There’s quite a push in social media and in the news regarding phrases like “silence is concent” and “silence is violence.” In other words, if you are white and you don’t say something about “systemic racism,” and a very specific something, then you are accused of giving tacit approval to racism in general and violence against people of color in particular.
I don’t know about that. The Bible has a lot to say about times when it is better to be silent rather than speaking out of emotion or impulse. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of emotion and impulse in both social media and the real world.
Having Jewish family members, my traditional focus relative to justice is the battle against antisemitism, and, after all, bigotry is bigotry, right? Would not the words I’ve written on this blog for so many years apply to the current situation?
It seems that the same people who are demanding justice over the death of George Floyd are also attacking Jewish synagogues and businesses. Apparently, Jews in America are being equated with Jews in Israel, which the protesters consider oppressors to the “Palestinians.”
I won’t go into how erroneous that notion is because it’s a very long article all by itself. It does, however, speak to part of the reason why I don’t have a “default setting” of siding unquestionably with the protesters and against police officers.
Am I a racist? No, not as I evaluate myself, but given terms like “systemic racism” and “silence is violence,” I can imagine some folks out there would assume I am. Reading this, they will assume I am because, as I said, I don’t give at least some expressions of protest (the violent expressions that destroy property and hurt and kill people) my undying, absolute support.
Also, some celebrities, such as Rosanna Arquette (although she said this nearly a year ago) suggest that in order to support these protests, support justice, and shun racism, I must not only be ashamed of myself as a white person, but I must hate my “whiteness.”
Okay, so maybe she’s an edge case and most white Americans who are protesting don’t despise themselves (though watching a lot of these people kneel at the feet of people of color seems less like justice and more like subjugation). Some white Americans are pretty upfront with saying they suffer from white guilt, but the response seems to indicate that’s just another kind of privilege.
We are encouraged to read books on systemic racism, promote black causes, support black businesses, and otherwise showcase the works of people of color.
As an aside, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently issued a statement of support for Black Lives Matter, with some highly specific suggestions about what its membership (and any science fiction and fantasy reader actually) can do to support artists/writers of color. That’s not a bad thing, and SFWA has been pretty supportive of artists of color anyway, but at the end of the day, these are still all suggestions and its up to the conscience of every individual in how we respond.
And then there are the police.
Tons and tons of people are calling to defund the police in their communities, and the city of Minneapolis has voted to get rid of their police force altogether, eventually replacing it with…well, I don’t know with what because they don’t seem to have a plan yet.
As a white person, for the most part, I’ve had reasonably good experiences with police officers. In the 1990s, I was an investigator for Child Protective Services in Southern California and I worked with multiple law enforcement agencies. Some were really very community friendly, and a few were a pain in the neck.
But if I were a black person, my experience might be a very different one. I mean, black parents have to teach their children at a very tender age what it is to be black in America, which includes how to behave around police.
But it’s become much worse than that. Right here in my own little corner of Idaho, a little white girl learned to be afraid of the police. Fortunately, members of the Kuna Police Department helped her get past her anxiety.
I did see on twitter that when a young black girl was approached by an officer, she immediately raised her hands. As it turns out, the officer just wanted to say “hi”. A lot of people think the child’s fear was caused by police brutality in the first place, or maybe it’s become a learned behavior in the black community. Maybe too, the recent emphasis of depicting all police officers as racist and violent has something to do with it.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot to digest let alone respond to.
After posting a few of my past blog articles to social media and getting no response (I don’t know why I expected any), I figured that was that. What was I supposed to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ve had Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Boise. I didn’t feel compelled to attend. Oh, they were really peaceful, except that one dumb 18-year-old guy accidentally discharged his handgun into the ground. Yes, he was white, and yes, he was arrested.
Interestingly enough, Boise City Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez wrote a letter to the kid’s parents saying his privilege protected him, and if he were a person of color, things would have turned out differently. Maybe they would have.
She signed her letter:
Lisa Sánchez, Brown woman who chose not to have children for fear of their abuse and murder by white people.
While I don’t doubt her experiences and feelings are real, as a politician and Boise city leader, she might have tried to say something that would de-escalate anxiety and tension rather than the opposite.
Having said all this, I still wasn’t going to craft a response to the “silence is violence” supporters, that is, until I read an op-ed piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the former basketball player and actor). He did a very good job at getting me to be able to listen to his anger and described very well (to the best of my ability to understand, with me not having a lived black experience), how black people and white people are going to respond differently to the death of George Floyd.
Addendum: I suppose I should comment about this because, yes, when black people are angry, and they say white people are bad, I do have a problem not taking it as a personal insult. That’s my problem, I suppose, but after all, I do have trouble making it through everyday halfway sane without having these pundits adding to it. I know there is heinous injustice in the world, but I’m trying very hard not to hate myself on command.
He ended his missive with:
What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.
Now I would guess, given the article’s larger context, that he meant justice for people of color and not judging them for angry and even violent responses.
But what does that look like?
On one level, it probably means something like reforming the nature of police work across the board, although, as I suggested above, not all police departments are the same, so their responses in violent and crisis situations probably won’t be the same.
Police officers who commit crimes do need to be brought to justice, and perhaps a more stern justice since they broke the community trust and violated their oath as peace officers.
Sooner or later, the protests will die down, and the caldron of America will cool off again, going from a boil to a simmer…that is until next time.
In the 1997 film Air Force One, Harrison Ford playing (fictional) American President James Marshall delivers the line “Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
In Bruce Springsteen’s music video for Born to Run he says “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
In the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, says:
I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
Maybe that’s all there is to it. We just begin without necessarily knowing where the road will lead or what the journey will be like.
Perhaps we should always have these protests before us, just to make sure we’re still paying attention. When they go away, and they probably will, in our rush to return to our “old normal,” sweeping George Floyd and COVID-19 aside, we’ll go back to sleep and pretend nothing’s wrong.
I chose to write this on my “religious blog” rather than my writer’s blog because you have no love, or truth, or justice without God.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (NASB)
I’ve seen so many opinions, but even those activists who are believers seem to have sidestepped what we really need, not just as white people or black people, or even as Americans. Is God not the God of all people everywhere? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” (Romans 3:23).
I’m not going to tell you how this will end, but I will tell you how we can begin, all of us. By making teshuvah, repent of our sins, which should also be a continual process, for our sins are always before us.
I kneel in the Presence of the Almighty during prayer, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to do so in the presence of people. However, if someone else feels that their path of repentance requires kneeling before people who they feel they’ve somehow hurt, who am I to say they shouldn’t. The important thing is to do so not out of a misplaced sense of guilt or shame, but because we truly do seek to do justice, love kindness, and have a humble walk before our God.
In the end, everybody wins because the Presence of God is the presence of justice.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:31-39
Addendum: I just read a Fox News article (yes, I know what some of you are going to say) referencing a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Mariame Kaba who really means she wants to abolish (mostly) the police. Her perspective is that, given more resources, particularly good jobs, housing, and so forth, the root cause of crime will be greatly reduced and people will just naturally learn to cooperate and become more community minded.
Apparently, she doesn’t believe what I quoted above from the Apostle Paul. Also, this comes to mind:
Rebbe Chanina, the assistant High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government. For without fear of it, people would swallow each other alive. –Chapter 3, Mishna 2