27 November 2014

Thanksgiving and Ferguson, Missouri

"Ferguson quiets down in anticipation of Thanksgiving." Story on Russia's Channel 1. Screen grab. Source.
Even among predominantly white North American Friends, the story of Ferguson, Missouri, and the grand jury decision not to charge the policeman who killed unarmed Michael Brown, cause dissension.

Two of the pastoral staff at Reedwood Friends Church, Portland, Oregon, joined the Albina Ministerial Alliance to express distress at the events in Ferguson. (Even Portland protesters are significantly divided.) Quakerly reactions varied to our Reedwood pastors' participation in the Portland event. Some supported their involvement, recognizing the very different experiences of black and white citizens in relation to law enforcement. Others said they were upset that Friends seem willing to protest without determining the facts first, or without examining the evidence that was considered by the grand jury. Still others reminded us that by standing in solidarity with black brothers and sisters in ministry, they are granting that black Christians' long-term perceptions of American reality are at least as valid as white perceptions.

I think that these divisions point to the spiritual-warfare dimension of racism. After all, racism is an aspect of the primordial sin of objectification, a perfect expression of violating the commandment against false witness. In many countries and empires, fortunes and whole economic systems are built on a tacit conspiracy not to account for the generational sins of racism and slavery. Is it any wonder that racism's manifestations continue to show the fingerprints of the Author of Confusion?

This Thanksgiving Day, I'm grateful that the USA has erupted over Ferguson. It's past time to raise holy hell. But let's not forget how deviously this spiritual poison acts. When we are tempted to attack police as a class, or an individual policeman, we shouldn't let class prejudice compound the sin. (How many police officers come from the same social circles as their archest critics?) Police must accept that the license to carry lethal weapons carries huge expectations of accountability, but the rest of us ought to support adequate budgets, training, and basic fairness for the police as well. Don't let police become proxy villains, whose vilification would help to conceal the systemic racism that continues to morph and mutate under our inadequate analyses. That too would be a violation of the commandment against bearing false witness.

Russian media have made a lot of the Ferguson tragedy, despite the persistent racism evident in Russia. In fact, a lot of the Russian commentary about Ferguson is itself blatantly racist.

It also reminds me and some of my friends of the Soviet practice of highlighting American racism in contrast to the supposed internationalism and worker solidarity of the Soviet system. Some of my older acquaintances in Russia became so habitually skeptical of the Soviet line on American racism that they assumed that the opposite must be true--it must be black Americans who are on top and whites who are subordinate. In other words, if the Soviet media said something (they were in the habit of assuming), the opposite is likely closer to the truth. We've had to tell our students and their parents that whatever the reality was in the Soviet Union, their reports on the USA were not always entirely wrong.

Here are several items concerning recent Russia coverage of the Ferguson story:

"If Black lives don't matter, nobody's life matters."

Nancy Thomas: "We’re realizing that the story of William Abel is not meant only for the Quakers of Bolivia. It will be a gift to the San Pasqual Band of Kumeyaay Indians."

"Pacifism isn't sensible, but then neither is the Christian life."

"Dissident artist's Lego portraits of injustice do time on Alcatraz." Thanks to Owais Abdul-Kafi via David Finke.

Johnny Shines, 1979. Many thanks to YouTube user Gerard Herzhaft.

No comments: