The Moral Universe – By Cynthia Pease

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By Cynthia PeaseI wept with joy the night of November 4, 2008, when Jon Stewart announced that Barack Obama had been elected the next President of the United States.

Stewart himself had tears in his eyes. I called my sister and she too was crying. Together we celebrated the vision of an African-American holding the highest office in the country. The United States, we thought, had begun to redeem itself of the shame of slavery and Jim Crow and lynching and institutionalized racism.

It did not take long, though, for forces of opposition to band together and begin a virulent campaign that, in my opinion, has bordered on treason to unseat the President. At first I thought it was a passing fad that would die a natural death after a while; instead, the Tea Party grew shriller and more vitriolic in its pronouncements, and members now stop at nothing, including outright lies, to smear the President.

During the same time, we’ve seen the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis for breathing while being black. The James Byrd lynching was not all that long ago. The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, and the vote was very obviously based on party lines. With states moving forward to gerrymandering voting districts and in other ways restricting minority voters’ access to the polls, I decided that I had to do more than just gripe about it on Facebook.

We are going backward as a country; the Tea Party has hijacked everything I loved about the United States on 11/4/08 and, like the anchorman on “Network,” I’m mad as hell.

I’ve spent the past two years reading almost exclusively about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and lynching. I see what has happened to President Obama as cultural lynching and what happened to Trayvon and Jordan as physical lynching; denying people the right to vote and putting them through rigors that other people do not have to endure is a form of lynching as well. This blog will address the history of lynching as well as other aspects of racism in an attempt to revitalize the fight against any form of discrimination, any law that restricts full access to the rights of citizenship.

When I pondered an appropriate title for this blog, the statement “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” came up several times in my reading. Martin Luther King Jr. used this aphorism to paraphrase a 19th-century abolitionist, Theodore Parker. Parker said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Then I came across this statement in Christopher Waldrep’s book, Racial Violence on Trial: “For decades white southerners argued for states’ rights, insisting that neighborhoods and local communities had a right to punish malefactors free of supervision by the wider society. “Such powerfully entrenched localism has long hobbled reformers, who base their appeals on universal, moral values.”(Page 104)

And there was my title. I do believe that the Tea Party as a political organization opposes President Obama and voting rights for reasons that are peculiar to their own special interests. I do not believe they can really be concerned about what is best for this country as a whole and indeed the wider world. They are holding the best that the US can be hostage to narrow ideologies that go against the grain of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Why would a white woman in her 60s in Massachusetts be so concerned as to start writing a blog about lynching and civil rights? As a newspaper columnist on Cape Cod, I wrote extensively about social justice issues, such as apartheid, homophobia and equal opportunities for youth of all backgrounds. I attended many diversity trainings. While knowing that I have been as infected by institutional racism as much as any white person, I have spent many years working on rooting it out of myself. By my faith and all that I profess, I do believe that I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure that the horrors of the past do not happen again.

An important note: In all that I will be writing, I do not intend to portray the African-Americans of today as victims who need me to fight their battles for them. I am fighting for the country I so loved that night in 2008, for the redemption of wrongs sometimes too horrible to contemplate, and for the most profound belief I hold: that we are all children of God and therefore all brothers and sisters. I cannot enjoy, and do not want, any privilege that any of my brothers and sisters does not have.

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4 thoughts on “The Moral Universe – By Cynthia Pease

  1. Excellent piece, Cynthia, and a necessary project. Thank you. My friend Nick Bromell has embarked on a similar project. You two should know each other! Or at least be linked to each other on Facebook. His blog is The Time Is Now, which is also the title of his book just published, subtitled “Black Thought and the Transformation of US Democracy.” Anyway, I look forward to your postings on the subject. I love that you know to track down quotes instead of just repeating them unconfirmed. Now I need to go read some Theodore Parker.

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  2. Sally Bissell

    Let me be the first person to commend my sister in her efforts to share her anger and frustration over the direction that our country is taking. I, too, discuss this often on my own blog and hope that we can help to change hearts and minds with our words. Kudos to Cynthia for all the reading and studying she’s done on this subject. If it wasn’t so early in the day, I’d hoist a glass of champagne to your blog.

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  3. susan e.

    Thank you Cynthia for beginning the discussion we who are outraged all meant to have, and so eloquently. I will indeed be reading your blog and passing it on.

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