Michael Brown and Ferguson—and Us

Every day people are born and people die. People marry, divorce, change jobs, have kids, watch those same kids move on to college and careers and family. These are all the ordinary things we expect are ours because we are good people, and fair, and play by the rules.

Some people who have similar aspirations and hopes and dreams and us, however, are taught time and again that they must have no expectation of success and freedom and safety. They are considered, as a class, inferior, suspects in crime, complicit in social decay, willing agents of destruction and chaos and evil. They excluded from normal society, from jobs and housing and education in great numbers disproportionate to their population. They are fair game for derision and shame, fair targets for hate and anger and violence.

Which is simply weird, because there is nothing different about them, not one thing, when compared to any other human being we think as being part of the “good” people, the “right” people, the “We the People” who, by virtue of existing, possess their inalienable natural and human rights.

They are excluded because we have made up something to exclude them—the way they look. And because we’ve made up this thing, we then use it to magnify every flaw and hide every virtue. Someone of this group stole? Just like them. They’re all thieves and cheats and welfare fraudsters. Someone of this group became a super athlete, super model, highly paid executive or politician? How utterly extraordinary—shows that if they just try hard enough they can succeed as extraordinary humans (but as ordinary humans they aren’t successful or visible at all).

So imagine that you’re part of the excluded group, and unable to break out of that group because of your life history. Your education was substandard. Your home was substandard. Your parents’ jobs were substandard. You’ve had to endure far worse conditions, day after day, month after month, year by year, for no reason that makes sense to you. Even to be told it is because of how you look makes no sense—your appearance is as critical to your personhood as your height—that is, it is a fact, but it is not a defining fact.

Through native wit and effort you manage to break out a bit. You are going to go to college. Do something with the brains and life God gave you. You’re walking down the street, thinking your thoughts, and you are stopped by the police.

This happens all the time to those around you. All. The. Time. Randomly stopped and questioned as if you are all just one act away from a felony.

You don’t know it, but you have fifteen minutes left to live. You think that if you stand up for yourself you’ll be OK. Not standing up for yourself leads to marginalization, and besides, Things Have Changed.

But you’re wrong. You will be dead in ten minutes.

You have more verbal altercations, unjustified, because you were doing nothing but walking down the street. The altercation escalates.

You turn away to leave the scene—you are not being arrested, after all—and then you are shot, multiple times.

And now you are dead. You lie in the street for four hours.

You started out thinking you had a rather ordinary day ahead of you, and you were wrong.

 

That is what happens in America, day after day, to a class of people who have no other reason to be in that class except for appearance. That is it. Nothing done. No action. Just a genetic result, a thin layer of molecules that darken the skin more than others without the molecules.

There is nothing that they can do to escape their classification, because while it is inherited, it is a meaningless reason for classification. Yet it is used to exclude.

What would you, yourself, do?

I don’t know what I’d do, honestly. I don’t think there’s a single thing that limits me. I can go nearly wherever I want, shop where I want, drive where I want, eat where I want. I can confidently apply for any job I want where I feel I’m qualified and expect to receive a fair evaluation.

I don’t have a solution for this. It seems large and complex and unyielding.

But I do believe this—that as it is not a random natural event but a series of human choices, that I, as a human, can do something to reverse the situation and restore it to humaneness. I don’t know what choices to make all the time, but I know that I can choose to act and think and believe differently than how I’m expected.

Giveaway of my latest book

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Mountains of the Moon by Stephen J. Matlock

Mountains of the Moon

by Stephen J. Matlock

Giveaway ends August 22, 2014.

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New book released–The Mountains of the Moon

You can download or buy the copies on Amazon using these links:

Print Version: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500580139
Kindle Version: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LZTQR9I

Mountains of the Moon is a compendium of thoughts and writings from my five years as a contributing and then managing editor of the weekly church newsletter, “The Journey This Week.” The newsletter served as a way to keep people in touch with what happened on a Sunday, and generally included an article based on the weekly sermon, which then became a point of departure for a meditation or essay, and along with scripture, quotes of wisdom, and a set of questions, it became a communication tool to remind members and interested readers what Snoqualmie Valley Alliance was doing from week to week.

MotM2b

Coming Soon—“Mountains of the Moon”

From the Preface

Mountains of the Moon is a compendium of thoughts and writings from my five years as a contributing and then managing editor of the weekly church newsletter, “The Journey This Week.” The newsletter served as a way to keep people in touch with what happened on a Sunday, and we generally included an article based on the weekly sermon. The article wasn’t to be a rehash of the sermon—it was a point of departure for a meditation or essay, and along with scripture, quotes of wisdom, and a set of questions, it became a communication tool to remind members and interested readers what Snoqualmie Valley Alliance (SVA) was doing from week to week.

In 2009 I was approached by Tanya Hodel to contribute to the newsletter. Tanya was a founding member of our writing group, The Writers’ Bloc, and in spite of what she saw me write, she included me as contributor. It was a bit scary to write something with the official stamp of approval for the church—it’s a great responsibility to be honest, truthful, respectful, and obedient, and not simply write what I wanted.

It was like the journey itself, where we have the words from God: we listen to them; we attempt to figure them out and apply them to our lives; we carefully build upon our knowledge with new knowledge; we work hard to acquire wisdom along with knowledge; and we compare over time what we say we believe with how we act.

I tried to be as honest as I could in writing with the caveat of being respectful, orderly, and obedient to the church’s mission. This doesn’t mean anything more than I tried to be both personal and neutral, forthright and well-behaved, an individual writing about my own journey and someone who knew that the journey was universal and everyone has their own road to walk.

I was not, and am not, an official voice of the church, and I do not claim to speak any great truths or be an expert in any belief. This is simply 100 or so essays of what I was thinking as I responded to the words spoken from the pulpit. There is nothing here beyond that: this is not a book of Christian theology or even of what I think we should be doing as good and proper Christians.

I hoped—and still hope—that what I wrote served merely as a starting point for a discussion of your own journey. You won’t reach the same conclusions I did, and you won’t have the same method of relationship with God, with others, and with yourself as I did. The whole point is that you would have your own journey with God, whether you are not quite ready to start and need some advice and assurance, you are well on the way, or you are tying things up in preparation for the end.

It’s just a witness of my thoughts and musings. If you find it useful, then great. If you find it boring and repetitive and useless—well, chuck this aside. There are better books and better writers, and ultimately, of course, there is someone ultimately better to listen to and to follow.

The best advice I can give is what Jesus said to Peter:

Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” John 21:20-21

The title of the book comes from two things: first, I live in the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington State. “Snoqualmie” is a transliterated Coastal Salish word that means “moon”; the early residents here (before the arrival of Europeans) were known as the “People of the Moon.” The second meaning is an allusion to the moon-ness of a believer’s journey: the moon at best reflects the light of the sun, and of course the mountains are a nod to one of my favorite author’s description of the deeper journey into life: to ascend further up and farther in.

Review: Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book, for many reasons.

First, it’s a book about the history of the Western Hemisphere (mostly), centering on Haiti and San Souci, and then upon Columbus.

Second, it’s a book about how history is determined. It’s not just a compendium of facts. History is developed and managed based upon certain facts and upon the suppression of other certain facts.

Third, it’s a book about what history means, how facts are presented or suppressed, what the history of that history is.

Fourth, it is simply an excellently written book. The language is crisp and accurate, the thought advances at a smooth but swift state, and the author is present in every paragraph and word. There is no hesitancy or evasiveness.

I enjoyed this book. It’s a history book, but I enjoyed it.



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Review: Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin
Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Carl Waters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was given this book to read for this review. But I would have read it anyway–it was enjoyable, fast-moving, and clearly written.

This book is the tale of George Harris, his wife Eliza (of ice floe fame), son Harry, and those around him in antebellum slave-owning Kentucky and the free state of Ohio under the ministrations of both slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act. It is also a retelling of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s opus “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the book written by a little woman that started a great war.

The story opens as George, a slave of the Harrises of Kentucky, aims to better himself in life in the station where he finds himself loaned out to work for another man in a mill. He is smart, motivated, and a careful and loving husband and father. Unfortunately, his wife and son are owned by the Shelbys, but fortunately, they are good-hearted people (albeit slave-owners!) who give the Harrises space to live as man and wife for small moments here and there when he can get away from his duties. The Shelbys also own the eponymous Uncle Tom of the story’s title.

The exigencies of the time being what they were, the Shelbys fall upon hard times and must sell three slaves desired by the slaver Haley: Tom, Eliza, and Henry.

Meanwhile, George is recalled by Harris to return from the mill, where he is able to use his native wits and quick mind, to the Harris plantation where he is treated as a mule to be beaten and broken until he submits to his fate as a slave.

The combination of George’s awful treatment by the Harrises and the selling of Eliza, Tom, and Henry to the slaver tip George and his wife and son to escape their separate paths. There are many wild moments in the story where George is threatened with discovery or capture, and times when Eliza and Henry are close to exhaustion and failure. They are pursued relentlessly through Kentucky and Ohio as they all attempt to make the way to Canada. They are helped and hindered by friends and betrayers, and while the story moves along crisply, there are moments of great relief and humor to break the tension. I especially loved the moment when George said to a traveling companion “So you speak horse?”

The author has done his homework, capturing the circumstances of life in the United States in 1851 in both the free and slave states. The people are fleshed out, with more to do than simply advance the story, and the story itself is plotted deftly. George is, by design, the hero of the story, and not Uncle Tom, and George comes across as a good, honest man who is tempted to terrible actions to avenge not just his captivity but the attempted capture of his wife and son. This book is the first of a promised series, and it is clear that there will need to be further books to tell us if — well, I don’t want to give away the ending of this book.

The writing style is clear and lucid, and shows the skill of someone who writes well naturally. It is an easy read, and suited for an afternoon or two in the sun, but as it shows signs of careful research, it would also be useful as an additional resource for classes about the pre-Civil War America.

I did not give this the full five stars only because I felt that, well-written as it is, it seems almost too kind to certain people. I would have liked to see a little more real danger and damage, but given the audience for the book, the presentation of the book might simply be to encourage young adults to read it with the approval of their parents.

I look forward to reading the promised sequels.




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Broken Windows

When we have a broken window in our home, the first thing we do as responsible home-owners is to fix it. Later we might line up our kids to ask “Who did this?” Maybe we assign blame or figure out a way for the culprits to pay back what they cannot afford. But first, we fix the broken window, because leaving it broken leads to far greater damages.

It’s like that with the controversial topic of reparations. It’s come up recently due to the fine work of historians and writers. Perhaps you’ve heard this discussion.

Reparations is a word that incites near-immediate response, usually along the lines of “I had nothing to do with it!” But that’s not what we need to talk about. We don’t need to figure out whether you, or I, or anyone you know, is directly responsible for what happened. The window is broken. Let’s look at it, and get it fixed.

There is a bill waiting in Congress for enough signatories to advance to the floor. It’s a bill about reparations. HR40. The bill does only this: it asks for a true and frank discussion of what has happened in the past to our fellow American citizens, and what is happening right now as well.

We’ve survived as a nation after examining our past and then making amends. We’ve done this four times already: for interning our fellow citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, for forcing the sterilization of “unfit” people, for the Tuskegee experiments of leaving men with syphilis untreated, for decades, so we could study their harm as they slowly died, and for a riot in Rosewood, Florida that destroyed a town. In each of these cases, American citizens were harmed by the actions of the federal or state governments, and in each of these cases we simply looked at what happened and acknowledged the harm, and then we figured out what we could do to make amends.

And all HR40 does is this—it asks that we study the issue.

I urge you to contact your congressional representative today to ask him or her to support releasing this bill for a vote. All it’s asking for is an open discussion. All it’s asking for is that we fix the window. All we’re asking for, really, is that we admit that the window is broken.

More here: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/