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Racism in America ~can we change for the better?


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Usually, dear friends, I interrupt my blog service until the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th. However, on the morning of the Fourth of July last Saturday, I received an email from a friend from the church I had been attending before the coronavirus stopped us from attending church.  He was up in the middle of the night writing an essay about racism in America. (And when I read it there wasn’t a mis-spelling, or a grammar error; the essay was just plain compelling.

I had already posted a couple of external links on the subject on my Facebook page on racism, so he got me think—Hmmm—maybe I should write a blog or two on the subject. And so this is the result.

Many of my long-time readers may recall the story that I’ve often told that I was ordained a deacon for the Catholic Church the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. That was April 4th, 1968. I was a a seminary student at Theological College of the Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C.

At the beginning of the ordination ceremony, we ordinandi laid down on the marble floor before the bishop as the choir intoned the ancient Litany of the Saints, that particular day was mingled with the sounds of sirens wailing in the distance. I sucked in a few deep breaths and told myself I would try to follow that great man’s example and do something about racial justice.

The following month the “Poor Peoples Campaign” that Dr. King had conceived was marching toward Washington had arrived in D.C. and hurriedly constructed what was dubbed as “Resurrection City” on the National Mall. They received a permit for 3,000 folks to set up camp there. I had at times reported certain events for The Florida Catholic, the newspaper for the Orlando, Florida diocese to which I belonged. By the time I got on the Mall, it was a muddy mess. There were wooden sidewalks throughout, but I didn’t have the proper footwear to get around without slipping and sliding. I interviewed a few folks for our paper back home and went back to the seminary for a warm shower. I wasn’t particularly helpful, but at least I ventured out there where the action was.

What I propose to do here is, first share with you my friends essay. Since it’s quite controversial and he himself is a person of color I suggested to him that I not print his name so that he have no repercussions from his family or employer.

And then today also I’m going to share with you Frederick Douglas’  Fifth of July Speech. There was word today that his statue in Rochester, NY was toppled. 

Next week, I will share with some external links I posted on Facebook and two statements by the Bishops of the United States.

It has been said that this movement, sparred by the death of Mr. George Floyd is the largest and longest movement in US history. Let us pray it leads to fruitful change for the better.

Here’s my friend’s essay . . .

Dear Father Bob,

Thank you for sharing your insight and prayers helping us to recognize our national sin.

However, I’d like to offer a few thoughts you might want to consider in our national discussion about racism. First, racism and slavery was pressed upon peoples of color since the 1500s by European peoples, not the other way around. So by the time the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, abject subjugation of Black people and the systematic extinction of Indigenous peoples was the norm.People of color and their families who remained oppressed under this new independence actually ved an alternate historical reality—a Declaration of Indifference.

Four hundred years later, George Floyd’s senseless death by those sworn to protect him, as they idly watched the last breath snatched from him, is our testimony of said indifference. Photographs of the last 100 years record black men hanging from trees while many watched and posed with glee. Billie Holiday recalled seeing lynched black bodies hanging in trees while touring the south subsequently writing an anthem about these atrocities—Strange Fruit An anthem that became ignored. Holiday first performed the song at Café Society in 1939.

She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece, making it a regular part of her live performances. Because of the power of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore. During the musical introduction to the song, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer . . . .

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop

Racism is a product of our character defects. Dr. King revealed this truth when he said,  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” When we live with a sense of entitled superiority rather than with empathy and compassion, we no longer see our brother or sister through God’s eyes, but with our own shortsightedness. Our human family on this earth becomes our “supply” and horrifically treated as such.

Racism then acts like a disease, an evil, contracted in every generation and a virus we can no longer afford.  Sadly those who are plagued with this insanity also suffer the worst kind of denial. A denial that blinds us from humanity and God.
”

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1John 4:20 (NIV)

Thomas Jefferson, a well accomplished man, while pondering the Declaration of Independence and staring out the window at his slaves toiling in the fields lived in the Nineteenth Century, the Age of Enlightenment, for whom I dare ask?

In the movie, Gone with the Wind, a 1939 epic set in the Civil War era around Atlanta that pits two dysfunctional families against each other in sordid romances. There’s been a movement afoot to address the difficult treatment the film depicts of black people and the condoning of slavery. 

Not unlike the dysfunctional relationships we have become all too familiar with today many of us have suffered a lifetime of  harm and abuse at the hands of a loved one or others, and  despite our conscious efforts we still remain unseen, unheard, and unloved.

That is what has happened with black folk who have served, first their “Mass’rs”, and then have been “put in their place” ever since, in ever nook and cranny of our country. Our nation has become—in that sense—like a dysfunctional family.

Thus, racism is a character defect that can never be improved only removed. Many a founding father’s perspective of the sacred document they helped forged, saw their own grandsons and granddaughters leading the South in indenturing slaves for their own aggrandizement. Moreover the following hundreds of years of oppressed living in black and brown communities developed their own generation’s stories.  Is it practical, fair or morally acceptable to gloss over our own racism if we truly love America today or our own honor and dignity?

Finding comfort in the founding fathers wisdom, has brought us to no avail, accept for those who continue to take the life and breath from our black brother, the liberty from our black sister, and the pursuit of happiness from our black children.

Addressing racism in America, will require a bedrock honest approach to this great dilemma and perhaps we may have to admit we have reached the point of exhaustion. Have reached the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired and are willing to take fearless steps to remove our racial attitudes and the behaviors toward others that go with them? Can we find the courage to be accountable for our wrongs and humbly make amends to those we’ve harmed? Georgetown University has already taken a few steps to do that. We need a declaration that is God directed, rather than one that is politically motivated or self-referential..

May God’s Good Peace reign in our hearts through His Holy Spirit, and the unfailing Love of our Lord Jesus Christ, bring us deliverance from all evil. Help us Lord to be reconciled to You and to each other by the help of Your Holy Grace that unifies us. We ask this in Jesus Name, Amen.

Sincerely,

~ G

And now I turn you to another black man of another generation Frederick Douglas

What to the slave is the Fourth of July?

By Frederick Douglass

July 5th, 1852

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th of July oration. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.

I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. Cling to this day – cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. With them, nothing was settled that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were final; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. My business, if I have any here today, is with the present. We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.

Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.

This Fourth of July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

Above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY.

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery – the great sin and shame of America! I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Americans! Your republican politics are flagrantly inconsistent. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! Be warned! Be warned! A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive –
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost. 

And now, before you go, here’s a song that my friend “G” chose for us to conclude with ~ “For the One” Click Here  

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

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