The Impotency of Silence, White Supremacy and Lessons from My Mother

One of the best and most powerful lessons my mother taught me was the lesson of “guilt by association.”

“If you’re with someone who’s doing something wrong and the police come, you’re going to get arrested too, even if you haven’t done anything.”

She told all five us that at a very early age, and it stuck to me, on me and in me like white on rice. So when, for example, I was in Berkeley, California one summer and was out shopping with someone I considered a friend – and she urged me to put a swimsuit I liked into my bag, I panicked. She had lifted several swimsuits and wanted me to “join the fun.”

My mother’s words stung me like a swarm of angry bees; I pretended to go along with her, saying I was going to go back in the fitting room and try on a couple more and would meet her in a few minutes outside.

I did nothing of the sort. I went into the dressing room and stayed long enough to see her going away from where we had been and I made a beeline to another door out of the store, got on a bus and headed back to my aunt’s home.

That was in the middle ages; there were no cell phones back then, nor the internet. She called my aunt’s home several times but I never talked with her again. I didn’t tell on her, but I just stayed away.

I thought about that lesson as I was thinking about the rabid racial hatred that is swirling around us in the present time, and I was thinking about the silence of so many white people in light of all that is going on, making them as guilty of racist behavior as the most vocal racist.

Audre Lord, an African American, Lesbian, feminist writer and poet, wrote, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” She also said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Silence is a tool appreciated and exploited by the system of white supremacy; the thought seems to be on the part of many “progressive” whites that if racism isn’t talked about, then it doesn’t exist. The use of silence also seems to be an insurance policy for some whites who appear to think that if they are silent they cannot be condemned for being a participant in an evil system which knows no boundaries to its quest to control, manipulate and destroy the lives of black people.

At the heart of white supremacist thought is the innate belief that black people are inferior. “The white race” as a construct cannot figure out why black people even exist; in the 19thcentury, some scientists and white theologians posited that there could not be one god, but there were, in fact, many gods, a slap in the face of the principle of monotheism.  Black people had been created by another god, and, that being the case, it was OK to subjugate, oppress and discriminate against them. Their white god didn’t see anything wrong with and would not condemn those who were full of racist hatred and who participated in and sometimes initiated acts of violence against blacks. They could easily lynch someone on a Saturday night and go to church the next morning to sing hymns, hear a stirring sermon and maybe even receive or pass out Holy Communion.

There have been a fair number of whites who say they hate racism, but they do not say much about it. They rest in the comfort of whiteness, protected by their silence; their whiteness is like a tree which provides shade on the hottest of days. They get offended if called a racist and are annoyed when the word “racism” is used in relation to some of the oppression which goes on, but internally, they know that the talk about racism and the harm it causes  is not superfluous, but is damaging many, many lives.

The fear of speaking out is understandable. In our history, those whites who spoke against racism were called “n”-lovers. They were ostracized and suffered in ways that ought not to have been the case. Silence was easier. But silence is complicity. Those who have shied away from actively helping to end racism are like friends of a person who is shoplifting. They are equally as guilty.

The current administration is bold with its belief in and practice of racism; the code words and phrases used have endeared the president to white supremacists, whose desire to “make America great again” is really a push to “make America white again.” Blacks, they believe, must know their place and stay there, and those whites who disagree dare not say too much for fear of the fallout.

People in this country have bowed to the petulant South, which has never gotten over its defeat in the Civil War, but the defeat did not mean the end of the war; it just meant that the war would be fought in a different way. The tools would be Jim Crow, lynching and other violent acts (which is none less than domestic terrorism), voter suppression, discrimination in housing, employment and finances. The war goes on; the troops of the South ever increase, while the metaphorical “Union,” i.e., progressive whites, have laid their weapons down and have basically let those who believe in racism have their way.

But the silence of progressive whites is toxic and, in the end,, will not save them. Even as the policies and practices of white people in power continue to compromise the lives of black people and other non-white, non-Christian people, the wounds caused by this metastatic condition will not heal. The poison which is the foundation of white supremacy will continue to seep out and infect everyone.  As long as white supremacy is alive and well, nobody is safe.

And no, your silence will not protect you.

That day in the store, once I realized my “friend” was shoplifting, I ran. I may have saved myself from being arrested but I often wonder if I should have “squealed” on my friend. I wonder sometimes if she kept doing that. But it didn’t matter; what I realized was that I had my own demons that I hadn’t corrected and being silent about them has not healed me or saved me. I, too, have found myself in situations where I chose to be silent rather than to speak up.

We cannot successfully run from evil; we have to face it and it is in the facing that we begin to weaken it. Too many of us are afraid to publicly come out against racism; the cost, we fear, is too great.

I would posit a different thought: that not confronting racism, calling it out, cutting it off at its knees, will result in chaos that will rage out of control. Our silence is not helping us; it is leading this country to a bad, bad place.

A candid observation …

Searching For My Country

images-15            I don’t know this country anymore.

It used to be that I felt safe here. I felt like this country had a government which at least had the tools for us, the people, to work for justice. I used to think that the three branches of government were the safeguard that whatever had happened in other countries, shifting them from being democracies to being autocratic dictatorships.

I used to think that Americans really did cherish all of the “rights” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and I believed that Americans would fight for their country, no matter what.

I used to think that evangelical Christians had integrity. No, I didn’t agree with them, but I believed that they had integrity.  I believed that they had a moral foundation that could not be shaken.

But then came the 2016 presidential election. I have long considered politics to be distasteful; the political ads, the lengths that politicians go to in order to achieve power, always bothered me. But we got through political seasons, some more brutal than others, and we went on being Americans in a two-party system, a government which guaranteed that we would never have a dictator and a constitution which allowed us who had issues with the government and its policies, to protest, safely.

But the corruption in the 2016 went beyond the pale. The rhetoric, the lying, the name-calling, the overt racism and sexism – all of it – was troubling. I kept going back to my “safe place,” i.e. we had a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” We had Christians who believed in the Christ, who called us to love and to serve each other.

Those reassurances made me believe that when things got too raunchy in the campaign, that those who loved democracy and those who loved God would rise up. They wouldn’t let their country be embarrassed and they wouldn’t let their God be minimized.  My confidence was blown away, bit by bit, as the candidate-now-president violated every principle of government and religion I had come to appreciate. My confidence was shattered even more, however, by the huge amount of public support he had.

Who were these people? What was/is this country, really? 

I thought Americans were patriotic, but I learned that my conception about patriotism was different than many of the followers of the GOP frontrunner, who put down Sen. John McCain, a man who fought for this country and became a prisoner of war. I thought “the American people” would rise up in indignation and rabid anger that anyone could say such a thing about a war hero.

But what the candidate said did not matter. It didn’t matter that he lied. It didn’t matter that he called names, or that he put down and insulted women in the most crass of ways. It didn’t matter that people heard those Access Hollywood tapes where he talked about what he liked to do to women. It was disgusting and I thought Evangelicals would rise up – against him – but they did not. They looked the other way. They still supported this man who said that he didn’t regret that he has never asked God for forgiveness for his sins. (http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1)

Because of the rhetoric of this president, we are on the brink of a nuclear war with North Korea. We have a president who seems to go out of his way to be nice to dictators and authoritarian leaders, like Duterte of the Philippines and of course, Vladimir Putin. The supporters of this president do not care! When I was growing up, “the Russians” were to be loathed. People called them “commies” and worse, but today, it’s all different. The president’s supporters don’t care about the Russians. They do not care if the Russians were engaged in a cyber attack against the United States.

His venomous character is spreading. Now we have a lawmaker, Roy Moore, who is running for senator in the state of Alabama, and it happened that a woman came forward to accuse him of improper sexual behavior toward her years ago, when she was 14. While I can understand the a politician thinking the timing of the publicizing of the accusations is meant to destroy one’s chances for being elected, what I cannot understand is people saying that it doesn’t matter if Moore is guilty or not. The statement that they would rather vote for him – who may have sexually assaulted a then-child – than vote for a Democrat made my heart sink.

They could choose not to vote at all, rather than vote for a Democrat.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are demanding that Robert Mueller, who is investigating what happened in the 2016 campaign, be fired. I am stunned.

There is no desire for truth or justice – or real democracy.

I don’t know this country. I don’t know these “American people” seem to have no moral compass. They do not care about truth or lies; they do not care about women or children or Muslims, or immigrants. They do not care about the things I thought American Christians cared about.

I am searching for my country but I am having a hard time finding it.

 

 

The Season of Dis-ease

Since the election of the new president, I have heard more than a few people say that they do not feel safe. People of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community have all said something to the effect of “I don’t know anymore, when I look at people, who is with me and who hates me.”

I feel them. I have felt the same way.

Not long ago, I was in a doctor’s office just to drop off a form. I went to the front desk and said why I was there and the receptionist, without really looking up, said, “You’ll have to sign in.”

OK. All right. There were about six names ahead of me. For the life of me I could not understand why I should have to sign in, but I did. I was irritated because I had somewhere else to go and had thought I would just be able to whisk into and out of this office.

After a half-hour wait, the receptionist called my name. Yes, by this time I was ticked off, but was relieved that I could finally just drop off the form. But another woman said, “you’ll have to sign in” as she looked at me.

Totally irritated now, I said – and my irritation came through my voice – “I already signed in” and someone else in the area, feeling the tension, verified that I had in fact signed in. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes at me and said, grudgingly, “oh, all right.”

This happened after the presidential election. I had heard of increasing incidents of racial hatred in schools and in businesses and saw a truck slowly moving in my neighborhood sporting a Confederate flag. It had all made me uneasy. I thought white Americans were pretty much moving away from racism.

But what I’d seen and heard since the election did not verify my beliefs, and raised in me, I admit, some concern and anticipation of what to expect from people who were happy with who was now in the White House.

They were glad; they had a guy in place who would “make America great again,” which meant, in my mind, that he would make America unabashedly embrace her white supremacist world view.

The fact that I have heard so many different people say the same thing boggles my mind. At a recent direct action rally, a man of Hispanic descent said the same thing. I have heard Muslims, little black and brown children, members of the LGBTQ community all say the same thing – and I have read stories where even the little children, little white children, have picked up the language of division and hate and are spewing it to their classmates.

Nothing, when it comes to race relations and tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and egalitarianism and pluralism has changed. In spite of her boast of being the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” America is still a foundation ally racist country which espouses and supports hatred toward people of color and people of different religions.

It is very disheartening, but true.

I don’t know if that woman in the doctor’s office that day rolled her eyes at me because I sounded irritated or if because she felt her whiteness gave her the right to do so. I know I raged inside because of my now heightened distrust of the fundamental American spirit when it comes to people of color.

None of us feel safe …here. Radical Islamic terrorism are the battle-cry words of those in power, but for us who are black, brown, members of marginalized groups, Muslim…for us, “radical American Christian terrorism and hatred” are far more real to us. I and many like me are in a state of dis-ease, the same dis-ease that people of color have felt for literally hundreds of years.

Little has changed, in spite of our hope that it would.

A candid observation.

Growing Up Christian

Whenever someone says to me, “I am a Christian,” or when I hear that “there is a war against Christians,” I shiver.

In spite of having Jesus as the master teacher and role model, giving people instructions on how to live as God would want, Christians, unfortunately, have too often fallen short, and they do not seem to care.

I have been stunned as I have read how Christians kept black people out of their churches, how white churches adopted “whites only” membership policies, and how so many Christians meted out horrific violence against black people in this country. Christian pastors have endorsed and sanctioned racism and sexism, pointing to the Bible as justification, a sacred text which has been manipulated for literally centuries to fit certain political ideologies.

I have been hurt and bothered as I have seen Christians treat people with HIV/AIDS like pariahs, keeping them out of their churches, away from a place that is supposed to be a place of healing, warmth and love.

Christians have engaged in shaping and adopting the most vile and discriminatory public policies that make life miserable and unfair for the masses. Christians have blamed horrific storms that devastate the lives of innocent people on the LGBTQ community.

While touting the God of love, Christians have openly and unabashedly hated others who are different – different races, different ethnicities, or who have different views.

In the current political race, Christians on both the right and the left have engaged in name-calling of those with whom they disagree.

I remember when the HIV/AIDS crisis really hit, and visiting a young man in the congregation I served who had full blown AIDS. Nobody from the church had been to visit him. He was terrified of dying because he was afraid he was going to hell. He was gay…

When I went to the hospital to visit him, he seemed genuinely terrified. He had been visited by Christians already. They had told him he was wrong and bad, and that his condition was the result of his “sin.” He was dying thinking he was part of the very scum of the earth. When I touched him, he drew back. When I told him God loved him, tears welled up in his eyes. Nobody had told him that. Christians had told him God was punishing him.

I was angry and hurt for this young man. I was angry at Christians.

The hateful rhetoric that comes too often from Christians doesn’t quit; the tendency to resort to that kind of hateful language does not abate or decrease with the passage of time. Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, is a case in point. Nowhere in his language do I see the presence or the evidence of Jesus the Christ. He pushes hatred and intolerance, following a long line of Christian clerics who have done the same. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/franklin-grahams-turn-toward-intolerance/398924/.

Christians in leadership positions in churches everywhere initiate and perpetuate horrible “messes” in church, spreading lies and discontent because they want their way. So many Christian pastors end up walking away from their pulpits because they cannot take it. Too many commit suicide. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2014/06/25/why-half-of-all-pastors-want-to-quit-their-jobs/32683)

What Sunday School lessons are we being taught? Clearly there is a disconnect between what Jesus says to do and what our Sunday School teachers teach us. And it’s not enough to be a “missionary,” going to lands which white supremacists have labeled “barbaric” to minister to the “savages.” That doesn’t cut the reality of the hate-filled Christians here in the United States.

What would Jesus say, really?

In this political season, Evangelical Christians, those who purport to be closest to Jesus have embraced a man who seems as far away from the Christian ideal as humanly possible. They seem not to care that their candidate comes off as racist, misogynistic, Xenophobic and sexist. Even fellow Evangelicals are confused by the enormous support Evangelicals are giving the GOP nominee for president. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/philip-yancey-donald-trump_us_57e95557e4b08d73b8328566)

Growing up Christian should produce a crop of people who understand the difficulty, yet the power, of being Christian, of paying the cost of discipleship and risking whatever must be risked in order to be within what the Christian Bible says is the will of God.

That isn’t the case, though. Growing up Christian seems more to have produced a crop of self-righteous people who see nothing wrong with being racist, sexist, hateful, people, causing more angst than comfort amongst “the least of these,” who are many. It was that group of people, the masses, that Jesus the Christ admonished us to care for, and you can’t care for people you hate and/or disrespect.

What would happen if Christians rose up, as a group, against the economic, political, racial and sexual injustice in this country? Would America look different?

I think so, but I don’t think we’ll see it, because growing up Christian has not resulted in the creation (in general) of kind and compassionate “soldiers” for justice and righteousness. We Christians are sorely deficient in the ways of God – as taught and outlined in the Christian Bible.

A candid observation …

The Phenomenon of a Co-Opted Media

I realized this morning as I watched Matt Lauer of the TODAY Show interview GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, more than ever, that the media has been co-opted by the powers that be.

In spite of the horrific phenomenon called mass incarceration, in spite of blatantly racist voter suppression movements in Southern states, in spite of problematic policing that is resulting in way too many black people dying at the hands of police, Lauer didn’t ask Trump a single question about any of it.

I was disappointed. Journalism is supposed to be a profession that looks for and exposes truth. It is supposed to give listeners, viewers and readers a comprehensive, inclusive and honest picture of the world. Instead, “we the people” get what the powers that be want us to get.

Yes, I know that the media have covered the disturbances following questionable deaths at the hands of police. And yes, the media covered the disturbances (some call them riots) in Ferguson and in Baltimore …but that was largely self-serving, because so many people want to see black people looting and fighting because it feeds into their perception that black people are bad and that if black people are dying at the hands of police, they must have done something to deserve it.

But there has been little mention of what is going on in Alabama, as white officials are closing 31 driver’s license offices in Alabama in counties that are primarily black, even as the state has announced that driver’s licenses (the most popular form of picture ID) will be required in order for people to vote in upcoming elections. (http://whnt.com/2015/09/30/alea-announces-driver-license-office-closures-includes-two-in-north-alabama/) There has been some mention, but not much, about mass incarceration, in spite of the fact that this nation incarcerates more people than any other modern nation.

There was little to no coverage on major network and cable stations on the anniversary of the Million Man March, where literally hundreds of thousands of black people, largely men, gathered, with no violence, nothing but a hunger to be in a place to learn how their lives and the conditions in their communities could be made better. Yes, Minister Farrakhan spoke, and though I respect him, I found his some of his comments to be sexist and problematic on several levels, but to not cover that mass gathering of black people was a travesty of journalism.

The questions posed to Trump included immigration and the Second Amendment. Mr. Trump, without providing a single detail, continued to give his pat answers, about how he will make America great again, about how he will build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants from piling into this nation, and make Mexico pay for it, about how we need to honor the Second Amendment – all issues that are issues for swaths of white, Conservative voters for the most part, but not entirely. Matt Lauer pushed some, but could not, or did not, get past Trump’s pat, non-specific answers …and the people in New Hampshire in the audience seemed giddy with approval.

Charles Marsh wrote in his book, God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, that America was then a closed society. He wrote, “People spoke, without blushing, of “Christian” morals – values, families, clubs and society – even of Christian fun and wholesomeness.” The closed society had taken the divine into its own possession; it had brought God under its nervous management.” (p. 146)  He also wrote that white Christians were too often silent on social issues and was “hostile to the Gospel, indeed to Christ himself.” (p. 139) White Christians believed and acted within their belief that church policies were in line with “God’s design for separate races.” (p. 138), and spoke of the “theological bankruptcy of white moderate Christianity. (p. 137) Whites were socialized, writes Marsh, to be “insensitive to black suffering.” (p. 131) More important, he wrote of the conditions in the 60s, (and I would say, even now), was the preservation and continuation of the white way of life, God notwithstanding.

I could not help but go back to Marsh’s words as I listened to the interview of Mr. Trump this morning, Neither he nor any of those people eating pancakes seemed to care an iota about the suffering the black, brown and poor people of this nation are going through. There was not an iota of parents who are crying, schools that are grossly inferior, voting laws that are being pulled back in ways that will again keep black people from voting, nor the mass incarceration which is a trademark of these United States.

The media failed this morning.

A candid observation …

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