Friday, June 19, 2015

That Which Cannot Be Named

I am thinking of the phrase used to describe Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Voldemort is, as most probably know, the evil one, the devil. He is the Dark Lord. Even to say his name is to invoke his power, hence the use of epithets. "He who cannot be named" kept a lot of people from invoking the awful name.

Over the past few days I have been feeling like we are doing the same thing in some ways in our nation- or at least parts of it. The mass killings in Charleston on Wednesday have again brought our national original sin to the forefront. Except when you don't want to admit its existence. All kinds of spin and "explanations" have been given.

  • One presidential candidate called it "an accident" which the president politicized into gun control.
  • Another presidential candidate said he didn't know what was going on in the shooter's head, in spite of the fact the shooter made it very clear what was going on in his head.
  • Certain news outlets spun the whole thing into an attack on Christians and the church, a favorite right wing explanation. Again, the shooter was very clear about his reasons for shooting and even choosing this particular church because of its historic role in gaining civil rights.
  • Others have gone so far as to "blame" one of the victims, a South Carolina State Senator, because he voted for gun control. If he hadn't, there would have been people there in the church carrying weapons and would have stopped the carnage.
And yet:
  • Accident? You've got to be kidding me!! 
  • When a black teen robs a store for cigarettes, he is a "thug" almost deserving of being killed. Nobody asked if he was on any psychotropic meds that could have caused him to lose his ability to make good decisions.
  • When a black church was bombed in the south in the 1960s no one saw that as an attack on Christians. They would have been laughed out of the media.
  • Many churches in open-carry states forbid guns in the building. It would have been the church's fault, then, if they had refused to allow open- or even hidden-carry.
That which cannot be named. Our national original sin, present since the creation of the country.

Racism. Through slavery. Through the subjugation of native people. Through Euro-centric superiority. Many groups have felt its sting. But only those who looked different- of different color most often- could never escape it. They could not blend into the white background. They could not change their names, "anglicize" them.

That which cannot be named.

And why the hell not? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that if we admit that it still exists we might have to confront it in the sometimes subtle ways it shows up? Are we afraid that if we admit its ongoing existence we will have to look at ourselves and see where we might still be impacted by it in our own actions? Are we so concerned that we look and feel "perfect" as a nation that to admit to any shortcomings or national character defects will be "unpatriotic" and blow the cover on our denial?

As I ponder this I realize that I am talking about the need for recovery at the deepest places of our national soul. Here, watch this video:

To be American is to be Euro-centric? Wrong! Forever wrong!

Denial only allows the illness of prejudice and racism to grow, just as addiction. In the Twelve-Step fellowships, not to mention the fellowship of Jesus' followers, it is only when we can admit to the presence of the problem that we can deal with it. If it cannot be named, we can't change. If we don't get down to the nitty-gritty of our national character defects we can't confess them to our higher power and ask for them to be removed. We can't because we don't believe we have it. We are cured; we are healed; we are open to people of all colors and creeds. And when we are not, well, it's their fault.

I have been challenged many times by my own ability to fall into my character defects. I can't begin to count the times when this systemic racism has reared its ugly head in my own head.

Damn, I thought I was passed that. But no, I am human, and as imperfect as the next guy. Like with my addiction, I need to be always aware of the possibility of falling back into old habits, old behaviors, old ways of thinking that I didn't even know I had.

Let's talk about this. Let's listen to each other and the pain that is still being felt in our society. Let's be honest about ourselves and what is happening. To admit to it and work on doing something about it does not undermine our national identity. It shows our strengths and willingness to care for each other!
O God,
Your children of all colors
Have been hurt by racism.
Help us heal together.
Help us do the inner work
To be open to your grace
And to the "balm in Gilead"
So our hearts are converted,
And we can join hands
To do the constructive work
Of love and justice.

--Education for Justice

1 comment:

Steve Bingner said...

Well said. There are many sides of ongoing racism in this country and this is clearly one of the worst.