Hope in the Midst of Hate


“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know” Pema Chodron

The history of African people and their descendants in the United States is characterized by an enduring fight for justice, freedom, and equality. A quick review of history reveals that recent events are simply another manifestation of a recurring pattern in that fight; another manifestation of the white supremacist pathology that birthed slavery, Jim Crow and, most recently, Charleston.

The Abolitionist Movement fought to end slavery. The Civil Rights Movement fought to end the legalized discrimination of the Jim Crow south. Today we find ourselves fighting, more directly, the ideology that lies at the core of slavery, Jim Crow, and modern domestic terrorism perpetrated by corrupt cops and the Dylan Roof’s of America.

During the last year, race has been in the forefront of our nation’s consciousness. We bore witness to eighteen year old Michael Brown’s bullet-riddled body laying lifeless for hours on a hot Missouri street. Uncovered and on display for all to see, it harkened back to the days when southern trees bore strange fruit; “black bodies swinging in a southern breeze”.

As fate would have it, this was not an isolated event (if it has ever been). America would not be allowed to fall conveniently back to sleep. In part, a function of the subsequent protests and riots in response to the Ferguson incident, similar events occurring before and after were brought to the nation’s attention.

The following list represents stories given significant national attention during the past year. A more detailed list of unarmed people of color killed by police from 1999 – 2014 can be found here.

Eric Garner, 43, New York, NY — July 17, 2014

John Crawford III, 22, Beavercreek, OH — August 5, 2014

Akai Gurley, 28, Brooklyn, NY — November 20, 2014

Tamir Rice, 12, Cleveland, OH — November 22, 2014

Walter Scott, North Charleston, SC — April 4, 2015

Freddie Gray, 25, Baltimore, MD — April 19, 2015

Indeed, the list goes on and so did the protests. The national conversation on race, typically called for when racism rears its ugliness, could not be silenced or fade. In the wake of the terrorist attack/hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina, the conversation only intensified.

The Role of Social Media

While protests, riots, and the events that birthed them contributed to the continuing conversation, social media provided the arena in which was held. Social media expanded the reporting of news and events in ways traditional media has not and cannot.

Information, views, and perspectives often non-existent through traditional news sources find expression on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to social media, I have found hope in the midst of so much hate.

I am in awe of the numbers of people of all demographics, especially those of European descent (Caucasian, Anglo, White), who are taking a stand despite the risks, speaking up against racism, and challenging white denial, avoidance and obliviousness.

Were it not for the courage of such men and women, ending slavery would have been a much more difficult, if not impossible, task. The same is true of the Civil Rights movement. Whites fought, and died, along with Blacks during those turbulent years. In what numbers, I do not know. I suspect far less than I have the privilege of witnessing today. Through the vehicle of social media, I see and hear an opposition to the status quo on a scale I never knew existed.

Echoes of the Past

Indeed, a change has come, but deeply entrenched white supremacist ideology persists. I suspect those who separate heritage and hate in defense of the confederate flag are modern manifestations of those who opposed equal and fair treatment under the law since the days Reconstruction ended. I suspect those who seek to justify law enforcement murdering unarmed black men are modern versions of those who cheered as police unleashed attack dogs on Birmingham protesters in 1963.

If the desire to end racism is genuine, white allies must continue to challenge their fellow white brothers and sisters. It is a very different experience to be challenged by fellow members of the dominant group on issues such as racism (and it’s various forms), white privilege, and the influence of history on current circumstances than by members of the non-dominant group.

Psychologically, it is too easy to question the credibility of the latter or assume ulterior motives. Of course, the defensive posture often assumed with other white individuals is to dismiss them as liberals. I suspect the term liberal, in this regard, is the modern equivalent of “nigger lover”.

Even with the progress made, not enough members of the dominant group have a sincere desire to know and understand race matters; even less, a sincere desire to know for the purpose of making a difference. Others are more interested in the sport of debating, while others are either bigots or assume such a defensive posture (or both) that what emerges is venomous anger.

Consider the debate regarding the confederate flag. How might that debate unfold if held through the lens of compassion and empathy; seeing it and feeling it through the experience of the other? Would there even be a debate?

Consider the conversation about white privilege. I am always amazed by the denial and defensiveness that comes in response to this issue. As man of color, there are certain privileges I enjoy – male, college educated, able-bodied, middle class, etc. Understanding one’s privilege comes when it is either lost or when one is empathic and compassionate enough to see through the lens of others who do not share that privilege.

Becoming an Ally

I am blessed to be affiliated with the Center for the Healing of Racism; an organization that seeks to heal the wounds of racism and divisiveness. It was through CFHR that I learned about allies. Every year, the organization honors individuals taking bold and courageous action to rid the world of racism.

I am also blessed to have a circle of friends committed to personal growth, diversity, and acceptance. In the safety and sacredness of that space I can bring all of who I am, even the rage that swells within in response to racism and the tactics used to minimize it, deny it, deflect it, avoid it, or redirect it, and give those energies expression. The disturbing reality of racial hatred exposed in the South Carolina attack left many asking “what can I do?”

The bold action taken by the honorees of CFHR’s awards banquet is not a requirement to be an ally, nor does it represent the criteria for taking action. Below are a few ideas about what can be done.

1. One must engage in deep soul-searching to determine his/her own racial biases and prejudices and their manifestations. We have all been conditioned along racial lines, exposed to inaccurate portrayals, generalizations and biased stereotypes. Honesty about biases that lay in the unconscious recesses of the psyche, finding occasional or frequent expression (often in ways we are not aware) is essential.

Writing off Dylan Roof as a racist is easy. The extreme nature of his crime penetrates the strongest denial. Where sincerity in the cause is shown is through the willingness to see racism, or any ism, in its more subtle expressions within ourselves and the people and institutions around us.

2. Make the choice to become conscious of the realities of racism, its historical foothold in the psyche of this country and its manifestations through the present day. Most lack proper education regarding the varied historical and institutional dimensions of racism and its impact, resulting in a skewed perspective on matters of equality and opportunity. Once educated, how and what one has been manipulated to believe is deconstructed.

3. Awakening and becoming aware is a beginning step, yet, has no transformational value unless translated into action. Evil prevails because good people do nothing. Many are content to sit quietly in the presence of racism but I believe many of those individuals hold non-racist attitudes. They must find the courage to speak up – take a stand against the confederate flag as merely a symbol of heritage, interrupt racist jokes, promote fairness and equity, challenge stereotypes and other expressions of divisiveness, form relationships with people who do not look like you.

4. Stop entertaining the intellectual jiu jitsu people use to rationalize and justify pro-racist positions and assert a lack of acceptance of such sentiments. The more the silent begin to act, the sooner we reach the tipping point where this nation truly lives its ideals and principles.

And, yes, there is great risk in taking a stand. That reality is not lost in these words, but, there is also great risk in maintaining the status quo. How much more blood are we willing to have on our hands? How many more innocent lives are we comfortable losing to death or incarceration? How many more cities do we wish to see ablaze?

Moving Toward a Truly “United” States

We are far from one nation under God with liberty and justice for ALL on many fronts. With regards to racism, I believe more strange fruit will be the cost of progress. Falling back asleep, especially in the era of the eight second attention span, is just too easy.

Look at all that has happened (and had to happen) since Ferguson –  deaths, protests, even the riots. If that is what it takes, let it be so. The fight for justice, equality, and freedom is not without cost and nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. Sadly, so many have so much to learn…but, still, I am hopeful.

The image above reflects the hope that we are moving toward a truly “United” States, where regardless of race, we stand for what is right, just, and moral. We stand with each other and for each other. To see a white person holding a sign that says black lives matter surrounded by a sea of white faces speaks volumes about where we have come, from the Abolitionist Movement, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the present day.

I am hopeful, more than ever before, that one day, we will reach a critical mass of the awakened where the ignorance and intolerance of the past gives way to enlightened acceptance and peaceful coexistence.

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