I’m Tired

I’m Tired June 3, 2020

I did not want to blog about this. I really wanted the Floyd issue to come and go without comment from me. I mean we just had the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and I just am not ready for one more murdered black man. Not only mentally and emotionally am I not ready for it, but I simply do not have the time. I am finishing the manuscript for a book and working on a grant in addition to putting my fall course online. Oh did I tell you I have three rambunctious boys to keep up with? Why do I have to deal with this once again?

When I first found out about George Floyd, I tried to avoid all news about it. But details kept coming through. The knee to his neck for eight minutes, not a few seconds. His crying out for breath and his mother. All of this over a 20-dollar counterfeit bill. But I still did not want to talk about it. There were other voices and they could take over. After dealing with racial tension for more than two decades, I figured I deserved a pass on this one. I felt I earned one.

You see I am tired. There are other African-Americans who are tired as well. Tired of the same issues coming up again and again. Even if we envision different solutions to the problem, the cycle is quite clear and it wears us out. There is a racial incident. There are protests. There is pushback. Then we collapsed down to more accusations and recriminations. Until finally the incident is in the past and we wait for the next racial incident to go though the entire cycle again. We are just now going through the protest stage. The blowback is coming, and may already have started, and the devolution to accusations and recriminations will soon follow.

Little wonder I am tired. I have watched this script play out far too many times and have little hope that it will change this time. In two or three months some other issue will be all over the headlines. The riots will be recent history, and the effects of them will be most pronounced in the lower-class communities where they took place. We will have new arguments on some other issue, and we will have moved on to other stuff. And then the next racial incident will occur and we get to begin again. Why invest in trying to do something when the same thing will happen again and again.

But despite my fatigue, I must comment. It has become clear to me that I have something to say. Something that perhaps others are not saying. So even though my comment can easily get swept up in the emotional turmoil of the day, I have to put it out there and then let God do the rest.

Is there a way to break out of the insanity of racial incident, protest, backlash and recriminations? Yes, I believe there is. That is the good news. Here is the bad news. Right now there is nothing we can do to stop this current cycle. We will soon see if I am wrong about the coming backlash and recriminations. But I do not think I am wrong and deep down I bet you do not think I am wrong either. The path of this cycle is set and I do not see anything that will deter it.

Every time we have a racial incident people talk about how we can use this to finally move forward. They talk about how we can take advantage of the opportunity to bring enlightenment and communication. And that sounds beautiful. But it never happens. In fact, at this point I am looking at such comments as a signal of insanity. You know the old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and yet expecting a different result. If we use the same tactics we have in the past, which is to use this murder for the furthering of certain social, political or racial goals, and that tactic did not work back then, then why do we think it will work now? Unless we want to be in the same position a few months, or a year, from now, then we better consider something different.

That difference is honest courageous conversations with each other. To be clear I am not talking about merely attempting to browbeat others into compliance. I am talking about real conversation where we put everything on the table and figure out a way to move forward. Real conversation where we learn how to communicate with each other instead of talking past each other and look to score political points. The type of conversations we have not had in the past, but the type of conversations we will need for our future.

I have heard it said that riots are the language of the unheard. I do not think so. I rather think that riots are the results of our inability to use our language to truly communicate. And by communicate I do not merely mean talk to each other. Often that talking to each other results is talking past each other. What I mean is to communicate to understand each other. To listen to those with whom we disagree so that we can find common ground. It is the failure to find common ground, rather than the failure to provide what rioters want, that is the true source of unrest.
But as important as those conversations are, let me be clear about this. NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR THEM. While we have cities still burning is not the time people are open to these types of conversations. The passions are too much for us to sit down with that conversation. We cannot resolve the issues we need to resolve right now. That is why I am saying that we cannot do anything right now to break the cycle. We can only endure the confusion and madness until there is a more opportune time for this conversation.

When will that opportune time come? This is part of the frustration of this situation. Our best opportunity to deal with this will be in between racial incidents. When we are still angry at the mess we are in, but we are not in the middle of another controversy and can have real communication with each other. We must do it at a time where there may not be as strong an incentive for us to engage in that conversation as people may feel today, but we need to do so anyway as those are the times where we may listen to each other. I am skeptical that we will have the resolve to engage in that communication at that time. I fear we will not try to have the conversation since if there is not a pressing issue at hand then people will want to put racial issues on the backburner. So we will wait until we have another racial conflict. And then it will be too late.

I know some will talk about pushing for the right political policies or changes in the criminal justice system to make certain this does not occur again. I am not opposed to looking at all of that. In fact, I have no doubt that some of that will be necessary. We know that institutional racism is an issue and people of color can be mistreated by our criminal justice system. But make no mistake about it. Those measures will not stop the next controversy from occurring. Racism is still present, and we will find another reason to demonize each other. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that we can find the right political solution to this. Politics and social policies will not save us by themselves. We are looking at a problem that is buried deep within our human nature.

My Christian faith indicates that human depravity impacts us all. We have the tendency to look to our needs and to place those needs above the concerns of all others. In a society that is troubled by so much racial tension, we would expect to find it difficult to trust others who are not part of our group. And given our propensity towards human depravity, it is normal for us to have such mistrust. Only in communication with each other can we hold each other accountable so that no single group has the power to abuse everyone else. We need honest conversation where all of us can relate our concerns, our fears and our hopes so that we might figure out solutions that we all can live with. And those conversations are the only way we will learn enough about each other so that when the next racial incident occurs, and it will occur, that we can talk to each other instead of past each other.

So what do we do for now? I fear the only thing we can do is wait out the current drama that is playing before us. Resolve to make time for a better conversation in a couple of months. Be willing to engage with others in ways that are productive. And finally when the time comes, do all we can so that we do not wind up here yet again.

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