My Longest Mile

Perhaps the measure of our sincerity is measured best through tribulation.

For the first time ever, Joy and I participated in a march. In this case, a march to the steps of the Alabama Capitol. This isn’t the kind of thing one wants to do in the middle of a gout flareup in conjunction with plantar faciitis. You end up way behind the pack. It gives one extra time to think and consider the rationale and motivation for taking each step.

I wrote that the day after, but never finished. Earlier this week the Rabbi shared an experience of meeting with Montgomery’s mayor and a couple of ministers. One white minister said something along the lines that the reason there was no violence in Montgomery is because here blacks go to church. How many degrees of wrong could that possibly be?

Wrong because it implies that Marx was right (when misquoted) that religion is the opiate of the people. Yeah, the blacks here weren’t violent because the churches induced some kind of spiritual stupor. It was wrong because it puts yet another nail in an entire generation developing faith in God.

No wonder one black leader talked about her son asking her, “Why should I have anything to do with your white god? Why should I follow a path that leads to no substantial change of any kind? Maybe MLK had a dream, but that dream is dead. It came to nothing.” What could she say? Wasn’t he basically saying, take you spiritual suppression and shove it?

It was wrong because it is so very far disconnected from reality. First, our minister has no idea how close the city was to being set on fire. Second, he has no correct idea why that didn’t happen. Third, he seems to believe that his preaching made some positive effect on the situation. What hubris.

It was wrong because he apparently exerted no mental or social energy to understand. There is no evidence of empathy, sympathy, and perhaps not even love, kindness, or any other virtue.

I could go on for a long time.

What I saw in that march were all kinds of people, including government officials and police that were there in support. There was comradery. It was as if everyone there were unified regarding the need for change. It probably helps that there is a black mayor, a black police chief, etc.

Yes. I have some strong opinions here. Here are a couple of quotes from posts I have made to blogs and friends. I conclude with these.

[Responding to comment: “This is what, it has come to! To[o] many police are very unpredictable and dangerous.” LINK]

Even one is too many.

When I try to unwind this to see how we got here, I can’t help but wonder if this is what it looks like in a dangerous profession where rule one is to protect oneself and rule two is to protect your buddy. Somewhere further down the list is protect victims and innocent civilians. Further down yet is to protect those who might be guilty and somewhere near the bottom (if not the bottom) is to protect those who might be presumed to be guilty. Notwithstanding “innocent until proven,” it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to jump from this to imposing a system of formal and informal training (and therefore culture) that biases a professional police force.

If we then add to this a meritocracy where ones advancement and therefore pay and livelihood, and also reputation and prestige is tied to metrics such as numbers of felons cuffed, tickets written, etc, the system (systemic) will learn to lean with the wind. It must be exceedingly difficult to be in a position where one feels personally criticized, demeaned, disparaged, and perhaps even demonized for following the rules prescribed and enforced by society.

I have no intent here to defend the behaviors and actions. I simply have a difficult time buying into the idea that the majority of those who chose a career to serve as a police officer are inherently evil any more than Vietnam soldiers were evil or Kent State demonstrators were evil, etc. I agree the system is broken. I don’t think the blacks broke it. I don’t think the police broke it. Having to deal with the fact that my ignorance and apathy may have helped to break it is humbling. That is perhaps my way of “seeing this personally.”

[Responding to comment: “Blacks have feared whites for centuries no need to explain why. Fear is a natural emotion. Hate is not. One side of this equation should ask themselves WHY…Maybe vision themselves on the otherside.”]

This is thought provoking (please pardon, I don’t know how to say this without being “personal”).

As a child in NJ, I was brought up to fear blacks. I only knew one, Micky. He was nicer to me than almost all whites. I cannot think of a single black person that I have ever hated. The only people I’ve hated were/are white. Having spent a couple of years in Taiwan, early in the period I hated the Chinese culture, but not the Chinese (if any of you have ever experienced culture shock, you’ll understand). That’s the easy part.

There are times when the fear was visceral: the time I took a wrong turn and ended up in the “wrong neighborhood” in NYC with family in the minivan; the time I attended a tech show at the Javits Center and walked down 9th Ave near 46th St having had dinner a little to late; etc. I’ve had few opportunities to develop real friendships with blacks. Blacks & Browns didn’t exist in my high-tech engineering world.

Then, about two years ago, we moved to the Montgomery Area. Now, if I had to list the top 20 people on their way to become close friends, with the exception of a few Jews and one man from the church I attend, all are black. And there is none that I would rather spend my time with than Brother Jones, down at the AME church, handing out food to those crushed by Covid19. I felt no fear and no anger towards anyone (police included) during the march to the state capital. I heard some angry words, but I didn’t see anger or fear manifest by or towards any individual, police included.

Now for the hard part. Do I still fear blacks? Sometimes. There are times and places where it is clearly manifest that I am intruding. There is a certain body language and hardening of the face and eyes that makes it pretty clear that I am not welcome, and it is best if I leave immediately. Said differently, I never hated blacks, but I certainly have felt hated by them; I have feared blacks, but never felt feared by them. My guess is that many blacks have felt the inverse, and other combinations.

Oddly, I’ve seen less fear and hatred here in Alabama than when I lived up north (may have much to do with who I hang out with). I’m told that is because “down here, the blacks and whites had to learn how to live in close proximity with each other (aka, slavery; I’ve heard this from both blacks and whites).” During a recent AME food delivery day, I asked Skip the same. His response was different, “there are four kinds of people here in Montgomery, the haves, the have-nots, the crazies, and the stupids [ignorant, foolish].” Maybe his answer would have been different if we had both been black. Maybe.

[Responding to comment: “I never have Judged by color. I treat and respect individuals based on their actions. However, I do get judged by the color of my skin. When I was a 17 yr young Marine it was almost daily. If I was hanging out with 2 or more friends “Black” if one was white it was ok. We had to disburse that’s was policy. During my Marine career racial situation occurred frequently, even knocking a fellow Marine out for spitting in my face and calling me the Nword several times. I won Best in Show at a Bike Show in Arkansas, guy walked up to me and said nice bike for a black man. Attended a Bike night in North Ga, dude saw my rank on my bike and said Damn a Nword with stripes, he walked briskly away. I could go on and on. If I had a dollar for every time I directly experience Racism. I could by a [bike] for every member on this forum. Well maybe half. So, I understand the isolated events some have experienced SAD. Three weeks ago lady coming down the isle in a grocery store approaching me. I’m stationary looking at a product. She gets in my face and says you’re freaking Asshole you’re not social distancing called me the Nword stuck her finger in the air and walked away. I was followed by a cop for about 5 miles, I was driving my 69 Camaro. I pulled into my garage, he was parked in front of my driveway, so I asked him if I could help him. He looked at me and said do I look like I need any help. I said ok, went into my garage he stayed there for another 5 minutes then left. I’ve dated outside my race several times…”OH BOY”, don’t want to hear those stories, even at the [bike] Rally. I just hope this racial hate goes away for all our children and grandchildren. Hearts and minds need to change and that is HARD. I am still trying to figure out why Blacks are so HATED as a racial group. Opinions are welcome….]

Thanks. Your point about isolated events is well taken. I was most certainly not attempting to presume any kind of equivalence with those anecdotes. Having Chinese children walk up to me an pet the hair on my arms and call me “hou-dz,” is not equivalent (e.g., monkey; it was well understood by the children that the Chinese are more highly evolved than we westerners based on our greater similarity to our evolutionary parents). I would eventually be able to go home, and any bias would become history and like this account, not infrequently funny.

I was raised to be a racist. I own that. I am working hard to rid myself of it. I was raised to fear blacks. I own that. I am learning to be more circumspect by not generalizing. I was raised to fear bikers. I own that too. Again, learning…. I wish I had “woke up” earlier. I’m glad to have conversations with my children and grandchildren in what I hope is more than a token gesture at compensating and correcting. It is a much longer discussion about what (e.g., animals, people) is appropriate to fear and how those fears are learned and unlearned.

Hatred, though, is another story. To read any of my experiences, perspectives, feelings, etc, as hatred is more than over-reaching. Associating hatred with fear or with racism may be true from some, but it is not for all. This does not mean that fear, racism, and hatred can’t coexist. Someone that thinks they must coexist creates an unnecessary barrier to resolution. I hope that no one here feels that way.

[To a friend; minor corrections and additions made]

In Lectures on Faith, we learn about the connection between faith and action. From Alma, we learn about the connection between hope and faith. Lately, working with leaders in the black community, it has become abundantly clear to me (this is not something anyone said, they don’t understand the former points as we do) that the worst of all damage done to the black (and now Latino) communities is stripping them of hope. Without hope, there can be no faith. Without faith, there can be no action. Without action… well, the meritocracy will crush you.

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