Evil (adj): morally reprehensible; arising from actual or imputed bad character or conductMerriam-Webster
This weekend, I was planning on joining protests in Denver. I didn’t know exactly where they were or when they’d be, so I asked Dakota Patton, my friend since high school, about it. His picture was recently featured in The Coloradoan and again in a post by Dak Prescott. The picture shows Dakota linked arm-in-arm with Denver chief of police Paul Pazen, the latter who joined the protestors this last Monday as a sign of solidarity.
Dakota was indeed planning on attending protests again today, and told me I could hitch a ride.
I floated the idea by my pregnant wife and she expressed concern about Covid and the increased potential exposure, in metropolitan areas and amongst large crowds.
“Fair enough,” I replied. “If you and I were black, I think it’d be much less of a choice. We’d want to capitalize on this moment of progress, regardless of some risk.”
Even in saying this, I understood the sacrifice she asked of me, to keep our son-to-be safe. She made sacrifices recently in quitting her job to avoid further exposure; despite my strong desire to be a part of the historical positive change happening in this country right now, I too could sacrifice by staying home.
But what could I do, then? How could I add my voice to the millions crying out for justice and equality in this country?
The best I came up with is to share some of my experience, and some of my thoughts.
I was born in Greeley, Colorado, on the Front Range that has also been dubbed “Vanilla Valley.” The 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data for Colorado has White alone, not Hispanic or Latino at 67.9%, Hispanic or Latino at 21.7%, and Black or African American alone at 4.6%.
There is even more disparity in Iowa, the next state I lived in growing up: White alone, not Hispanic or Latino is 85.3%, Hispanic or Latino is 6.2%, and Black or African American alone is 4.0%.
I moved back to Colorado’s Front Range at the age of seven, where I graduated high school in 2014. It’s safe to say that I didn’t experience a lot of racial diversity up to that point.
I went to school in Tennessee then (the data, if you’re interested), and saw more of the racial divides present in this country, witnessed more of its historical sins. Racism was certainly present, if not overtly expressed.
I spent my last year of college in New Mexico, where I was part of a percentage racial minority for the first time. I still very much felt like a part of the majority in privilege, in social potential and safety.
Finally, I was able to spend a year in Washington DC from August 2018 to August 2019. This is when the goggles of American exceptionalism and Protestant work ethic, ingrained in me not necessarily by family and teachers, but more broadly by White American culture, came off.
I lived in Southeast DC, across the Anacostia River in a section of the District that is almost exclusively black, and almost entirely forgotten. Starting at the US Capitol building, down Pennsylvania avenue, and eventually across the John Philip Sousa bridge and into the Anacostia neighborhood, is literally a four-mile trip from the capitol of the wealthiest nation in world history, to a very-near third-world country.
For the first time, I saw the all-too distinct dividing lines of class and race in the United States.
I recognized who was walking around the District in expensive suits, and who lined the front of Union Station in sleeping bags, muttering to passers-by. I don’t think I need elaborate on which color generally occupied which position.
Now, at this point in the narrative, I can hear the voices already of those who grew up in similar environments as I did, and who maybe have experienced no different.
“How do you think those in the suits got there? Were they just given the high-paying positions that they hold? Did they not have to work hard and climb the ladder?”
To which I would now reply “They got there through hard work, after being born in an extremely advantageous position. They were not given jobs, land, and benefits, but were expected to acquire them all.”
My time in Washington DC and the opening of my eyes to racial injustice were marked by a couple of things.
- My personal experience with the unforgiving dividing lines, already mentioned.
- A book called Chocolate City by Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove.
- The documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay.
In Chocolate City, Asch and Musgrove describe how many of the Founding Fathers saw slavery as an issue that needed to be abolished, but did not think that instant and simple emancipation was the answer.
The authors cite this as a glaring gap in moral character by the Fathers, and perhaps rightly so. But this idea struck me for a different reason. It had two implications: If you hold a people group in slavery for hundreds of years, it may take as long to undo the societal mess you created. And the holding of that people in bondage without access to education, economic utility, and human decency, cannot be undone only by the passage of legislation – the process only starts there.
In 13th, the horrible and nullifying asterick to the Thirteenth Amendment is highlighted and exposed. For those not yet familiar:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (emphasis mine).Ourdocuments.gov
If a citizen is convicted of a crime, they can be both slaves and involuntary servants once again.
This brings new light to incarceration rates.
I had known that sharecropping after the Civil War had been considered by many historians to be worse than slavery, and an only option for the majority of destitute, newly freed slaves.
I had not known, before that documentary, that slavery had never fully been abolished in this country. My first reaction was nausea.
We find ourselves now at a crossroads. Racism is certainly not dead, and we must each, every one of us, look inside to identify it at its roots. We humans can’t help but group things, including ourselves (in contrast to the other).
But we are better now, as a human race, and becoming better. We know, for instance, that race is a social construct – categorized and emphasized for the convenience of dominant classes.
It is a shame that religion has often been used to justify racial attitudes, but it is now high time that “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
None of us humans should sit back after a human is coolly and calmly killed by another human, captured all on video in agonizing slow-motion. Instead, George Floyd is now the face of a movement. These are the historical moments when we must stand up and be better.
Let’s now call racism out for what it is – an evil pernicious in humanity. Humans with racist sentiments are not evil, and there is certainly hope for change. But racism itself is a persistent violence, destructive to the human race as a whole. It is marked by ignorance, and pushed forward by the turning of blind eyes.
But no more. Let racism die in this country. Let it spark further moves for justice around the world. May the comfortable status quo for the societal elite not be justification for inaction. Let justice roll.