Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”
Those words are terrifying when you think of them.
Since the first African slaves arrived at Jamestown in 1619 the American experiment has not been without its flaws, mistakes, crimes, and to use the often frowned upon, its sins. There have been many sins in that experiment; the long term genocide committed against the original inhabitants of the country, the Native American tribes, which now reside in reservations with little economic opportunity and as the COVID 19 pandemic have shown, little access to healthcare and many other disadvantages built into treaties they signed with the government of the United States.
Then there are others as well, the treatment of almost every immigrant group at the hands of English, Scottish, and Welsh Protestants who dominated the political, economic, cultural, and sociological hierarchy of the new republic. That included the Irish and German immigrants who had their churches burned and treated as second class citizens by the Know Nothings of the 1830s to 1860s. Then there were Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews from many countries, Japanese and Chinese, and then the Mexicans, who we robbed of 40% of of their country’s land by a war that Ulysses Grant said: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.”
But all these aside, America’s original sin was the enslavement of millions of Blacks which sadly only ended in name with emancipation, Reconstruction, the XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Instead of real freedom African Americans saw those rights wiped away by State Legislatures, beginning in the South but throughout much of the nation, enacted Black Codes, Voter Suppression programs, such as Poll Taxes and Voting Tests, and Segregation laws. These were backed up by White Nationalist and Racist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White League. up to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Courts, going up to Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld voter suppression laws, Poll Taxes, and Segregation under the guise of separate but equal in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896. Of course while Plessy legalized segregation in all walks of life, it did nothing for equality, which for Blacks was ruthlessly destroyed. The courts also looked the other way when Black townships were attacked and massacred by the well armed Paramilitaries of the KKK, White Leagues, and Red Shirts, or the lynchings of Blacks that claimed thousands of lives.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Harlan, a former slave owner and in his dissent with the Plessy decision wrote:
“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.”
Justice Harlan’s words were prophetic and directly address what is happening today.
Such crimes are still happening even today, sometimes by those that claim the mantle of the original lynching as in the case of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was captured on video from several sources, which showed an officer putting his full body weight on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, 8 minutes in which Mr. Floyd begged for his life saying “I can’t breath,” but by the time the officer now accused of his murder assist by three other officers, was dead. This was despite the presence of many witnesses who tried to persuade them not to keep killing him.
Mr. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill by a store owner. The crime was a non-violent misdemeanor, but the police responded as if Mr. Floyd had committed an armed robbery or murder. In fact he was unarmed and otherwise non-violently protest his arrest, he was killed. Though the mayor of Minneapolis called it murder and demanded that prosecutors act quickly, they demurred and delayed until protests broke out, which spun out of control. They have now spread country, some peaceful, some that became violent, and some peaceful protests which were met with police spraying pepper spray and launching Tear Gas, into peaceful protestors, including at least one member of Congress.
Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
President Trump embodies the words of Atticus Finch in that book. He has only fanned the flames with his tweets, and retweets which only incited supporters to help commit destructive acts, and provoked the protestors to respond in kind. The actual truth and facts of what happened in each case, beginning with the murder of George Floyd, will not be determined until all the forensic, video, and audio evidence provided by legitimate news organizations, ordinary citizens, and police records is examined to determine what happened in each demonstration following his murder. But after several days of inaction by prosecutors to change the police involved the anger burst into protests.
Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.
Sadly, this is nothing new to American Blacks, and who of us, if we were in their shoes would not protest, even in anger if their local, state, and Federal governments actually pursued policies of justice rather than passing laws that they refuse to enforce, and meaningless rhetoric promising better times, voting rights, civil rights, and equality. The last President to do this, at great political cost to himself as a Southern Democrat, who against his party’s wishes pushed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, as well as the promise of the Great Society. Had Johnson not gotten derailed by Vietnam he might have accomplished much more.
But what would White’s do if their civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X, as well as allies like Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, while lynchings continued. What would White America do if their churches, like the 16th Street Baptist Church, of Birmingham Alabama were bombed, or the parishioners Charleston, South Carolina’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gunned down at a Bible Study by a hate filled murdering racist in 2015. What would we say if people fighting for our right to vote as were murdered in cold blood by on and off duty law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.
Today American Blacks are most impacted by the economic crisis and medical crisis caused by COVID 19 harder than the Black Community harder than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. If one were to be fair, who could not blame them for ceasing to believe the rhetoric of political leaders. Who could not blame the majority who protest peacefully, but who are demonized, and set up by others intent on inciting violence, be they angry Blacks, or White Nationalists following social media posts designed by their developers, be they American supporters of racists groups or President Trump, or foreign actors, like Vladimir Putin’s Russian, or Premier Xi’s Chinese intelligence units attempting to exploit the divisions In the American electorate as they did in the 2016 Election which President Trump lost by one of the largest majorities of popular votes, while winning three states by slim majorities which gave him win in the Electoral College.
I won’t go into details of the various “news” and opinion articles I have seen over the past few days, because so much disinformation has been published That it is hard to wade through, and it will take time. I would rather be right on specific cases than engage in generalities, and right now the only thing I can be sure about is the historic precedent and the murder of George Floyd. As far as the individual protests, I cannot comment more until I see more evidence, especially when so much disinformation is being reported about the protests, and the President continues to throw gasoline on the fire by his out of control tweets, as do his supporters. Likewise he continues to use this as a Political weapon to attack Democratic Mayors, Governors, and his Democratic rival for the Presidency, Joe Biden, as well as the free press which tries to report the events honestly on the ground, which had left several reporters, and innocent bystanders injured by rubber bullets fired by police while covering the riots.
That being said I honestly believe that outside agitators, mostly from the political right if you believe the local leaders and not White House propaganda, including off duty police officers are inciting much of the violence and looting. That does not mean that there might not be some left wing agitators, but the left has nothing to gain from inciting violence, it would only make the lives of Blacks harder, and encourage more violence against them.
No American is benefitted by the actions of Donald Trump, who can play on the the imagined fears Whites of Black people by simply playing one off against the other. He learned well from his KKK member father, it’s only when it costs you money when it becomes important, but despite court judgments against him and his corporation, he continues. That makes it obvious that his hatred of Blacks is what really is driving his response, and he will pay the political price, even as the nation suffers as a whole suffers for his actions and words. To this end we must fight for justice and not be silent in the face of evil.
One cannot look on as a bystander when innocent and non violent people are being assaulted and killed by police. As Yehuda Bauer said:
“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”
Bauer also wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
I have no idea how this is going to play out, but a coming economic depression, an unending pandemic which had killed over 105,000 Americans as of today, and now massive riots provoked by unnecessary police violence and the incredible inequality brought about by America’s Original Sin are a perfect storm to make things a lot worse.
The wounds caused by America’s original sin are so deep, gangrenous, and malignant that they cannot be healed simply applying a bandage and hope that they will heal. That’s pretty much what we always do, even when well intentioned pass laws that are ultimately ignored, gutted, or overturned by their opponents. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed on April 9th 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote these words:
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
That is all of our task today, if we are silent, we are complicit in that original sin, and it becomes our personal sin as well. America’s Original Sin needs complete disinfecting, and major surgery to cut out and excise it from our identity. Evil is the absence of empathy, which is the mark of a malignant sociopath. If you can turn away from the plight of African Americans and America’s Original sin, then there is little hope for you, and our country. But like Nelson Mandela I believe:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”