Juneteenth Ramblings

I know. This is just what the world needs--another white male boomer with opinions about racism in America, and on this of all days. Heaven help us. If you’re weary, I completely understand.

Anyway….for the record, I grew up in the Deep South in the 1960’s, and I’m undeniably shaped by the attitudes of those experiences. But I’ve also lived long enough to know that some of what I learned then and there just ain’t right. The other reality is that I have a long, long way to go to understand the Black American experience. I’m a work in progress. So, here are some random racism ruminations.

* Never before in the history of the world have statues and monuments been erected to generals who lost a war. Do we find statues throughout Germany to Goering and Rommel, even Hitler? Is there a statue of Santa Anna at San Jacinto? Does anyone remember the name of the British general at Valley Forge? I even wrote about that over 4 years ago, here. That notion seems absurd, but in the Jim Crow south, it became the norm. When erected in the late 19th and early 20th century, their purpose was to remind everyone, particularly those recently emancipated, that it would be business as usual in the post reconstruction south. If these statues are now “part of our heritage,” we need and deserve a better heritage. We’re smart enough to remember the virtues and failings of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest without a statue. Those statues need to come down now; every one of them. Our elected local officials should be able to do that responsibly, and it appears that they are now doing exactly that throughout the south. Late is better than never; but sooner would the better.

* 345 years of federal, state, and local legislatively sanctioned racism ended in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, followed the next year by the Voting Rights Act. Supreme Court cases in the next few years confirmed it. While 56 years was a long time ago, it has apparently not been long enough to change individual attitudes, thoughts and behaviors. Unfortunately, many of my generation are just going to have to die for this to happen. Fortunately, I think our kids will do a better job.

*A few years ago, a member of the greatest generation whom I loved, was questioned about sending a racist email. He was new to email, and his response was, “I didn’t send it, I just forwarded it.” Somehow, he thought that subtlety distanced him from the sentiment expressed in the email. Maybe he thought he didn’t own the racism, he had just briefly rented it and moved it along for others to rent. I’m reminded of that daily, as I’m the unwilling recipient of emails and social media comments that range from racial tone deafness to the reprehensible. Much of what I’ve received reminds me of that unforgettable line in the movie “The Help” when a hungry chocolate pie eating Hilly Holbrook, played by Bryce Howard, proclaims to Octavia Spencer’s Minny Jackson character, “What do you put in here that makes it taste so good?” (If you haven’t seen the movie, now might be good time to find out what was in that special pie.) Sometimes what tastes good in the moment leaves a bad aftertaste with the benefit of further reflection.

* One of those emails I recently received was a chart showing that most Blacks are killed by other Blacks. Maybe you’ve seen it too, as it gets rolled out from time to time. I guess the purpose was to show me that Black lives don’t really matter because they just go around willy-nilly killing each other. And I guess if that fallacy were true, then it’s acceptable for police officers to shoot unarmed Black men. Well, with all due respect to the many who forwarded that email, that’s just “stupid is as stupid does.” Let’s think about reality for a moment. First, most Whites are killed by other Whites. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the same would be true for Blacks. Secondly, where does most violent crime occur? We all know the zip codes. It occurs in areas of high levels of poverty, unemployment and homelessness. What’s the racial makeup of those areas? What’s the violent crime rate for educated, employed, and economically successful Black folks who live in my neighborhood? Hint: It’s the same as for White folks. The violent crime rate has never been about race, it’s about joblessness and hopelessness which, by the way, also makes people, Black and White, slightly more likely to loot when the opportunity arises. I’m not condoning looting, but it’s not that difficult to understand when I think about the income, employment and education disparities that exist in this country.

* A hero is one who stands up to an abuse of power at great personal sacrifice. In that respect, Colin Kaepernick is an American hero. Note to self: It was never about disrespecting the flag or the soldiers, it was about the way our criminal justice systems treats people of color. It was about thousands who’ve been stopped and harassed by police for no reason. It was about a Black kid being run down and shot for walking through a residential construction site, something I’ve done a hundred times without fear. It’s about a highly educated, successful Black husband and father who knows not to walk through a certain neighborhood for fear some White lady is going to call the cops. Kaepernick’s taking a knee was a moment of sacrificial patriotism. It cost him a job in the NFL, and it was America at its absolute best. Some missed the point, but I’m glad the NFL finally got it.

. * Have you ever noticed that Jesus isn’t the same to all people? It recently occurred to me that there is even a White Jesus and a Black Jesus. Not surprisingly, they are quite different. There’s also a Law and Order Jesus and a Justice Jesus. Again, the two are not at all similar. There has never been a better time for all of us in this country who call ourselves Christians to decide which Jesus we’re going to follow with regard to issues of race and justice. And just a word to the wise, I’m not going to find Jesus on Fox News, CNN or a social media platform. Chances are it will happen quietly and slowly, alone, on my knees. I’m convinced that in order to follow Jesus, I have to first recognize him. And I will never recognize Him by simply searching through the lens of my own experience. I have to intentionally expand my point of view. That’s particularly challenging for me because I first have to overcome two unavoidable hurdles: I’m an American, and I’m White. It’s incumbent on me, now more than ever, to take the initiative to look beyond my own experience. I have to humbly seek Jesus through the lens of the Black perspective. Social scientists call that empathy. I call it challenging, sometimes seemingly impossible, but absolutely necessary. If I can do that, I’ll have a better chance of understanding Jesus, understanding my world, and finally myself. Then following Him becomes less complicated. The call to follow Christ is hard, but it’s never been complicated.

Happy Juneteenth! It only took 900 days for the official news of the Emancipation Proclamation to make it to Galveston,Texas on June 19, 1865, but it did happen. We won’t solve the complex problems of race in America in 900 days. It may not even be 900 weeks, but I pray it happens before 900 months.

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