All that seems to be coming unhinged once again in our communities, country, and culture is a painful reminder that though we have made some progress on race relations we still have a long way to go. Recently it seems the globe has been on a backspin to the 50’s and 60’s. Perhaps though, what has happened is the superficial pseudo-community, crusty overlay of denial and privilege has been broken open and the nasty reality of bigotry, racism, and fear of the other has once again crept out of its hiding place to stain the landscape of who we could be and who we should be.
I believe we find ourselves in an opportune spot. In a stress-filled, tension-filled, injustice laden, broken system, we must begin in earnest talk about racism, abuse of authority, violence, life, and needless death?
I know the majority of our law enforcement officers are excellent and put their lives on the line in ways I can only imagine. They risk and lose their lives on a regular basis fulfilling their commitment to serve and protect we who rely on them for safety and security. I also know there are consequences to actions and behaviors to what we do. That being said my primary focus here is on privilege.
In a piece by Leonard Pitts Jr. entitled, What Constitutes White Privilege, he compares two scenarios. The first referred to “Joseph Houseman, a 63-year-old white man who, back in May, stood with a rifle on a street in Kalamazoo, Mich. When police arrived, he refused to identify himself, grabbed his crotch flipped them the bird and cursed. They talked him down in an encounter that lasted 40 minutes. Houseman was not arrested. The next day, he got his gun back.” The encounter lasted 40 minutes! The second scenario referred to “Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child who, last month, was playing with a realistic-looking toy gun in a Cleveland park. When police arrived, an officer jumped out of the car and shot him at point-blank range. There was no talking him down. Indeed, the entire encounter, from arrival to mortal wounds, took about two seconds.”
There is something desperately wrong when we lay those two scenarios side by side. We have a race, racism, and racial prejudice problem in our country, and it is systemic. That being said, I believe it goes much deeper than that. It is not just a race issue, though that is the primary one in the headlines at the moment and unfortunately our media often jumps from one crisis to another without remembering or caring about those it leaves behind.
I believe it is a systemic issue around most, if not all, the “isms” and many of the “phobias” of our country; sexism, ageism, homophobia, classism, and a fear of the other. At the risk of self-incrimination, it seems to me white, male, straight, christians, who have been the majority and in power for a long time and who are realizing they are no longer the majority and their centuries of privilege is being threatened are those most afraid and respond with all they know, power and control.
This fear and abuse of power and control is the same fear and abuse of power that drives not only racial tensions but oppression of the LGBTQ community. It is the same fear and abuse of power that drives the demonizing of feminism as well as oppressing the poor. As a Christian minister, I believe this is a justice issue. Oppression, abuse of authority and power, fear, isms, phobias, unjust stigma, and injustice will not be, are NOT part of the world envisioned by the God in whom I believe.
We need to begin again the difficult work of listening together, the difficult work of hearing one another, the difficult work of collaboration with persons of all races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders, religious and non-religious affiliations and find the common ground of humanity and a common planet in which we inhabit. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We need to learn to live together as brothers [and sisters], or perish together as fools.” Right now, it seems we continue on the road to perish and there is a better way for everyone, most of all those with male privilege and power, to set aside our fears and prejudices. If we do not begin now, then when?
Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor
College Hill United Methodist Church