At one of my prior jobs, I worked with a young African American woman, S (not her real initial). S told me that her grandmother would refer to things that she thought were wrong as “the Devil.” To me, racism is the Devil, one that we need to exorcise from American society immediately.
Recently, eight churches in the South with African American congregations have been lit on fire and burned to the ground. Two have been confirmed as arson, but it’s hard not to assume what the causes for the rest of them might be. Now it’s possible that at least one of them is not arson, but I would be surprised. More than that? I’m doubtful, but open to being proven wrong.
The burning of these churches sickens and angers me, and I am not even a religious person. A place of worship is a sacred space to believers and, as such, should be a haven from these things. I know they haven’t been. Not in Birmgingham, Alabama in 1963, and, sadly, not now, either.
I am thrilled that the Confederate flag is being taken down off of state grounds in the South. The Confederate flag as such is a statement of the South’s refusal to submit to the fact that they lost a war fought in the 1800s and that they wanted and lost the rights to a system wherein whites could own black slaves as property. Yes, it’s part of the history of the South, but it’s part of the past now, of their racist and political past – a part where whites dominated blacks, could kill them with impunity (not much unlike today), where separate but equal were anything but that. Time to put the Confederate flag into the past, to stop glorifying it as anything other than the racist and oppressive symbol that it is, and move on. Racist and white supremists see that flag up and see it as a reminder of the righteous of their cause. The civil rights movement happened; let’s treat it like it did. Taking down the Confederate flag off of state grounds isn’t the biggest step in the world towards racial equality, but it’s a tiny step in the right direction. And well past time.
I hate racism with a passion. Racism is a belief system trying to cover up the individual’s self-loathing by masquerading as pride. If racists were confident about their own inherent value, then the thought that they were better and others inferior would never enter their heads. They would love themselves as themselves and see no reason to hate. Racism is a greedy, world-half-full-and-it’s-my-half philosophy. It is bankrupt in all senses – personally, publicly, morally, spiritually, and physically. Racism is a hate-based cancer. Just like negative thoughts proliferate in your head if you let them, racist thoughts feed and grow by their own power. Racism is helpless internal anger targareted at an innocent external target.
If you need to, be angry at the system. Be angry that life isn’t fair. Be angry that you aren’t treated fairly or given opportunities. Be angry that you are turend away and scoffed at and shit on. Deal with all that – really deal with it. Look at the real causes of that, the imbalances in the system, and invest in doing something positive with your life instead of seeking to destroy the lives of others. Stop blaming the poor and people of color for the failures in your own white life. We are all responsible for ourselves. We have the most control over our lives. So turn your attention to yourself instead of hating others.
No doubt, standing up to address the real political and cultural issues in our society is hard work. You put yourself at risk by standing up to the system, trying to help the disaffected, and fighting the powers that be. You might become a target. Jesus knew that. This was his realization in the Garden of Gesthemene. After he prayed to God to “take this cup away”, the cup that was his suffering to come on the cross, Jesus knew that the only way to make a difference was take the step that needed to be taken, to let others hate, revile, and punish him. Jesus knew he had to be the face of protest and principle in the face of his own annihiliation. It is the same for anyone who steps up for what is right. There is no other way.
This is the crux of what protestors in our society today do. Activism is the only way to make the changes that you want to see in the world (to paraphrase Gandhi). We cannot speak just for ourselves. We must stand up and speak for those whose voices are less acknowledged until the acknowledgement comes. Writing and publishing are one way, whether blogging or writing letters to government officials. We can make phone calls and give money to causes we support. We can volunteer for organizations working for social justice. We need to get the word out that racism is not acceptable in our society. We need to educate, and, most of all, we need to work together across all income and race lines.
I look forward to the day that we can look at the back of racism as it recedes into the past of our great American history. I never thought I would live to see marriage equality prevail in the United States. As a result, I harbor a small hope that maybe we, as a society, will see significant strides in the decline of racism. Let’s do this work together because America does not need racism.