Those who forget the lessons of the past, or those who never learned them, are doomed to repeat them.
I saw a photo meme tonight on Facebook that said, “If you blame Obama for our racial divide, hit LIKE.” I didn’t hit LIKE. I don’t blame Obama. And I’m not sure what we have is truly a racial divide. Race has been, and continues to be, a source of conflict for some. It is not for me.
I think expectations for racial harmony that were thrust upon Obama as president that were predicated simply on his race, were unrealistic from the beginning…..for several reasons. First, it was unrealistic to think that electing a black man would change the hearts of people who are set against people of a race different from their own. Secondly, those who voted for Obama because of his race who thought he could rid them of their own or others’ sense of “white guilt” were unrealistic. But thirdly, when I stood in a room amid a number of blacks who are chronically homeless, many of whom have lived in generational poverty all of their lives, and heard them celebrate the morning after he was elected in 2008, saying, “Alright, it’s about time! A new sheriff is in town!”, I knew that even their expectations were unrealistic.
My heart grieves for the people of Charlotte, NC – for the family of the individual who was killed, for the police officers and city officials trying to keep peace, for the pastors and others who are called on to help people work through such crises, and for the residents there whose lives are disrupted by fear, anger, or confusion. I have visited Charlotte many times. It is a beautiful city and it has accomplished much in race relations and civil community life. This is not the first of such incidents and it won’t be the last. For those who are looking for something about which to fight, there will always be a reason to do so. One of our speakers today, a gentleman from England, who was leading a session on prayer said he found it odd that no one in our midst had called on our gathering of clergy to pray on behalf of Charlotte, NC today. I felt a twinge of guilt for having not even thought about it since the incident several days ago that set off the riots started. I realized that many of us have become desensitized to racial unrest, to the rioting of paid disruptors, to the opportunists who wish to keep racial division alive so that they have power. We stopped then and there and in groups of 3, prayed for the people, peacemakers, and pastors of Charlotte, NC.
Once again in my lifetime racially incited violence has become an almost weekly event. I, and many others who lived through the Civil Rights marches and the violence of the Bull Connor days and death of people like Viola Liuzzo and so many sincere and non-violent activists, both black and white, sigh in dismay. For some, it seems, we’re right back where we were, but not really. Much of what we are seeing, it appears to me, is frustration with the failed…..and unrealistic….. expectations for a black president who had no more intention, I believe, of bringing healing between those who still cling to racial division as a reason for anything that they don’t like or don’t believe is right. For some, racial division is a convenient distraction that is promulgated, it appears, to distract people from other problems or even from solutions. It’s a play to keep people at odds with one another while other important matters are ignored….and sadly, such a maneuver still works.
It didn’t work in Charleston, however, when a crazy hater sought to start a race riot by killing people in a prayer meeting. But he wasn’t a policeman. He didn’t represent authority. He could be written off as just a sad, sick, mental case clinging to what is a cultural embarrassment to many who interpret it in only a racial context….the Confederate flag ….. who could be forgiven.
There is a failure of unrealistic expectations. But there is also a failure of leadership. And there is clearly a seething frustration that some are able to manipulate adeptly. And few are willing to wade into that battle…..except through prayer…..which it appears is greatly needed, not only for Charlotte but for America as a whole.