Hate or a plea for help?


Mill Hall

How to get from #AllLivesMatter to #BlackLivesMatter: A simple guide…

When I came back from the Third World after a couple of trips doing missionary work, I would often say that I appreciated what I had here because I had seen what it was like to have less.

The more I listened to myself say that, I realized this wasn’t something I was saying. It was a rationalization of privilege to make someone else’s suffering about me. It was a repugnant way many who volunteered and came back to a First World country made themselves feel better because of the disparities and economic injustice they witnessed.

Then I thought even more and I remembered my time working in poor urban neighborhoods and the way that my lower-middle-class family bordering ever closer to poverty found excuses to condemn the poor black people around us. It was a mix of racism threaded with guilt and shame, seeing themselves as benefactors when they were just one foot out of the ghetto.

When I started to ask myself why the poor in other countries were oppressed but the poor black people here were just lazy to many Christian conservatives I grew up around, the answer began to reveal itself over time.

The connection between racism and limited economic opportunity is nuanced in white culture because privilege shields us from the harsh realities of poverty. When injustice isn’t happening to you and you indirectly benefit from it, there is no motivating factor to see fault on your end. Instead, the anger of socio-economically disenfranchised minorities is reflected in your mind as hate toward you rather than a plea for help.

This is where the cultural narrative has been impacted by our own government’s actions. Nixon subversively began exporting manufacturing to China in the ’70s with the aid of the corporate elite who saw the Civil Rights Movement as the threat it was to the wealthy and powerful. That successful campaign to pit the economic interests of poor blacks against those of poor whites became a nation arising from the smoldering ashes of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream when I was born in 1979.

The Reagan Era brought with it the beginning of the end for workers’ unions while profits on Wall Street rose and family after family began to fall into more debt and poverty. In the suburban middle-class neighborhoods I lived in as a pastor’s kid, churches started to fail because their parishioners lost their jobs and that meant less money in the offering plate. It wouldn’t be long after someone lost their job that they would either stop coming to church or move away.

In Western Pennsylvania, empty factories were so common you simply stopped seeing them and they became just another part of the landscape. All of this led to growing xenophobia and racism among the white people around me. The rhetoric they spewed in church was followed by horrific commentary in the hallways and at home. If you asked any of them if they thought they were a racist, they would defensively deny it and in their own minds, they would be correct.

All of this led me to an interest in political thought. I ventured out into Libertarianism and then started calling myself a progressive until I started venturing closer to that dreaded word “socialism.” I dared not even think of considering such an ideal just a decade earlier. I knew for certain that I might end up committing genocide or burning people in ovens. That’s how thorough the conditioning of my mind was.

What made me look back and reconsider was a simple question: Who am I not being encouraged to question or see as to blame? The wealthy.

Fingers were pointing in every direction but at those who wield the most power to change the world, but somehow don’t. Why was that?

“Are all these poor people lazy?” I asked myself.

I knew the answer. Then I got it. The trickle-down that started in my childhood had somehow trickled up. The people were not better off, but less heard. The system was not broken, it had been purchased with ignorance and fear. When black people could not bear the complete burden of the pointed finger, then it became Mexicans, then Muslims, the addicts, the poor… everyone but those raking in record profits as more and more Americans fell into poverty.

The insidiousness of how this was done is too much for too many of us. We know the truth. At least I think most of us do, deep down. We don’t want to admit it. It hurts us too much to even think about it, which is why we distract ourselves constantly with nonsense. Wars rage on for the lifetime of children who cannot remember when they started but can now serve in them. Politicians pretend to listen and do what they are told by those with the money to make them comply, whether by compulsion or exclusion.

Capitalism has brought us here. It has placed the value of imaginary data representing sums of money over the lives of people here, just as it has bombed and killed the poor of other nations. Profit above all is what drives our economic system, and it has bankrupted our minds as devalued real estate for propaganda we eat from an empty spoon.

In the streets, people are marching for the justice of dead black citizens. They are marching for immigrants and workers. They are marching against war and hate. It is in those cries I can hear the ghost of a revolution lost shouting out, “The Dream is not lost. It lives in you.”