I graduated high school in 1968 and then met the man I would marry during my first year of college in 1969. I often think back about who I was during those years of national tumult and transition. I was so wrapped up in my own personal transitions, I confess I didn’t pay close attention to the turmoil going on in our country. I confess I looked at the riots and assassinations with shock and disapproval, maybe even with a touch of disdain and moral superiority. Then I escaped back into my Southern-White-Christian-Woman bubble and lived my small life—never really seeing the underlying realities of systemic violence that produced the protests and pushback in the first place.
Now, fifty years later, I’m grateful to say I’ve emerged from that bubble and I see with different eyes. Eyes that are opened to a more accurate reality and a heart softened to the pain of the world around me. This honest seeing is painful, but I still choose it over the old blindness that kept me so comfortable. The blinders that made me complicit.
Now, fifty years later, I’m sad to see exact same patterns of disdain and moral superiority demonstrated by too many of my White Christian neighbors in reaction to our current cultural chaos. And I grieve to realize that many of the underlying realities of systemic violence have scarcely changed in all these years.
Violence begets violence and our vicious cycles of violence continue. Which prompts this question in me: Which kinds of violence should we allow and what types of violence should we condemn?
As it stands now, within too much of White America, it looks to me like we are too comfortable with the hidden-to-us violence of housing discrimination, inequities within our health care system, the re-segregation of our public schools, the vast inequality of economic opportunities, and the over policing of the Black and Brown bodies of our neighbors. Not to mention the violent, abusive, and bullying rhetoric that comes out of too many people’s mouths—from the highest office in the land to the coarse jokes in casual conversations to the intentional fear mongering on TV and social media.
Why do we allow this pervasive cultural violence to continue while we criticize the push back violence that comes in response? Why do we pretend one kind of violence is all right but the other kind of violence is not?
It is a sad truth that this nation chose violence as part of its original DNA. The Founders brilliantly proclaimed that the Creator created “all men equal,” even as they knew full well they did not really mean for that “all” to mean “all.” They intentionally did not consider women as equal, or the native people in whose land they lived, and certainly not the Black people who were enslaved within their own households.
This notion of blatant inequality enshrined in our founding documents has prompted numerous cycles of violence throughout our history. And whose fault is that? I wonder.
But then I realize: that is the wrong question. Assigning blame does nothing to break these vicious cycles. Accepting responsibility is the only thing that will save us.
What the founders did, or what earlier generations did or even what I did as a guileless, clueless young woman is beside the point; that is all history. The point is: this is OUR time and now WE are responsible for our future.
It is up to us to dismantle the structures of institutional violence—even if they don’t harm us personally; to call out the rhetoric of violence—even if it comes out of the mouths of people we love and respect; to condemn reactionary violence wherever we see it—not just in the actions of violent protesters but also in the police who over respond with (sometimes) legally sanctioned violence and in the right wing domestic terrorists who brazenly incite violence.
Dr. King taught us: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
If we truly want to resist our nation’s slide into anarchy, then we must listen to these cries of pain, anger and oppression and we must respond with courage, justice and compassion.
Otherwise, we will miss our chance to break the deadly cycles of violence.
It is our turn.
See also Charlotte’s blog: All This Audacious Looting
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes in September 1966. Listening will take just 4 minutes of your time and his words are so very important.