It’s becoming clear we’re in the throes of a national crisis. And the conversation surrounding race and racism has completely nullified all other conversations. It’s not in the spotlight – it is the spotlight. It’s the sociological filter of every piece of communication, new and old. Perhaps there is still a presidential race going on, but we’ve forgotten. We’re facing a collective reckoning, or at least participating in some part of one.
In the course of the past week, I may have been exposed to the Corona virus – so as I await test results, I’m doing a lot of thinking (and scrolling on my phone). The internet never ends. It’s not like reading a book. And we’re searching for answers, trying to put forward summations that don’t exist. The “truth” about what’s going on, the “right position” doesn’t really exist. This is way too complex.
At the forefront of the conversation is the debate about what to do with old white people. What to do with the dead, white founders of southern universities; what to do with statues of the Confederate war heroes; and even what to do with Flannery O’ Connor. Pieces of granite who have been fondly celebrated for decades find themselves smashed, painted over, or draped in flags burned in effigy. Some call it cancel culture. If a historical figure or piece of art can be shown to be racist, it gets “cancelled,” thrown out.
Generally, I’m on board with removing Confederate statues.Why commemorate those who valiantly fought for such an evil way of life? Through I get the sense that isn’t all they were fighting for. The rather obvious problem is “when to stop.” If society of America past and its citizens operated from an openly racist framework, it’s only plausible to rip up every piece of granite older than 100 years. And then you could root out the CEOs (just happened to Crossfit), and down the chain.
It is a logical progression so long as the question of racism dominates all other concerns. Our charge against men and women of old is their sin of racism; they judged themselves to be superior and used their power to hold down other people. They played God an took dignity as if it was their’s to take – they judged life and pronounced the fate of people groups. They said If you are not white, you are not human, or are less human, etc. They took the seat of the judge, made themselves God.
The irony is of course readily apparent. Contemporary society has chosen one variable, racism, and judged our ancestors by their failure or success on this test. Lives, even history itself, have been subjected to our judgement. We have become God, drawing lines through anything that fails the test. Virtue has been stripped down to one criterion, “Was this person a racist?” And if they were, they get axed. We have become gods ourselves, little despots in their image.
It only leaves me to wonder what criteria our children and grandchildren will judge us by. When I’ve been laying in my grave a few decades, or heck, made into a statue, why will I be hit with graffiti? Perhaps for my treatment of the poor – I ignored beggars and contributed to systems which kept them destitute. Or my treatment of women: I had a wife whom I forced to prepare my food (or maybe I “got married” at all). I drank coffee harvested by underpaid laborers. More likely, it’s something I can’t recognize because it’s such a part of my sinfulness.
Our country is in the throes of reckoning. Perhaps it’s one we need. Our white ancestors deified themselves, played God, failed horribly to love one another, and created systems which held their neighbors to a low status. And while we raise the gavel and give them the blows they deserve, I find myself glancing over my shoulder.
If and when our descendants come for us, we’ll be just as helpless as these statues – standing there still as stone, unable to ask for the forgiveness they need.
And I wonder what they’d say if they could.