integrity and the race conversation

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

When I was in high school learning about one historical clash after another, I often wondered how I would have responded, had I lived in those times.  Would I have protested the Vietnam War?  Where would I have stood, what would I have been doing when Martin Luther King Jr. was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, or when Rosa Parks made her very calculated and fully supported move to stand her ground regarding a bus seat?  What would I have been saying when the battle to desegregate our schools happened?  Would I have spoken out against having separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for “colored folks”?  If a lynch mob had happened in my town, how would I have reacted?  What if I had been in Germany when the Jews had to start wearing stars and receiving second-class citizen treatment?  Would I have hidden Jews from Hitler’s people?  Would I have been silent while my loved ones owned and abused slaves, here in my country?  Would I have hidden slaves from those in authority?

In other words:  would I have had integrity to the point of being endangered by it, or would I have offered my complicit silence and hidden behind what was “legal” in those times and places?  Would I have maybe even believed in/agreed with what I now see as “the wrong side” of history?  A younger me was sure I’d have been a firebrand for truth.  Middle-aged me is not so sure about that.  Everyone wants to think they’d do the “right” thing, looking back on various points in history, even if we disagree on what thing is actually right.  I suspect that the number of us who would ACTUALLY be bold and uncompromising in our integrity is far smaller than the number of who suppose we would.  We human beings are better at theory and intellectual exercise than reality, for the most part.  I’m not at all certain that if I had lived through any of those difficult passages, I’d have acted in a way that would make “today Karen” proud and filled with approval.  Not at all certain.

Let’s segue from “high school Karen” and “historical supposing” to today.  Here and now, August 2017, with Charlotteville, Virginia in the news.  I wondered aloud to my daughter yesterday about the counter-protesters there on that scene.  I tried to decide, was it wise to be there?  Should they have skipped it, knowing it might go the way it did?  Was there value in going to interrupt a racist rally?

While I am a Jesus-follower, an active leader in my church and committed to my faith in my own highly imperfect way, wading into scripture daily and working always on that business of “praying without ceasing”… I am also quite liberal in my political leanings.  I gladly embrace the epithet “wild-eyed liberal” thrown by people who don’t feel the same.  (Surprise!  It is possible to be both of those things!)  After the 2016 presidential election, as I was reeling and horrified and fearful and angry, I got engaged in “resistance” activities.  I had to – it felt like the world was ending, and I couldn’t just sit in my living room while it all burned down.

A Trump rally was scheduled in my area.  My resistance group held a discussion:  what should we do?  While some wanted to protest the rally, the larger consensus was that this had potential for violence and little to no potential for changing hearts and minds…so we opted instead to do some positive activities in other areas on that same day at the same time.  At that time, I felt like the decision was wisdom.

So yesterday, I pondered:  should the counter-protesters in Charlotteville have taken that approach as well?  Should they have just done something positive somewhere nearby, but not on site?  Would that have been wisdom?

And then I thought about what was at stake – the agenda of the alt-right rally.

I thought about how we view the people who were actively involved in slave trading – and even how we view the folks who simply didn’t offer resistance while it all went down.

I thought about the Jews saved in Germany by those who risked terrible consequences, breaking the law even…and how we feel about them, as compared to how we feel about those who knew damned well and good what that smell was emanating in the neighborhood when Jews were being burned up in furnaces.

I thought about how much easier desegregation could have been for those poor kids who took so much abuse, if only people had chosen to address evil directly, rather than talking around it or being too afraid of their racist neighbors and family to actually speak out.

We can’t always carefully craft our words so that they will land softly – doing so, in some cases, is a direct injustice, an act of cowardice or worse.

Calling out racism can’t be the *only* strategy we have, or it’s not a strategy at all – that’s just useless talk, on its own.  We have to be looking for active ways to be part of the solution, to address the problem, to give of OURSELVES, our money, our time, our “rights.”  And I confess:  I have a really hard time finding those active ways.  I try, but it’s not often self-evident to me.

But that doesn’t mean we should not be calling out racism.  What if the Germans had called out Hitler’s regime often, early, and boldly?  What if when slaves on ships had started showing up on American shores, people would have said, “Oh, HELL no,” and backed it up with might?  Our only strategy can’t be just shaking our heads and muttering quietly to others who won’t be mad at us for our opinion.

So…not that anyone in Charlotteville needs MY blessing…but I’ve concluded that their presence at the rally was integrity.  I hope I’d have the clarity of vision to be similarly willing, in their shoes.  My interpretation of my faith demands that I stand up for oppressed people, and that I resist evil.  I don’t see it as optional.

Truly, no part of me is excited at the prospect that this race conversation is far from over…that I might get my chance to make such a decision, somewhere down the road.

If so, I hope – I PRAY – my integrity holds.

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