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ATTACKED!

You are in a public place, say the line at Walmart or gathered at a bus stop. A voice begins, first at a normal level and then suddenly ramping up, demanding that all around hear the message. “You don’t belong here! Get out of our country. We don’t want your kind in the U. S. Go on, leave, right now!” Then you see them. The “true patriot” is yelling at a veiled woman with children, or an old man wearing a Pakistani Kurta shirt, or two dark skinned women, heads together, talking softly in Spanish. What to do? Should you intervene at all? If you do, what action do you take, what do you say? And who do you say it to – the crowd, the targets of the attack, the attacker?

 

In the last two years, and especially since the November 2016 election, sources such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U. S. Department of Justice are reporting climbing numbers of acts of hatred especially against Muslims and Latin Americans. These, of course, are in addition to the “normal” number of verbal and physical attacks against Black and Native Americans. The attacks are happening in both the North and the South, in urban, suburban and rural areas. So the probability is increasing that you will see one of these racist attacks. What should you do?

 

The consensus of the experts and the experienced suggests three principles:

1. Take care of the people being attacked first. Get them out of physical and psychological danger and pain.

2. If the people you are aiding give you permission, call for assistance from the closest authority figure.

3. Do not communicate directly with the attacker, but do make a statement.

 

First, take care of the people who are the objects of an attack. This might mean getting physically between the victim and the person delivering a racist tirade. Talk softly and give comfort to the victim. Ignore the verbal attacks. Turn your side, but not your back, to the attacker. This will likely have the effect of stopping the racist ranting based on a psychological technique called “non-complementary behavior,” which means that you adopt the absolute opposite behavior of the other. You do opt not to play his or her game. In fact,  you ignore her and give your attention to the person she is attempting to isolate. It takes two to fight; don’t fight. Rather, ignore the racist bully and call for assistance from bystanders, “Will you two women (looking at them) come over here and care of our sister, please, now.” You now are inviting people to attend to the situation and to take action, action to thwart the attack. If there are no bystanders willing to help, stay with the victims, talk calmly with them. Lead them away from the confrontation. The attacker may follow. This can be scary. There is a risk. Is it worth it?

If this action requires that you leave your order of groceries at the checkout stand, don’t worry. The store will either save your order or will put it in the “go back” basket where courtesy clerks will put the items back on the shelf. You may suffer some inconvenience because you will have to shop again for the same items. Ask yourself if the inconvenience is worth it, and if yourself does not answer yes, scold that self.

 

The second step, calling the authorities, is conditional. It is imperative to obtain the permission of the people you are supporting before getting police or other authorities involved. The reasons for not wishing to get police assistance can range from previous negative experience with police to concerns about immigration status. Once you get permission, the call to authorities can take many forms. It might mean asking people with cell phones to call 911 if the situation is close to violence. It might mean asking a specific personto contact the bus driver (“Young man with the red jacket there, will you please tell the driver to come back here?”) or call the store manager. Asking bystanders to record the incident on their smart phones is an indirect call for assistance. The attacker may realize how embarrassing the situation will turn out for her/him. When an attacker sees that authority will not support him, but will ask him to cease his behavior, the attack is likely to stop. But there are no guarantees. Intervening is a risk. Will you take it?

 

Take the third step when, and only when, the person or people who were attacked are safe, both physically and emotionally. Do not risk their welfare for the sake of making a heroic speech in the canned food aisle.

 

The third step is to make a statement to the bystanders, not to the attacker, about the attacker’s behavior. Such a statement must come from your convictions. And it is worth thinking about it in advance so that if necessary you can deliver it under pressure. For example:

“Those two women she was yelling at about being here illegally are here on visas. I asked them just now. The kind of language she was using is the kind of language that Hitler would be proud of. It not acceptable to me as an American to have human beings degraded and frightened this way.” If you have a religious or ethical conviction about practicing love of neighbor, feel free to share it.

 

Do all this without looking at the attacker, pointing at him, touching him, or making any comments about his politics or associations. Refer only to the actions which everyone around has just observed.

 

This last step may be the most difficult, but in a way it is the most important. Racists must get the message that they do not have unanimous support. They must learn that their way of treating people is not acceptable in public. That lesson will only be learned if someone tells them. And the neutrals, the people who are oblivious to the suffering that racism causes, who don’t want to get involved, they need to be awakened. You and I are the ones who will teach this lesson, first by our actions, and then by our words.

 

Are you in? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenses and Frames

When we talk about people’s points of views on various subjects, we sometimes say that they see the subject through a different lens than we do. For example, the tourist in a foreign country might be delighted or put off by sights and events that that the locals take for granted. Or a child psychologist looks at a toddler’s public temper tantrum and sees more in it than a supermarket bystander would. A high level athlete will see much more in a video of her sport than an ordinary spectator. And there is an old saying that naïve people who have not experienced hardships look at life through rose colored glasses. Thus a victim of rape will regard aggressive sexual behavior with a far different set of emotions and expectations than would a member of the “boys will be boys” club. Our educations, formal and informal, and our life experiences provide us with the lenses through which we observe and then make judgments about events, places and people.

In the area of sociology, a similar term, “frame,” is used to explain how people can come to express varying points of view. In his book, Racism without Racists, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains how people with racist attitudes who engage in racist behaviors can exclude themselves from the category of racist through the use of frames. Dr. Bonilla-Silva, a sociologist at Duke University, holds that in our post-civil-rights struggle era, social norms do not allow the language and behaviors of the Jim Crow era. Few people, he says, want to accept the label of red neck bigot. Instead, the ideal is to be perceived as “color blind,” for wouldn’t a color blind society   meet even Dr. Martin Luther King’s standards? But he also finds that, under his definition of racism (“the totality of the social relations and practices that reinforce white privilege”) that the nation’s white power structure is racist. (For detailed documentation of this position, depress yourself by reading Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow). Members of the institutionalized white power structure merely disguise their racist ideas and statements (perhaps even from themselves). Why bother with the disguise? Because as members of the ruling group, they must convince themselves on the one hand that their place in the social hierarchy is just and earned, and on the other hand that they are not guilty of the racism of their ancestors. Bonilla-Silva presents four frames that white people use to justify and conceal their racism. The four frames that excuse and support institutionalized racism in America are abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism, and minimization of racism. Let’s consider them one at a time.

Of the four frames, abstract liberalism provides the strongest and most common shield for white racism. But wait – isn’t liberalism good? The term liberal calls to mind Bernie Sanders, democrats sticking up for the middle class, willingness to sacrifice for the good of the community. How can it be bad? For the answer we have to go back to the development of the liberalism that inspired the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Liberalism was a creation of the growing merchant middle class of Europe which was in conflict with the dying ideas around the authority of kings and emperors. In the good old days of royal authority, everything was first of all the possession and right of the king. Recall that the founders of the 13 Colonies had to obtain charters from the crown in order to develop their pieces of the New World. One of the powers of kings was to arbitrarily tax the wealth of his subjects or even to confiscate it entirely. What the original liberals, who were the rising merchant middle class, wanted was trade and commerce free of interference from authority. They valued individualism, equality, and the freedom to move up in society. But their ideas of freedom extended only to white males of property. Women, the poor, and all those of non-European ancestry were excluded, for the purpose of liberalism was to gain power and produce wealth. The liberal idea that all humans are created with equal rights, and unlike serfs and slaves, had the right to improve their standing in society did not gain acceptance in the United States until the mid 20th century and even then only partially. So today the well mannered racist can use liberal terms like equal opportunity, freedom from government control in social policy, individual choice, and self-improvement to appear reasonable and moral while claiming that non-whites are welfare dependent, immoral, and too lazy to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. These claims necessitate ignoring the fact that non-whites have been systematically denied well paying jobs, equal protection under the law, basic education in good schools, and admission to higher education. Polite racists claim the right of individual choice to justify living in segregated neighborhoods and sending their children to segregated schools. At the same time they ignore the many powerful institutional and state-sponsored practices behind residential segregation while claiming that minorities are only expressing their preference “to live among their own kind.”. (Again, see Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or read chapter two of Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists [click here for the free download] if you need to see the evidence.) So the new “stealth racist” hides behind the U. S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the statements of men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and calls upon the philosophy of John Stuart Mill and Emanuel Kant to justify his white supremacy. It looks so intellectual and patriotic, and it is so dishonest and un-American.

Bonilla-Silva calls his next frame naturalization. This frame is used by whites to explain away apparent injustices resulting from differential treatment of minorities. It is done by suggesting that institutions like segregation are natural, a result of our tribal ancestry, because people of all races gravitate toward likeness. No one can claim that white separatism is racism because they (the racial minorities) do it too. Of course this stand ignores the financial and social forces that operate to keep white neighborhoods free of minorities and hence keep the minorities on their side of the tracks.

The next frame, cultural racism, is similar to naturalization. In the days of slavery and Jim Crow, African-Americans, and indeed all non-whites, were held to be biologically and intellectually inferior to the population descended from northern Europeans, the population that came to be called white. Today only the true red-neck will spout that in public, so the inferiority has transferred to the cultures of the minority population. “Blacks are violent, Mexicans are lazy, Vietnamese are sneaky, and don’t call me a racist if I just notice what goes on,” our sophisticated racist says. Of course, when pressed for evidence of these negatives, the racist cites Facebook memes, twisted statistics, and those stories that “everybody knows.”

The last frame is minimization of racism. This frame suggests that discrimination is no longer the force that it used to be; that while there are some racists out there, they are no longer in control. We have made progress. Things are so much better than they used to be that complaining is only “playing the race card.” This frame works best when discrimination is cast as all-out racist behavior, ala the Jim Crow era. It is true that African-Americans today are, as a group, in a better situation than they have been in the past. But Malcolm X, in a 1964 interview, made a great statement about racial progress. “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out five inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. They [the white power structure] haven’t even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

I think that today many of us know that the knife is there, some of us have tried to pull it out, but few are involved in the healing.

I hope that this little message about frames is helpful. This knowledge has better prepared me to answer, if only in my head, the rational sounding claims of the new breed of racists. And I fear that in the coming four years more and more of them will gain attention and credibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Civics Lesson

Every once in a while I am dumb enough to listen to some Rush Limbaugh type explain how the Constitution forbids government provided medical care for poor folks or gives individual states absolute control over the voting process. Then, even though I know I might as well be talking to a sack of hair, I so want to tell them what the Constitution really says. Obviously unenlightened Trumpists wouldn’t listen, and likely wouldn’t understand if they did listen. But you, my esteemed readers, might find this look at the Constitution interesting and even useful in conversations this election season. So see if this mini-refresher course in U. S. Government and Civics makes sense and could be useful for you.

First, let’s get clear on what the Constitution is. It is the operating manual for running the United States. The manual has three parts. The first is the Preamble or the introduction, usually ignored after it is memorized in some middle schools where memorizing is not regarded as unnecessary in this day of the smart phone. The second part contains the seven articles that describe how the three branches of government will operate and how the states and federal government will get along. The third part contains the amendments, the results of the fine tuning that the Constitution undergoes as we, the people, make progress in understanding the implications of democracy.

The part of the Constitution that gets the most press is the Bill of Rights, the first ten of the amendments. For example, the freedoms of religion, speech and assembly that the first amendment guarantees have generated tens of thousands of court cases. Currently the second amendment has millions of Americans arguing about “gun control.” But I hold that all the 27 amendments and the seven articles that explain the nuts and bolts of our system are no where near as important as the 52 words of the Preamble.

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble is more important than the seven articles or the 27 amendments because it states why we have our form of government in the first place. It tells us the purposes of our form of government. The rest of the Constitution tells us how we are going to work out the purposes of government described in this very first paragraph of the document. Why is more important than how because why is the foundation upon which action, the how, is based. (Go here to see how why works in industry and even in personal affairs.)

According to the Preamble, the first concern of the founders of our nation was the formation of a more perfect union. The United States, under the Articles of Confederation, was falling apart even as it got started. So the Constitution was adopted to remedy that situation. But more than just an historical fix, the Constitution was written in an effort to permanently eliminate divisions and conflicts among citizens, classes, regions, and eventually races and genders. (See, for example, the 13th, 15th and 19th amendments, and yes, we have not arrived at anything like perfect union yet.)

And then the Framers saw the need to insist on justice, the fair and equal treatment of all citizens under the law. The results of that insistence are the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments. That’s half the Bill of Rights.

The Framers knew also that a country not at peace within its own borders would tear itself apart, hence the necessity to insure domestic tranquility. Riots and civil disorder confound the search for the more perfect union. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said more than once, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” Without justice, there can be no unity or domestic tranquility. (Amazing how this all comes together?)

I am going to skip over “common defense” (since that clause primarily looks out at other nations) and proceed directly to “promote the general welfare.” This is one of the boldest catch-all phrases in political writing, but there it stands. A purpose of our government is not to see to the welfare of the nobility, the landowners, the rich or the otherwise privileged. The Preamble insists that a goal of government must be the welfare of all the people.

The final descriptive phrase, “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” provides us a wonderful paradox. Liberty means, of course, freedom for each individual citizen, and a free nation is a community of free individuals. But individuals, the Prologue states, will only be free when the community is united, at peace, operating justly, and the general welfare takes precedence over that of selected individuals.

So in the real world, what does this look like? How does a nation whose Constitution sees unity, justice, peace and the establishment of general welfare as reasons for its existence implement these purposes? What laws does such a nation enact, and what practices does such a nation support? I would suggest the following as a representative sample.

1. Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and other measures for protection from poverty caused by old age, ill health, accident and unemployment.

2. Union membership rights, minimum wage laws, safe working conditions, legislation to insure earning enough to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter and recreation.

3. The Interstate Highway System, railroads, alternative energy sources, and infrastructure which promote robust commerce and safe, efficient travel.

4. All efforts to provide an education for every citizen in quality schools with college available for those who desire to attend.

5. Regulations designed to halt marketplace abuses, and the prevention of excessive concentration of wealth through progressive taxes. (And we can argue about where excess starts.)

6. Guaranteed voting rights such as those named in the Voting Rights Act, including convenient, unimpeded access to polling places, a variety of voting methods, and reasonable registration requirements.

7. Legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and regulations which forbid discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or handicapping conditions in housing, employment, education, access to transportation, and other areasin which discrimination would undermine the unity, peace, and the general welfare of the nation through impeding the liberty of individuals.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive. In sixty seconds most people could come up with at least two more areas where law and government have stepped in to implement the conditions of the Preamble.

No item in this list is new, untried or radical. On the other hand, every item in this list has been attacked within the last thirty years by white “conservatives” who accuse nonwhite minorities of stealing the taxpayers’ money, taking unfair advantage of white citizens, and destroying the economy of the nation. And they make these attacks behind the smoke screen of, “Constitutionally guaranteed individual rights.” What these people do not or will not see is that the Framers of the Constitution were aware that individual rights could be secure only when the government looks after the welfare of the community first. If individuals come first, the nation rips itself apart (as it was doing under the Articles of Confederation) like a gang of children shouting, “Me, me, me!” fighting for the biggest piece of cake, and destroying the cake in the process. The Founders of the United States saw that we, not me, was the right pronoun, as in, “We, the people of the United States.”

I believe that our Founding Fathers, for all their limited, culture-bound ideas on class, race and gender, had this insight: that a strong community is the best guarantee that the rights of its individual members will be honored. So let’s quit yelling about “my rights,” and let’s get together building “our nation.”

 

POOR KIDS

In case you have not seen recent statistics on poverty in the United States, here are some thought provoking numbers – on children. Last year UNICEF ranked the “developed” nations by percentage of children living in poverty, and the United States ranked 34th of 35, with a child poverty level exceeded only by Romania. Yet the wealth of the United States grew by 30 trillion dollars in the past ten years. Where is the wealth going? (That’s the subject of another blog post, but here’s a clue – 1%.)

The United States Commerce Department says that 36% of Native American and Alaskan children live below the poverty level, as do 32% of Hispanic children and 38% of African American children. The figure for white children is 13%. So once again, looks like it’s those minorities who just can’t keep it together while white adults take can care of their children.

But wait! The largest number of children living in poverty in the United States are white. That 13% percent of white kids comes out to 4.2 million children, the largest group by race/ethnicity, simply because there are more white people than all the minorities combined in the United States at the moment (though you are surely aware that that is shifting rapidly). OK, now we know that no racial/ethnic group in the U. S. is doing well by its offspring. Overall, 20% of American kids live below the poverty level. That is one in five U. S. residents under age 18.

Numbers, no matter how awful, just don’t seem to move citizens to action. Faces do. So I am going to tell two stories about poor children, teenagers, whom I have met. I hope you will be able to see their faces.

The first boy’s name is Mono, Spanish for monkey, a not uncommon nickname for a high energy, good looking boy. We were talking about how he got behind in school, and this is what he told me.

“We had very little money. My mother lost her job, and my little brother got sick and needed medicine. So my mother had to decide to buy food or soap. She got food so we could eat. But mostly pinche frijoles. So we washed with only water, and our clothes got dirty and smelly. When we went to school we got in fights with the kids who called us names, so we stopped going to school. Then we moved and things got better, but that was long time and we got behind in reading and arithmetic. So we skipped school a lot so people would not think we were stupid.”

Did you ever think poverty could mean deciding between food and soap? For Mono and his brother, poverty means shame and frustration. Mono is a smart kid, but I know he is not going on to college. I doubt, barring some wonderful intervention, that he will even finish high school.

The second boy’s name is George. He lived in an apartment with his mother who was frequently ill and could rarely hold a job. George frequently acted in the role of head of house. We met at a Christmas gathering at a youth center. George was alone - no family with him. Part of the program was for each young person to tell about his or her best Christmas present. Here is what George presented.

“I live with my mother in a very small apartment. There is a rule that says no dogs can live in the apartments. But when I was eleven, I met this dog who liked me, so I brought him food, scraps from us and from the neighbors, and I made him a bed under the stairs where the gas and electrical meters are. When I came home from school each day, he was waiting for me, and I told him what was happening with me. Sometimes I would throw a ball in the alley for him. Well, it came to be Christmas, and my mother was sick, so she went to live with her friend who had a car and could take her to the doctor. So I was alone on Christmas morning. I went down the stairs to see my dog, but he was not there. But when I came down later, he was running down the alley to me, and he sat down in front of me and gave me his present, a rat he brought right to me, wagging his tail so much. And I was so happy to have his present.”

After the presentations, I asked George if since then things had gotten better, and he said they had. I asked, “So then, have you gotten better presents than the rat?” And George was taken aback. “No,” he said, “didn’t you hear my story? I told you, the present from my dog is the best present I ever got, the rat.”

This is poverty, not just material poverty. A dog and a rat provided more joy for George than any humans ever had. What do we call this? Poverty of humanity? Poverty of spirit?

George’s is the saddest story I have heard (not tragic, just simply sad), sad on so many levels. George is so poor in so many ways, and he doesn’t even know it.

Poverty is not only about being cold and hungry. It’s also about being deprived of education, health, and common human connections. Think about Mono and his brother, and about George, the next time you skim some figures on wealth and poverty in the richest nation on the planet.

ABDUL THE OTHER

A while ago I was talking with one of the few African American high school students in our fair town.  His first name is Abdul. He told me that late one afternoon he and several friends were skateboarding in the local high school parking lot, an activity that is not prohibited. A police car rolled into the lot, and the officer, staying in the car, motioned for Abdul to approach him. Since he is a law-abiding American, Abdul did so, but since he was fifteen and black, he did so on high alert. The officer looked him over for a few seconds, and then asked his name.

Abdul answered that his name was James. The officer said, “No, tell me your real name. You people have names like D’antoine and Deshawn.” Abdul repeated that his name was James, and since he had no identifying papers with him, he felt confident that he could play out the scene. The officer looked at him for a few seconds more, then said, “Have a good day,” and drove away. So Abdul played the officer.

So, no harm done, no ugly video on You Tube, a healthy, safe interchange? No way. Not.

That police officer, in a city where the police chief vows that all citizens are treated with equal respect, demonstrated his racist lack of respect in at least three ways.

First and most obvious, he called out the one non-white teen among the skate boarders. If asked, the officer might have said he was “conducting a field interview.” This is a questionable police practice wherein an officer informally engages a person he thinks might have recently engaged in criminal activity or is likely to do so in the future. Abdul’s criminal activity? BWB, Boarding While Black.

The officer’s second racist act was to categorize Abdul as one of “you people.” The use of the term, “you people,” separates the officer and the community he serves from people like Abdul, people with dark skin. The academic term for this is othering. Othering describes the act by which an individual or group becomes classified in somebody’s mind (in this case, the police officer’s) as “not one of us.” It is then easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are. Well, you might say, so what. I get to pick my friends. What’s the problem?

The problem was brought front and center a couple of weeks ago when a North Miami police officer, Jonathan Alleda, shot the caretaker of an autistic adult with an assault rifle while the caretaker was lying on the ground with his hands above his head. Take a guess on the ethnicity of the caretaker, Charles Kinsey. Right you are. He is African American, and Officer Alleda appears to be, from his photos, not (though he may well be). When Kinsey, lying on the ground, soon to be handcuffed and left on the hot street for twenty minutes waiting for an ambulance, asked Alleda why he shot him, Alleda, a SWAT team member, allegedly replied, “I don’t know.”

I will answer that question. The officer shot Mr. Kinsey because he has habitually “othered” black civilians. To Alleda Mr. Kinsey was a second class human, and he must have been guilty of something or the police would not be on the scene. Officer Alleda was primed by his training and the racist culture that supports that training to shoot black people without sufficient provocation. Check out this site for more on that subject.

Now apply this “othering” process to recent police murders of black men, such as the shooting of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Beginning to see a pattern?

The third bit of racism that our local police officer exhibited is really another facet of othering, but I think it is worth commenting on because it is typical so many white people. It’s about the name thing. The officer associates names like Deshawn and D’antoine with African Americans and names like James (and maybe Peter, John, Matthew, Simon, Thomas, Philip and the other twelve apostles) with white people. What could be the source of this dichotomy? I would propose that the source might lie in the world of sports. If the officer followed the Denver Broncos, the closest pro football team to our 94% white, and .5% black town, he would hear the names of African American athletes, names like Keyvon, Demarcus, Devontes, Vontarius and Kapri. But he would have also heard the names of other black players like Brandon, Von, Robert, Emanuel and Donald. But that second group of names did not make an impression. If he was a fan of the Golden State Warriors he would hear the names Draymond, Kevon, Zaza, Klay and Damian. But for every one of “those names,” there is a Stephen (Curry, the Player of the Year), Kevin, David, James and Patrick. Our officer is primed to pick out the differences, not what we have in common. Your name is Kevon, you must be black, and it’s likely your are a threat. Your name is Brandon? Hey, I went to school with a Brandon, you must be OK.

So now you see, if you did not before, why Abdul became James. At his age he understands racism. Abdul knows not give a cop any information that might give the police an edge. Because the cop is white and the cop has a gun. 

The Good Samaritan, Updated – Pardon my Irreverence

So a lawyer said to Jesus, “What do I have to do to get to heaven?”

And Jesus said, “What is your understanding of the commandments of God?”

And the lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament, and Leviticus, the third book, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So Jesus said, “Well, there you have it.”

But the lawyer responded, “Define the term neighbor for me.”

So Jesus, forbearing to roll His eyes, told this story:

“A certain black man went down from his work to his home, and fell among police who beat and tazed and shot him. Now a bishop witnessed this, but passed on, for he was on his way to a national conference, and was certain that someone not so crucially engaged would stop and help. And likewise a pastor passed him by for he was late to a meeting on “Evangelization in the 21st Century.” And a deacon also did not stop to help for he was on his way to the bank to deposit the fruits of the Sunday collection. But some “Christmas and Easter Christians,” and even some atheists, also witnessed the assault and went to the aid of the black man.

So of these, who were neighbors to the black man?”

And the lawyer answered Him, “I get your point, though your response perhaps over generalizes. I must ask you to excuse me, for I am late for a deposition.”

________________________________________

As far as I know, all Christians hold that the Bible mandates the behaviors that Christians ought to engage in, or avoid. And even more so, the Gospels lay out explicitly the criteria for salvation. If you clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, house the homeless, welcome strangers, feed the hungry, you are welcome into heaven. If you don’t, “Go away into everlasting punishment.” The implications here are clear. Assisting those in need, whether or not they are your social peers, is a prerequisite for a happy eternity.

The followers of Jesus got this. His favorite follower, John, has this to say. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his neighbor in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) Paul, the first major missionary to the non-Jewish population, denied Christians the option of separating themselves along lines of gender and ethnicity, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”

So where do the Christian churches stand on the issues, like the injustice of the justice system, that are the fall-out of white supremacy? I know where my church stands - silently hiding, like a mouse in its hole. I have spoken to my pastor, to his superior, and attempted to contact the national leadership of my denomination. All decline to engage in any discussion, even a discussion about why they won’t enter a discussion!

There is one major inter-faith group that has tried to open the church doors to the reality of the oppression of people of color in our nation. That organization is Sojourners. Take a look at their web site, https://sojo.net. It is a source of education, enlightenment and encouragement for me. I hope it might be same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Deaths in Baton Rouge, St. Paul & Dallas

John Heilman has been a resident of Montana for 11 years. He has dedicated his life to social justice.

John Heilman has been a resident of Montana for 11 years. He has dedicated his life to social justice.

Brothers and sisters, we are here to today to mourn two groups of men. One group consists of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were shot to death by police. The second group we mourn consists of five Dallas police officers, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamrippa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, who were shot to death by a black man.

The first group is composed of black victims of police abuse of power. The second group consists of white victims of a black man seeking irrational revenge. The first, ordinary citizens, the second those whose profession it is to serve the community and to protect its citizens. How are we to honor such disparate groups now, in the same service, in the same room?

It would be easy to fall into the trap of choosing sides, as if we were choosing to support a political party or a sports team. But doing so would only continue the processes that led to the deaths of these men. We must resist the illusion that supporting “Black Lives Matter” means we become anarchists, resisting all the demands of the state. And in honoring the fallen police officers, we are not accepting the power of entrenched, institutionalized racism that marks our nation.

How can we build a monument that will honor all seven of these men? Such a monument would need to be built with power, for the status quo only changes when force is applied to it. But power easily becomes reckless and abusive. In fact our nation was founded on such abusive power, power that led to the near genocide of its indigenous people and the importation from Africa of human beings who were turned into draft animals.

Surely a monument to these men would require love in its construction. Inspired perhaps by the Christian scripture could we say, “Let’s all love each other, regardless of skin color.” No. This nation was founded on white supremacy and operates on white privilege. Invoking the name of love is a trite and sentimental act, and the history of our nation demonstrates its ineffectiveness.

So do we build our monument to these men on justice? What is justice? Treating all people identically, making no allowances by individual strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs? Does it mean cleaving to the law for our salvation? Is justice retribution meted out by the government of the powerful and privileged, filling prisons with the poor and powerless?

Yet the monument we build to these two groups of men, which is the solution to the racial issue which resulted in their deaths, must involve love, power, and justice.

We must love, which includes forgiveness. We must claim power, but not oppress in its name, and we must seek justice, for all people.

Love, power, justice – these three are related in a calculus, in a dance if you will, that holds the solution to the race-based issues which are bringing bloodshed into our communities.

Almost fifty years ago Martin Luther King told us how power, love and justice must interact to bring us peace. He said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Listen again to his words. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

We must act now, all of us, to stop the bloodshed. Each of us needs to decide what our path will be. Take powerful, loving and just actions, with each element limiting and strengthening the others, as Brother Martin outlined. Then we will together build our monument to:

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

Brent Thompson

Patrick Zamrippa

Michael Krol

Michael Smith

Lorne Ahrens

 

 

John Heilman on John Heilman - 
My involvement with social justice issues began in the early 1960's when I worked on voter registration, and then with Caesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. My forty year career in education, from classroom to central office, was devoted to the education of poor and minority children. I've been in picket lines and board rooms, and now here I am in the comparative peace and quiet of social media.