As a child, I learned of times before mine, times of turmoil, pain, and uprising, but also, ultimately, times of change. I watched, fascinated, the fictional depictions and school documentaries of the battles of the Civil Rights era. I read books and turned in reports on Martin Luther King Jr., anti-Jim Crow demonstrators, and the other heroes of the time. I thought, naively, “oh, to live in such a time,” a time of activism and energy, a time where I could fight for change. I thought, naively, that I was living in a time beyond all of that.
As I grew into adulthood, I learned, as many of us do, that those times are not of the past. In our enlightened and modern age, there are those who still suffer for their simple being. I would come to realize that the still-present obvious and obtrusive occurrences of that oppression were only one piece of the trouble, that a wider problem ran through and beneath our culture like an underground river, ever present and eroding. Still, I counted that a victory. Certainly, we had much work in front of us, but what progress we had made when such views were normally held in shame and shadow. I still foolishly misunderstood the effects of systemic oppression. I misunderstood the boldness of such evil.
I have long held myself up as an activist. I have marched and rallied. I have engaged my governmental representatives by written word, by phone, and, on occasion, in person. I have worked to better my community. I have looked upon my fellow human with care, concern, and compassion and reached out to help.
I have also been the oppressor. As a white male, emboldened by a culture of rules writ in large by the “boys club” and beholden to the characteristics of masculinity, I have mocked those different and participated in the alienation of those different from the “norm” I hoped to be. Even after growing past such juvenile leanings, I have often stood silent when speech or action was the only acceptable response. At the age of 35, I still find myself in need of growth.
We have all watched this weekend as an American city was held hostage, shut down by white supremacy. We have read the stories of attacks, murder, and terrorism by a people our culture largely places in a hidden corner, considers fringe and insignificant. It’s 2017 and we have watched a city shut down and lives taken by those who consider themselves superior because of the color of their skin. We heard complaints of losing power and place, of “wanting our country back,” from a population who holds the cards in a land that was stolen from Native Americans and in a country that was built on the backs of hundreds of years of slave labor by non-whites.
The talk of calming rhetoric and uniting in spite of political difference has prominent since the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election. The distaste for political attacks & the unwillingness to listen to views outside one’s own has spread wide in our culture. As a person often guilty of condemning “the other side”, I have worked to be ever conscious my behavior. I have worked, struggling, to stop and listen more often before responding. The complaints about our current political climate are often valid. But there is a significant point that we all need to recognize:
There’s a difference between politics and morality.
The actions of those in Charlottesville who refer to themselves as “white nationalists” are not political, but immoral. The speech that they express, that they are better than others, that treating others equally oppresses them, is theirs to express as legal right. But it is also evil.
That there are people who still can’t see that difference saddens and frightens me. That there are those who choose the politically safe path, ignoring the basics of right and wrong, is not acceptable. I speak not only of our representatives in government, but of each of us in our daily lives who would rather not bother with the messy, uncomfortable, and dangerous process of confronting the ills in our society.
We have to be better than this.
I look particularly to White America. Even more specifically, I call on white males. As much as I expect those who call themselves Christian to call out the wrongness of Biblically inspired LGBTQ discrimination, I expect White America to turn and face the oppression that benefits us, if only by it not harming us.
I’ll not lecture on the realities of the inequalities that exist in the United States of America today. Forests of paper and decades of calculations confirm the simple fact that riches and privilege build across decades and that the ruin it leaves in it’s wake spans generations. The information is there and failure to recognize it is akin to burying one’s head. To look upon the events of Charlottesville as anomalous is not only foolishness, but willful ignorance.
If you find yourselves troubled by the events in Charlottesville, by the struggles in our culture (and I certainly hope you do), then you must act. In this, one cannot sit the battle out. Your lack of participation is simply participation for the wrong side.
As it happens, tomorrow evening is the monthly meeting of the local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice). Join us. I will leave details below. We do not have answers, but are discussing and working to figure them out. Later on, a local vigil will be held in solidarity for the victims and those working on the side of right, in Charlottesville and beyond.
Join us. Speak up. Act.
Together we rise.
Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) August Meeting
Monday, August 14th, 5:30pm
First Unitarian Church
801 E Washington St, South Bend, IN 46617
Charlottesville Solidarity Vigil
Monday, August 14th, 7pm
Jon R. Hunt Plaza at the Morris Performing Arts Center
211 N Michigan St, South Bend, Indiana 46601