I’m angry. I want to throw bricks, I want to march in the streets, I want to tear something down with my bare hands. I’m angry because every time another black person is murdered by police, the internet whips itself up into a froth of outrage, and then we go back to caring about other stuff. Trump’s hair. Hillary’s “likability.” Brexit. Whatever. Meanwhile, nothing has changed.
Then it happens again.
I know: it’s been happening for centuries. Still, one might think that in 2016, what with the Civil Rights Movement being fifty years old, and our nation having our first African-American president, that things would be moving along a more positive trajectory. That doesn’t appear to be the case, and it fills me with a nameless mixture of fury and despair.
Maybe you’re thinking, But you’re white!
That’s another reason I’m angry. I’m angry at the “all lives matter” white people who are willfully turning a blind eye to the issue at hand, which is that yes, in theory all lives are supposed to matter, but apparently do not, since black people are being shot down in the streets like dogs. I’m angry at the fools who say they’re “colorblind.” Not only do such statements make it seem as though you’ve miraculously transcended our country’s racist heritage, it smacks of an unwillingness to self-examine. Worse, it denies others’ experiences and identities as people of color.
I’m angry because I feel powerless to change anything. My skin color and the privileges it daily affords me—in ways that are beyond my comprehension—place me squarely among those who are by default supposed to care less (or not at all) about racial injustice. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I feel like a privileged son granted a “safe” wartime office job, filing papers for the army. Where are the front lines? Somebody please tell me because I want to go there. But I suspect the front lines are closed to me. The front lines are, I think, just being black in America, walking down the street or driving a car, minding your own business.
Finally, I’m angry because I want my church to speak to this societal injustice, and I don’t think it will. It’s understood that our political leaders are slaves—their hands are tied by lobbyists with ropes made of dollar bills. All they can do is spout rhetoric. But our pastors, our priests, should (in theory) be beholden to no one but God.
If ever we needed a prophet (or prophetess), the time is now.
For several months, I’ve been going back to the Orthodox Church. I’d made a kind of uneasy peace with it because I missed its community, I missed the Eucharist. I missed being a part of something larger than myself. But the idea of going to church tomorrow morning and singing the same songs and saying the same prayers, of hearing a homily that has nothing whatsoever to do with what’s going on outside the doors—I just can’t even. I know people take comfort in the Orthodox Church being like that. No matter what’s going on, you can step inside the chants and swirling incense and feel a continuity with the ancient past, a salve of sameness. To me it stinks of denial.
Human beings are nothing but potential. We have within us a potential for great good (Mother Teresa) and we have potential for great evil (Stalin). But as long as we remain potential only, then we are inert. It seems to me that it is the work of our leaders—both political and spiritual—to shape that potential, to animate and guide its progress. This was the work of Gandhi, of Dr. King, of Malcom X. I don’t want to be a part of something larger than myself if that something larger is a stoic block of whiteness, clucking its collective tongue and saying, without conviction, “What a shame.”