“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu
In March of 2003 I remember staring at my television in disbelief. I kept flipping through the major news channels in hopes that something would change. One of the major news stations had a countdown clock ticking off the seconds of George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein; Saddam and his sons were to leave their country by a certain time or the United States would invade Iraq. 57, 56, 55, 54… The clock counted down.
When the clock got to zero I turned white and collapsed to the floor. I felt frantic. I laid on the wooden floor of my Sacramento apartment and sobbed. I cried like a child who couldn’t find her blanket. I wailed and gulped between gasps for breath. Looking back, it seems a reasonable reaction. We were at war.
The protests lasted for months. The coverage of the protests lasted for a few days. I still have the sign that I carried as a testament to the anti-war effort.
In the months that followed, our country pretended that we weren’t at war. Less than two months after the countdown, on May 1st, 2003, George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared “Mission Accomplished.” It was an incredible lie and a ridiculous sham. There are still American soldiers in Iraq today, more than a decade later.
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” -Soren Kierkegaard
We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We are great at telling stories. America is famous for its stories. We invented the Hollywood picture, the Animated Feature, and the Broadway Musical. Our stories may be what make us quintessentially American.
Many of our stories make us great. In many ways, stories can make us feel human. They bind us with universal narratives and colorful language. Stories can give us give us comfort in our skin and validation to our souls.
But stories can also painfully mislead us.
For too long in this country we have made our stories a reality. We have pretended so many things in order to get by.
We have pretended that our elected officials have had our best interests in mind. We have pretended that our mainstream media is a reasonable source of unbiased information. We have pretended that processed foods aren’t making us sick. We have pretended that the Star Wars prequels didn’t totally suck.
Some of the lies we have continued to tell ourselves are harmless. Many of the lies we tell ourselves in this country are killing innocent people.
We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves and others. We have to stop pretending that the “War on Terrorism” isn’t racist. And we have to stop pretending that the long history of racism in this country is something of the past.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” –Proverbs 12:18
I watched a lot of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show during the early years of the Iraq War. It was the only thing that kept me sane. I know that there is a line to be drawn between the unnamed war that we are fighting in this country against people of color and the many wars we think that we understand abroad. I haven’t been able to form a sentence with regard to what happened in South Carolina. So, instead, I’ll share with you some of Jon Stewart’s observations:
“What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think that people who are foreign are going to kill us and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic Terrorism, it would have fit into our… We invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries…all to keep Americans safe. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We’ve got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church? What about that?
“This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emmanuel Church of South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100+ years. It has been attacked viciously many times as many black churches have, and to pretend…I heard someone on the news saying, “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was racist. This [incident] was black and white. There is no nuance here…
“Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.”
We have to stop. We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves about the reality of this country. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be honest with each other. We have to be honest so that we can start doing something. We have to start doing something.
We have to start doing something.
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” –Howard Zinn
What do you say at a moment like this? There are no words.
So don’t use words. Use actions. Use acts of kindness. Use acts of kindness that are so significant they change the status quo.