A town in Missouri will now remain part of our cultural and historical vocabulary; its three syllables sufficient to conjure our spectral, haunted, racist history until the question like teargas chokes us. Why are we still so deeply alienated? The question has several answers but perhaps none as pointed and sharp as this: because a significant number of our fellow citizens prefer hatred and an even larger number retreat behind the fence-line of apathetic cowardice. It takes courage to speak to truth and to our own failures.
Both Black and White lie to themselves. There are two very important dynamics to keep in mind about that particular truth, however. First, each “community” is quite adept at informing the other about their lies. The obverse of that statement is, each community is adept at identifying the lies of the other but resistant to telling the truth on themselves. Hence, a group of people will compare their truths or what is best about themselves with what is worse in the other group. Everyone knows what the end result of that is and it is not civil and critically engaged dialogue. The depravity of human nature is revealed here exactly as people prefer to hate others than engage in any kind of courageous dialogue and critical self-reflection. That is a damnable spot most difficult to cleanse.
The second dynamic about the statement, “Both Black and White lie to themselves” is this: while each group lies to itself, the group that has the most power actually exerts more damage with their lies. When your town is overwhelmingly Black but your police force is inversely and overwhelmingly White then it comes as little surprise that the majority of arrests and the disproportionate violence exerted is against the Black community. That power differential wrecks democracy and justice. And when that power differential appears in the person of a police officer who is White and armed; or it appears in the person of a self-anointed community watch renegade who is armed; or it appears in the person of an inebriated White male who is armed and all three of those individuals confront an unarmed Black teenager then the result can be catastrophic. The lies, the stereotypes and the hatred pull a trigger. Mothers and fathers weep for their dead children while a significant number in the White community offers defense and even praise of murderers.
Is America better than this? Yes, it always has been but those better angels of our citizenship prevail only when people reject cowardice and apathy and demand we do better, live better. It is far past time to stop listening to right wing radio and tv, White Christians, and time to listen to the Christ who knew all to well the power differential of Rome and powerless Galileans. And corporate America is especially culpable here: stop financially supporting these programs of poison and hate. It is way, way past time for politicians to stop taking money from the NRA, that bloody idol Moloch that pretends it is concerned for sportsmen and the second amendment. The lies of Moloch have led to carnage from one shore to the other in our nation. That money, politician, is blood money. Your soul is endangered as any recipient of mafia blood money and protection.
Finally, White Christians and Black Christians have remained separated in their pews, not because they have to but because they too often prefer a preacher’s blessing of their ideologies to the more difficult task of telling the truth about how we glorify violence in this country and in both those communities. How shameful.
I hope we might see on our television screens in the coming days White Christians walking in equal number with Black Christians in Ferguson. Not with hands in the air, but hand in hand. White Christians should show up as representatives of that power differential from which they benefit every day, demanding justice and fairness under the law. Black Christians should show up, as they no doubt do in great number already, because their communities are at risk and also to defy those in that same community who would conclude all Whites are evil. We’re in this together, like it or not. Dr. King said it well, “Either we will learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will perish together as fools.” It is time to tell the fools to take their hands off the country in their desperate desire to return us to a backward era of violence, inequality and criminal distrust.