What Then Must We Do?

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That was the heart-breaking cry of the character Billy Kwan when he realized that Sukarno has betrayed the Indonesian people in “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

I haven’t written for a long time. I chose not to add my anger, my despair, my disbelief of the election results after seeing so much of the same thing on Facebook. I shut down. I’m still a bit shut down, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to shut down this blog.

It’s not that I don’t believe in a moral universe that bends toward justice anymore. It’s that I’m not sure I’m the right person to claim it anymore, for many reasons.

I’m confused about so many things.

Let me say outright that I do not support the President-Elect or, so far, any of his cabinet picks.  They appall me. The thought of white supremacy not just creeping, but being invited into the Oval Office is a nightmare. The thought of people who know nothing about foreign policy, about the plight of the poor, about compassion, about diversity, about public education, about the Constitution itself running this government seems to me like a harbinger of the end of times and the end of civilization as we know it.

And I’m cynical enough that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the elections were indeed rigged, but not in the favor of the Democratic candidate.

Equally confusing to me as how this was allowed to happen is the growing backlash from younger civil rights activists. I have been witnessing not only a turning away, but an actual uprising against the people such as John Lewis who sacrificed so much for the cause of equal rights.

I am personally witnessing it, and I don’t know how to respond.

I am beginning to relive, and again in a personal way, what I lived through in college as the Black Power movement rose. At that time, black women in my Washington, DC, college dormitory told me outright that they could not be friends with me because I was white.

It didn’t matter what my beliefs were, where my heart was, what my background was. I was white, and that was all that mattered.

For reasons I have no understanding of, I was born believing that I was one human being sharing this planet with billions of other human beings whose lives mattered as much as mine. I grew up during the MLK years with a burden of guilt about my white skin and tending to identify more with people of color than with white people.

Then I was told that my white skin was not welcome in the struggle.

And the worst thing was that I understood completely. I continue to understand, but it hurts and I’m tired of feeling the burden of white guilt.

I can’t help but continue to do what I do because I can’t help but continue to believe that we are all equal, that our world cries out for the acceptance, the embracing of diversity, and I don’t want to live in a world without that diversity.  I will continue to speak out and protest and do all those things, but I do not feel that I am any longer the person who should be writing about the moral universe.

So thank you to those who have read my scribblings of the past few years. May we all find the courage to work for justice and equality wherever we are, whoever we are. And now I’m going to go get over myself.

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Let Them Rest in Peace, But We Must Not

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I am sick, sick, sick of having to pray for the families of black victims of police What are we white people going to do about it? How the hell can we feel patriotic about a country that values life so little?

I would like to suggest that all white policemen in the United States be pulled from duty immediately and given this test, Project Implicit, as well as a psychiatric evaluation before being allowed back on duty or yanked off the force.

You can’t fudge this Harvard-based test for prejudices. It’s not intuitive, and even if you think you’re giving the “correct” answers, it doesn’t work that way. I took it a few years ago, and I’m pretty good at spotting how to “play” a test.

Both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were said to be carrying guns. So? Both of the states they died in allow anyone to carry a gun. Louisiana probably allows 3 year olds to carry guns. They were not using the guns, they were not aiming the guns, they were doing nothing that could ever justify the kangaroo court of idiotic, racist policemen who took their lives.

I hope that no white person ever says in front of me that they couldn’t bear to watch the videos of their murders. We MUST watch them; we MUST bear witness to what white policemen are doing – and probably think they’re doing in our names.

On Saturday, I attended a symposium on the subject of “Driving While Black.” Two black men narrated their experiences of being stopped and the heavy-handedness of the police involved. Thank God Jerome and Jermaine are alive. It broke my heart to listen to them talk about the steps they have to take to try NOT to be killed by a policeman. They talked about their mothers’ fears whenever they left the house. Now they have children, and they talked about their fear for them.

What century is this again? As my friend and activist Maximo Anguiano posted today, don’t forget to set your clocks back 300 years tonight. And tomorrow you’d damn well better start speaking out or you are as complicit as the police in these murders.

 

 

American Pieta

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As we approach the commemoration of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, I can’t help but think of all the people betrayed by the forces of evil in this country that do not believe in the either the Constitution or the words in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. May the hope of resurrection and reunion bring some small measure of comfort to all the mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers and friends of the betrayed.

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Strong Women, Strong Messages

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Delores Jones-Brown and Jamie Williamson know of what they speak.

In effect, I spent the weekend with these women, 7 hours with Ms. Williamson at a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination training on Saturday and a couple of hours with Dr. Jones-Brown Sunday at a Black Lives Matter lecture.

I was glad to have something useful to do this weekend after the horrific news on Friday of the attacks in Paris. The more work there is going on for, as I believe, the good of humankind, the more evil will lose in the end.

Perhaps more pointedly, I do fear that when such attacks take place, the right wing in this country will take an even harder line against anybody they perceive as different. Amid praying for people whose loved ones are known to be dead and for people who are trying to find out whether their loved ones are dead, I see the evil ripple effects that an Isis attack anywhere will have on this country. So spending a weekend immersed in justice issues and reaffirming that, yes, black lives matter, was healing in its way.

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Jamie R. Williamson

Ms. Williamson is chair of the MCAD. The training was an initial introduction to the work of doing intakes for the MCAD and learning many of the nuances behind what both complainants and responders say in order to determine whether probable cause exists. The full training can’t possibly happen in one day, but it was an excellent dip in the controversial waters of a discrimination complaint and all that has to happen before a determination can be made.

The chairwoman is one of the liveliest people I’ve ever met. She talks at about 80 miles an hour, interspersing her comments with amusing anecdotes or not-so-amusing tidbits about what it was like to grow up black in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1995, Ms. Williamson became the first African-American to serve on the Pittsfield City Council and the first African-American to serve at-large. Yes, that’s right, a mere 20 years ago, no African-Americans had served on that city council until Ms. Williamson came along.

A graduate of Smith College, she was graduated from Smith College, she is the former executive director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center in Holyoke and since 2005 has served on the Access to Justice Commission, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Dr. Jones-Brown came to the Berkshires at the invitation of the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series, which this year chose Black Lives Matter as its theme. A former New Jersey prosecutor, she is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. The title of her talk was “The American Cop-Out: Police as the (Re)New(ed) Form of Social Inequality.

Delores Jones-Brown

Delores Jones-Brown

“We’re back in a place we thought we’d left behind,” she began, referring particularly toward police violence against black and brown males.

Dr. Jones-Brown teaches and works with many policemen and said that she knows some fine people in law enforcement. The issue of police violence, however, is tainting the good cops at the same time that young men of color are being singled out by the bad ones.

She spoke in detail about the two methods of policing adopted by New York City police commissioners: “Stop and Frisk” under Commission Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg and “Broken Windows” adopted by Commissioner Bratten and Mayor DiBlasio. S&F was an overtly racist method, whereupon NYC police were not only allowed but encouraged to stop anyone of color. That included children who lived in projects where the police had a presence.

Broken Windows is supposed to be based on the idea that if someone commits a small crime, they will likely one day commit a serious crime. However, the list of things for which someone can be stopped under this theory is laughable and has absolutely no connection with any statistics on who commits homicide: 1) riding a bicycle on the sidewalk; 2) carrying an open container; 3) urinating in public; 4) having marijuana in public view; 5) jaywalking.

How many of us could be stopped for at least three of these if not more?

Dr. Jones-Brown profiled the police departments in some cities that she things gets things right, including San Diego, Houston, Orlando and Detroit. With community-based programs, the police not only get to know the people in the areas they patrol, but they help them and are often helped by those people.

She gave a lot of statistics to support her point of view, about which she has written numerous articles, a book (Race, Crime and Punishment), and lectured on. One of the most impressive was through a study done by the New York State attorney general’s office. Of 2.5 million stops of pedestrians from 2009 to 2012, only 150,000 arrests were made. Of those arrests, half the cases were dismissed. Of the remaining cases, less than .10% were because of violent crime.

So 2,425,000 people (though possibly the same people were stopped multiple times) were harassed by the NYC police for no good reason. That is a powerful lot of psychological trauma being created.

The answers aren’t easy, but there are groups trying to turn the situation around, she said. Cure Violence (www.cureviolence.org) is one. She also suggested becoming familiar with New York’s Right to Know Act, through which a policeman actually has to introduce himself, and she gave www.policeandcommunity.org as a resource.

Both Ms. Williamson and Dr. Jones-Brown are younger than I am by a fair amount. It made me feel so hopeful knowing that strong women with strong messages are out there and have attained positions where they have influence and the authority to get their message out.

The Moral Universe – Black Lives Matter, Period.

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At an NAACP rally in Amherst, Massachusetts, the other day, Dr. Barbara Love (http://www.barbarajlove.com/) talked about research on the moral lives of babies.

She said that research has shown that babies are hardwired toward fairness. If someone manipulates dolls in front of an infant and makes one of the dolls hit the other, the baby will turn away and disengage. It will not engage again until fairness is restored. And we all know, from our own experience, that one of the earliest cries of a child is, “That isn’t fair!”

Barbara J. Love

Barbara J. Love

Dr. Love’s ultimate message was about the #Black Lives Matter movement and the fear that the movement seems to instill in many white people. “All lives matter,” they cry, “not just black lives. That’s not fair!”

Yet, they do not seem able to grasp that not only does the #Black Lives Matter movement not mean that white lives don’t matter, neither do they seem to grasp the unfairness and injustice with which black lives have been treated in this country.

White lives have mattered to the exclusion of all other human lives since white Europeans stepped onto these shores. Historically, for white people (and I am white), the universe has been centered on them. First, last and always, domestic and foreign policies have been based on the questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “How is this going to affect me?”

Despite credible evidence passed to the United States by people on the ground that Nazi Germany was rounding up Jews and it looked as if the Jews were being murdered, the US government chose not to intervene because it still hoped to collect from Adolph Hitler the rest of the reparations owed by Germany according to the Treaty of Versailles. Not until our own shores were attacked did the government go into action.

The Vietnam war? A tragedy for the United States, all are agreed. Was it not first and foremost a tragedy for the Vietnamese people? How many Americans were made refugees by that conflict? And had to come and live in the very country that made them refugees? Ask a Vietnamese refugee what it’s like to live in the US.

And yes, I’m going to go there. 9/11. We will be picking at that scab until the end of time. But do we ever acknowledge that mass killings occur on a regular basis in many countries in the world? Do we understand what is happening in the world right at this moment? Do we understand that those dead children on distant beaches are dead because of white men’s actions that destabilized a large segment of the Middle East?

So when white people say something’s not fair, they usually mean that it is not fair to the system of white privilege that they enjoy. This is what is still being taught to white children when they first say, “That’s not fair!” Black children? They have to sit down with their parents and hear that, no, life  isn’t fair for them, and here’s some things they need to learn to stay alive in this society.

#Black Lives Matter? You bet they do. White lives matter? Not the point. Police lives matter? Not the point. All lives matter? Not the point. Now deal with it.

The Moral Universe – Changing What Should be Changed

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I’ve been reminded a few times recently of the Serenity Prayer.

While talking to #Black Lives Matter activists, Hillary Clinton told them emphatically, “You’re not going to change anyone’s hearts. You need to change the laws.”

While talking to a friend while I was fretting about a global problem, she said, “Don’t worry about it. You can’t change it.”

I am often told, “It is what it is.”

The Serenity Prayer was written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1934:

God, give us
Serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
Courage to change what should be changed,
And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

In its original form, the prayer is different from that adopted by 12-Step groups, and there’s good reason for that. People newly straight, sober or learning to live with alcoholism shouldn’t be changing much of anything until they have good sobriety under their belts.

I think, however, that the prayer as practiced by 12-Steppers is the prayer that most people are familiar with and may be used as an excuse not to change, not to wade into the fray, to just say “It is what it is” and make no attempt to be part of the solution.

Ms. Clinton sounded very down-to-earth and practical when talking to the #Black Lives Matter people. She could; by chance or design, they did not get a chance to interrupt her public appearance as they did Bernie Sanders’ on two occasions. Arriving late, the activists settled for a “private” talk with her (it was being taped). It was when one of the activists talked about changing hearts that she made her statement.

I tried to envision her saying that to Martin Luther King. Or Nelson Mandela. Or even Reinhold Niebuhr.

Changing laws is, yes, in the short term the way to progress in the areas of equal justice. But it is not a long-term solution. As we have seen, those who do not want equal justice are pretty good at changing laws too. They can even get the Supreme Court to change laws that have been in place for almost 50 years.

But notice that Niebuhr’s prayer talks about changing what should be changed. And without changing hearts and minds, nothing much is really changed. Granted, someone who has had their right to vote revoked may be well-served, and should be well-served, by a change in law. But someone who feels uncomfortable walking down the street in a white neighborhood, or who cannot go into a store without being followed around by a white employee, or who can’t drive anywhere without being stopped by police and possibly murdered: those are situations that only changes of minds and hearts can solve.

Paradox is the keynote of both Niebuhr’s prayer and his life. The son of an Evangelical minister and German immigrant, he himself was a practicing minister even before he had attended Yale Divinity School. His first sermon before an interdenominational audience, in 1913, considered the paradox of the text from Matthew 10:39: “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” He turned the paradox to a more personal level: “. . .self-preservation means self-destruction and self-destruction means self-preservation. . . As a mirage in the desert the happiness we seek will disappear when we seek it; we will lose our life when we attempt to find it.”

This problem of life, he said, can only be solved by love and self-sacrifice. “Selfishness, that is our sin. To overcome it, that is the problem of our lives.” He saw love as the answer to the paradox, and over the next decades of his life, he practiced what he preached. As a pastor in Detroit in the 1920s, he saw the exploitation of workers and threw himself into pro-labor issues. He preached against the consumer culture and against complacency and laziness. He crusaded against racial prejudice and tried to radicalize black students in the South through lectures sponsored by the African Missionary Society.

Niebuhr did sacrifice himself in his quest to change what he thought should be changed. He lost many friendships because of his unpopular views, and his physical and mental health suffered. He had periods of turning to thoughts of anarchism and communism and was persecuted by Joe McCarthy. His connection to the area in which I live began with admittance to the Austen Riggs Institution in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a mental health facility.

In the end, perhaps, we all have different notions of what should be changed. But for those of us, and Niebuhr was one, MLK was one, Nelson Mandela was one, who envision the Peaceable Kingdom, envision a society in which all creation has the right not only to exist, but to flourish. To be useful rather than to be used. To enjoy all the rights and privileges of society. And we shouldn’t have to change the law every damn time we turn around. Only by changing hearts and minds can that state exist.

The Moral Universe – We Remember You

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Not least of the things that bother me about Donald Trump, and Republican campaign buffoonery in general, is that it has pushed off the news streams information about the aftermath of the June 17 massacre in Charleston.

On this two-month anniversary, we should still be in deep conversation about this tragedy, along with the deaths of Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose, and Christian Taylor.

Ferguson got only negative attention on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.

The 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also barely got any mentions.

What does this say about our moral universe?

Yes, I do believe that Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, et al should be called out when they are lying, making up figures, and spouting racist nonsense.

But if we lose touch with the grief and the outrage, we will not continue to fight to change the mindsets of those who hate so much.

For one thing, we have got to get the bill to restore the Voting Rights Act passed before the 2016 election. The wanton murder of African-Americans goes a long way to demonstrating why it needs to be restored. Not only do #Black Lives Matter, Black Votes Matter.

Let us not be distracted from the important work ahead of us. Let our motto be: We Remember You.