Saturday, September 16, 2017

Battling the urge to over-simplify and do nothing

Yesterday my friend informed me that riots were happening in a town nearby. She explained a situation that involved a cop who had shot a Black drug dealer, allegedly in self-defense. After researching the situation more, it seemed clear to her that the cop was in the wrong and still got off.* This led to the riots near her home. She told me that she didn't understand why the Black community would riot and make themselves look bad by reacting this way.

This is something I hear a lot.

Why do these underprivileged people who face real injustice react to injustice through rage? Why are they doing this to themselves? Don't they know they're just buying into all the racist stuff out there? Don't they know that the peaceful route will lead to change? They just need to keep their heads down and go through things the proper way and eventually justice will take its course.

Yet, the case above does not persuade me to believe that. Neither do several cases of police brutality we've seen in the past few years. Neither does this story I just watched today:

It's scary that this level of racism is becoming mainstream again. I realize it's always been there in the background, but I'm horrified that some of the ugliest moments in our country's history are resurfacing with greater frequency. (Supposing that the coverage of these events has been static since the civil rights movement.) I thought we had thoroughly shamed confederates and Nazis... I digress.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have your loved one killed or nearly killed and hear authorities sympathizing with the perpetrator. It must feel lonely. It must feel alienating to hear your non-Black friends try and rationalize something that is clearly unfair and wrong. It would be really easy to start thinking in terms of us vs. them. It would be easy to feel like you need to do something big to get people to listen. It would be easy to do everything the wrong way and feel justified.

While this line of thought is scattered with thinking errors and does not in any way justify violence, I think it is useful to try and understand the experiences of those who are hurting. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we simplify the suffering of groups of people, especially those groups with whom we interact every day.

My heart is heavy. After watching the clip above, I felt like I should pray about it because I didn't know what else to do with what I was feeling. While I prayed, I thought of a scripture in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 6) that was related to our day. As I read through the scripture, I added a few italicized lines that I thought were applicable to our situation. The italicized lines are not in the original.
10 But it came to pass in the two thousand and seventeenth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. These ranks were also determined by the color of their skin; yea, many were overlooked because of their darker skin, and others were privileged because of their fair skin. 
12a Many merchants, lawyers, and officers were of higher rank; yeah, they had riches, chances for learning, and were fair-skinned. Some of these merchants, lawyers, and officers gave favors to those of higher ranks and overlooked those of lesser ranks. 
13 Some of those of lesser ranks were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land… Men began to rise up and form groups and alliances against one another; yea, one organization blamed another for the state of contention in the land. Brother fought against brother and rank fought against rank at first only in word. Some groups then took up arms against other groups and others pled for peace. And thus there began again to be riots and all manner of contention among the people.
I'm reminded of a monologue about a victim of a riot. I posted this on another blog because it's one of my favorites, so you might recognize it if you read that blog. This monologue comes from an interview of Korean victim of the LA Riots. It ends at 18:35. There are other monologues in this set that are worth a watch.

Can you imagine what good we could do if we reached out to the marginalized and tried to understand their perspective? (On another note, can you imagine how much better our legal system would be if bad people of every rank people were held accountable for their actions??? But getting back to smaller, easier goals...) 

Maybe I'm just a naive little "snowflake," but I believe in community healing through open dialogue. I believe that building a Zion-like community (Mormon term) comes from battling the assumption that the only people you can trust look and sound like you or believe the same things you do. I believe that change doesn't come from standing idly by.

More from Birmingham Jail (you might notice I referenced this same letter in another blog post... sue me.)
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
I love this idea of the "myth of time," or that Time is magically working to unravel all problems in our society. That the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis of our social realities will gradually lead to a higher status of human understanding (I think this called something like the dialectic of time? Please refresh my memory, sociology friends.).  I hear a strain of it regularly in the LDS community--that things will work out in the eternities, so don't fret. The problem with the myth of time is that it robs us of our power as autonomous individuals that can purposefully make the world a better place. Time is not a harbinger of change; people are. And God is the harbinger of progress. My belief is that God works through people to bring about the best changes.

A cool example of two unlikely groups interacting in a positive way:

*Editor's Note: After I wrote this entry, I spoke to the friend referenced earlier and asked permission to include her thoughts in this blog post anonymously. She informed me that I misheard her. She said that she had not done very much "research"--reading an article or two for the sake assessing how safe her community was--and had come to the conclusion that the evidence against the cop wasn't very convincing and the cop really had acted in self-defense. I myself haven't read anything about this particular case (I've been a bit caught up with natural disasters lately) but I think the direction of my thoughts would have been the same when she asked why the Black community was making themselves look bad. 

No comments:

Post a Comment