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 …

.

God, Black People, and Katrina

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and parts of Mississippi. Katrina was vicious, surely, an unwanted and uninvited visitor to an area of the country used to unwanted guests, but she was much more rude and imposing. Her winds and her rain devastated parts of Mississippi, and her power caused storm surges and broke levees in New Orleans, in effect murdering innocent people caught in the firestorm.

One could not look at the images on television of people, mostly black and poor, standing on roofs for days, waiting to be rescued. It was hard to shut out the images of people walking in the hot, blazing New Orleans sun, across the Danzinger Bridge, looking to get away from the flood waters that were swallowing their homes. My heart was broken as I saw pictures of dead people on that bridge, waiting to be picked up. The one picture that sticks in my mind is that of an old woman, in a wheelchair on the bridge, dead.

It didn’t help to hear the stories of people in the convention center, even though Katrina’s wind and rain had caused a hole in the center’s roof. The people were there, sitting in seats normally inhabited by people enjoying entertainment of some sort. Now, those seats were filled with desperate people, in a facility where there was reportedly no air conditioning, no electricity, no running water …The images even now haunt me.

I sat in Columbus, Ohio, a pastor of a church wanting to do “what Jesus said.” I have always wanted that. The people down South were suffering. We had to do something. So, we organized a campaign to collect needed items to take to the people. Health supplies. Bleach. Diapers, Food for babies and adults. Water. Clothing …you name it, we collected it. People from all over the city and outlying suburbs came over to Advent United Church of Christ, bringing supplies and by extension, love, for the people who were suffering. We were able to get an 18-wheel truck and we filled it  …and we drove to New Orleans. The truck with supplies, and us in our cars, with the determination to help “the least of these.”

In my mind, “the least of these” were primarily the black people. Those were the people whom I saw on roofs, crying for help. Those were the people who were on that bridge and in the convention center. They were the ones who had been, in large part, unable to get out of New Orleans before the levee broke, causing that dastardly flood. I considered them to be “the least of these.” We were going down there to help my people.

But God.

I have to admit, I am angry at God a lot, because I blame God for allowing racism to flourish. I blame God for not changing the hearts of white people who are filled with hatred and a sense of superiority and entitlement. I truly believe white Christianity, for the most part, has failed when it comes to racism. The white Church has allowed racism to flourish; it has advocated for segregation in its congregations; it has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries of African-Americans who have been deemed to be the scourge of not only the United States but, it seems, the world. The god of white people has not insisted on agape love, not insisted on justice for “the least of these,” and has not pushed for mercy.

The god of the black church has been different, created out of what I call a “crazy faith” that has been the fuel for hope in spite of the injustice meted out by the government and the church. Author James Baldwin called the faith and subsequent hope of black people in America an “ironic tenacity.” Black people had to develop and embrace a faith that said trouble would not always be. Ida B. Wells, who fought against lynching in this nation, talked about her faith that was defined in large part, said James Cone in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree,  to “black cultural resistance to white supremacy.”

As we traveled to New Orleans 10 years ago, I fully expected to be able to get to the suffering black people.

But God.

We were stopped in Mississippi before we were able to get to New Orleans. I think the reason why was that there were so many people traveling there to help. We looked around; the place where we were stopped was completely devastated. We were in Pass Christian. There was nothing …We drove through deserted streets and saw homes and business flattened. There was no electricity. The houses that remained had marks on them to indicate that dead people had been found inside. On one street, there was a lonely dog walking, looking lost and forgotten. We fed him and I wondered how long it would be before he was rescued.

Anyway …we had this truck, full of supplies, and in our meandering, we came upon a church. There was life there; we could see people. We were excited and we drove as close to the door as we could. We were there! We were going to help “the least of these.”

There was one problem. All of the people …were white.

Damn. I wanted to leave. I had wanted to help the black people, and here we were, in this deserted, God-forsaken place called Mississippi, where I was sure many of my ancestors had been lynched and discriminated against. Mississippi???? God! Are You kidding me?

We began unloading stuff, things that these people needed. After a while, one of the people from Columbus came to me and asked, “When are we going to help the black people?” I just muttered and said, “soon.” In our group, we had black and white people, Jewish people as well as Christian, but for me, this wasn’t their trip, not as far as the ultimate goal was concerned. I wanted to help black people, and here we were, stuck in Mississippi, helping white people whose ancestors, at least, had surely caused misery for the very people we wanted to help and who were still in misery because of Katrina.

After we had unloaded much of what these people needed, I was jumping down from the truck, and this little old white lady, with white, fuzzy hair, came up to me, with giant, crocodile tears in her eyes. She hugged me. And then she just said, “Thank you. Thank you.”

I have never forgotten that day. I still have feelings about how that day worked out, how we ended up helping people whom I no intention of helping. I have grown too cynical to believe that our stop in Pass Christian that day made a difference in the hearts of white supremacists in that group. I blame God, like I said, for not doing a sweep of hatred in the hearts of people.

But the one thing I know is that God taught me a lesson that day, about what God and religion are supposed to be about. I am not sure I appreciate the lesson, but in spite of myself, I did learn.

Who can understand the ways of God? Surely, not me.