Racism Hurts

.US_Marshals_with_Young_Ruby_Bridges_on_School_Steps

 

Racism hurts.

Maybe that’s the wrong way to say it. Maybe I should say “the actions of racist people” hurt. The ongoing assault on and disrespect of, fellow human beings by a self-declared “supreme, superior race” hurts and has long-lasting effects.

It has been scientifically proven that the effects of trauma can be genetically passed down. Apparently, trauma causes changes in one’s genes as it is going on. Called “epigenetic inheritance,” scientists say the trauma passed down to children causes disorders including stress disorders. Findings in a study of survivors of the Holocaust were published recently. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/21/study-of-holocaust-survivors-finds-trauma-passed-on-to-childrens-genes)

Native American children apparently show results of the trauma their parents and antecedents have suffered, and psychologists, sociologists and scientists are documenting physical conditions in African Americans caused by the trauma that ethnic group has endured in this country since slavery. (http://atlantablackstar.com/2016/06/05/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome-and-intergenerational-trauma-slavery-is-like-a-curse-passing-through-the-dna-of-black-people/)

The science notwithstanding, though, there is a very real component of racism that nobody really talks about – and that is that it causes emotional pain of the oppressed in the here and now.

Racism and racist terrorism and hatred..hurt.

I often tell the story of little Ruby Bridges, who at 6 years old integrated the William Frantz  Elementary School. This child was eager to attend her “new school,” but had no idea of the racist people who would jeer at her, yell and scream at her, and leave her to sit in a classroom in that school for a full year, all by herself.

Because of cognitive dissonance, white people who were involved in this child’s trauma probably did not think of how little Ruby must have felt, but it had to have been horrible for her. For a year in that classroom it was only Ruby and her teacher, a white woman named Mrs. Barbara Henry, sitting side by side, because white parents had pulled their children out of the school generally and out of Ruby’s class specifically …all because little Ruby was black.

It had to be traumatizing. According to stories of that fateful time, on the second day of her attendance at Franz, a white mother threatened to poison her; on another day, she was presented a little black baby doll in a coffin.

She was a little girl, for goodness’ sake!

Not only did Ruby suffer, but so did her family. Her grandparents were sent off the land where they had lived as sharecroppers for 25 years. Her father lost his job. The local grocery store where they had shopped banned them from entering.

It might have been expected that by now, the 21st century, all of this racial hatred and bigotry would have abated, but it has not. Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says that “slavery didn’t end, it just evolved.”  That statement applies to racism as well, a fact that is sad in that too many white Americans live in denial, believe that racism is gone, while they continue to participate in and benefit from policies which support the continued oppression of people of color.

Not only are black people the targets of white hatred and bigotry, but so are brown people, and Muslims. Members of the LGBTQ community are oppressed not only by whites, but by blacks, Hispanics and Muslims.

A woman shared a story with me recently about two gay white men who had adopted two African-American boys. She said a neighbor hollered out to them one day that when Donald Trump gets elected “we, the white people, are going to get rid of people like you and your two little nigger kids.”

What is sad is that people who mete out this kind of hatred seem not to care that words are like knives, digging into the very spirits of those being attacked. Little black and brown children grow up in this nation fighting the belief that they are somehow bad and inferior; the fight to find one’s true Self in the face of such hatred is a difficult one, and many fail.

The emotional pain of racial hatred is as toxic and damaging is physical pain inflicted because of racial hatred. Public lynching has all but stopped (not completely), but emotional lynching is ongoing. It has never stopped. And the lack of concern for and appreciation of that pain is an issue …at least for me.

Black and brown people are criminals if they have a drug problem; white people are “sick” and need treatment if they have a drug problem. Ryan Lochte was virtually excused from his bad behavior in Rio de Janeiro after the Olympics, with many newscasters saying this 32-year old man is “just a kid,” and they accepted his statement that he “over -exaggerated.” Black people are rarely given such grace when they commit faux pas; Gabby Douglas was harshly criticized for not putting her hand over her heart during the playing of the National Anthem. Biles was said to have disrespected her country, but didn’t Lochte as well? The double standard meted out by racists…hurts.

The point of this essay is to say to people who apparently do not realize or do not care…that racist attacks, exclusion from jobs or opportunities or justice because of one’s race, disparity in the way black and white children are treated for the same offenses – hurts.  The lack of compassion for parents of black children who go astray, and the tendency to just want to lock black people up and throw away the key ..hurts.

The pain is no less than that experienced by a white kid who grows up in an emotionally and/or physically abusive home. The scars left are indelible; they do not go away. An abusive childhood produces abused adults who then, in their pain, go on to abuse more children. That’s not a color thing. That’s a human thing.

Listening to all of the racist talk, the hate-filled talk, that has swirled around during this presidential election cycle has made my spirit hurt, literally. The oppressors  apparently have no idea of how much damage they are inflicting on groups of people – which they have historically heaped on groups of people. They don’t know …and apparently they do not care.

And not being cared about is a hurting thing.

A candid observation..

Trump is a Voice for the Frightened

 

When I was invited to preach at a white Episcopal church in Charles Town, West Virginia, the lead priest of that congregation called me to kind of coach me on how to approach the congregation.

Donald Trump

I was/am an educated African American woman. Her congregation was highly educated as well, but there is an issue of which I needed to be aware.

“They’re very sensitive about being talked down to,” she said, going on to explain that many white Southerners feel marginalized and put down by the “elites.” The elites were those with a lot of education, white people, she said, who they felt were always thinking that Southern white people were inferior, uneducated and, frankly, beneath them.

They were thus sensitive to being talked to in a way by an educated person which spewed that sentiment, and they were equally as sensitive about being called racist. Most of them hotly denied that they were racist, and would react badly if anything in my sermon got to that space of emotional pain that many white people, Southerners and Northerners as well, have carried for decades.

I was grateful for the priest’s “warning,” and worked very hard to make sure what I preached about – even though it was about racism – was not in any way an attack or a put down. Racism, I preached, was an aberration of spirit, something which Americans carry without even thinking about it. I worked very hard to illustrate the connectedness of all human beings, the ways in which we are the same regardless of color, before I got into the meat of the message, describing the damage racism does and has always done. It is America’s disease, I preached – not a new sentiment at all – but one which America has yet to acknowledge. And I tied all of what I was preaching about with the story of little Ruby Bridges, the little black girl who for a year sat in a classroom in New Orleans all by herself because racist people would not let their children be near her. I have a gift as a storyteller and worked the story so that the people could find the commonality of experience, the commonality of pain, the commonality of what it is to be a parent.

I think of that Sunday often. Charles Town is the city where John Brown was hanged for inciting an insurrection. It is rich in Southern history, a history which is rich with the stories and experiences of a culture which is racist but which ignores it in the hope of the reality of racism going away. America wants to keep its dirty little secret – which is not so little at all  and which is definitely not a secret- hidden away in a closet, and believes that if the secret stays in the closet, all will be well.

That belief, however, has always been wrong, and the proof that not talking about racism makes it go away is pushing up in the midst of this presidential election cycle. Donald Trump is feeding those who, like the Episcopal priest told me, are sensitive to being called racist and uneducated. A memo circulated by the Trump campaign vowed to concentrate on that group of people. (http://dailycaller.com/2016/08/06/trump-campaign-memo-primary-strategy-was-to-provide-safe-space-for-voters-called-bigots/) They are the ones who are screaming loudest about the “elite” people, those, they believe, who have been in power for too long. Their voices, beliefs and needs have been marginalized, ignored and cast aside for too long, in the quest of being politically correct, and being politically correct has meant “not talking about” racism and how the government, they believe, has done too much for black, brown and poor people, at the expense of white people.

The belief in white supremacy has driven American culture from its inception. After Reconstruction, whites who believed in their supremacy and resented the perception of blacks that they were equal with whites and therefore were owed the same rights, put Jim Crow into effect, effectively thrashing the gains made by black people, especially their right to vote. They believed then and many still do that America is a “white man’s country.” That doesn’t make them racist, they believe. That just makes them American.

No matter what, they have always been able to rely on their skin color to keep them in the running for the American dream, but globalization, making it possible for more people of color to invade what is supposed to be a white space, has weakened their status. They not only see more people of color coming into their land, they read or have heard the reports that by 2043, white people will be the minority in the United States. (https://mic.com/articles/106252/the-year-white-people-will-become-a-minority-in-america-has-been-declared#.TCKjBGUh9)

Donald Trump is speaking to a group of people who are angry, who have been marginalized by a government they think has been too big and too willing to embrace people of different races and religions, and who are seeing their version of white supremacy get more and more watered down. What they want “back” is the America where their status was secure.

That’s not going to happen.

But their fear is something Donald Trump knows. The group to whom he is speaking is vulnerable to his rhetoric, but the truth of the matter is that whites who are educated and who have gained pieces of the American dream are worried as well. “The marginalized” is not so small a group as many would like to believe. America is changing, and not many white people like it at all. Trump knows that, too – that whites of all classes are worried.

And so he is plowing through this campaign saying whatever he wants, challenging what has “always been,” promising that he alone will change the trajectory of a world which has not stood still, white supremacy notwithstanding.

And in his quest to speak to the hearts and concerns of those who feel abandoned and ignored, he is winning.

A candid observation …