Hateful to me as are the gates of hell, Is he who, hiding one thing in his heart, Utters another. —Homer
An entire professional sports team took a knee during the national anthem last night. Notice, as often as we’ve seen people using the national anthem as a means of protest, it’s always been limited to a few members here and there. This was the entire Indiana Fever WNBA team, on a knee. Why? Because they’re tired of us hiding the prevalence of institutionalized violence against black people.
Charlotte, North Carolina is still rioting this morning. The governor of that state has called out the National Guard. Hiding the systemic hate and violence against black people in that state is no longer an option. The sins of the state and its cities have come out of the shadows where they have existed for the past 160 years and good folks down there are taking to the streets to end the nonsense.
Meanwhile, the Republican nominee told supporters at a rally yesterday that he supports a stop-and-frisk policy, illegally detaining people simply because a police officer doesn’t like the way they look, or the way they walk, or the color of their skin. Only one person walked out. The room should have been empty, but we’re still foolishly trying to hide our racism.
We, Americans, have become quite talented at hiding our sins, especially those we commit toward people groups that are different from us. We have created institutions to perpetuate those sins and even ingrain them in our educational methods that ignore the presence and contributions of marginalized people. As the light dawns, however, those sins become far too clear.
Hiding Behind Tradition
“We’ve done things this way for years and no one’s every complained before.”
Maurice Maeterlinck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911, wisely said: “At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.” We don’t give up on tradition easily, no matter how horribly flawed we know it to be. We hang on to these “sins of our fathers” as though they were some kind of sick birthright to which we have no choice but to uphold.
Hiding behind tradition is a lazy excuse, though. We dump tradition in a heart beat when it suits us. When we say, “It’s always been that way,” what we are in fact saying is that we want it to always stay that way. We invoke tradition because we are comfortable with our sins. The traditions are so much a part of us that we even try to claim them as part of our culture and heritage. Yet, we know damn good and well we’re wrong.
Remember this song by Bruce Hornsby and The Range from 1986? Even then, as the song pointed out the sins we are trying to hide by saying, “That’s just the way it is,” we listened to the song and just dug ourselves in deeper. Here, let me refresh your memory.
Hiding Behind Religion
Talked about entrenched. When people have been misinterpreting a writing they’ve declared holy, whether intentionally or through ignorance, the shadows created for hiding our sins run deep. We find it all too easy to excuse our behavior, and often our indignation and intolerance, with the simple phrase,”The Bible tells me so.” Conveniently, there are plenty of places throughout the holy texts of multiple religions where deity instructs us, or someone eons before us, to behave like complete assholes. That whole “go here and kill those people who don’t believe in me” concept is something we’ve translated into an excuse for hate, discrimination, abuse, imprisonment, wars, and other atrocities too horrible to mention.
Ironically, while providing these deep shadows for hiding our sins, religion simultaneously tells us we are supposed to love each other, to be tolerant of the strangers and foreigners among us, to embrace those who are different. This is the message that makes us feel good on a Sunday morning. We look around the congregation at the end of the service and proclaim, “I just love everybody.” Yet, before you’re even out the door you’re casting side glances at old Mrs. Talkstoomuch so you don’t get stuck listening about a lonely old widow’s aches and pains. You drive past 15 perfectly good restaurants to get to the one whose wait staff has the right color skin. Then, after dinner, you sit in your easy chair to watch a ball game and complain about how “those people” are ruining the game. Tell me again, please, just exactly who it is your religion told you to love?
Hiding behind religion is inexcusable. If you think your religion tells you that some people are inherently worse than others, you need a new religion. No holy book covers your sins. You’re guilty and you know it. You want to clap your hands about that?
Hiding Behind Ignorance
One of the greatest sins of my generation is that we have intentionally institutionalized hate by only teaching history from the perspective of a white, anglo-saxon protestant existence that was never more than horseshit in the first place. For far too long, everything we taught in school was based on a white-washed, brain-washed, hand-sanitized view of the world designed to marginalize, criminalize, and oppress anyone who wasn’t white and middle class. While the textbooks have changed in some places, there are still plenty of instances where the secession of Confederate states is justified, where the holding of slaves is taught as an economic necessity, and the Ku Klux Klan is referred to as a religious civic organization.
We were raised with readers that only contained illustrations of white children with names like Dick and Jane. We were taught that the extermination of native peoples was necessary to “advance the frontier.” Even in television programming and movies taught us that the “indians” were always the bad guys, nothing more than blood-thirsty savages. With such ignorance being taught in schools is it any wonder we’re now faced with situations such as the Dakota Access Pipeline where far too many people don’t seem to have any problem with polluting tribal water or desecrating tribal land? We justify our sins with the claim that, “we didn’t know,” or even worse, “I don’t understand why they’re so upset.”
One member of the Oglala Lakota Nation said yesterday:
“We’re not just some hashtag out there just making a scene. We want to be heard. We want you guys to understand that we are fighting for our lives, for our children, for our people, the way we have, our culture, our identity.”
There is no excuse for our ignorance and that shadow is insufficient to hide our sins.
We Are In The Wrong
Let’s get real: If you can justify police murdering an unarmed man in Tulsa, you are wrong.
If you think that police have a reason to be afraid of a person just because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live, you are wrong.
If you think it is okay to take away the land and culture of an entire tribe in the name of profit, you are wrong.
If you think that it’s acceptable to spit at, hurl insults toward, or even commit acts of violence against someone because they are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered, you are wrong.
If you think that people who profess a religion different from yours should be barred, banned, or given a different set of rules, you are wrong.
These are the sins that justify the protests in Charlotte. These are the sins that have thousands camping and protesting at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. These are the sins that, if allowed to linger in the shadows, will most certainly become the justification for an uprising of marginalized people who just aren’t going to take our horseshit anymore.
Maybe we should step out of the shadows, confess our sins somewhere other than a fucking closet, and change the situation. Don’t wait for anyone else. We must be our own leaders.
End this nonsense now.