For anyone saying [the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five black Memphis police officers] was about abuse of power and not race, the disproportionate brutality inflicted upon Black people doesn’t become less racist because of the race of the officers. The system of policing in this country treats Black people like they are less worthy of humane treatment in the eyes of many in law enforcement. Policing is the problem.Anoa Changa, January 24, 2023, NewsOne
Suppose that the whole of American society agreed that white supremacy is the cause of police brutality? Then what?
Abolishing police departments would undoubtedly favor anarchy. Anyone who cannot afford private security — a majority of Americans — would find themselves living in a Lord of the Flies dystopia, which is no kind of social justice at all.
As the saying goes “Wherever you go, there you are”. If we are all products of a racist culture, then it also follows that we can scarcely legislate, name-change or reimagine our wrongdoings away.
Marxists have an answer: Scrap the American Experiment and start all over again. But again, the same people who comprise the old system will create the new system. Even those who are aware of the problem are products of the problem. So then what?
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that on our own power we cannot fully escape our sins, past or present. Nevertheless, we owe people of faith — Martin Luther King, Jr., among many others — credit for much of the progress society has achieved.
If King were here, would he approve of how the fight for equal opportunity and equal rights continues? Would he go about “dismantling” racism the same way modern activists do?
Some things have faded from public consciousness in the 60-some years since the Civil Rights era. Too often we forget that King did not merely advocate for social justice — although that was undeniably part of it. Rev. King also appealed to a higher moral authority in a way today’s activists generally neglect. In King’s day, “original sin” was a theological reference to having been born into a damaged world run by damaged people who are in universal need of personal redemption. Today, by contrast, original sin is a 1619 Project reference to the date when slavery made landfall with European settlers. Still, the troubling fact remains: Humanity’s capacity for evil is as old as Adam and Eve and the knowledge of good and evil itself. Try though we might, we have yet to cure a spiritual disease with a political answer, however well-intended or woke.
After decades of attempts to raise Americans’ awareness through education, the apparent conclusion is that unless or until we fully transform K-12 curriculum (CRT), the legacy of white supremacy will carry on. But is this really true? Is the magic bullet an earlier start to an antiracist education?
Can we educate our way out evil?
At some point the conversation must be taken to the next level — for our societal, if not personal, health. Academia has constructed entire fields of “critical theory” studies to identify the scope and breadth of The Problem. But how much thought has gone into The Solution?
For his part, antiracism thought leader Ibram X. Kendi questions whether any “‘group in history has gained their freedom through appealing to the moral conscience of their oppressors.’ He pushes us to instead focus on policy, because while other approaches may benefit individuals, ‘only policy change helps groups’.”
Equity is one such attempt to address racism via public policy. Equity rejects the notion of a color-blind society and is in some ways at odds with the equality-driven 1964 Civil Rights Act. If homebuyers, job seekers and college applicants who hail from historically marginalized groups are at a disadvantage to a white privileged, heterosexual majority, reverse racism and gender “nonconformity” are acceptable ways to level the playing field. Similarly, it is the goal of antiracists to define hate speech — and, more importantly, laws by which to criminalize undesirable forms of expression. And yet for all this effort, the question remains: Does a reordering of preferential treatment and/or the criminalization of wrong-speech change minds — or do top-down solutions simply force hateful attitudes underground where they are more difficult to address?
The fly in the critical theorist ointment is the largely unexamined assumption that government can achieve what appeals to human decency and a higher power cannot. If the sources of oppression past and present are in fact institutional, then placing greater trust in those institutions, however we may imagine they will be run, is naive at best. Dr. Kendi may lament in How to be an Antiracist that changing hearts and minds is a fool’s errand — but short-circuiting this more tedious and tiresome effort is to trade the hope of social transformation for the seduction of tyranny.
But for a handful of short-lived experiments in Democracy, history has lurched from one oppressive regime to another, in virtually every case under the pretense of the “greater good”. (Perhaps if we were being more honest, we would identify misplaced faith in systems and schemes over minds and hearts as the mechanism by which oppression becomes institutionalized in the first place?)
If we omit spirituality from the social justice conversation, we lose a key element of successful civil rights movements past. Only when we confront deeper truths about what it means to be products of the human condition, does humility rise above politics, and healing triumph over hate.
The stain of slavery is one of trauma. As such, the social media and political spaces in which the so-called cultural wars play out do as much to amplify trauma as to condemn hate. If King were here, he would do more than call for courtroom justice on behalf of Tyre Nichols and the countless others who have been lost to senseless violence. He would also remind us that when we neglect to take a knee, we are no longer aiming high enough.