What Are We Celebrating?

            I wonder what we are really celebrating this July 4 holiday weekend.

            My stomach turned this morning as I caught a whiff of Ray Charles singing, “America the Beautiful.” 

America, America

God shed His grace on thee!

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

            What “good” are we talking about? What was it in the past and what is it now? Is the “good” government – including its highest court – taking away the rights of American citizens? Yes, the overturn of Roe v Wade happened, taking away the right of a woman to carry or terminate a pregnancy. Women are not safe; if they spontaneously abort a fetus, they may be accused of murder and have to stand trial. If they are raped, the government – supported by the high court – will insist that they have that baby. There’s so much that is wrong with this ruling. I found myself last evening praying that my daughter, who has not yet been pregnant, does not end up having an ectopic pregnancy, or some other life-threatening condition – because this government has ruled that she cannot do anything that would save her life. It made me shudder …

            But this is not new. In the 19th century and going into the 20th, abortions were illegal and those who died trying to abort their fetuses were labeled criminals. (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/my-grandmothers-desperate-choice)

The whole situation is so scary that I can hardly think about it.

            But there’s more. The erosion of voting rights – again – is equally as painful. Voter suppression laws promise to make voting more difficult than ever for a large swath of the population. The right of women to vote may soon be attacked in this assault on the most primary right of American citizenship; some say women “may not need the right to vote.” (https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/2021/10/22/ann-coulter-says-women-shouldnt-have-right-vote-19th-amendment-missouri-state-university/8528256002/)  That sentiment was expressed by John Adams in the aftermath of the writing of the Constitution. (https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1646) , and historically, many men felt that women “were not made to vote.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/womens-suffrage-nineteenth-amendment-pseudoscience/593710/)

The Court ruled that those not read their Miranda rights upon arrest cannot sue law enforcement for damages. ( https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article263028058.html)

The Court ruled that people have the right to carry weapons in public, striking down a law in New York that forbade people from carrying weapons outside of their homes. That ruling comes even as many lawmakers are calling for teachers to be armed following the latest mass shooting that occurred in Uvalde, Texas. Some say that teachers should be armed and that students should be trained in gun use as a graduation requirement. (https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/regional/florida/politician-wants-marksmanship-to-be-a-required-class-in-every-florida-public-high-school/77-a721adbe-a0d0-4e08-b747-4f92631e6b11). (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/23/us/supreme-court-ny-open-carry-gun-law.html)  

The right to peacefully assemble is being attacked in Ohio. (https://chroniclet.com/news/281560/gop-bill-would-target-ohio-protesters-with-terrorism-law/) The separation between church and state was weakened by a ruling by the Court that said private religious schools can receive public funding – a victory for those who formed private and religious schools to avoid having to comply with the ruling that separate but equal is unconstitutional in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education case. (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2022/0621/Supreme-Court-ruling-Maine-s-religious-schools-can-get-public-money)

So, what are we doing? What are we celebrating? The rights of all of us are being attacked, eroded, and taken away. People fought in wars to protect the rights of Americans. Admittedly, those rights were never fully intended for Black and Brown and Jewish people, not for immigrants or Muslims or Jews – but the fact is, people in all of those categories fought in America’s wars because they believed in the principles of the US Constitution.

Who is going into this holiday feeling good and safe and secure about being an American in America? What is being celebrated? The country is moving into a fascist state, and that move is supported by a lot of people who do not yet realize that they, too, will eventually be affected by this erosion of rights. If all of us are not free, none of us are free, as Emma Lazarus noted in 1883, a statement quoted over and over again by people including Maya Angelou, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is a strange time for everyone – even for those who do not yet realize it.

And that’s a sad and true reality.

We Wear the Mask – Still

            As an African American, I find that I often walk around with a lump in my throat because this country does not, has not, and will not regard me or my people as human beings worthy of being treated as the American citizens we are.

            When it comes to race, this nation has no honor.

            The lump isn’t always noticeable; sometimes, it retreats and I can forget for a time that it is there. But no matter how long the lapse, it always comes back.

            I first noticed the lump when I was in college. I was reading about the lynching of Emmett Till, and how the all-white jury acquitted the two white men who had killed him. How could that be, I wondered? How could a court ignore the guilt of two men who had clearly murdered someone?

The lump reappeared from time to time after that, but came back with a fury when I was in seminary and heard the story of one Dred Scott one Sunday I had, of course, heard his name before, and knew a little about his story, but I had never heard about the engagement and involvement of the nation’s highest court. It was in a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright that I heard the words uttered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1857 as he ruled against a Black man, Dred Scott, who sued in order to protect his freedom, gained when his owner took him into a free state. Scott had lived in the free territory of Wisconsin and the free state of Illinois before being taken back to Missouri, where he was again enslaved.

            Scott objected. He knew the law and the law said that once a person was free, he or she was always free. He decided to sue in a lawsuit that made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. After 11 years of litigation in its movement from lower courts to the country’s highest court, the decision was finally at hand. Scott was hopeful.

            But his hope was dashed as Taney ruled against him. Taney wrote that because Scott was Black, he was not a citizen  – and could never be a citizen -and therefore had no right to sue. Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Taney also said that “it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration…” 

            Given all of that, Taney said, it had to be understood that “there were no rights of a Black man that a white man was bound to respect.” 

            What? I was stunned and can still remember being in shock as I heard those words. How could someone who was supposed to be about justice say such a thing? I later wept as I read the words for myself and realized in a new way that not even the courts do not protect us and could be counted on to bring justice to Black people, including the highest court in the land.

            From the day that the lump formed it has risen from time to time, reminding me of the pain I carry about this nation having so little honor when it comes to race. That lump jostled me again today as I heard the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court made that clearly indicate that the justices are not interested in treating Black people as full American citizens with all the rights citizenship includes. The highest court in this land has yet again sanctioned ways to keep Black people disenfranchised. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/01/politics/voting-rights-act-supreme-court-ruling/index.html) (https://www.npr.org/2021/07/01/1004062322/the-supreme-court-guts-a-state-law-requiring-nonprofits-to-name-their-rich-donor.

And again, I wept.

            From the courts to law enforcement to the media, this country has made clear how deeply embedded is the spirit of white supremacy. There are those who are bold with their belief in the inferiority of Black people, and others who remain quiet and do little to nothing as they see the system run roughshod over Black lives and yet declare that they are not racist. The latter group makes little to no effort to investigate and see why there is a Black Lives Matter movement. They refuse to open their eyes and see how the systems of this country have blocked African Americans for literally hundreds of years. Both the vocal and non-vocal racists remain steeped in fear, rage, and insecurity; they are afraid of Black people and afraid that if Black people ever got the opportunity to govern, they would do to white people what white people have done to them. They are full of rage because they believe Black people – who they still do not regard as human beings or citizens – have been “given” too much and are unappreciative, even as white people struggle in ways they do not believe they should be, and they are insecure because reports say that white rule will soon no longer be the case in America.

            It is a difficult thing to keep on pushing for justice when the hard truth of the lack of honor of white people in power repeatedly hits you in the face. Black people get metaphorically slapped over and over, as arrogant critics tell us to get up and to “shut up and dribble,” as the infamous Laura Ingraham once said when NBA great LeBron James spoke out against police brutality.( https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fox-news-host-laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shut-up-and-dribble-so-whats-her-take-on-drew-brees-2020-06-04)

            The evil of white supremacy in this country has never diminished, and at this point, it is more toxic and dangerous than it has been publicly for some time, but make no mistake: it and its toxicity have never been gone. This country still has a plantation mentality, wanting Black people and a whole lot more people whom the white supremacist adherents believe are less than human to “stay in their place.”

            Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote the poem, “We Wear the Mask,” the first line of which says, “We wear the mask that grins and lies; it hides our cheeks and shields our eyes. This debt we pay to human guile…”

            We have been paying that debt for literally hundreds of years, and we still must.

            The stupid lump in my throat is real today; I will work – as we all must – to swallow it back down into its bedroom that is in my soul. But it will rise again.

            A candid observation …

The Never-Ending Anger of White People

It seems that the anger of white people in this country has been an issue for almost as long as this country has been in existence.

That, in spite of the fact that their very whiteness has provided them free reign to commit crimes against black people and also has provided them protection against being called into accountability for their crimes. Black people, because of angry white people and a pliant political and judicial system, have never been able to get justice, something which all human beings desire and deserve. And yet, it is the white people who are always angry.

The eruption of white anger is never far from us. It was present in Charlottesville, Virginia when whites marched through the streets voicing their determination that they would not be “replaced.” Their anger resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by an angry white man. Their anger erupted after the Civil War when black people were given the right to live like human beings; their anger led and inspired them to lynch literally thousands of black people just because they could and get away with it.

Their anger erupted when black servicemen and women returned to this country after fighting in wars to preserve this nation’s democracy. Had blacks refused to fight they would have been castigated and probably arrested or worse, but their fighting did not make whites like them or respect them any more. If anything, it made them more angry because whites perceived that blacks had become “uppity.” Whites killed many blacks while they were still in uniform. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

White anger erupted when black people, in spite of all that was done to try to keep them “in their place” went ahead and prospered in spite of those barriers. The infamous massacre of black people by angry whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an episode of American history hardly even whispered about. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/us/tulsa-race-riot-black-wall-street-watchmen-trnd/index.html) Whenever and wherever blacks fought for economic justice, they were often opposed and too often murdered because they dared fight for what was rightfully theirs. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

Whites have always been angry about black people being in this country, though it was white people who brought us here. White people tolerated black people as they built this country and once their usefulness was no longer needed, many just wanted us to go away.

There has been no single entity that has protected black people or insured that they get justice. The fact that the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own house only received a sentence of 10 years in prison, while a young man who missed jury duty got 10 days in jail plus a host of other punitive actions still causes the soreness caused by ongoing racism to smart all the more. In history, not even the United States Supreme Court could be counted on to make sure that black people got justice. (https://www.npr.org/2011/02/24/133960082/the-supreme-courts-failure-to-protect-civil-rights).

But in spite of black people being violated, challenged, discriminated against, and killed by people who killed them just because they could, it is white people who are always angry. Black people are expected to be quiet and not be angry at all while this system walks over them and causes them undue pain and misery, even while denying them justice and a level playing field. From those who were angry at the murder of Emmett Till to those who are insulted that Colin Kaepernick would dare “take a knee” to protest police brutality against black people, blacks who express anger are criticized and mocked. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop).

To make matters worse, too many white people have relied on their religion – their version of Christianity – to justify their treatment of not only blacks, but poor whites, people with HIV/AIDS, and Muslims, for starters. As the country has had to absorb the painful loss of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore), one white religious talk show is saying that Mr. Cummings’ death was (is) “God’s revenge for taking on Trump.” (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/we-know-the-bible-far-right-conspiracy-theorist-says-elijah-cummings-death-was-gods-revenge-for-taking-on-trump).

White anger is irrational. It is disgusting. And it is misplaced.

But it is a mainstay of America. And it is eroding whatever capacity for decency this country has ever had. In spite of this irrational and ongoing anger, black people in this country have been able to endure and prosper, but every now and then, the souls of black folk rise up, asking God, in the words found in the Bible, read by black people and by angry whites alike, a book they claim to love, “How long, Lord?”

It seems that that answer is yet to be cemented in the fabric of America. White anger is a pandemic, and going untreated and ignored, is only getting worse.

The Continuing Saga of the Angry White Man

The debacle this nation and the world saw last week in the special-called session of confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh was troubling on many levels, not least of which was the once-again uncovering of the deep anger of white men.

 

Those we saw last week were privileged – meaning, men of some financial worth – but the ever-reappearance of white male anger is puzzling to me. White men rule the world. What, then, are they so angry about?

They are members of the White Supremacy Club – a moniker I’ve given them – which includes not only racism but deeply virulent sexism as well. The Founding Fathers of this nation were all privileged white men who intended this country to be created by white people – or more specifically, by white men – for white people, with white men in control. They have taught their brand of sexism to men of all races in this country, but their racism is uniquely their own.

When these men do not get their way, they lose perspective and the ability to contain their anger. I imagine that they grow up being taught that they are better than anyone else and that they are entitled to more than anyone else. I would assume that they are taught that others do not have what they have because others are inferior to them. That being said, I am assuming that they are taught to not be concerned or to feel bad about how they may be perceived. This world is theirs and they are charged to keep it that way.

I make those stark assumptions because all parents teach their children that they have worth. African American parents teach their children that in spite of what the world – defined by white supremacist ideology – that they are just as worthy and intelligent and beautiful and capable as anyone else – meaning the white society which will tell them differently. It’s not surprising that privileged white parents would teach their children to live into that privilege and to realize their unique value as white people – and specifically as white men.

Whenever we think we are “somebody,” and someone else does not treat us in the manner to which we have grown accustomed, we tend to become a bit surly. We are insulted that the person in front of us “does not know who we are.” People who are “somebody,” and/or who believe they are “somebody” become used to being treated differently than the commoners, for lack of a better term. They expect others to know who they are and to treat them accordingly.

So…privileged white men have been having their way for a long time and they are worried, say some, that with all of the undesirables coming into the country, effectively “browning” America, their status as “privileged” is threatened. They are fighting back with everything they’ve got – from passing laws that make life miserable for black, brown and poor people, to working the suppress the vote for black, brown and poor people, to gerrymandering voting districts so that they can remain in power, to separating immigrant parents from their children and throwing those children in what only be called detention camps.

The administration is working to get federal judges on benches all over the country who will preserve the “white way of life,” which is what “Make America Great Again” is really all about. As laws and policies have passed which have made the lives of black, brown and poor people easier, the privileged have become petulant and pissed off.

The white supremacist way of thinking has cooked their brains and foiled their capacity to feel compassion for anyone other than themselves and their interests. They are acting like spoiled children, pouting and having temper tantrums when the world dares to challenge them on things they want to do and which they think they are entitled to do.

When Judge Brett Kavanaugh lost his cool during the hearing on Thursday where he had to answer to charges of sexual impropriety brought by Dr. Christine Ford, I was disappointed but not surprised. It seemed that he had been well-coached by the pouter-in-chief, but his outburst to me seemed to be one of indignation, not that he was being asked certain questions, but that certain people felt they had the right to challenge and question him. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed to fit that description as well. These were grown men, spoiled by a society which supports and practices white supremacy – and they were insulted that anyone had the gall to challenge them on how they chose to live their lives.

The South has been the bane of everything “socially just” concerning race since it lost the Civil War.; its position on the place of the woman hasn’t been much better. Someone said that after the war ended, it would go on without a weapon being fired and we have seen that reality played out for years. The South has resented black people making gains – at, they believe, their expense. They have worked and are still working to make things “right” again. Their “good ol’ boy” mentality has never been so challenged and they are fit to be tied. But they are determined to hold onto their power and their privilege. They will continue to pout …but also to plot how they can keep what they believe is their divine right to have – superior treatment and opportunity based on their race and their gender. They are determined to correct what they believe was a travesty of justice when the South lost the war. They are determined to retrieve the “Lost Cause” and put this country on what they believe is its intended course again.

A candid observation …

Getting Up All Over Again

This has been a difficult week for Americans who have been fighting for their civil and human rights in this country.

The United States Supreme Court upheld the president’s travel ban and also ruled against unions collecting dues from non-union employees.

Then, US Supreme Court Justice announced his retirement, effective July 31 of this year, giving the current president the opportunity to name yet another person to the high court. Undoubtedly, that person will be a social conservative and will pull the court further to the right.

The gains made by Americans who have been fighting for their voice will be pushed back  – again.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, the creator of the Moral Mondays movement and most recently the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, wrote that this nation has historically fought back when too many gains have been made by marginalized groups, most specifically by African Americans. The “first Reconstruction” came after the Civil War; the “second Reconstruction” came after the Civil Rights Movement, and this, the “third Reconstruction” is on the heels of the presidency of Barack Obama.

In each of these “setback eras,” as I view them, angry whites have done all they can, politically and socially to undo the gains that African Americans have made. During the First Reconstruction, they did all they could to suppress the newly gained right of African Americans to vote.  Voter suppression was the hallmark of the Second Reconstruction, with social conservatives working to undo the rights afforded blacks by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And now we sit in the midst of the Third Reconstruction, where voting rights are again under attack, along with rights gained by the LGBTQ community. There is a fear as well that with the nation’s high court getting another right-leaning justice, Roe v Wade will be overturned, making it illegal for women to get abortions. Immigrants and their rights are being attacked and eroded; unions stand to up to a third of their members and funding.

Because of the domination of all three branches of government by Republicans who claim their position to be that of social conservatives, many people and groups will slip back into places from which they have been fighting to get out of for decades.

I am looking for an adjective that I am satisfied with when describing social conservatives. A working definition of a social conservative is someone who holds onto tradition and the way things have been. Social conservatives fight change in the social makeup of a country or government. In America, the granting of rights to what they would call “marginalized” groups has gone over the top. Voting rights, gay marriage, the right of women to choose their options for pregnancy, protection for transgender individuals and continuation of protecting immigrants who come from Mexico, Central and South America have eroded the America in which social conservatives trust has been too much. Author Karen Armstrong has said that when there is too much change in a society or culture, there is a backlash, which includes the rise of fundamentalism. People pull harder to the right to protect what they know, an action which comes off as being racist, sexist, Xenophobic and more and they often use their understanding of God and of the Christian Bible to justify their views and their actions.

Their determination to put everyone back into their place is unrelenting, and once they have successfully wielded their power which is theirs primarily because of their race, gender and wealth, they fall back into the rhythm with which they are comfortable. The “undesirables” have been controlled, and all is well.

People in this world who are not white, male, heterosexual and wealthy will always have to fight for full American citizenship. They interpret the Constitution as a document which demands parity amongst individuals, which it does not. The Constitution was at its inception a document which made a way an protected wealthy, white, male, Protestant landowners. In actuality, the Founding Fathers desired to create a country for white people, even as they imported Africans to this country to help them build this nation’s wealth. That they did not think through what their greed would ultimately do – i.e., establish the African American population of this country – shows their arrogance. Because they did not look at African Americans (or Native Americans, or women, for that matter) as human beings, they did not include those groups as groups worthy of full American citizenship. As the country grew, and African Americans, as well as women, began demanding their rights, the social conservatives worked – and continue to work – to make government protect their rights while chipping away and outright denying those same rights to groups whom they felt were not human and therefore not worthy of equal treatment and status.

Human beings, however, will not stay under a rock and acquiesce to injustice; within all humans is the desire to be free in the fullest sense of the word. Every time the government has worked to reduce their rights, these groups have fought back. The groups of people in this country whose rights are being eroded or which stand a big chance of being eroded will be knocked down, but they will get up. Every time the social conservatives try to stop the movement toward the dignity of different groups, those groups become more resolute to fight for what they know they deserve.

While social conservatives appear to live in and be guided by fear – fear that they will lose their property, their jobs, their dreams and their status – the ‘marginalized” live in hope – the hope that they will ultimately win.

Step by painful step, they will. Evil is a strong force in this world, but hope is stronger. Hope has made the marginalized fight for justice for thousands of years, and hope will be the fuel that gives them the power and strength to get up all over again and continue that fight.

A candid observation …