Dominique Green is one of far too many black men executed in the United States by his own government. Until his final day at the age of 30, he claimed that yes, he committed the robbery, but he did not pull the trigger which killed another man. His final words before his execution by lethal injection were these:
“There was a lot of people that got me to this point and I can’t thank them all. But thank you for your love and support. They have allowed me to do a lot more than I could have on my own . . . I am not angry but I am disappointed that I was denied justice. But I am happy that I was afforded you all as family and friends. I love you all. Please just keep the struggle going . . . . I am just sorry and I am not as strong as I thought I was going to be. But I guess it only hurts for a little while. You are all my family. Please keep my memory alive.”
Today at the gym, the film Remember the Titans was playing on the big screen so I sat and watched it from the stationary bike. I love that film, and I felt a lump welling up inside my throat at points, such as when the white people refuse to shake the black peoples’ hands, or when, inversely, the team builds bonds across racial bounds tighter than those outside the team.
On the flight back to the States, I happened to watch Green Book, which is set in the same time period as Titans and deals with many of the same issues of race in the South. A wealthy, famous and black musician is touring through the southern states, and despite being the guest of honor, is forced to use outhouses and is only welcomed in certain hotels. The title of the film comes from the book carried by black folks who wanted to travel in the US safely during that time period; it described where they would and would not be welcomed.
In both films, pure anger rose up inside me. It was a wild, white-hot anger at the racist characters in the films. Every time I see a scene like those in the films, I boggle my mind to figure out how the victims kept themselves from unleashing hell on the unjust institutions and racist people discriminating against them. How could they respond with such grace and poise?? If I were in their shoes, my fists would be flying and their jaws would be dangling like a playground swing.
One more anecdote, then I’ll begin to tie things together.
I lived in Guatemala for the last ten months; a place where I was very much a minority. Everywhere I went, people stared at the gringo walking down the sidewalk or working out. I was surrounded by the beautiful, tan and hardworking Guatemalans, and my experience as a minority there was the polar opposite of most minorities in the States.
As a white minority in Central America, I was not the underdog or the poor outcast; I was the wealthy and powerful minority. People stared at me not because I was a pariah the way they would stare at a freed slave after the Civil War; they stared at me knowing I could travel anywhere on the globe, had obscene amounts of education and wads of money in my bank account.
I was a powerful minority.
I experienced no prejudice or discrimination based on my race or status.
Now, compare that to the experience of basically any minority in the States for the majority of her history. The minorities are the ones who are enslaved, taken advantage of, or victimized by a system which has no problem executing them just to get them out of the way. They tend to be a powerless minority in a country set up to function against them.
Did you see that?
When I—a wealthy white American—am a minority, I still expect to maintain privilege, comfort and power. I think that’s why, when I watch those scenes in Remember the Titans and Green Book, anger wells up within me. I expect there to be resolution for injustice. I expect people to treat me with dignity, the same way they treat their friends and family. I expect that when a white idiot dehumanizes a black person, the black person deserves to level them.
I guess I’ve never had to learn how to respond to bigotry or stigma, because generally speaking, I’ve never been oppressed by them. That’s why my mind boggles when people of different races can respond with silence or love when some white fool insults spits in their face (literally or metaphorically). As a white, ‘powerful’ person, my gut reaction is anger and rage.
The scenes from Titans fueled the rest of my workout, as I funneled my rage at the very notion of racism into my reps. It ran through my mind and I found myself asking, then, what is the solution? Here are a few thoughts:
It made me respect Martin Luther King Jr. and all the people working in the Civil Rights Act era all the more as they called for peaceful protest against absolute bastards who were literally killing their friends and family. Black people, Jews, and countless other oppressed minorities have learned how to respond to violence with peace and grace—something we powerful majorities can learn from.
If the roles were reversed, I don’t see many white people calling for non-violent protest against their oppressors. How strong does one have to be to turn the other cheek to the person killing you and your family members, or spraying you with a firehose? (for a gut-wrenchingly beautiful reversal of this image, please watch this entire video. The same hose which once tortured them now baptizes them. You will sob.)
Secondly, it made me ask the question (again), what can I as a white person do to combat these issues? Granted, the US has made steps in the right direction since the 60’s, but we have a way to go. Without giving concrete instructions, I believe it is the obligation of those in power to use their power to aid and stand up for those with less power. Guatemala gave me a better first-hand witness to people oppressed by a system taking advantage of them from which they can’t escape.
Here I need to add that Donald Trump is the embodiment of racism, privilege, and the powerful oppressing the less powerful. He has proven to favor the wealthy and to encourage discrimination against any non-white minority. Regardless of your general political standing, voting for him is a vote to continue racism and injustice; there is absolutely no way around it. It’s like voting for the bad guy in any movie on racism ever made, except you’re making him president of our country (again).
Powerful people are essentially given two choices for how to use their power in relation to the less-powerful: Enslave/take advantage of them, or fight for them and stand up for them. This is one reason Jesus was so hard on the teachers of the Law in the Bible: they were the powerful men of the time, but were using their power to get wealthy by taking advantage of the poor. How utterly opposite to the message of the entirety of Scripture! Genesis to the eschaton, the message of YHWH could not be more clear. Aid the powerless minorities living among you.
The definition of this aid could fill up several whole blog posts (and has! Read the book “When Helping Hurts” which is everything I could say about the issue times 34,061. It’s basically how to help the poor and needy without falling into the White Savior trap).
How do white people go about undoing the wrongs done by our ancestors? I hope to find a balance between violently lashing out at the oppressors, while still fighting racism and injustice. May we identify the issues on which we can affect change. May we ask God to scour our hearts of any racism, conscious or subconscious, dwelling in our guts. May we worship God together, with bonds much deeper than the things which may divide us.