Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle

I just preordered this book “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle

Two things about this fascinate me:
1) The movement to close down whites-only public schools rather than integrate them in the 50s and 60s came from conservative white Christians who would rather harm themselves, their children, and their society rather than admit that their prejudices were wrong.
2) There is a similar movement today to close down public marriage licenses rather than allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses, a movement again coming from white Christian conservatives.

There is a pattern here among my own tribe of Christians that we do terrible things which seem right at the time and then later our children and grandchildren must fix.

We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of our past. But it seems like we’re about to.

What Malcolm X Taught Me

50 years ago tonight Malcolm X was shot to death. He was both opposed and dismissed by many, perhaps loved and admired by some, but in all that he was he was a voice of a man speaking up for himself.

I read his autobiography a few years ago, and while I had to return to the 50s and 60s to understand his world, it did bring back to mind what it was like to live in that America where there was a complacent ruling class and a voiceless, powerless underclass.

He said some awful, violent things, no more violent nor awful than his opponents said about him and those like him, but he also said some truly great things about being a person who stands for yourself, for discovering who you are, warnings about going along with what you’re told, and frustrations with how even people with the best intentions and thoughtful words could take you right back into another form of oppression.

I think we focus on the violence in some of his speech, but fail to understand that he was neither uninformed nor unthoughtful. He was awake and aware of his times and his place in his culture, and given what he was seeing and the lack of power and change, he struggled to break through the silence and reach people.

When we are satisfied with our lives and full of achievement, we can forget what he was attempting to bring about. And when we are listening only to ourselves and to those who offer their approval of ourselves and our achievements, we are letting the circumstances slide right back to what they were when Malcolm X attempted to be the voice of the voiceless and a force for change in a world that did not want change. If we cannot listen to his voice and if we try to suppress the calls for change, we are setting up, again, a world where people see violence as the only remaining method to use to bring about change and justice.

We Are None of Us Pharisees

We none of us are Pharisees, you know. We read the text of the New Testament and we are both entertained and appalled at the rigid self-righteousness of the Pharisees, their comical inability to see the wisdom and truth of the sayings of Our Lord, their unbelievable lack of self-awareness about their status in the eyes of each other, in their own eyes, and in the eyes of Our Lord.

We laugh at how easily they are consumed with righteous anger at the smallest and most trivial of things such as seeds and sand and salt. How could _anyone_ not get the point, that when Jesus is with us it is a feast, a party, a returning, a celebration, a joyous family reunion? How could anyone not see the love that Jesus spoke about being displayed in his actions, and becoming displayed in the lives of his disciples? How could they miss the compassion, the sacrifice, the service, the giving, the wonderful, wonderful joy?

Indeed, how is it possible for the Pharisees to be so close to the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet so completely unable to enter in and enjoy it?

But yet I wonder…maybe there is just a little bit of the Pharisee about us…

The Incompetent Historical Understanding of White Supremacists

Recently someone wrote elsewhere that white privilege is a myth, and that as a white male he was certainly not privileged in his lifestyle.

He wrote this before the events in Ferguson which occurred after the grand jury failed to indict Officer Wilson, but recent events apparently have not changed his mind.

I do not know what kind of history is taught at the University of Virginia, but it is an incompetent one if it fails to teach a history of America that includes the experiences of black Americans, specifically the experience of capture, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and even the continuing de facto segregation of black Americans from full, equal and non-confrontational participation in all of American life.

One of the key things a school should do, in my opinion, is not merely expose students to new facts—a school’s curriculum should also expose students to the way other people think, feel, and live. A well-rounded educational experience should include more than just a longer list of memorized facts to support an already confirmed position. A school – especially one that claims to be a world-class university – should help students open their minds to the larger world around them.

It is simply impossible to get an education in a modern American university and still believe that white privilege does not exist. It is simply ignorance, and it is ignorance that is deliberately chosen by the student.

While it can be difficult for white Americans to include friendships and relationships with people of color, it can be done – and it should be possible at a university, especially one such as the University of Virginia, to not only be exposed to the presence of people of color, but also to build relationships and come to an understanding of the lives of these mysterious people around white people that some white students apparently know nothing about.

Can We Listen to Imperfect People?

I wish there were a perfect victim of violence done by the hand of the state, one who did not have a checkered past. I wish there was a perfect spokesman to make the case for better stronger laws to reign in violence done in the name of the state. But we do not have that.

We have flawed people being shot and beaten and killed. We have flawed people speaking out. We have flawed protesters. We have flawed events and marches and actions, flawed and misleading reporting, flawed responses made in bad faith, flawed attempts to hijack voices of protest for personal and political advancement.

Wave that all away. It’s noise. It’s theatre. Focus on this: there are consistent, urgent voices telling us something.

We need to listen with our heads and our hearts. Not with what others are telling us to hear.

Our fellow humans, our fellow Americans, our brothers and sisters are telling us something hugely important.

Stop waving it away. Stop being distracted.


When Black Lives Matter

Some people are telling me that if black people just obeyed the police they wouldn’t be harrassed, beaten, and arrested so much. Here are the stories police officers tell–of being harrassed, beaten, and arrested by their fellow officers–because they are black.

The stories you are hearing, the protests you are seeing, are coming from somewhere: they are coming from the very real lives of people in America who are treated as suspects, as thugs, as criminals simply because they are black. When we say “‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬” it is because it is a hope, not yet a reality.

The way to fix the problem isn’t to tell the protesters to stop protesting. The way to fix it is to get at the root: to make it a reality that #BlackLivesMatter.

Bad Cops, Bad Victims

Bad cops killing unarmed civilians do not invalidate all police officers or even the necessity of a police force. We hope they are not common, and we hope that the good cops would speak up about bad cops and work to eject those bad cops from the police force.

A deranged man who tried to kill his girlfriend, killed two cops, and then killed himself is no more representative of all men everywhere than bad cops are of all cops.

The difference seems to be that the vast, vast majority of people who are protesting bad cops are also vehemently denouncing anyone killing cops. We’d still like to see the good cops speak up about the bad cops who kill unarmed civilians and escape justice as meted by our courts of law.

We Do Because We Can

We ‪#‎tortured‬ people who did not crash planes into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. We tortured people who were later declared innocent. We tortured people who died from the torture. We tortured people who were our allies and working for us. We tortured people who had no charges filed. We tortured people with the made-up reason of “we might get information.”

We tortured people because we were angry, and fearful, and needed to lash out to punish someone, anyone, everyone who looked guilty–and a lot of people looked guilty to us. They had strange names. They had a strange religion. They had strange skin and strange tongues and strange lifestyles.

We went against our laws and customs. We broke our word. We abandoned our Constitution.

Nothing was accomplished through torture. We lost our soul. We lost our hearts. We lost the understanding of who we are as Americans.

We are now arguing–something I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime–that the death of innocent people is worth it if we think we might catch a guilty man, the far, far opposite of what we were taught in olden days about better a hundred guilty go free than one innocent man be punished.

The hell of it is that we didn’t do this all at once. There wasn’t a moment where one day we were a righteous, moral nation under the rule of law, and then suddenly we were amoral and atavistic.

But in this case, the line was crossed. The wall was breached.

We tortured because we _could_. And we did. Because we knew that we can do whatever the hell we want because we are the world’s superpower. No one can judge us because no one can withstand us. We have a military budget costing more than the next twenty-five nations combined–and we are at war with none of them.

And still, with all this power, all this might, all this military hardware, all this authority and obeisance–we still need to torture people. We don’t have a reason for it.

We just can, so we do.