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.)

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