially the law enforcement culture, has been relentless and legion in exerting violence against black people. When black people fought for the right to vote, and for the right to sit at lunch counters and to integrate facilities, white culture, with police either participating in the violence or standing by and watching it …responded with violence. The show of force in Ferguson, with police in riot gear and coming on like they were fighting in Iraq or somewhere, is not a new thing. A careful walk back through history shows disturbingly similar photos of military-like police officers standing ready to demolish groups of black people. Police, encouraged and ordered by Bull Connor, used police dogs and fire hoses on women and children when they protested racism. Police were often part of violent KKK outings that took lives of black people and many were members of the Klan themselves, as were many of the attorneys and judges that tried and heard cases of black people; that’s not something that is an opinion, it is documented history.

No, though I don’t like it, I am not so concerned with people concentrating on the violence that erupted after Mike Brown’s shooting.

What I am concerned about it this spirit of anticipation of violence if Police Officer Darren Wilson is not indicted.

Everybody in America knows that police officers are seldom held accountable for the killings that they commit. They are nearly always excused. They are allowed to shoot people and give as the excuse or reason, “I was in fear for my life,” and it’s like getting a token to go through a subway turnstile. It is highly probable that Wilson, although apparently he has a record of not being so nice to black people in his capacity as an officer ….will not be indicted.

If that happens, my prayer is there will be …not violence …but mind-blowing strategy. I am prayerful that if Wilson is not indicted, “the strategy” will go into place immediately. I am prayerful that “the strategy” will be so tough, so effective, that it will shake the economic foundations not only of Ferguson, St. Louis and the state of Missouri, but will become a threat and a wake-up call to police departments all over this country, a sign that people are fed up with police officers getting away with horrific shootings allowed them by the unbridled power they possess.

Let me say up front that yes, police officers have a tough job. They are, in many cases, “in fear for their lives.”

But it appears, from the work that I have done with Ruby Sales and The Spirit House Project, that in many of these shooting deaths, the police have exerted their power to kill…and have gone unscathed and unaccountable.

People in power don’t care an iota about the emotions of other people. Their quest is to maintain and perhaps increase their power. They don’t have to worry about “the least of these” or, as Professor Obery Hendricks says in his book, “treat the needs of the people as holy.” They just do not have to care…and many times, too many, they do not.

So, the police officers and police departments don’t care if there are weeping mothers and fathers left in the aftermath of a shooting that results in the death of an unarmed person. They don’t really even have to defend themselves half the time. They run on the myth that black people are bad, that they are lazy and will not work, and that if they were shot, they deserved it.

That feels like the spirit of a police state.

So, it really will not bother the Ferguson Police Department, or the St. Louis Police Department  if folks in Ferguson get violent if Wilson is not indicted. They almost want that kind of reaction. It is a reaction they can beat, and they know it.

No…the cities and states of this nation need to be made uncomfortable in another way. They need to feel the power of the people in another way. In Montgomery, Alabama, the bus boycott caused the bus company, downtown stores and businesses and the city to lose a little over $1 million…and that was in the 1950s. White businesses were made aware of the economic power of black people; blacks pour an inordinate amount of money into white businesses. We help make rich people richer.

Any strategy that works in this issue of police brutality, is going to be a strategy that somehow hampers normal and accepted behavior and practices. A successful strategy will put a strain on the status-quo. Street violence is just not going to be acceptable.

Even as I write this, I do not know if an effective strategy is being developed. I hope so.

It is the only thing that will get the attention of power brokers who are cocky about their power…and have no intention of changing it.

A candid observation.

The Weird Peace of Faith

I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, in which I describe how “crazy faith” can and does propel people to do amazing things.  Faith doesn’t make sense, it is not logical, but it brings stability to unstable situations and gives sight where the circumstances at hand would beg blindness.

Then, this morning, I heard Rev. Lance Watson describe “courageous faith,” a faith that made the Biblical character Joshua tell the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could face their enemies. Whoever heard of such? And yet, courageous (crazy) faith makes people staunchly believe in something greater than themselves, and in standing on that belief, beat incredible odds.

Faith, it seems, gives people courage, the “courage to be,” as Paul Tillich describes. The very last line of his book, The Courage to Be, reads: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

The anxiety of doubt comes when we are in the midst of the most scary, the most traumatic situations of our lives. We wonder where God is, if God hears, if God cares …I imagine the slaves in America wondered about the presence and goodness  of God as they endured that horrible institution; I imagine, as well, that Jews, suffering under the brutality and insanity of Adolph Hitler during the Holocaust, wondered the same thing…”Would God allow such evil?”

And yet, it seems, God does allow evil, and the courage to be means that one is able to hold onto his or her belief in God “in spite of” one’s situation.

As a pastor, I have seen many a person struggle with the whole notion of the goodness of God, the presence of God, and the purposes of God. Why would God allow an innocent child to die of brain cancer, or a beloved mother to die an early and brutal death? Years ago, I watched a young mother struggle with her idea of God as she mourned, in excruciating pain, the death of her teen son who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the recent unrest in the Middle East, I can imagine mothers and fathers both in Gaza and in Israel wondering why God would allow such evil – the evil of war caused by people who will not listen to each other – to exist and to flourish.

God does allow evil.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is something weird about faith, because even in the midst of going through and suffering through abject evil, those who have faith experience a “weird” peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”  After a while, the person filled with faith has an ability to surrender doubt into the unknown. He or she is not aware of where the anxiety of doubt is going; one only knows that yesterday, he or she was upset and worried, and today, the worry, the anxiety, is gone.

And that is in spite of the fact that God allows evil to be.

We might feel better if God put a hand in front of all evil and all discomfort that confronts us, but God doing that would not necessarily increase our faith. Faith actually comes in the enduring and survival of, evil in our lives. Evil comes at us like a giant Tsunami, sometimes stunning us in its ferocity and intensity, and if we can find ourselves standing when the giant wave of evil passes back into the sea, we find that our faith in God increases. Somewhere in the midst of the fury of the evil that sometimes boxes our spirits, if we get to that place of weird peace, we are able to ride the evil and not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

Evil is strong and distasteful, but God is greater than any evil. That does not mean that God prevents evil; we have already established that God allows evil, and we may never understand why …but in the end, God really is greater than evil.

Maybe that’s why faith is so perplexing. Anyone who has experienced a weird peace in the midst of adversity knows exactly what I am talking about …

A candid observation …

Are Kids Trying to Tell Us Something?

We must be doing something wrong as a society.

Today a young teen was shot and killed and four others shot and injured by another teen at Chardon High School, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. The alleged shooter is a young man named T.J. Lane who reportedly went into the high school’s cafeteria a little after 7 a.m. and began shooting. Young Lane was said by newscasters to have had a “lot of resentment.”

Only he knows why he is so unhappy. One student at the high school who knows him said he comes from a broken home, but that he was “quiet and nice.” Then whatever happened? For how long has this young man been unhappy or mad or sad, and nobody noticed?

There seem to be a couple of issues in these types of situations: first, a young person is sad or unhappy and either nobody notices or nobody cares. Depression among young people is high, but very often, teens are ignored and their depression or other serious mental imbalance is regarded as “normal,” if unpleasant, behavior for teens. There still is no clear understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 13 classmates in the horrendous shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.  Investigators say they had not been bullied, a common reason given for teen violence, but clearly, something was wrong. Those two young men were not happy.

Neither is there much understanding as to why Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Apparently the young man showed signs of being disturbed and unhappy, but few took him seriously.

Whatever the reasons for these horrible shootings, a second thing that seems to keep coming up is that young people seem to think that violence is the way to handle their pain. They must be learning that from us older people,  who too frequently resort to violence as well. How many times have we heard that children will do what you do before they will do what you say? It seems fruitless to tell a child or young person not to be violent when they see adults resort to violence all too often.

Not only, however, do the kids direct their violence toward others; too often, they turn the violence on themselves as well.

Something is very wrong.

It seems that people in general are violent, notwithstanding belief in God, a Constitution, or “family values.” America‘s history is peppered with violence, from the time the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Diplomacy and fairness do not seem to be favored or respected ways of handling conflict; violence, on the other hand, has had a prominent role in conflict management from the beginning.

“Drive-by shootings” were commonplace way before now; in pioneer days, gunfights were common and during Prohibition, gangsters made drive-by shootings almost romantic. Elliot Ness and others were romanticized for their conquests taken by and through violence.

The point is that it seems that we have taught our children that the way to handle our pain is by eliminating “the enemy.” How many of the kids who have gone into schools, shooting, or disgruntled employees who have done the same, have voiced discontent with the way they have been treated by others? Violence is often the last resort of people who feel powerless. Ending someone’s life, or seriously hurting them fills that void…or does it really?

I don’t think young Mr. Lane feels all that powerful now. He has destroyed his life and taken the life of at least one other young person. We older people, I think, need to stop and think. Perhaps we are failing as mentors and leaders and advisors for too many young people, who are struggling with problems of self-esteem and self-love, and who are on a path of self-destruction.

I cannot imagine the pain of the parents of the young man who left home this morning for school, only to die a senseless and tragic death. My hope is that we can learn something before something like this happens again. Violence doesn’t bring a sense of power to one who feels powerless.It only brings pain and, too often, a desire for revenge.

Enough, already.

A candid observation.