WikiTree is a web-based, free genealogy site.I’m too busy these days to do much digging, but it’s hard not to stop and consider it once in a while.Some years back I put some family information on it, and every great now and again—I don’t have a sense for the timing—I get notices that include “degrees of separation.”It seems I’m always about twenty-some degrees removed from famous people.In August they were featuring aviators.I’m about as close to Orville Wright as I am to Amelia Earhart. Then there was Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, better known as “the Red Baron.”What always surprises me about these charts is that they never follow the path you’d expect.My ancestry is about half German, but Richthofen is attached through the other half, predominantly Celtic.As my wife pointed out, we must all be about this far removed from each other.
Genealogy can be enticing.It’s got an air of mystery and discovery about it.I suspect many of us hope we’ll find that we’re connected to someone famous, even if we never meet them.My cousins remember visiting Melvin Purvis’ house when they were kids.An ancestor of that generation was married to his sister.But what of all those who never become well known?Are they any less important because they don’t have books written about them, or movies that feature them?Isn’t simply connection enough?And the matter of being connected can often heal wounds.It’s harder to hate someone whose house or childhood you shared.This is a profound lesson from looking at how humans have loved each other.We tend to get fixated on the mechanics, but it seems to me that the love is the important part.
I’m not a statistician, but I find that genealogy helps me feel connected.We are all, of course, connected at some level.That’s one reason it’s so distressing to see the hatred being carefully nurtured by our government for political ends.Black lives do matter.They are connected to white lives in often unexpected ways.Despite what 45 says, race is a human construct only.We are all human and we each have inherent worth and dignity.This isn’t rocket science.Good leadership brings together.Poor leadership divides.So my twenty-something-th cousin was flying around shooting down airplanes in World War One.My other twenty-something-th cousin was trying to show that women can do just what men can do.Which is a better model to follow? It’s the one that promotes love.
It’s Independence Day and what we most need independence from is our own government.History is full of ironies.Federal holidays falling on a Saturday, for instance.In any case, here we are on the Fourth of July and still stuck under a repressive government that a small portion of people like.Republican groups supporting Biden are starting to arise, but we can only dream on Independence Day.Many of us would like to be independent of the coronavirus, and not a few people are acting like we are.Cases are spiking, so the rest of us are staying indoors.Fireworks are okay, but I have trouble staying awake until dark these days and more often than not they just keep me awake as I’m starting to doze.
Maybe for Independence Day I’ll take leave of reality.Maybe I’ll imagine a government that isn’t so utterly corrupt that some people might have some faith in it.Maybe I’ll dream that black lives matter and that our leaders would believe it.Maybe I’ll think what it would have been like if caring officials addressed the Covid-19 crisis directly instead of brushing it off, so that like all well-run nations cases would be going down here instead of back up.There’s so many possibilities and the one thing they all have in common is that they point to independence from the Trump Administration, if that’s what it can be called.Maybe it’s time to light a sparkler of hope.
Independence Day can be a day of looking forward instead of looking back.If we can look ahead we might see a country where anyone will be allowed to exist and not be condemned by “Christianity.”We can come to see that privileging any one “class” or “race” or “sexual orientation” is a form of bigotry from which we can and should be independent.We can try to think what it must be like to experience life from somebody else’s skin.We can try to understand instead of standing ready to condemn that which is “different.”Fact is, everyone is different from everyone else, it’s only a matter of degree.And difference can unite rather than divide.The whole idea behind uniting different states was that those who were different could support one another and figure out how to make room for everyone to fit.It won’t be easy to do, but we might use today to envision a country where we can work together, and figure out that leaders who bring people together are the only hope we have for the future.
Education is important.For example, I never really knew what Juneteenth was, although I’d heard the name a few times.Perhaps because of the “teenth” part I had it in my head that this was something to do with young people.The amazing thing I’ve been learning over the past several weeks is just how deliberate the “white male” narrative has been in perpetuating the racist mechanism in the employment of capitalism.Years ago I learned that race is a human construct—it has no basis in science or biology.It has served various entrepreneurs throughout history, beginning in 1619 and has been perpetuated ever since in order to ring the last possible copper from the coffers.Now we see what that looks like when a standing president holds these “truths” to be self-evident.
Juneteenth was proclaimed in Texas in 1865.Even in the extreme and conservative Lone Star State it was recognized over a century ago that all people have the right to be free.Of course we don’t celebrate it as a national holiday.Give people too much time off and they might get to thinking.If, perchance that thinking turns toward the heartless machine of capitalism it might be realized that there are better ways to ensure people are treated fairly, regardless of their skin color.This year, for the first time I have seen, many organizations—some of them corporations, even—are closing in honor of Juneteenth.Black lives do matter.We should be able to see that, but it takes innocent deaths to make the obvious appear.
Yesterday I listened to three Pulitzer Prize winners discussing racial equality.All three of them had written on the African-American experience.All three knew the evils of racism.Research has been done that indicates much of what stands behind white evangelical support of the Republican Party is racism.Many of the movement’s leaders still buy into myths about race and believe it is something God built into the human soft machine rather than something we made up ourselves.For political purposes.We need Juneteenth.We need reminders that the evil we’ve constructed can be dismantled.People should not die because of a false human construct.It wasn’t lack of curiosity that prevented me from learning about Juneteenth when I first heard of it.No, it was being overwhelmed with the problems Washington was spewing out (and continues to), that I had to divide my energies depleted by the capitalist Moloch.Now I realize, because by their fruits we shall know them.Floyd George was murdered on camera and we need to expose the thinking that allowed that crime to happen.
History involves perspective. We sometimes forget that. I was alive when human beings first reached the moon, so maybe I’m a bit blasé about what a great technological accomplishment that was. Down here on earth we were still having trouble with the human rights thing—still are, incredibly. Working in my own silo I hadn’t heard of Hidden Figures and wouldn’t have gone to see it if my wife hadn’t suggested it. It’s hard to be reminded of the world into which I was born and how terribly backward it was. For all my conservative upbringing we were never racists. Of the two African American guys I remember attending my elementary school, I was proud to call both of them friends. I could see no reason not to think of them as friends. We lived in the same town and had the same basic needs. I had no idea the struggles they really faced.
Although offering social commentary, gently coating it with humor, Hidden Figures follows the story of three mathematicians who made America’s participation in the space race possible. Moreover, they were all women. African American women. Brilliant, but unequal under the law. I was glad for the darkened theater as I couldn’t keep my eyes dry thinking of the terrible backward step we’ve taken since November. This nation has never been fair to African Americans and police statistics bear that out. Given equal opportunity, I can’t help but think of what me might accomplish. How this nation could support a bigot for the highest office in the land I can’t compute. It sets the clock back before I was born. We wouldn’t be where we are not without shining examples of humanity like Barack Obama.
We are fighting for the future. Over the past few weeks every few days I’ve been attending marches, rallies, and political meetings. I’ve been signing petitions until my clicking finger is numb. I wish there were more that I could do. The blatant racist, sexist maneuvers by Mitch McConnell should stand out as a mark of shame on all who claim the name American. Silencing Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter by Coretta Scott King regarding Jeff Sessions. When our children’s children look back on this age they will rightly wonder how people who’ve been privileged all their lives could turn their backs on progress in the name of racial insecurity. And how Mr. McConnell could’ve had the appallingly bad taste to do so during Black History Month. History involves perspective.
There’s a scene in Shrek where Lord Farquaad tells Princess Fiona “You don’t have to waste good manners on the ogre. It’s not like it has feelings.” That scene came to mind recently as I was pondering how we often use feelings—emotions—to claim superiority over others. During a course on Howard Thurman in seminary, we watched a video where he retold a story that appears in his autobiography With Head and Heart, where a young white girl was sticking an African American with pins because she believed they didn’t have feelings. Although it may be dangerous to attribute motive—let me call it interpretation then—Shrek is a movie about prejudice. Ogres are misunderstood. It’s a parable, if you will. Unfortunately there are people who still believe those not like themselves lack feelings.
This is a particularly disturbing idea for many reasons. Not only does it keep alive the unacceptable social situation where African Americans are shot when unarmed, and frequently in non-criminal situations, it perpetuates the idea that others are different in a way that makes them less than human. We can take this even further since one of the mainstays of science has been to deny feelings to animals, claiming that you need rationality to experience pain. Or at least suffering. Ironically, it’s the “reptilian brain” that provides us with emotions, and rationalists are quick to downplay emotions as a form of thinking. It’s easier just to kill a snake and ask questions later.
We deny others feelings as an excuse to mistreat them. Then we deny that feelings are important at all. Even Mr. Spock got angry once in a while. In a society that regiments an economic system that really benefits only a very few, we daily bask in the midst of this paradox. It’s clear that all it takes to have presidential aspirations threaten reality is money. Spend enough and anyone will believe whatever lies you happen to trumpet. After all, that feeling of superiority that fascism promotes is exactly the way to win a mass following. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m feeling just a bit out of sorts. It’s only a feeling, and it will pass. Unless we pay close attention to our emotions, however, we will never realize justice. We know that Shrek does indeed have feelings. It’s just that we’ve forgotten how to interpret parables.