The Point of It

It’s not difficult to feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.  Race was a construct developed to oppress.  The intention was to keep those of non-European, especially non-northern European, ancestry in servitude.  The rationale for doing so was part capitalistic, but also largely religious.  Convinced that Jesus was white, and that the “New Israel” had passed to Christianized Europe, it didn’t take much theological maneuvering to get to the point that others can be—in that mindset, should be—brought into line.  And since this religion comes with a built-in body-soul dualism, it’s not difficult to claim you’re trying to save a soul by destroying a body.  That way you can still sleep at night while doing something everyone knows is wrong.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to such ideas.  His understanding of Christianity was more in alignment with what Jesus said and that threatened those in the establishment who found any challenge to profit heresy.  There can be no denying that racism is one more attempt to keep wealth centralized.  It’s something not to share, which, strangely enough, is presented as gospel.  There are many people still trying to correct this wrong.  It is wrong when a religion distorts its central message in order to exploit marginalized people.  The key word here is “people.”  Black people are people.  Their lives matter and every time this is said others try to counter with “all lives matter, ” a platitude that misses the point.  We need Martin Luther King Day.  We need to be reminded that we’re still not where we should be.  We’re still held in thrall to a capitalism that rewards those who use oppression to enrich themselves.

I was born in the civil rights era.  I suppose I mistakenly reasoned that others had learned the message as well.  All people deserve fair treatment.  Today we remember a Black leader, but we still have the blood of many oppressed peoples on our hands.  Those who first came to live in this country, whose land was stolen in the name of religion.  Those whose gender and sex put them at threat by those who believe control of resources is more important that care of fellow human beings.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but in King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”   If we believe that, and if we can act on it, there remains the possibility that we might actually achieve the reason we set this day aside to reflect.

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Former Education

Like most people I don’t have time to sit around thinking much about college.  Once in a while you’re forced into it, however.  This time it was by an NPR article.  I attended Grove City College for a few reasons: it was a Christian school close to home, it wasn’t expensive, and, perhaps most of all, I knew campus because the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church held its annual conference there.  I’d been several times during high school.  It didn’t hurt that I was a Fundamentalist at the time.  Grove City was a college of the Presbyterian Church and I loved having debates about predestination with professors who actually believed in it.  At the same time, I was encouraged to think things through, which liberal arts colleges are known for promoting. Is it now “conservative arts?”

Photo credit: The enlightenment at English Wikipedia

The NPR story my wife sent me was about how Critical Race Theory is disputed at my alma mater (sic).  I noticed in the article that Grove City is no longer affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.  It’s become much more right wing than that.  At the same time they ask me for money on a regular basis.  What made them think they had to go hard right?  Are they still educating students or are they indoctrinating them?  It reminded me of a sermon I heard at yet another conservative school I was associated with: Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary (or at least it was then).  The priest made an entire sermon about how it was right to be conservative, as if no matter what the issues there was some creed to get behind in staying behind.  As if virtue exists in never admitting you were wrong.

I suspect that my failure to attain a full-time academic position at a reputable school was because of what looks like a conservative outlook, despite the evidence of this blog.  Yes, I grew up Fundamentalist—you grow up the way you were raised.  Hopefully, however, you start thinking after that.  And experiencing.  And yes, using critical thought.  There comes a time when “because I told you so” just doesn’t cut it anymore.  For many of us that’s when we go to college.  If it’s a good one you’ll be encouraged to debate with your professors.  Not one of them has all the answers, I can assure you.  Education is, by its very nature, progressive.  We learn and we continue to learn.  We don’t stand still and say the 1950s was when God reigned on earth.  It wasn’t.  And it wasn’t any time before that either.  Now we know that Critical Race Theory should be taught.  We know Black Lives Matter.  What I personally don’t know is what became of a college that was once conservative, but at the same time, believed in education.


Burdens

Listening is very important.  Sometimes there’s nothing really to say but “I hear you.”  This kept occurring to me during All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake.  Tiya Miles is a history professor, and she helpfully includes an afterword telling how she came upon the topic for this book.  Ashley’s sack is just that, a sack.  On it, the owner, a female descendent of enslaved African-Americans, stitched a short inscription about the history of the sack, how her grandmother had given it to her mother when the latter was a child under ten, sold away from her mother in South Carolina.  This isn’t an easy book to read.  I have difficulty being faced with what “religious” “white” folks did to Blacks and justified themselves that people can be bought and sold.  Listen, I told myself, just listen.

Those who would deny that any of this ever happened need to learn to listen.  In order to capitalize on the resources this country offered, our ancestors engaged in morally reprehensible acts.  And the cruelty didn’t end with the shipping and the selling.  The treatment of unfree Black people itself was a crime, and their white captors knew full well what they were doing.  Preventing their slaves from having nice things while they themselves lived in luxury.  Beating, raping, and murdering when they didn’t get their way.  Selling their own offspring born of slaves to make a profit.  All the while claiming to be good Christians.  It’s often this part that I have trouble understanding.  Even a literalistic reading gives no license for treating other human beings this way.  Only money does that.

The style of history in this book isn’t that to which many of us are accustomed.  At the point of raising mental critiques I repeated, “You must learn to listen.”  Those who have made the rules showed themselves to be corrupt, and they must be willing to consider alternative ways of telling a story.  Miles makes the point that the history of unfree Blacks was largely erased, leaving the possibilities for histories and heritages slim; if the regular rules are themselves oppressive then it may be time to listen to those of others.  It seems impossible in the age of the world-wide web and all that it implies that we live on a planet where people repeatedly deny their sins while clutching their Bibles in their fists.  We need to learn to listen.


Tone Deafness

Tone deafness isn’t just for music any more.  Perhaps because of the incessant torrent of the internet, we might think we understand something better than we do.  Or this may be what comes after years of what Linda Stone has called “continuous partial attention.”  We’re all so busy that we don’t have time to think things through.  I’ve run into several instances of tone deafness lately, where the sound comes not from music, but from a lack of considering the society.  For example, Black Lives Matter.  When I sometimes feel pressed upon by the fact that the mongrel peoples who came together to eventually deliver me benefitted from slavery I feel helpless.  I can’t understand how Black folks feel, as much as I want to help.  This can lead to tone deafness when I think I’m actually able to explain.

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

This also applies to other aspects of our lives.  If someone we know is too busy, asking them to fit us into their schedule may be tone deafness.  Unless we pick up on the many hints that “not this day, but that day might work” conveys, we tend to miss the point.  I’m always amazed just how many people don’t pick up on the stress conveyed in such situations.  Even professional service folk.  You can almost hear them looking at their screens instead of the distressed look on your face.  When we’re all too busy, ironically, the way to address this is to spend a little more time listening.  Paying attention to someone else.  The world won’t end if we do.

Short emails may show tone deafness as well.  Those who send one or two word emails probably don’t realize how rude it seems on the receiving end.  Perhaps they think it’s the same as texting.  There’s a reason I don’t text.  If someone is important enough for me to contact, I feel that I need to give them the required time.  Look at them, not the screen.  Try to hear the pitch they sing in, the cadence they use.  People make beautiful music.  Lives are symphonies.  Do we really want to approach their performance preoccupied by what’s next on our agendas?  I remember getting dressed up and going to a formal concert hall to listen to live music.  I also remember sitting across a table or desk from someone with no devices, being listened to carefully.  Even if it was a viva it was a wonderful feeling that someone was actually listening.  Now what was it you were saying?


July Forth

Independence Day.  What does it mean in a nation on the verge of a fascist takeover?  Supreme Court justices, themselves appointed by crooked but technically legal politics, have just struck down the independence of half the people in this country.  Independence Day for whom?  Originally a celebration of freedom from monarchy, one of our political parties has opted for authoritarianism—the objection to which was the very reason the Revolutionary War was fought.  The colonists wanted religious freedom, but now we find religiously motivated politics driving the bus off the cliff.  If you’re not a white evangelical these rulings are not for you.  Your religious freedom has been compromised by politics.  So we gather in grassy places to watch fireworks.    We celebrate the independence of the wealthy.  Those who can break the law and buy the results they want with lawyers without scruples.

I think of Independence Day from the perspective of our Black siblings.  Freedom to be shot for a traffic stop or to be publicly strangled to death for petty crime.  To be redlined and kept in poverty.  Independence from literal chains only to be shackled in bureaucratic ones.  Being sentenced to prison for things a white can easily afford to pay off.  Independence Day in a nation with over 40 million people in poverty and where just three white men own more than the bottom fifty percent of Americans.  Give them fireworks and firearms and let the bottom half work it out for themselves.  When is the last time a Supreme Court justice had to worry about having enough for both rent and food?  Freedom, those on the top tell us, is not free.  Watch the pretty lights.  Hear the loud booms.

What of American Indians, still awaiting freedom?  What is Independence Day to them?  Kept out of sight and in poverty, we don’t want to be reminded.  No, we only want freedom to get more for the white man.  As a child in the sixties I had some hope that we might be making progress.  Freedom and protest were in the air.  There was at least hope for some justice.  The privileged white leaders now give us a day off work.  The wealth can still flow upward, even if we take a brief hiatus from labor.  Women, Blacks, the poor, American Indians, and many others who make America what it is are nevertheless denied basic freedoms.  This loss of independence at least comes with a light show.  Just watch it and be grateful.


Celebrate Juneteenth

It’s everywhere you look.  Prison statistics.  Poverty statistics.  Gun violence statistics.  We gave lip service to ending slavery but never really made our black brothers and sisters free.  Red-lining.  Police shootings for traffic stops.  It should not be illegal to be of African descent.  Juneteenth is a celebration, but a muted one.  There is much, much work left to do.  When “black lives matter” signs are countered by “blue lives matter” we know there’s a deep-rooted problem.  It’s an especially unfortunate, and hypocritical problem for a melting pot like the United States.  We have room.  We have resources.  Until recently we had commitment to freedom.  Now, just as things should be improving we cave once again to unwarranted fears and paranoia.  What’s holding us back from celebrating Juneteenth?

The solution’s not simple, but it has a clear starting point.  Our elected officials must stop valuing power over people.  Racists—of either party—should know without a doubt that they can’t win nominations.  The good people of this country will not stand for it.  Running on a platform of vacuous celebrity only—how many celebrities are really deep, clear thinkers?—should be soundly shouted down.  The two-party system requires at least a third serious challenger.  America’s leadership must start looking like the people who actually do the work in this country, not those who suck up all the profits.  Catering to the wealthy inevitably causes problems on the other end of the social ladder—the end upon which that ladder must stand.  We no longer need slaves.  We never really needed slaves.  What we need is high principles.

Othering may be normal human behavior but that doesn’t make it right.  We are able to overcome our prejudices.  We are able to say “black lives matter” without following it up with “all lives matter.”  We are able to recognize the sins of our past and repent.  Christianity has produced great followers.  These followers require leaders who have the best for the people in mind, not the best for themselves.  Corporate climbers do not understand this.  Brains addled by money, they see America as a company to run and a way to skim profits off the top.  Politicians are constantly comparing the sizes of their “war chests” for the next election when they should be soul-searching instead.  Let’s celebrate Juneteenth.  Let’s say “we were wrong” and “our theology was wrong.”  Let’s promise ourselves that any racist should fear running for high office.  Let’s end systemic racism and celebrate the results.

Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

Haunting History

It’s difficult to do without feeling guilty, even if you personally had nothing to do with it.  It does seem that “Whites” have to take the initiative to dismantle systemic racism before any kind of fairness can settle on the world.  Toni Morrison is a great example of why that’s so important.  Beloved is perhaps her best-known work.  Although it involves a ghost it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a haunted story.  Black experience has been one of enforced poverty, after the emancipation proclamation—much like the American Indian experience.  Morrison represents this in a non-accusatory way, but she indicates in her story how the pain and mistreatment persists.  Her work is more important now than ever.  White supremacists are controlling the narrative in much of the country although they are the minority.  They need to read this book.

There will be spoilers here, if you’re even later coming to Beloved than I am.  Sethe was a slave.  The novel is set just after manumission, but she escaped before that.  She had four children and when she was sexually assaulted she realized this could happen to her children and she decided to spare them that fate.  Although she was stopped before she could kill all four, her first daughter, Beloved, was her victim.  This story is about what happens when Beloved returns to live with Sethe and her remaining daughter.  It is a haunting story.  No “boos” or jump startles, it sets up a sad atmosphere of a woman falling apart because of guilt.  Guilt for an event that would’ve never happened if she’d been treated like a human being.

Apart from the schoolteacher and his cohort, the whites in the story are kindly to Sethe.  Her “owner” was a slaveholder who gave his “possessions” respect.  She was saved from hanging after the death of Beloved by a local white man who understood what slavery might do to a person’s mind.  Even so, these kind people think of Blacks as servants rather than as people in their own right.  It’s difficult to read books like this.  That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to do so.  There is a lot to analyze here, much to reflect over.  If we put books like this on reading lists instead of banning them, it would help to bring understanding and sympathy rather than hatred and fear.  The future only improves when we admit our past errors and move to heal the scars we continue to inflict.


In the Name of

I recently heard someone who’s obsessed with honorifics opine that we should never mention Martin Luther King Jr. without his full titles.  I think I understand the reason, but I was reminded of my wife’s experience in Edinburgh.  Being Americans we assumed that “Doctor” was the preferred title of academics.  While tying up a letter for one of the higher ups in the medical school, she saw he’d signed himself “Mr. Gordon.”  She corrected this to “Dr. Gordon.”  When she gave it to him to sign he lamented that she’d demoted him.  The highest honorific, beyond the exalted “Professor,” was the humble “Mister.”  I’ve never forgotten that story.  University folk are all about titles.

I made the mistake of addressing my advisor as “Doctor” when we first met.  “Professor,” he corrected me.  In the British system, at least at the time, a department had only one “Professor,” the rest being “Lecturer” or “Senior Lecturer” or “Reader.”  The latter three were all addressed as “Doctor.”  The Professor alone had that singular title.  As my wife discovered, on beyond Professor lay Mister.  I’m a pretty informal guy.  When I was teaching I did insist that students call me “Doctor,” in part because I was young (I finished my doctorate at 29), and I’m small in stature.  And soft-spoken.  So that students didn’t take to calling me “son”—some at the seminary were old enough to have been my father—I kept the boundaries clear.  If I ever get a teaching post again I’ll insist students call me by my first name.

This day is about Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was a remarkable man who accomplished amazing things in the horribly racist America in which he was raised.  Unfortunately Trump has ushered in a renewed era of racism and our Black brothers and sisters find themselves still having to fight for fair treatment.  This reflects badly on the white man, as it should.  Still, to rely on titles is to play the white man’s game.  We honor each other more deeply, it seems to me, when we recognize that titles are, by their very nature, means of asserting superiority.  We offer our personal names to those closest to us, to those who humanize us rather than seeing us as an office.  Honor is important.  Titles can lead to better jobs (but not necessarily).  They can lead to higher pay (but not always).  We honor Martin Luther King, Jr. today by recognizing his great accomplishments and by realizing we all still have much work to do before we all really have names.


Celebrate Freedom

Perspective.  The most valuable thing I learned growing up was to try to see things from the perspective of others.  It’s the basis of sharing and empathy and kindness.  It’s what makes us human.  Juneteenth celebrates a Black holiday, but it applies to us all.  Today (actually tomorrow) commemorates the day when slavery was ended in Texas.  As much as southern states sometimes like to posture, all but the most frightfully unenlightened know that slavery is wrong.  The exploitation of others because we have the power to do so is the very embodiment of evil.  There’s no need for a devil if human beings can do this all by themselves.  Black lives do matter.  We need to stop countering this with “all lives matter” because until we acknowledge systemic racism such responses only serve to perpetuate the problem.

The history of the Christian (and yes, religion fueled and still fuels it) European domination of the world is a long, sad, and unethical one.  Blacks, because they’re often so easily visually identified, have borne the brunt of this domination.  In many ways this continues to be the case even today.  Red lining still exists.  Discrimination still exists.  Blacks are more likely to be imprisoned than others.  Poorly trained police are more likely to shoot and kill them.  This must change if society is to improve at all.  Congress has just passed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday.  This gives the lie to the posturing of many of our elected officials.  This shows how deep Trump’s lies went.

More socially conscious employers made today a paid holiday in support of Juneteenth, even before the senate passed the bill.  We need to admit that we’ve been wrong.  We need to admit that special interests have kept us from seeing what should’ve been as obvious as the color of our own skin.  We’ve tried to keep slavery going.  We’ve made life hard for those easily identified as not “white.”  I have to wonder if this situation would’ve ever developed had we grown the more accurate habit of calling some people pink and others brown.  “White” was chosen for its theological implications.  Make no mistake, this was a carefully constructed divide.  Those who initiated the terminology—pink men, all of them—used their Christianity to demean, debase, and degrade other human beings.  Juneteenth celebrates one small step in what is necessarily a long journey.  We need to undo systemic racism.  We need to learn to say Black Lives Matter and we need to live it.

Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

Seeking Renewal

Now that many are breathing a sigh of relief that 2020 is finally over, I stop to ponder time.  Measuring time, although most forms of life do it in some way, is a human organizing principle.  Calendars were originally religio-agricultural devices.  In order to keep the crops on their seasonal cycles, the gods were invoked—there was nothing secular about their world.  It’s not known who invented holidays or even the concept of a new year, but it is clear that it was a fairly early idea.  Different cultures today still celebrate New Year’s Day at differing times of the year.  Having it a week after Christmas helps to make this a holiday season, but it is no guarantee that a sharp break in continuity will come after a bad year.

Lots of bad stuff happened in 2020, but clearly the circumstance that made it a “bad year” was the Covid-19 pandemic.  Here in the United States it became a full-blown crisis because of the cause of four years of ethical famine, Donald Trump.  Those who can see beyond their religio-politics know that he is a man who spent his entire career looking out for nobody but himself.  Such people do not work as public servants and are downright terrible in a crisis.  The pandemic quickly grew into a crisis and we spent nearly ten full months out of twelve isolating ourselves.  The other crises of the year (generally pointing fingers at Washington), such as the important resurgence of Black Lives Matter and the California wildfires, were exacerbated by the pandemic about which our government did nothing.  Lack of interest has led to death numbers that have become a Stalinistic statistic.

As much as we like to think nature bends to human plans—our calendars—we have no idea what 2021 might hold.  We’re left with a country that has been neglected for four years.  Our Republican-controlled senate can’t even agree to provide any kind of relief to average people without adding riders and conditions to make our situation even worse.  Still, I’m optimistic.  New Year’s, whenever it is, marks change.  I’ve been noticing for over a week now that the sun is rising earlier than it had been as we descended into December.  The light is beginning to return.  While we can expect nothing good from the White House for twenty more days, we can look beyond that and know that change is on the way.  The division of time may be an artificial construct, but it can, if we allow it, become a sign of hope.


Born to Fly

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.


Independence Day Wishing

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.


Juneteenth

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.


Hidden History

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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.


Thinking about Feeling

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.

Think about it.

Think about it.