Your Whiteness Will Not Protect You

Whenever there is social unrest, artists – including writers, poets, essayists, musicians, dancers, spoken word specialists, painters …come out. They come out and express through their talents and gifts the soul of those who does not have that capacity.

Many new songs and written pieces have emerged during this troubling time in America – caused first by the invasion of the coronavirus, and then by the shooting deaths of three black people – Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – whose situations made the news. Arbery was shot in cold blood by white vigilantes, and Taylor and Floyd were killed by police officers.

And though I have wanted to write, I have not been able to. The grief I feel is so deep, unlike any grief I have felt in my life as I have worked to try to expose, explain, and eliminate as much racism as possible by teaching people what is up, why history matters, and that they have the power to change things.

But this grief is different. It is a grief that began when Donald J. Trump became president. From the beginning, I could see that he was bad news for black and brown people. His mere presence, his arrogance, his lying, his disregard for America and America’s constitution, his sexism, his race-baiting, and his tacit encouragement of racial violence, got into my soul early on.

More than that, the number of people following him, lifting him up as some kind of messiah, saying that he either was God or was sent here by God, boggled my spirit, and the silence of white evangelicals bore a hole into a part of me that had made me believe that though their theology was different from mine, they still had – somewhere – some basic Christian principles. They claimed to be Christian, after all.

But since his election, I have seen nothing but the eroding of the gains all kinds of groups and individuals have made. I have seen GOP senators, representatives, mayors, governors, and cabinet members bow at his feet. I have cried out loud as I have watched his attorney general run roughshod over the justice he is supposed to seek. I have watched this president silence those who have sought to report dangerous happenings in the government, and put in place sycophants who are more afraid of him and what he will do than they are concerned with the lives of the people of this country.

I think the breaking point came last week, as that video of the white officer killing George Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck, did it – put my soul in this place of deep grief. The murder itself was horrendous, but it was the smug expression on that officer’s face (I refuse to use his name) that got to me. It told the story of white supremacist thinking and attitudes that have always existed. His face said, “I can do what I want and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” His face said, “yeah, I hear this man begging for his life, but I don’t have to listen to him and I will say that his demise was his own fault.” That expression said, “I am a cop and I can do whatever I want,” and his expression said, “Fuck you all.”

I still shudder as I remember how his face got to me. I shudder when I think of how this president has said nothing publicly to comfort that man’s family or the families of the other black people who have essentially been lynched. While he urged the Michigan governor to speak to and negotiate with white men with assault weapons who stood in her capital building, angry because of the “shelter in place” rules, he has called those who are angry because they are tired of black people being dehumanized, criminalized, and eliminated – either by poverty or by law enforcement.

The president is making no bones about wanting to mobilize those who have been craving a war between the races for some time. His militarization, or deeper militarization of law enforcement, is sickening, and the silence of his sycophants is even more sickening. He is working to undo this government and his friends in high places are helping him. His jaunt to St. John’s Episcopal Church after law enforcement forced peaceful protestors out of LaFayette Park with tear gas was gut-wrenching to watch. His bodacious and disrespectful pose in front of the church holding a bible – and the silence of evangelicals about it – is still sickening to think about. His calling peaceful protesters “terrorists” while ignoring the very real and disturbing presence and work of white nationalist and supremacists is not surprising, but troubling.

He is standing on and in his whiteness.

But I have to say this: Your whiteness will not protect you. People who are white are going to suffer just like black and brown people. Your whiteness will not protect you from poverty, illness, and the inability to get health care or necessary medicine. Your whiteness will not exempt your children and loved ones from getting COVID-19, because the virus, unleashed, doesn’t give a damn about one’s race, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Your whiteness will not keep you from suffering because you cannot get unemployment benefits – and ultimately, to the politicians – your whiteness will not protect you from being voted out of office. James Baldwin said that people make a moral decision to be white – meaning, they choose to lie in the comfort of the false construct called white superiority, enabling them to ignore the people around them.

But it will not protect you, because viruses spread. Just as the coronavirus is spreading, so is the virus of racism. The infection may not have reached you yet, but it will, and when it does, I hope you have enough chutzpah to endure it. History says you won’t. You have gotten so comfortable in your whiteness that you have grown weak; you have not had to exercise and strengthen the spiritual muscles the oppressed have had to develop. You will feel the pain you have inflicted on others. What you have put into the universe will not only come back to you, it is on its way now.

A candid observation.

The Tragedy of Being White, Wealthy, and Privileged

As I have watched and listened to people talk about how it is okay if some people die in order to save the economy, I have literally shuddered. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) said in essence that allowing some people to die in order that the economy might be saved was the “lesser of two evils.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/14/politics/trey-hollingsworth-coronavirus/index.html)

Specifically, he said “…” it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

He has not been the only GOP lawmaker to have expressed such sentiments. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that lots of grandparents would be willing to die of the virus in order to save the economy. He also expressed his belief that American adults ought to be “willing” to sacrifice their lives for the economy. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/dan-patrick-seniors-are-willing-to-die-to-save-economy.html)

The blatant disregard for human life in order to realize political goals has been mind-blowing. Some Americans – mostly, it seems, white, wealthy, and privileged – seem to be totally out of sync with what is going on in the lives of the masses of Americans. Not only are they doggedly determined to maintain their wealth and power, but they are also determined to stack the courts locally and federally who will assure their political points of view and values are instituted and saved. The footage of the GOP lawmaker in Wisconsin, covered from head to foot in protective gear to protect himself from the coronavirus as he assured voters and the media that the people standing in line to vote – not likewise protected – that they were safe, is a haunting image. (https://www.businessinsider.com/wisconsin-gop-leader-says-voting-safe-dressed-ppe-gear-2020-4). People were forced to participate in in-person voting in the middle of a global pandemic because the GOP wanted a Republican to win a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  People risked their lives and went to the polls and were able to keep that candidate from winning, but at what cost? How many Wisconsinians are going to come up sick with the virus because of the lack of care and empathy of the GOP?

Yet another lawmaker, Attorney General William Barr, said that it’s necessary for people to get back to work and to stop running home and “hiding under their beds.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/attorney-general-william-barr-fox-news-coronavirus/2020/04/09/dfda1f94-7a12-11ea-a130-df573469f094_story.html)

What these statements reveal is the complete lack of ability of the wealthy, white, privileged Americans to understand anything other than wealth and privilege. In their remarks can be heard the disparaging criticism of the shelter-in-place orders, and a glaring lack of compassion and empathy for the people who are dropping like flies because of this virus.

I have heard little compassion from any people in this group for the health care workers, for the transit and grocery store workers. Neither have I heard much concern about the fact that so many people are dying alone, leaving their loved ones without the opportunity to say goodbye, nor have I heard concern about the people who will inevitably get sick and possibly die because they cannot afford to stay at home.

It is mind-boggling. The only thing I really hear is a concern about the economy – which is important, surely, but not more important than the lives of the people whose labor has provided the work needed to create the wealth and the privilege of those who seem not to care one iota about what they are going through.

As I have listened to the comments from the president about how the number of ventilators being requested by governors is too high, and have heard reports about how there have been so few ventilators that sometimes one ventilator has had to be used for two patients, I have found myself wondering what he or any of the privileged wealthy would react if they were being treated that way. When I looked at pictures of health care workers wearing garbage bags to protect themselves, and I heard and read about how many of them have had to use the same mask for several days, I again wondered what the privileged would say had they been exposed to that kind of scenario.

Their lack of awareness or concern about the health care workers and their patients again caused me to pause. Because they remain isolated from “the rest of us,” they are too frequently divorced from what the masses go through. They have convinced themselves that crime is relegated almost exclusively to the poor, discounting the white-collar crime that has helped make many of them wealthy or that crimes of sexual deviance and assault are as common within the wealthy privileged set as it is with the poor. They live in a world within “the” world, seeing what’s “out there” as being impossible to ever stain their lives.

But of course, it does.

Wealth, with its attendant privilege, has created a class of spoiled human beings, narcissistic, self- serving humans who seem incapable of caring or even thinking about those less fortunate, instead blaming them for their financial fragility. While not all wealthy people deserve this description, enough of them do. In the case of this pandemic, just as was the case during the Ebola crisis, they seem not to understand that germs and illnesses do not care about one’s wealth, race, or political affiliation. They also do not seem to understand that if the poorest of us are not healthy or free, none of us are. The virus that begins in the slums eventually makes its way to the suburbs. The virus doesn’t care.

It’s strange that they don’t get it. If the president reopens the government on May 1, and people on Navy ships and in senior citizens’ homes, and in prisons, in the grocery stores and pharmacies and on the subway are still getting the virus, the very wealthy are going to get it, too.

Their lack of empathy and concern for others will cause damage to and the deaths of so many humans that this country could have avoided.

But their wealth blinds them to that truth, and because of that, many more people – including them and their families – are going to suffer.

A candid observation.

 

The Scariest​ Thing

The scariest thing about all that is going on in our country politically is not the antics and behavior of the president – although he is a troubling reality – but it is the people who are lining up behind this man, willing to throw away everything they worked for in order to prove themselves to be “loyal” to the president. Continue reading “The Scariest​ Thing”

The Contagion of Evil

             When Donald Trump became a candidate for president of the United States, there was a fairly substantial number of Republicans who pushed back against his rhetoric, his name-calling, and his general disregard for diplomacy and decorum.

His fellow candidates decried his lack of character. This man was no serious contender, they seemed to suggest. He was compared to a used car salesman; candidate Ted Cruz called him a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” and a “narcissist.” The battle was brutal. Nothing, though, that Trump said or did riled his supporters, his almighty “base.” There was no lie, no insult, no racial or sexual slur, no put-down of American heroes – nothing – that could pull them from his side, and he won. (https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/03/politics/donald-trump-rafael-cruz-indiana/index.html)

And now, most of the Republicans who criticized him are glued to his side, seeking his help and support, making excuses for him, with no shame.

It is difficult to watch.

What Cruz said about Trump is true: he is, in fact, a pathological liar, and a shameless one at that. But Cruz sucked up to him in order to win his bid for reelection to the Senate, and he won. Lindsay Graham, who had many crass words for Trump, is now acting like his best friend, basically endorsing anything Trump says he wants to do. Mitch McConnell is a shameless sycophant, leading the Senate to honor the president and his wishes over the well-being of the country whose constitution he swore to honor and protect.

The evil of Trump, simply put, spread. The late theologian Walter Wink said that evil is a contagion and said that many people who fight evil will become evil. Specifically, he said, “…the struggle against evil can make us evil and no amount of good intentions automatically prevents this from happening.” (http://www.lqve.org/blog/2018/11/9/the-real-struggle) It seems that the majority of Republicans, who may have prided themselves on being “good” and on the right side of morality, have slipped into Trump’s moat and have found that deep within, they are not all that different from him. Moreover, they do not seem to care; the contagion has infected their very souls.

The partial government shutdown has illustrated the depth of the evil that is bubbling around us. Few of the Republican senators have voiced outrage or concern for the nearly 1 million people who did not get paid. Few have offered any solution which would indicate that they care about or worry about how people are going to get through this economic catastrophe. Graham is on record as having told Trump to go ahead and declare a “national emergency,” not caring about how doing that will seriously undermine the capacity of such an emergency to be called if really needed. (Reports say that there is no “national emergency” on the Southern border.)

Even as discussion about other ways to get the $5.6 billion Trump is asking for, there has been little outrage at the suggestion that money designated to help cities in America hit by natural disasters be redirected to build “the wall.” The so-called “fiscal conservatives” are showing their willingness to spend money at will, and Trump himself said that he doesn’t worry about the consequences of the tremendous debt he is incurring because when that happens, he won’t be around. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-on-coming-debt-crisis-i-wont-be-here-when-it-blows-up.

To not care about those who suffer is evil. To buy into policies that will adversely affect millions of people is evil. To act like your life is the only one that matters is evil. It is as though Trump sneezed and his infected droplets fell all over the souls of the GOP. The evil is spreading, following the path on which other democracies found themselves before they ultimately fell. And the evil is not just spreading among the lawmakers; it is spreading amongst the general population. Extrajudicial, state-sanctioned shootings are not only continuing but increasing; white civilians are calling the police on black people at will; hate crimes are rising, and there seems to be no “doctor in the house,” no lawmaker or judge who is concerned about the decaying of our social fabric.

Walter Wink was right. Evil is contagious, and like a necrotic bacteria, it is eating this country alive.

A candid observation …

 

The Screeching Silence of GOP Lawmakers

I grew up believing in the American political system and was comforted by my civics lessons which taught me that our governmental structure protected our country from becoming a dictatorship.

The three branches of government, with the system of “checks and balances” built in, were put there by Founding Fathers, who had seen first-hand what tyranny looked like.

But what I see today is a complete breakdown of this government. The man who promised to “make America great again” and to “drain the swamp” is methodically and strategically breaking down the government as we have known it, and is filling the swamp with new sea monsters.

What is most disturbing is the silence of the GOP. There have been precious few who have criticized this president, few who have dared stand up and demand that he and the Congress honor their promise to “preserve and protect” the Constitution of the United States.

While there is ample evidence to show how this president began this openly virulent political season, his GOP friends refuse to call him on it. They follow him like hungry dogs follow anyone who might have food. They excuse and explain away his lies; they resort to pointing out the shortcomings of Democrats when confronted with the hateful rhetoric spewed by the president. They shuffle along and grin, looking like hapless, toothless sycophants. And it is disturbing to watch.

While in Germany this year, I read how the German people actually gave the government to Adolph Hitler. In 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg named Hitler the chancellor of the Nazi Party, largely because he was intimidated by Hitler’s rise to power. He worked to make Germany a one-party state,  he expanded and increased the powers of the Gestapo, and worked to silence or eliminate any opposition. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/adolf-hitler-is-named-chancellor-of-germany) In 1934, von Hindenburg died, and Hitler declared himself “Fuhrer” as he combined the offices of chancellor and president. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-becomes-fuhrer) Hitler had run for president in 1932 and lost, but he was ushered into the political space when von Hindenburg appointed him chancellor. Once von Hindenburg died, Hitler had the capacity to take over the government, which he did.

Author Tim Snyder, in his book, On Tyrannynoted that as democracies have fallen throughout the world, a key commonality is that they were elected to leadership positions. The people, often distraught by economic hardship, have voted these dictators in with the hope that they will make good on their promises to bring more prosperity to all people. They have seldom done that, but the power of their promise has been a need of people struggle to make ends meet.

A woman I spoke with in Germany asked me about America and its president. “What is going on?” she asked, and she added that what is happening here seems strangely similar to what happened in her own country.

What I am struggling with and am angry about is what I perceive as the failure of our elected leaders to protect this country. The president is talking to and firing up his “base,” because he understands their angst and anger. In spite of his claim that when attacked, he fights back, the truth of the matter is that he started these fights; he began and has perpetuated the name-calling and insults. He has given more respect to America’s known enemies; while attacking our allies, he has made dictators his best friends.

And the Congress has sat idly by.

If people do not vote in the mid-terms, the downward spiral of this democracy may not be able to be stopped. That is scary. Mussolini captured the hearts and spirits of his populace by knocking Italy’s government and promising that only he could fix it. It didn’t take long for his promise to ring hollow, just like Hitler’s government fell after 11 years in spite of his promise that his party would rule Germany forever.  I take that as evidence that the desire for freedom can eventually cause a despotic government to fail.

But this kind of scenario was not supposed to happen here, and I personally blame the GOP for remaining silent, for living in fear, and for putting their political ambitions above their mandate to protect this country.

People talk about impeaching the president, but in reality, maybe it’s the GOP Congress which should be impeached. Our country is in their hands, and they have not only dropped the ball but are watching it gain speed as it rolls down the hill of tyranny.

A candid observation …