White Supremacy Robs Country of Moral Agency

This week I was listening again to an interview of author Adam Cohen by Terri Gross of NPR’s “Here and Now” and was reminded again of how white supremacy has robbed the world of the capacity it had to honor God’s command that we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (https://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/521360544/the-supreme-court-ruling-that-led-to-70-000-forced-sterilizations)

Cohen is the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. The book is a fascinating account of how this nation is white supremacist at its core – having a mindset that upholds that white people – more specifically white men – are superior to all people who do not meet their standards of excellence. The affected targets of white supremacist policies and practices are black and brown people, for sure, but also women, Muslims, and Jews, members of the LGBTQIA community, the disabled …the list is actually quite extensive.

We already know that wealthy, Protestant, white male superiority was written into the Constitution; we know that Thomas Jefferson never intended for people to believe that all people were created equal. Our founding document was meant to clear a way for wealthy, white, male landowners to make America white and to keep it white.

That statement is not hyperbole but is supported by America’s own documents and statements of and from American folk heroes. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a key character in Cohen’s book, was a supporter of eugenics – the discipline which worked to create and maintain a “master race,” which, it decided, included only “Nordic” people.  Holmes, says Cohen, “had suggested years earlier that the best route to societal reform lay in “taking in hand life and trying to build a race.’” (p. 9) In ruling for the constitutionality of the government’s practice of sterilizing people whose existence they thought threatened the goal of creating a master race, words of Holmes showed how the poison of white supremacy permeates even the institution charged with meting out justice when all else fails  when he said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Belief in the supremacy of white people (who were white enough, not “swarthy, as Ben Franklin once complained about the German people)  led people and continues to lead people to believe that some people, because they are “better” than others, are worthy of better treatment, better opportunity and better lives in general. In the 1920s, the eugenics movement was hugely popular. Eugenicists believed that “the unfit,” whom they defined, “threatened to bring down not only the nation but the whole human race.” (p. 2) John D. Rockefeller Jr. and  Alexander Graham Bell were supporters of white supremacist thinking. Members of Congress relied on and celebrated their whiteness; Sen. Ellison DuRant Smith writes Cohen, said: “Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock.” (p. 5)

Books were written describing the peril of the existence of white people, including The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, and The Passing of the Great Race. Those books are probably on the bookshelves of many of our politicians who still find it difficult to treat people of color with dignity and respect.

Seen in this light, it is not or should not be surprising that the president of this country is fixated on trying to “fix” America’s “browning” problem by building a wall on our southern border, spouting off all kinds of unkind descriptions of who these people are in his opinion – rapists, drug addicts and criminals in general. Those words gaslight the racist beliefs held by so many people who ascribe to white supremacist doctrine. This country has been fighting against allowing people in this nation who are not white almost since its existence. The Immigration Act of 1924 encouraged people from northern Europe to enter this country while closing or widely limiting the numbers of people allowed to enter who hailed from southern and eastern Europe (they were not “Nordic” enough.) States in this country made laws which allowed the sterilization of people judged to be inferior which resulted in untold numbers of women who they believed fit into the “inferior” category to be segregated – i.e., kept away from men for as long as they were of child-bearing age, or to be forcibly sterilized if they remained integrated into the general society.

The work involved in the American eugenics movement was so renown in establishing white supremacy as the will for the world that the Germans borrowed many of America’s findings, based on faulty science, for the establishment of Nazi policy which resulted in the extermination of at least 6 million Jews. In the language of eugenics, Jewish people were inferior. Their presence was not necessary for the good of the world.

The rampant and rancid expression of racism we see today, spawned and nurtured by the principles of white supremacy, is not new; they are part of the very legacy of America. This president and his cabinet apparently have deep roots in white supremacy. More and more we see brazen expressions of their arrogance based on their race, and we see other white people remaining silent.

This is America.

People keep saying that what we are seeing and hearing is “not who we are” as a country. Megan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, said being called “racist” is the worst name anyone can be called. The fact is, however, is that the proponents of white supremacy are standing on the shoulders of people before them who pushed white supremacy as the will of God for this country. White supremacists have long overridden even the concept of the sovereignty of God by deciding that not all of whom God created were worthy of being created.

A friend of mine said recently, “My work is to wipe racism out of this world.” It’s a noble dream, but it appears that white supremacy is a tree with roots far too deep to ever be completely unrooted. White supremacy has robbed our country and this world of being moral when it comes to racism, sexism, and discrimination against others in general. We are bound to know its history and to create strategies which will expose it for what it is while establishing and creating justice for those who white supremacists believe are inferior.

This president and his friends in office are merely following the script put in place by those who came before them.

A candid observation …

 

What Tamir’s Denigration Means

What does a people say when a nation, its own nation, continually denigrates them and lets them know that their lives really do not matter?

There has been a grave travesty of justice – yet again – in the decision of the Grand Jury in Cuyahoga County to not indict the police officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice within two seconds of driving up on him as he played with a pellet gun.

How can any intelligent group of people not agree, not see, that those officers murdered a child?

People always want justice when they have been aggrieved; it is human to seek it. The parents and loved ones of the four people killed Ethan Couch,  a wealthy teen who was driving drunk, were outraged when he was given probation instead of jail time. Any parent would be so outraged.

Think of how you would feel if such injustice, such a decision to not demand accountability for awful crimes, were your norm.

It is the norm for black people in this nation.

It is not the norm when black people kill other black people; those criminals go to jail. But the criminals wearing badges get a free pass. They are almost never held accountable.

It is the norm for black people in this nation.

How can a people, masses of white people, not be incensed at America’s continued violation of the human and civil rights of black people? How can a people who say they are pro-life not care about the families which are being devastated by a justice system which is anything but just?

How can parents not feel the anguish of parents of killed loved ones, their children, who will never see justice rendered against the murderers of their children, because the system …protects…their murderers?

How can a nation not be incensed that officers who have a history of using excessive force, especially against black people, are allowed to stay on the streets? Aren’t they at least as despicable as priests who molest young children and who are allowed to stay in their parishes?

How can any person calling him or herself Christian not be pained to the core of his or her spirit, because the Scriptures, which demand justice and righteousness, are being ignored?

Do not say that we, black people, should trust the system. The system has never protected us, never had our best interests at heart.

We cannot trust the prosecutors, the judges or the juries. They are bedfellows with a largely white police force which knows it can get away with murder. Prosecutors need the support of police unions, so they do what the unions say do. Prosecutors, elected officials, also need to satisfy their base, which is largely white and Conservative, and no friends to black people.

Judges need support from powerful union interests as well. They are too often not interested in justice, but, instead, with satisfying those who pay their salaries and help them stay in office.

The result is a justice system which still lynches black people.

What was done by the Grand Jury in Tamir Rice’s case …was immoral, unjust, but typical of how American justice works for black people.

He was a kid, 12-years old, and he was shot to death within seconds of being driven up on by rabid police officers with no self control.

He was allowed to lay on the ground for a number of minutes, dying, while the police officers wrestled and handcuffed his 14-year old sister.

How can so many (not all) white people not be enraged? What if it had been your son? What would you feel? What does a people say when their own nation continually denigrates them and lets them know that their lives really do not matter?

Has America’s racism, its white supremacy, eroded your very souls, your capacity to feel?

It would seem so.

A candid observation …

Black Lives Don’t Matter to GOP

I watched the much-touted GOP presidential debate last evening with bated breath. Would these candidates indicate that they knew about and cared about the war around the value of black lives that is tearing this nation apart? Would they indicate that they care about African-Americans who are literally fighting for dignity and fairness in this land?

They did not. Not one question about the Black Lives Matter movement was asked; not one candidate admitted that what is going on in America is a serious problem.

Kim Davis and her quest for religious freedom was mentioned, and passionately so. Planned Parenthood was mentioned, with everyone seeming absolutely horrified that, according to a video that has surfaced, body parts of fetuses have been sold by Planned Parenthood. Of course, there was much discussion about the hated Iran deal, about what Russia is doing, about the nation’s security in general. That was expected and necessary.

But there was not a word, not a mention about the crisis going on in the streets of America, with innocent and unarmed black people being arrested, harassed, shot, injured, jailed and killed, by police officers. Not a word.

White America (and Dr. Carson) seems not to care about what is going on. White America is caught in its insistence that whatever happens to black people at the hands of police officers is warranted – that, in spite of plenty of videos to date that have indicated otherwise.

How come Rev. Mike Huckabee can be so concerned about what he calls “judicial tyranny” and not care about the domestic tyranny called police brutality? How can he, a Christian minister, ignore the fact that young black people are being treated like chattel, still, suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them? Why is the plight of one Kim Davis more heart-wrenching to him than is the plight of all these African-Americans who are being profiled and attacked by police …with little chance that the offending officers will be held to accountability for their actions?

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote that “the universe is so structured that things do not quite work out rightly if men are not diligent in their concern for others.” (“The Ethical Demands for Integration”) In 1962, he wrote that “it is sad that the moral dimension of integration has not been sounded by the leaders of government and the nation.” White people are adamant about there being “law and order,” and will insist, most of the time, that “the law” be obeyed. In the case of black lives, that means being quiet and acquiescing to the commands of police officers, be they in the right or not. Dr King wrote, in that same essay, “they sounded the note that has become the verse, chorus and refrain of the so-called calm and reasonable moderates: we must obey the law!  He said that the issue of national morality was before the leaders of that time. That same issue of national morality is before us now, but the GOP candidates are ignoring it.

Dr. King further wrote, in “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.” That urge is upon us now, GOP candidates. Whether you like the movement and action of the Black Lives Matter activists or not, the move is on to end the oppression which is and has always been wrought by the “justice system” in this land.  Dr. King wrote in that same letter, “The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out.”  That is what you are seeing, yet ignoring. The souls that are marching in the streets and lying down on highways are souls that are sick and tired of the anguish they carry around daily. They are tired of believing that there will be justice when law enforcement acts in criminal ways. Dr. King wrote that it is “immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.”

Whomever becomes president of the United States will need to look squarely in the face of Justice and know that she will require the soul of America to answer for its injustice to so many of her citizens. Just as society dared, really, President Obama to speak up too much for the case and causes of black people,  the Black Lives Matter movement will dare the new president ti ignore the cries of people who are tired of justice …being unjust.

It was insulting, last evening, to hear those candidates completely ignore the cries of people who are alive and fighting for freedom while they spoke for the lives of babies not yet born.

They showed that black lives don’t matter to the GOP.

A candid observation …

Before

Before Michael Brown, there were others.

Trayvon Martin, Roger Owensby. Timothy Thomas. Emmett Till. There were so many others.

The black community has been under assault by “law enforcement” for decades, and law enforcement has historically gotten away with it.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, of whom I am writing an authorized biography, when I asked him how black people are to cope, not just with the murders of unarmed black people, but the lack of justice, and therefore of respect and dignity, said that we have to realize our strength, and realize that white people know that what we as a people suffer is brutal. (my word, “brutal,” not his.) He said, “Most white people realize that they could not live as black people do. They realize they would not be able to handle it.”

I relate to what is going on, and to what has always gone on with sanction in this nation, as a mother of a son. I have a daughter, too, but it is my son that I worry about, just because he is a black male. He does not do drugs. He does not have a criminal record. He knows “how to act” if stopped by police.

But none of that matters.

And that’s what scares me. Black people do not have to have a criminal record or be doing something wrong in order to be gunned down with abandon …by police. White officers and black officers have the same obsession with power, it looks like. They do not like to be challenged or questioned…and they know they have the upper hand. They too often shoot first and ask questions (or make up a story) later. No matter how compelling is the evidence that they are in the wrong, they get off.

That is scary.

The nation, this nation, cannot be “exceptional” so long as such barbarity within the ranks of law enforcement exists, because the actions of those who are supposed to serve and protect are causing a huge swath of parents and loved ones to suffer emotional pain that is ignored and minimized.

Black people have lived on the hope, the faith, that God will make a way …out of this madness caused by the dehumanization of them and their children. But God has been slow. Black parents stand weeping on the banks of “Red Seas,” holding out a metaphorical “rod,” waiting for the sea of injustice to part, but the parting has not happened yet, not after all these years.

The parents and loved ones of all of these unarmed black people are standing on the shore of that sea, waiting for God.

But God has been slow. It feels like God has been absent, actually.

It is horrible that police officers have been randomly killed, but here’s the difference between slain police officers and slain black people. Whomever has killed a police officer will be brought to justice. Most police officers who kill unarmed and many times, innocent black people, even if charged with a crime, will go free. There will be no justice.

That reality is the fuel of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of justice speaks to the core belief of this nation that black people do not matter, and never have. The lack of justice undermines the words of the United States Constitution, which black people and those concerned with justice latch onto, “All men are created equal.”

Not so. It wasn’t the case when the Constitution was drafted and it isn’t the case now.

I wonder if any of people who are so quick to blame black people for our lot in life ever stop to think about the effects of being dehumanized. I wonder if they feel it when black mothers cry, when little black kids are put in handcuffs for doing things little kids of all races have always done …because they’re little. I wonder if white mothers feel the pain of the mothers of Trayvon and Michael and Jordan and Roger and TImothy and Renisha and Sandra and Freddie and Sam…and so many. So many…

Please understand. Parents and loved ones feel the pain when black lives are taken by other black people…but the difference is that black people who kill other black people are usually brought to justice and end up in prison. It is small consolation but at least it represents justice.

The cry that some are trying to vilify and call representative of hate is a cry that is filled with anguish about being used, exploited, and then being discarded. American society uses black people (and poor people) for cheap labor, exploits the, unwilling to give them decent wages so they can take care of their families, and then discarding them when they cry out for help as their loved ones are mowed down by state-sanctioned actions of law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement doesn’t care about black lives. The education system doesn’t care about black lives (schools for black children are the worst of all schools). America doesn’t care …about black lives.

Before Michael Brown there were others, so many others…

And we live in a nation that just does not care.

A candid observation

No Justice for Black Slain

Sybrina Fulton the mother of Trayvon Martin speaks at Peace Fest in Forest Park on August 24 2014 in St Louis Missouri Fulton's teenage son was shot...    Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the late Trayvon Martin, will not see or taste justice for the murder of her son.

Her last hope for justice was wiped out today when she got news that federal prosecutors will not charge George Zimmerman with a hate crime. The case is closed. There will be no justice for Trayvon.

The families of Chris Kyle, the man on whose life the movie “American Sniper” was based, and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were elated after Eddie Ray Routh was found guilty of their murders and was sentenced to life without parole.

They praised the system. They praised God. They praised the reality of justice.

But Sybrina cannot praise the system. She and the parents of so many African-American people who have been slain by police have not gotten justice.

Black people slain by other black people are usually found guilty of their crimes. When people talk about black-on-black crime, they lift up an important and sad reality, but they also miss the point of those who protest about their family members slain by police.

Blacks who kill other blacks …go to jail. Police, be they white or black, seldom do. In fact, their actions are found to be justified far too often. In the case of Trayvon, his killer was not a police officer; George Zimmerman was and is a wanna-be, a vigilante of the worst sort. The fact is, however, is that he didn’t pay for what he did to Trayvon. Darren Wilson didn’t pay for what he did to Michael Brown. Daniel Pantaleo did not pay for what he did to Eric Garner.

The list of unpunished crimes against black people is long.

And the result is a whole lot of families who are living not only with the pain of losing their loved ones, but also with the heartbreak of not having gotten justice.

Everyone wants justice. Every human being, every mother, every family member …wants justice when their loved one is taken away by an act of violence or negligence or barbaric cruelty. Theologian James Cone shared his inability to understand how black people, lynched by hate-filled whites, could have survived. Not only were black people killed by mobs, but law enforcement officers were often part of those same mobs, or they looked the other way while the victims of lynching endured horrible deaths.

There was no justice. Nobody had to answer for those who were lynched. There were mock trials of whites accused of killing black people, and they were almost never found guilty. If they were found guilty they received paltry sentences. The idea of there being a need for justice for the killing of black people was a joke, and those who were actually accused of lynchable offenses knew it.

Not even the killers of Emmett Till were found guilty, in spite of overwhelming evidence that they had committed that horrific crime.

So, back then, during the heyday of obvious lynching …and now, as we witness more subtle lynching …the families left behind have lived and do live with a yearning for justice that just did not happen and will not happen.

The lack of justice says that black lives do not matter. They never have, not in this country and not in the world. People all over the world with black skin are objects of hatred and brutality …and there is seldom justice when they are killed.

Can a nation survive forever with a whole population base besieged by unhealed grief and growing anger? Does anyone doubt that these parents and family members have real reason to be angry and bitter? They are often are not …angry and bitter …but they are sad. Their spirits are forever weighed down by the grief that comes with not only a loved one murdered …but also with the frustration and disappointment that comes when the murderers of their loved ones stay free, walking the streets, doing what they want.

That has to be an unbearable pain. I cannot imagine how I would exist if one of my children – or any family member – were killed by someone and the justice system didn’t hold him or her accountable. The doling out of justice would be my only source of peace – and that peace would be tenuous …but at least with a conviction of the one who had taken my loved one out I would be able to breathe.

I don’t think the mothers of Trayvon and Eric and Michael …can breathe, not easily.

No justice, no peace. An irritated white friend of mine once challenged me when I said that. “Are you an anarchist?” he asked. “Is that a threat?”

No, I said. It’s a statement of fact. When there is no justice …there is no peace.

A candid observation …