Monday, September 7, 2020

A Third Word about White Racism

My nannie is not the whole story.  In my neighborhood lives a couple of elderly whites who are long retired, live in comfort, but are not in good health.  They relocated from a state to figure prominently in this fall’s election.  As long as I have known them, I have known that they are angry people, particularly roused by politics.  Recent news from Kenosha about the police near killing of Jacob Blake, the protests and vandalism, and the talk about white racism has infuriated them.


Back in 2008, while we walked our dogs together, Rex (so I shall call him) and I talked about serious topics from our different perspectives, until he got angry and we changed the topic.  One day, months before the election, I said that I was having difficulty writing a blog on the Republican Party because I could not figure out what it stood for, since it was divided on so many traditional positions.  Rex got angry, shouted an obscenity, and stalked off.  We eventually resumed a cordial relationship and civil conversations.  Still, I shall not mention that the Republican Party has now taken a pass on a platform and has nothing to stand on as a political party, only a cult figure to kneel to in worship.


Years later, while I walking my dogs in a field below their house, Regina (so I shall call her) screamed at me, “You Liberals are to blame for everything wrong with this country.”  I said nothing, waved, and kept walking.


Recently, Rex and I accosted me in a local store.  He began by telling me that I would think him a racist because of his views on the Kenosha protests.  I told him that I neither discuss issues by labeling others nor like being told what I would think about them.  As his remark suggests, Rex was too quick to protest too much.  It was a pre-emptive defense of what he knows or fears may be, and be seen to be, his underlying racism.  I silently accepted his self-identification, though but I seldom care and rarely leap from a person’s views to a person’s biases.  Ad hominem-ism is not my thing.


The specific issue was the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the twists and turns of our exchange illustrates difficulties in justifying a political position reflecting prejudice and disregarding fact.  Rex was already angry and got angrier as our exchange proceeded.


Rex began by deploring the violence and damage which attended the protests, and stressing the need for law and order.  I agreed but added that law and order addresses only the consequences, not the causes, of the protests, with others likely until the causes are addressed.  I added that shooting a man in the back is not law and order.  (If the conversation had occurred a few days later, I might have asked him whether law and order applied to President Trump, who urged North Carolinians to cast both by-mail and in-person ballots—a deliberate act of double voting being a felony in the state.)


Rex shifted to justifying the police because the victim resisted arrest.  I disagreed by noting that he had not been charged, was walking away from the encounter, and was threatening no one.  Rex insisted that walking away itself was resisting arrest; I said that it was no such thing.  I added that any charge, if one had been made, was no reason to shoot the victim, much less in the back seven times.


Rex shifted to defending the police because he was protecting himself from a man with a knife.  I disagreed by noting that the knife was on the floor, nothing indicated that the victim was reaching for it, and, given the locations of knife, victim, and police, the police could not see or know about a knife on the floor before shooting the victim.


Then I added three points which caused Rex to break off and hurry away.  One, police accept risk in taking the job; if they cannot, they should seek a job less dangerous.  I referenced Army policy when I was in Vietnam (as he was, in the Air Force).  There, a rule of engagement permitted soldiers in hostile populated areas to fire only after being fired upon.  Two, resisting arrest is not a crime justifying enforcement which risks the victim’s life.  Such enforcement (aka, “excessive force”) is an execution.  Three, police violence in the name of law and order should matter less than the value of a human life.


Whatever Rex thought of my other responses, my last one may have hit home.  He is a member of a mainstream Protestant faith and of a weekly Bible study group.  He may have read about the value of human life and learned that Jesus loves everyone and that Christians are enjoined to love others, even enemies.  If so, my final comment may have unintentionally shown him the gap between his angry political position and his earnest religious convictions.  The discrepancy is painful, and the pain from the tension between his two contradictory sets of values fuels his anger.


This discrepancy between political and religious thoughts and feelings explains a lot about why many Christians can be Trump supporters yet believe themselves righteous Christians.  Trump represents himself as straddling the gap, so that supporting him gives temporary relief to underlying tensions between conservative politics and Christian faith.  The great danger to American democracy comes from the Christian right, whether conservatives or white nationalists, which conjoin the political and the religious rather than accept what can be a tolerable tension in their separation.  Poor Rex and Regina, still divided—racist and Christian—and more angry than loving. 

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