25 November 2014

In the Heat of the Night

Less than 12 hours after it came down, many have already responded to the Grand Jury decision about officer Wilson's killing of Michael Brown.  I have not, and there is a reason.

Long ago, before I was thirty but after I was married, there was a moment when I was so filled with anger that words were useless.  In my fury, and my haste to quit the room, I toppled a coat rack which broke when it hit the ground.  Handmade by my father-in-law, and thus very precious to my wife, the sight of it lying in fragments broke me into pieces as well.  I collapsed in tears of regret and shame.

Like Billy Budd, to express deep anger - the profound anger of powerless injustice - often does more harm. It is not revenge at all but a volcanic response to being done wrong and being unable to right it.

This may be the heart of why racial justice has always been part of my life and work.  It started when I was 12 and promoted including Tony, one of the black kids being bused in to school, to be on the safety patrol.  None were and that was wrong, even to a kid like me.  I succeeded.  A week or two after he got his white belt and badge my messy desk caused my teacher to have me cut from the safety patrol.

The irony and proximity has never left me. Those who work for racial justice will not be welcome because true racial justice means everything will change.

In our dogmatically capitalist times, where politics and morality are treated as markets and success is measured by how much more you have than someone else, the reality that racial justice means everything will change means for many that the winners become losers and vice-versa.  Justice is thus a 'zero-sum game,' as we now say, meaning that some have more and some have less and that's just the way things are.

And that's what makes me angry beyond words. If we think this is the way it has to be - some having more justice than others - then America is a lie because America exists 'to establish justice.'  We must believe that everything should change, not only because the way things are now are unjust but because we will be better off as people and a nation if we do this.

Liberty and Justice are not zero-sum games, limited resources, commodities to be bought and sold and traded.  Yet we treat them like they are, and so some get more and some get less.  In America, people of color notably get less, as they have for over 400 years.

It may be that in this case, there was no crime according to law.  I am prepared to see that, but only if others are prepared to say that law is no guarantee of justice.  Injustice is very legal when it comes to marriage for lesbians and gays in Michigan.  Injustice is quite legal when it comes to children getting educated fully.  Injustice is legal where money is speech and poverty is silenced.

We need a better America, the one we pledged allegiance to in school.




1 comment:

James Taylor said...

Fred,
You very eloquently said the words in my heart today. It is indeed true that those who speak truths and seek justice will be shunned. A truly sad truth for those who live in this land which prides itself on its welcome of "the other" and its ability to foster success in any person. Thanks for your words, they comfort me and make me sad at the same time.
-Jim Taylor