Thursday, June 25, 2020

Racism in America 3: What Are We Fighting For?

This may have been the longest month in American history.

It has been exactly one month since George Floyd was tragically murdered in Minneapolis. It seems like the upheaval it has caused has lasted much longer than that.

The upheaval has been necessary. We have lived in a nation still riddled with small veins of racism and prejudice. Little actions can do nothing to create the change necessary to correct these problems.

We must ask, however, what are we fighting for? What is the goal of all of this?

When COVID-19 hit in March, we were told that we would not be able to congregate, we may not be able to go to work, our sporting events have been cancelled, and our kids will need to be educated at the kitchen table. We knew it would be difficult and anything but desirable, but the vast majority of us understood why it had to be done: for the safety of our families and communities.

The Why was clear: prevent COVID-19 deaths. The logic said, and still says, that by decreasing the contact between people, we are decreasing the spread of the virus. And since many people are particularly vulnerable due to preexisting medical conditions, we had extra motivation to work for the benefit of those we love.

As time has gone by, we have had to question this logic within ourselves. New research and understanding of the virus has erased certain misconceptions, and has added new considerations. Almost all people who have been under varying levels of quarantine are at their wits' end (me included) and are ready to go the park, the beach, the theater, and just about anywhere but the trash dump and the waste processing plant. We are ready to be free!

But my grandma lives in a retirement home. She is in her mid-nineties, and while relatively healthy, she is very vulnerable to the virus. If I ever need motivation to wear a mask or stay at home, I need only think of her. My conveniences can be put aside if the safety of those I love is at stake.

Through all of this, the goal has remained the same: get to the point where the virus can be eliminated somehow, either by an act of God or by a vaccine. That is the only safe and lasting way to defeat COVID-19 and return to the normal life we now miss.

How does this relate to racism? Some people see the upheaval in America, whether the riots, the bickering, or the incessant talk on the news, as the virus. To them, someday, all of these hindrances will go away and life can return to normal.

But therein lies the problem. We don't want things to return to "normal." And it is not because we like the upheaval. You see, the true virus is the racism, and America has been infected with it for many, many years.

If that is the case, it changes the goal. Instead of everything returning to the way it has always been, we need to move America to a place it has never been. Remember, according to the United States Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal." At the current time, we certainly believe that all people, both men and women, are created equal, and throughout our history, that has always been held as the spirit of the statement. We also recognize that for all of history until recently, men were viewed as superior, and even though our country has had a revolution away from this thinking, these male-centered concepts still exist in our society. We hope that as racism is eliminated, sexism can be as well.

But race is not mentioned in the Declaration's statement. The word "all" means, well, all. The logic was that no one is born superior than another, particularly of royal blood. Everyone is and should be a free individual with the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." So why did so many white American men view black American men as not equal?

The only way to accept a person as not being equal is to not view them as a person. How could a person "own" another person? If they viewed that person as an inferior being, and not a true human. White men viewed black men as inferior, and in many cases, they felt they were "doing them a favor" by keeping them as slaves.

The same logic applied to how white people could take the land of the Native Americans. If you viewed yourself as not just superior but of a different and better species, then anything can arguably be rightfully yours.

Remember, Hitler also advocated the superiority of the German race. This is how he got a whole nation of generally well-meaning people to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed against the Jews and the other non-superior people.

When slavery was ended in America after the Civil War, America had to come to terms with the fact that the black people were now considered as actually equal. Many didn't like this, but we can't just slap the racism label on this dislike and call it a day. We need to understand what fueled this dislike.

As the American South was primarily agricultural, the slaves provided the manpower needed to produce the crops which made up the plantations' livelihoods. When slavery ended, that basically free manpower went away. Also, the workforce grew dramatically, taking away jobs which would have gone to the white man before. If any southern former slave-owners saw the black people as inferior before, this next stage just compounded their hatred from an economic standpoint.

(A very good perspective on this is the novel Alex Cross's Trial written by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo, which paints an interesting picture of the deep south after the Civil War from a northerner's point of view. A word of warning, if it were a movie, it would be considered R-rated.)

This is where the error began. So we righted the wrongs of slavery by freeing the slaves, right? Well, it should have gone that way. But no one stopped to look at the effects of racism in a post-slavery America. Instead, they let this hatred and distrust of blacks continue, which resulted in what would become segregation. Because although the slaves were free, in the minds of most whites, the black people were still not their equal.

There have been many black people who have had hatred against white people. We believe that hatred against another person is wrong no matter what the cause. But we must better understand why these black people have felt this hatred and distrust; they had been, and in some cases still are, treated as unequal. If slavery was a horrible evil, segregation was just downright ridiculous. It showed that the evils of slavery never went away, they just took on a new look. We can see what caused the blacks' hatred against the whites: they were treated unfairly to the utmost. We cannot accept, however, what caused the whites' hatred against the blacks: they weren't there to tend their fields and provide free labor so the whites could live the lavish lifestyle they once had. Logic dictates that this racism should have died out by the third generation. But with no introspection and no acknowledgement of past sins, the hatred is allowed to continue unhampered, in many cases for no real reason whatsoever.

So we ask the original question again: What are we fighting for? We are fighting to kill this evil of slavery once and for all. We are tired of this illogical hatred continuing to be perpetuated through our cultures and through our systems. That change must be intentional, and it must be done by the people who have been silent up until now. The only reason this virus of racism is still alive in America is because we refuse to kill it.

A few months ago, President Trump was talking about how if you don't test for the coronavirus, you won't have any cases. The media, as usual, took the statement way out of context, as though he meant that we can benefit if we pretend the virus doesn't exist. What he really was saying was that America has "more cases" because we have tested more people. If we didn't test, we wouldn't know how much the virus has spread. But instead of playing dumb and living in blissful ignorance, we test and test so we know what we are really fighting against.

And that is what we need to do with racism. Instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending that racism doesn't exist in America (which people actually believe), we need to acknowledge our past sins and rectify them once and for all. We need to show with our words and actions that black lives do matter, that black lives are just as valuable as white lives (and native lives, and Asian lives, and Latinx lives, and every other person who calls themselves American, and every other person after that). We are fighting for the justice that God desires us to seek, to stop hiding behind our pride and admit that we, the greatest nation on Earth, have sinned. When we understand the true Why behind the upheaval, we can see why it isn't an inconvenience, but is in fact long overdue.

(Next up, we'll talk about riots. Stay tuned, and keep your minds open. Trust me, you will all need them.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Racism in America 2: Privilege

Lately, I've been studying the geographic design of my local community. I dig into the public archives about the plats, surveys, and historical maps pertaining to my town. It feels like a type of forensic archaeology. It's exciting! Once I've learned about an area, I take a walk through the area to see it for myself.

Ahmaud Arbery was a man who liked to stay fit by going jogging. As most of you know, he was murdered by two white men who thought he "looked suspicious."

I was strolling through a neighborhood, legally on the public sidewalks and roadways of course, wondering if anybody might think I looked suspicious. I know I just look like any person taking a walk (which I actually am). That's when the realization hit me; it left me enlightened and disgusted.

I don't look suspicious, because I am white. If I were black, somebody might call the cops.

For the first time in my life, I actually understood the reality of what is called "privilege": I am exempt from something, or am not likely to be thought of as something, because of a characteristic of myself. In this case, because I am white.

Obviously, it is not my fault that I am white, nor am I ashamed of being white. It is simply the results of genetics which dictate how much melanin my skin contains. Likewise, it is also no one's fault that they are black, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. But for some reason, they are not afforded the same benefits as I am in some situations.

If you are white and wear a hoodie, people may think you don't want your hair wet. If you are black and wear a hoodie, people may think you might steal something.

If you are white and are homeless, people may think you are down on your luck. If you are black and are homeless, people may think you didn't try hard enough, or weren't smart enough.

If you are white, people might expect you to speak proper English. If you are black, people might be surprised if you speak proper English.

If you are white and own a gun, people may think you are trying to protect your family or your property. If you are black and own a gun, people may think you could be a liability to the safety of the community.

All of these are absurd logic. Yet, our society has perpetuated these ideas, sometimes passed down inadvertently from generation to generation. Most of us would never say we thought these things. But the reason I used these examples is because I hear people infer them all the time, not blatantly hating the black person, but showing echoes of the prejudices of the past which fail to die.

Maybe we white people have thought one of these once in awhile. Hopefully, we have caught ourselves and tried to re-think the situation. But a thought here and a thought there, mixed with the other feelings of the other people around us, snowballs along until the black community is trapped by the grapevines of our unintentional, unconscious, and unnoticed prejudiced thoughts which never seem to go away.

Now, some have said that a human's natural tendency is to distrust something that looks different than they do. Maybe there's some validity to that from a scientific perspective, but I doubt that it is true in reality. Think about this: Have you ever seen a racist baby? You put a white baby with a black baby, what will happen? The children will barely notice that they are different. Obviously they see that their skin is a different color, but they don't see themselves as "different." To them, they are both babies.

The point is that racist tendencies are taught more than they are natural. I believe that the amount of racism has declined every generation. Yet, 155 years after slavery ended and 55 years after formalized segregation ended, we still have these racist tendencies permeating our society.

Why is this? Why didn't the problem get fixed so many years ago? Because though the law changed, the hearts didn't change with it. Pride causes people to be unwilling to look inside themselves and see whether their hearts are living with the virtues they profess. And real change can't happen until the problems are acknowledged.

I wanted to write this post right up front because I recognized that this lack of introspection is a root cause of this racism pandemic that has lasted for as long as this earth has existed. So many of us have always thought that we truly love all people, which we probably do, but there may be those programmed thoughts and tendencies still in our minds, which we may not realize are there until we look. I know I didn't use to consciously analyze these things in myself. Over the last several years, I have been more intentional about looking for these tendencies in myself and knocking them down, and since Ahmaud was killed on his jog, it's been on the forefront of my mind.

So my encouragement is this: If you have thought these things, you don't need to wallow in shame about it. Instead, acknowledge it to yourself, and then be intentional about not letting yourself fall into that trap again. Remember, the brain is a computer. It can be programmed, and it can also be reprogrammed.

If you haven't thought about this before, then now is the time to start. And this spreads way beyond just racist thoughts. Maybe you are dealing with pride, selfishness, lust, or any of those common human issues. It's okay to acknowledge it, as we all struggle with such things. That is part of our human condition.

But there is a God who created all people (of all races) with the original intention of us being perfect. We chose to fall from that perfection, but He wants to bring us back to that. We just have to acknowledge our failings to Him, and ask Him to change our hearts. He will be faithful to help reprogram our minds as only He can do. The key is we need to both admit our need for it, and let Him do the work.

So when you see someone of a different skin color tomorrow, look into their eyes and try to imagine how they see the world. Try to imagine the things they might have to fight against in order to have what you haven't had to fight for. In your mind, extend them the same privileges you've been given, since they are a person made in the image of God, as you are.

And just remember: by sharing that privilege with others, no one is taking it away from you. It's just being given to all people equally, as it should have always been.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Racism in America 1: Admit It

Racism exists in America. It's a fact.

We have all seen the tragedy of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, and have heard of the several other prominent deaths of black people by citizens or police officers in the last few months. One person (I cannot remember who and I apologize) said so clearly: "Racism has always existed; now people are filming it."

I have been one of those conservative people who has never denied the existence of racism in America. But even I didn't really stop to consider how widespread the problem has been.

What we are seeing is two different types of racism. The first is what we consider blatant racism. This is the individuals who are not afraid to tell a person of color that they do not like them simply because they are of a different color. They have submitted to the idea that Caucasian people are "superior" to people of color, for one reason or another. I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone can think this way.

But obviously, they had to think this way to send ships over to Africa to take people from their land and enslave them. I have never been more disgusted writing a sentence in my life than the last one. We know that they wanted to use the blacks to improve the productivity of their plantations, but that doesn't make a person mentally go to the extent of thinking of a person as less-than-human.

This attitude probably stems from the nationalistic ideas of old. Many of us think of America as the superior country in the world, but not because its people are better, but because of what our country stands for and how successful we've been at fighting for freedom and in some cases saving the world from evils. (Our nation's propensity for war is the subject of another blog post someday.) On the other hand, the old way of thinking has always been that the person's country was superior because they were superior. This is why there have been so many wars for so many thousands of years: it wasn't until America when a country was built around people of all types being considered as equal, regardless of race.

Well, at least that's what the formal documents said. Slavery of blacks was rampant in the south, Catholics were considered the scum of the earth, and the nation was formed directly over the top of indigenous peoples' lands, using the logic that it only made sense, since the people groups were all pagans, primitive, and not organized as one nation. And although the grammar of the day used "men" to mean people in general, the heart behind that grammar choice had always been rooted in the chauvinistic ideas that men were superior to women and therefore were not, in fact, equal.

So from the start you have a nation with the right ideas, but no actual application of those ideas. Nobody sat themselves down and asked, "Are we living like these words we are declaring?"

And that leads us to the second type of racism I mentioned earlier. There is a sort of subtle racism that people have carried throughout these ages, most of which goes unnoticed. People who are not overtly "racist" can have thoughts, actions, or tendencies which contain varying levels of racism in them. Some of this is what is being called systematic racism, the idea that the system is inherently racist and we are all just perpetuating it.

Is it really that extreme? I can't give you a true answer. And the reason is because, for so many years, many of us would not stop to talk about racism, or stop to look inside ourselves to see if there is anything in ourselves which could be perpetuating this.

This series of blog posts will deal with this issue of racism, with the intention of each of us looking inside ourselves to see if we are unintentionally furthering this racism. Many of you will discover that you are living a life free of being overtly racist. But you may notice nuances or details which are slanted toward you as being a certain race. This is what people refer to as "privilege," and I believe the first step to deconstructing these edifices in our world is admitting that privilege exists. This is what the second post will cover.

The first thing that needs to happen, however, is for each of us to admit that maybe racism is a bigger deal in America than we think it is. Since many of us believe that we are not racist, and believe that America stands for equality for everyone (with its clearly stated rights and all), we've never taken the time to really stop and analyze ourselves and our life structure. What looks really good in our own eyes may look very different in the eyes of someone who is in a different position. The ability to look at things from a different perspective than our own is something that does not come naturally. It is a choice. And once we change that perspective and see that things may not be as hunky-dunky as we think they are, only then will real change finally happen.

So please, read these posts with an open mind and an open heart.

To black people, I will repeat the often said statement that I truly mean: I cannot understand what you are going through, but I will listen and I will try to understand as best as I can.

To white people, I ask that you lower your pride. Admitting we might have a problem is not destructive but is in fact constructive. We better ourselves, our society, and most importantly, we lift others up to that same place which we have never truly deserved, and should have always shared with those of a different color.

And to all other people who do not fit in one of these two categories, you may share in some of both of these positions. None of us are perfect, and none of us are without hardship. But with this intentional effort to try to kill racism in America once and for all, we may pull ourselves closer to the letter of our Pledge of Allegiance: a nation "with liberty and justice for all."