Posted in musings, quotes

the social underpinnings of racism: Trump and the 1950s

In the wake of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, a lot of people like me were left wondering how so many Americans could be so angry and feel so wronged that they were willing to tolerate blatant racism and misogyny in their leadership. There’s been a lot of confusion and a lot of anger, and not a lot of dialogue; each side tries to defend its beliefs by reciting wrongs against itself, or attempts to seize the moral high ground and demonize its opponents instead of listening to their grievances. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had to severely limit my social media time…

But as I was reading The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss, written before the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the aftermath of the Japanese internment camps of WWII, I came across a passage that seemed quite relevant today:

First, prejudice is a contagious disease, as easily caught as measles, the babe from his parents, the school child from his playmates, the adult from his fellow workers and neighbors. To compound the social tragedy, prejudice once caught is hard to cure, since it unwittingly serves a number of morbid purposes. When a man is picked on by his boss, he can slam home and take it out on his family, and frequently does; however, a more socially approved outlet is to turn around and release the feelings of hate and anger on those of a minority racial group. If denied certain yearned-for opportunities and privileges, there is a devilish quirk within man which gives him perverse satisfaction in seeing that at least one segment of the population enjoys even less opportunities and privileges than he.

If a person feels socially or mentally inferior, has a persecuted feeling that society is crushing down on him, it is easy to bolster waning self-confidence by convincing himself, “At least there are whole groups of people socially, mentally, economically inferior to me.” Worse yet, he will try to keep minority groups in a deprived and subjugated position, to prove what his ego wants to believe.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have long told us that bottled-up feelings of aggression and anger can be dynamite to the happiness and well-being of the individual who refuses to recognize real causes behind his maladjustments. Multiply these fearful and emotionally tense individuals by thousands, by even millions, and you have social dynamite… Hostility will be exploded in any area where society permits it…

War has always been a socially glorified outlet for pent-up angers and frustrations of whole peoples. In America, our Negroes have provided another scapegoat, and so we have had race riots, Jim Crowism, and the Ku Klux Klan. On the West Coast first the Chinese, then the Japanese, provided another handy outlet for our inner tensions, and we have had discrimination in jobs and housing, an Orientals Exclusion Act, and the “relocation centers” of World War II.

The anger and other negative emotion of the dissatisfied people who voted for Trump is real. Many people felt disenfranchised, ignored, stuck in a world they didn’t ask for, unable to change their fate, feeling like their communities and families were broken. And Trump acknowledged those emotions when most other politicians were oblivious to them. Would these people on their own have decided to take out their anger on immigrants, women, and other minorities? I’m not sure; in many cases, I don’t think so. I know a lot of good people, who care deeply about human dignity and equality, who voted for Trump for one reason or another, trying to look past his faults. But Trump himself has most definitely established those groups as “acceptable” targets for the pent-up anger of anyone who feels ignored, overlooked, or under-appreciated; he has made them the scapegoat of the failures and frustrations of the majority.

Like it or not, whether you as an individual are racist or not, Trump has bolstered the cause of racism by making it more socially acceptable once again; he has directed the force of social anger towards some of the most vulnerable and unrepresented groups of all; he has given hostility a safe place to explode, and so set our country back in its fight against racism and for the equality of all. Racism is in so many ways a systemic issue, not an individual issue; that is why the attitude of the president is so powerful and influential. That is why it matters so much, especially now, to speak up against racism, to push social pressure against it as much as possible.

Posted in musings

a prayer for hope

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.

Father, your name goes unspoken, or mocked, or used for profit and manipulation. The names of all the people in the world – the movers, the powerful, the close at hand – constantly echo around us, while your name lies forgotten and unspoken on the side. And you feel so far away from us, enthroned in heaven in glory and peace while this world falls apart beneath you.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

It seems as though your kingdom is so far from coming, Father. This world seems more broken every day: my Facebook feed is filled with laments, with arrogance, with anger, with half-truths; the news constantly reminds me of pain and division, oppression and war, hatred and selfishness. What principles are right and good and worthy? What means of applying those principles are most effective? People who love you and long for your kingdom don’t even agree with each other on the answers. And I feel lost, and confused, and I wonder how your kingdom will ever come, how your will may ever be done, when even your people are divided among themselves. Our brokenness seems complete, our hope extinguished.

Give us this day our daily bread

And yet, each day comes, and we are still here, and even the food we eat is a gift from you, a gift of hope, a promise of life. Every day we need it. And some, because of war and poverty and famine and corruption, do not have it. Where is their hope? Are you present for them like you are for us who have never known hunger? Is your power too weak or your love too small to provide for them also, when they cry out for food and their children die around them? Why do you not intervene when people tear the world apart and condemn others to starvation for their own gain? And it goes beyond the physical bread we need to live: we need emotional bread – love, hope, friendship, purpose; we need spiritual bread – the body of your Son given for us. Why do you allow so many to be cut off from those things, bereft of those great blessings, caught in misery and despair, for whom each morning is not a cause for joy at your faithfulness but simply the start of another journey through darkness and fear?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Is that why you wait so long to intervene in the evils of this world, Father? Are you offering even the oppressor a chance at forgiveness, a chance to work for the redemption and setting right of the brokenness they have caused? It is a hard and painful wait for the oppressed. For us, a thousand years are not as a day, but as an eternity, and we fail, eventually, to extend again forgiveness when it has been met time and time again by continued oppression and trespass. We forget our own sin in the burning awareness of the sins committed against us; we seethe with anger, hold onto our hurt, and drive your kingdom still further away in a cry for justice that does not extend beyond ourselves.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

Everywhere I look, there temptation and evil lie in wait. The temptation to put myself first, to let anger take root in my heart, to attack and demonize the people who disagree with me or inconvenience me, to close my ears to the hurts and needs and stories of others. The evil of corrupt institutions, of dysfunctional families, of systemic poverty, of generational sin – broken homes, communities, and nations, catching people in nets of pain and pride and wickedness. Deliver us, Father; restore us to your righteousness. It is such a faint hope, sometimes, a light believed in though still unseen, but it is the only hope we have.

Amen.

Posted in musings

family breakdown, social isolation, and increasing suicide rates

This article on the national suicide rate, and its steep increase over the past 15 years, was quite interesting, if perhaps a bit morbid and depressing…

I strongly agree with one of the sources quoted in the article that this increase in the suicide rate is at least partially due to the social isolation caused by the breakdown of the family. Our culture is undermining the most intimate and permanent connections we have as people, and we are naturally suffering the side effects of loneliness and discouragement. We have chosen short-term self-fulfillment over mutual commitment and sacrifice, and while the victims of another person’s selfishness obviously pay the highest price, even those who appear successful in their quest for personal happiness may be eaten away inside by insecurity and pain if they have spent their life burning bridges and breaking connections.

And it is not surprising to me at all that the age group that has seen the highest rate of increase is middle-aged men and women, from 45-64 years old. These are the members of my parents’ generation, one of the first to grow up with rampant acceptable divorce, now reaching what should be some of the fullest and richest years of life, with children and grandchildren adding to their joy, and finding that the choices that seemed so independent, romantic, modern, and free have left them empty, alone, and unvalued as the final years of life approach. Having chosen pleasure or esteem or career success over family and unconditional love, they are discovering an ache in their hearts for the sustained and quiet love they have so long neglected. I expect that as each new cohort enters this age group, the suicide rate for it will continue to increase, at least for the next two or three, as the bitterness and dysfunction we have bred in our society bears the fruit of isolation and hopelessness; I hope that as my generation and my children’s generation witnesses the destruction of these social choices, we will be given the strength, courage, and grace to overcome them, and reduce this cultural burden of despair and death.

Posted in musings, quotes

in memory of martin luther king jr

Today we remember the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In the early church, people memorialized the martyrs by celebrating the day on which they died, because it was on that day that they were born into the fullness of new life in Christ and freed from the sinful tendencies of the flesh. In that spirit, then, today would be the appropriate feast day and memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., commemorating the death he died fighting for the freedom of his people, a fight that was both informed and characterized by his faith.

Of all the things that impress me about MLK, the ones that I think amazes me most are the tenacity with which he held to his faith in the face of the fear, antagonism, oppression, injustice, violence and hatred aimed at him by people who claimed to share that same faith, and his insistence at operating peacefully and striving for love when he was receiving all of that in return. How close he must have been to Christ, to keep living for Him in the midst of that storm of darkness! How strong his character must have been, forged in trials and infused by the Spirit Himself, to not waver on his principles or beliefs through all of his years in the civil rights movement!

I can tell you honestly that I don’t think my faith and character would hold up to the trials he faced. I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have faced those situations and people with the same combination of boldness and grace – I would have been running and hiding and hoping no one noticed me.

But his faith sustained him, his love directed him, and his courage kept his feet on the hard and beautiful path he had set out on. May we follow his example, and never by our silence, fear, or ignorance be complicit in the injustices he battled against.

MLK-Quote1

Posted in musings, quotes

Arizona primaries, and loving my state well

Well, the results for my state’s primary election are in, and I’m really not surprised by them. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.

We’re known as a state that undervalues education, that struggles with racism, and that wrestles with substantial income inequality and poverty. Our national “face,” for a lot of people looking at us from afar, is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has faced accusations and lawsuits concerning abuses of power, racial profiling, election misconduct, and failure to investigate sexual crimes. So it’s not really a surprise that people who dismiss illegal immigrants as lawbreakers rather than understanding the dynamics of family ties and desperate need, who are okay with law officials playing racial favorites and coming down more harshly on Hispanics and Muslims, who harbor some nostalgia for the Wild West when might made right and the strong man was the honorable man, would overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump.

For me, who have always looked at my state in the best possible light, it’s a disappointment that’s hard to get over. Maybe my fellow citizens here aren’t as good as I thought they were, from the subset that I happen to know well. Maybe this isn’t such a good place to live and raise my family as I’ve always thought, if people are so incredibly welcoming of the dishonest and self-serving “leaders” who offer them satisfaction and validation.

But do I love my state because of its (actual or perceived) good characteristics, or do I love it because it is my home and I want it to become the best that it possibly can be? Chesterton wrote on this exact topic over a century ago, and here I’m going to replace his example city with Arizona:

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Arizona. If we think what is really best for Arizona we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Arizona: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to [California]. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Arizona, for then it will remain Arizona, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Arizona: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. […] If men loved Arizona as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Arizona in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. […] Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I don’t know many people who love Arizona in this way (although I do know a few, and I’m incredibly thankful for them). So many people I speak to are using the state for what they can get out of it, and counting down the time until they can move away. College students come for the universities and then head out again, glad to be gone. Snowbirds come down for the golf courses and mild winters, but keep themselves apart from the permanent population and head back to the places they truly consider their homes each spring. People gripe about the job prospects, the pollution, the bad drivers, the housing market, the immigrants, the homeless, the transit system, the public schools, and (above all) the weather.

And I get that we have problems, a lot of problems, and some very serious problems. But this is my home. This is the place I love, the soil into which my roots have sunk deep, even if it is pretty lousy soil (clay or sand, take your pick!). I get angry sometimes, at work or on social media, about the constant cloud of Arizona complaints, even when they’re completely justified, in a similar way to how I get upset when someone casts aspersions on my children (I was angry at my brother-in-law for over a year because he made a negative comment about Rondel once… I’m not quite that bad about my state).

Am I going to let this love just be an emotion, or am I going to put it into action, working to transform my home into a thing of beauty and grace? I tend towards contemplation instead of action, but true love will, I think, result in both. I think of a pastor at my church who, after years of traveling and living across the world, has settled down here and devotes himself to building community, establishing relationships across lines of race and religion, and creating a literal oasis in the desert. He sees Arizona with objective eyes, but because he also sees it as his home, he has made it part of his vocation to labor for its betterment, instead of leaving or complaining. If there were more like him, maybe someday Arizona really could become “fairer than Florence” – and maybe then, we would elect politicians who displayed things like beauty, love, justice, and truth.

Posted in musings, quotes

the prayer of daniel

Daniel was one of the righteous men of his generation, the young exiles to Babylon. He kept the law of God, in spirit and in letter, despite the extraordinarily serious threats made upon him because of it. And yet, when he prays for his people, his nation, he makes no distinction between himself and them. He confesses for them, including himself in their number; he begs for God’s mercy, making no mention of his own righteousness or years of faithfulness.

Do we do this when we pray for our country, our churches, our communities? Or do we, in our prayers, distance ourselves from the ones we’re praying for? Do we see ourselves a step above them, separate from their problems and sins? Daniel could easily have done so, and yet he did not. Foreshadowing the intercessory mediation of Christ, he metaphorically took the sins of his nation upon himself and sought mercy at the throne of grace. As members of Christ’s earthly body, faced with the brokenness and sin of our nation, surely we can do no less, in our prayers and in our lives.


 

“O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land.

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, […] because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. […]

O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from [us]. Hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate.

O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations […]; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.

O Lord, hear!

O Lord, forgive!

O Lord, listen and act!” (from Daniel 9:4-19)

 

Posted in musings, quotes

when fear skews our ethics

“…a growing body of research suggested that investing in education and work for women propelled economic development and led to lower birth rates. Later in the 1967 meeting University of Chicago sociologist Philip Hauser alluded to this research when he asked the delegates: ‘Do we really know whether the classical approach of family planning propaganda and clinical services is more useful in reducing birth rates than the same effort spent on building a road into the village or constructing a soap factory where women can work or furthering education for girls?’ But population control activists tended to dismiss an emphasis on female workforce participation and education as a strategy dreamed up by unrealistic feminists. And Polgar [head of research for Planned Parenthood Federation of America] didn’t mention the alternative approach from the podium. Instead, he gazed out at the delgates and, according to minutes from the meeting, ‘urged that sociologists stimulate biologists to find a method of sex determination, since some parents have additional children in order to get one of specified sex.'” – Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, pg 99-100

“Others talked about the necessity of an Asian pregnancy police, foreshadowing China’s system of birth permits under the one-child policy, and suggested flying planes over India once a year to spray it with a ‘contraceptive aerial mist.’ And the racist application of birth control was no longer confined to the developing world. In 1973 African American and Native American women across the American South and Southwest alleged in federal district court that they had been sterilized under threat of their welfare benefits being withdrawn. Gerhard Gesell, the judge who heard Relf v. Weinberger, concluded in his ruling that the women had been coerced. He estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 poor American women had been sterilized under federal programs, adding, ‘the dividing line between family planning and eugenics is murky.'” – Ibid, pg 104

The idea was that families would have fewer children if they didn’t have to keep trying and trying to have a child of the sex they desired. Instead of a family having 3 or 4 or more daughters before having a son, and having 4 or 5 total children, the parents could eliminate those daughters, or most of them, and end up only having 1 or 2 children. In the 1960s, when the world was as scared of population growth as we are of climate change, that reduction in the birth rate was the pot at the end of the rainbow. But instead of choosing to support economic development and female empowerment (which has historically led to lower birth rates on its own), Western nations and foundations decided to tie their aid money to population control programs, leading to mass sterilizations, countless abortions, and the eventual skewing of the gender ratios across the world due to Polgar’s final vague and understated observation above.

Was it all just a response of fear to the specter of a world overfilled with people, starving and suffering and dying? While I think that played a role, there was a definite racial component to the issue, as the decreasing birth rate in the West combined with the economic development of the rest of the world struck fear into the hearts of white Americans and Europeans worried about losing their hold on global power and wealth. And the result of those fears, both the altruistic and the selfish racist fears, was death and suffering – for the men who underwent forced sterilizations during Indira Gandhi’s rule in India, for the women whose babies were aborted because of the one-child policy in China, for the aborted babies themselves (mostly girls), for the men who are growing up to find themselves consigned to singleness due to a shortage of women.

It is never wise to forsake the path of righteousness in response to fear. We must have a more constant moral compass than that of pragmatism and self help, or the very things that we think good, in our efforts to avoid what we fear, will end up hurting us (or others) in ways we never dreamed of, just as much or even more than the things we were trying to avoid. Such a moral compass will also help us determine whether or not our fears are ethically just – as a fear of humanity starving and suffering would be, while a fear of the global gains of other races would not. Population control wasn’t the solution for the fears of the 1960s; economic development and education accomplished the same ends without the oppression and injustice. Maybe Christianity was right when it said that children are blessings; and maybe if we worked together for the common good instead of seeking our own good at the expense of other human beings we could conquer the evils we fear without causing greater evils yet to roam the earth.