Because They Said So

oppression-fists“They.”  The purveyors of great wisdom to the masses.  What would we ever do without them?  A good portion of what we know we got from them, so I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on them.  They say that this will be a hot summer in the first half and cool in the latter half.  They say that the Bears only have a four percent chance of going to the Super Bowl.  (They’re probably right on this one.)  They said that the world is flat and that you can tell a person’s personality by the shape of their head and that sheep grow out of the ground and that rats are spontaneously generated in dirty areas and that the sun is a habitable planet.  Yep, these are all things that “they” really said and that people have actually believed over the years.  Well, on Tuesday, “they” broke my heart.

 

It was almost the end of football practice and the boys were coming back to our side of the field after practicing field goals.  Right next to me I could see two boys bantering – one black and the other white – and I thought they were just playing around.  I realized they were quite serious, however, when the African-American one got on top of the Caucasian one and started punching him.  Lucky for him he still had his helmet and gear on so he just took a few shots to the side.  I was standing right there so I grabbed the one on top and pulled him off.  He ran back and went at it again.  I pulled him off again and he threw his helmet across the field and with tears streaming down his face yelled, “F*%# football!”  My initial reaction was that this kid had no right to get violent and I still think as much, but now I have the rest of the story to go with it.

The day before at practice, the Caucasian had apparently been taunting the African-American player and spitting at him.  He went to his mother and she told the coach.  When the proverbial schtuff hit the fan, the Caucasian was apparently spitting at the African-American again as they were practicing field goals and then began to call him a nigger.  The one being pestered told him to stop and so he did it more.  By the time they got back over to us, he just kept saying it over and over again, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”  And so the boy snapped and yelled something to the effect of “I’ve had enough of this bullshit!” and laid into the one making the remarks.

So who is the victim here?  Sadly, some would think that it’s the white boy who got punched by a black boy.  Those darn black folk and their violent ways.  Others would think that the victim is the one who was taunted by racial slurs and spit at.  The reality, though, is that they are BOTH victims.  They are victims of “they” and their diabolically vociferous claims that it’s ok to oppress people and as a result of that oppression, violence is a natural outcome.  As human beings we have been led to believe by the ancient wisdom of “they” who have oppressed people throughout the ages that it is acceptable to assign one people to inferiority and another as their superiors.  “They” only have a voice if WE listen and give them credence!  Without someone to listen and act like what they say is true, they can never subvert justice and make the world believe that it is normal to oppress people.  In like manner, “they” will have no say in things when we start realizing that violence only breeds violence and that the cycle is systemically perpetual.  As long as we continue this way, we will ALL be guilty of giving the oppressors their swords and of simultaneously being the oppressors ourselves.

I am reminded of a great man, who, 50 years ago stood at the Mall in Washington D.C. and told the world that he had “been to the mountaintop.”  Being an African-American in those days, he could have very well said that on that mountaintop he saw whites finally inferior to blacks or that blacks had come to power over the whites.  But he didn’t.  He said he saw a dream.  A dream where children “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He said,

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

He practiced a method of non-violent resistance and taught, like Jesus did, that violence will never solve anything.  I say “they” can go to hell because God knows we have all spent enough self-imposed time there.  On this 50th anniversary of his famous speech, I would encourage us all to read all of Dr. King’s speech here.  Let’s not just read it, let’s live it.  Jesus himself said that the “gospel” is to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18-19).  I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus chose to recite this text at the inauguration of his ministry.

In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus touches a woman who had been arched at the back for 18 years.  She couldn’t have the dignity of standing up straight and looking people in the eye like she was somebody.  For 18 years she looked at the ground in some sort of ashamed stature as if she had done something wrong by being born as a woman.  Then Jesus touched her.  He didn’t have to.  He could have healed her with a simple word, but he reached out his hand and touched her as if to say “You matter!  Now stand up straight and be proud of who you are.”  Dr. King gave this message to young black men so many years ago and we would do well to reiterate the message today.  Let’s encourage everyone to stand up proud for who God made them to be and to never feel like they have to resort to violence to prove it.  Likewise, let’s teach our children of any race that it’s never ok to treat another person like anything less than what they are – someone who has been fearfully and wonderfully made by the very hand of God.

Sometimes our dreams are God’s realities.  I long for the day when this dream becomes a reality and when we all can sit together in peace from every race, tribe, nation, and tongue and say “I remember when we used to listen to ‘them’.  How foolish we were back then.”

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