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The road to Utopia

Rioting in the streets is completely logical, but not for the reasons pundits think

The road to Utopia

Protesters and police clash in Columbia, S.C., on May 31. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

When I was a young teen, my mother tried to strangle me on a Hawaiian beach where we were homeless and living in tents. I had spent much of my childhood in the islands. I was in the minority, a “haole” (white) girl growing up in a liberal (if violent and dysfunctional) family and raised to appreciate the diversity of races amid the predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander culture. When I ran away to escape my mother, my grandmother took me in. She lived in Alabama.

I landed in the Heart of Dixie in March 1977 at the age of 14, and the culture shock was mind-blowing. I was accustomed to a vibrant blend of races, but in this new town there were, quite literally, opposite sides of the tracks. Blacks lived in rundown homes on one side of the railroad tracks, many in actual shotgun shacks. Whites lived wherever they wished. The first time I heard someone call a black kid the derogatory word we all know, I actually became nauseous. I couldn’t imagine a more vicious and demeaning word. When I was a senior in high school, a pair of Iranian brothers moved to town and began attending my school. A small group of us befriended Mohammed and Hussein. Much of the rest of the school called them names.

My experiences with racism and homelessness prepared me to write Same Kind of Different as Me, a book about a homeless Southern black man who grew up in slave conditions in the 20th century. When I first undertook that project, I knew little about institutional racism. But studying Jim Crow and the sharecropper era gave me a new perspective on the whole “slavery ended 150 years ago, get over it” mentality.

It is easy for white Americans to dismiss the fallout of slavery since the Civil War ended it so long ago. But during the Jim Crow era, Southern Democrats cruelly and systematically subverted the gains black Americans could have and should have made after the war. Blacks suffered for decades, a separate class, an un-people. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism permeated much of America, especially the South.

So, yes, slavery ended 150 years ago. Street-level and institutional racism did not.

And still we are grappling with it. Police officer Derek Chauvin, a member of what should be a trusted American institution, killed George Floyd. I hope he will pay for his crime. But as America burns today, I suspect that most Americans, police officers or otherwise, are not racists. I therefore grieve for the victims of the current violence. Innocent people are being beaten and killed, paying for sins not their own. Business owners of all colors are losing their livelihoods and life savings. I do not endorse this violence.

And yet, it is completely understandable that we have arrived at this moment—and not just because of racial unrest.

Instead, America is on fire because we have systematically rejected our shared moral underpinnings. We have rejected the transracial bond of humanity the abolitionists fought for. We have rejected civility and the common good. In recent years, we have rejected the nature of creation itself, spurning science and common sense. Finally, we have rejected the gospel of peace in favor of a savage Lord of the Flies counterfeit that separates human beings into two classes: the cultural elites and their foot soldiers ... and everyone else.

These elites, having made a name for themselves, are the loudest voices that divide us. They sit astride their 21st-century Towers of Babel—Twitter, Facebook, the airwaves—and look down on God and the common people. They bear false witness for profit. Their tongues are fires, as James the brother of Jesus wrote. They have set our streets aflame. Now, with their own power and privilege unthreatened, they sip lattes and provide color commentary as Americans die and cities burn, mere collateral damage on the road to utopia.

They imagine themselves “progressive,” but the chaos raging on our television screens is a rerun of an ancient story:

“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?” King David wrote 3,000 years ago. “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast their cords away!’”

Cultural elites (and their followers) have for millennia rejected God’s precepts for civil society, including moral restraint. And God’s response has always been the same: “He who sits in the heavens laughs.”

Not at those who are suffering, but at the futile thinking of those who believe that they, and not Christ, are the ones who can save us. 

God judges individual souls, but he also judges nations. This nation has sown to the wind and is reaping the whirlwind: hatred, plague, war, and death.

This is what judgment looks like.

Comments

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  • Paulo
    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 09:03 pm

    Oh yes we in America are reaping what we have been sowing for many years - we have abandoned God - left Him on the wayside - and are none the wiser.  May God have mercy as we cotinue to fix what is broken not knowing that it is our hearts that need fixing.  

  • JM
    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 09:50 pm

    The immediate issue is the "street" culture that has been around too long. My Physician is retiring this year. When he graduated from med school, his residency was in the Ferguson MO hospital. His first case was a gunshot wound. I grew up in the D.C. area in the 1950s. In our, all white, junior high school an English teacher, Coach and math teacher were shot, during classes by a student in 1954.

    My father was a D.C. policeman, who worked with the Boy Scout troop, at our church. Our church, on Capitol Hill, was led by a good pastor taught us to take an interest in people who were raising kids in a "project". Two families responded and three kids finished college and are serving, not begging. They called it friendship evangelism. I now live in rural farm country, but the county has a drug infested area. In this case it is white helping white, but the principle is the same.

    We will not come up with a one size fits all program. It takes compassion on the ground.

  • JV
    Posted: Thu, 06/11/2020 07:47 am

    Thank you, Lynn Vincent, for such an articulate column.  Our family has spent much of our "convo" time together during the quarantine, discussing the current repetition of history depicted in the Bible and lamenting the trashing of the moral principles behind the intentions of our American democracy.  Your piece deftly connected all of these conversations!

  • MAUREEN ARNOLD
    Posted: Thu, 06/11/2020 09:07 am

    As a history teacher, I think we need to adjust our view of Reconstruction to admit that Southern Democrats were allowed to subvert the gains of black Americans. The failure of Congress and the North to follow through on their victory, both in the war and in the passage of the Reconstruction amendments, is a heart-breaking example what happens when we become distracted by things of this world. 

  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Thu, 06/11/2020 01:04 pm

    Powerful words which speak the truth of our times.  Thank you for sharing truth and perspective.  I want to add my own to this narrative.  

    As someone who grew up white in a southern state (which, if memory serves from last year's trip to Gettysburg, sent more than double the volunteers to fight for the Union than for the Confederacy), I learned not to call a Black friend "boy" in grade school.  My father's family, suspected to have been klansmen, never made peace with my mother's family - the most insufferable white technocratic elites who, sadly, will not possibly lay eyes on this commentary nor on this article so well written.

    Again, thank you for writing this for us to read, because it wrings the tears that until now had no path in which to flow.  Not for partisanship's sake, but for the balancing effect it produces, can we pause for a moment, and recognize that it was Democrats, southern Democrats with an economy based solely on slavery who led the way here?  Can we take the time to acknowledge that it was an almost supernatural Republican who tried to lead us out of it? 

    Further, may we remember, not as an excuse but as a condition which contributed to the current maelstrom, that the north exercised its power over the southern states in as pernicious a manner following the Civil War as did the Democrat technocrats following WWI when it punished the loser financially to a devastating extremity?  The southern war debt was not repaid by the government while the union debt was.  The Allied powers, led by a eugenicist elitist American president in the Treaty of Versailles, placed an extraordinarily punitive economic burden upon a country which had no resources after its war, along with the confiscation of lands it felt it rightly owned.  The Amercian South after the Civil War was (rightly) stripped of its entire economy, and further burdened with astronomical cripplying debt that shaped its culture for over a century.  

    We now have the perspective as well as the experience of living with past decisions, to see the just results of mistakes made by world leaders and peoples within the last two centuries.  I pray it will do us some good to remember.  And may the remembering redound to the least of us.

  • Narissara
    Posted: Mon, 06/22/2020 11:46 am

    I would add the Constitution and our republican form of government is not the problem.  The problem is paternalistic policies carefully crafted in such a way that they don't run afoul of the Constitution but continue to keep poor people, poor blacks in particular, at a disadvantage.  We keep getting lectured about the need to have an honest conversation about systemic racism.  That conversation has to include discussions about how our failed social programs keep pushing black Americans down.  The number one indicator of poverty is fatherlessness, yet welfare encourages it.  Families who are on welfare are more likely to be turned in and investigated by child protective services, a biased system in which, all other things being equal, a black mother is more likely to lose her children to foster care.  The quality of education in our largest cities, in districts with a predominantly poor, black student cohort, is dismal in spite of massive amounts of federal funding distributed based on head counts. We need better solutions than more of the same.  

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 06/12/2020 02:44 am

    With all of the commentary about who is to blame for keeping African-Americans poor, both in the present and historically, there's something being overlooked:

    It is actually a fairly small minority of Black Americans who are in dire poverty, chronically unemployed, chronically uneducated, in ghettos, raising kids without fathers, etc. I have not looked up statistics, but I would guess at least 90% of Black Americans live in approximate equal circumstances to their peers of other races, including the White majority. Of course, some are laborers, some are professionals with doctorates, and most are at every level in between, just like us Whites. They go to work, do their jobs satisfactorily, raise their kids to believe the US has much opportunity, pay their bills and their taxes. In short, they live their lives much the same as those of other races. Those who are unable to rise out of bad circumstances must take long hard looks to see if their own behavior is playing a large part.

    However, it is true that Black Americans do face slurs and slights and acts of racial hostility and aggression. Depending on their environment, some face that on a daily basis. I don't discount the harm this does, the anger or despair it engenders, or the evil of it. However, the big difference between now and 40 years ago, and on back through history, is that most discriminatory acts are now illegal, and decent people recognize the evil of it. Consequently, there is also recourse, although as a practical matter recourse often isn't possible. But it's now a given that a display of racism can cost the offender his/her livelihood and bring heavy condemnation. 
     

    No person, whatever race, creed, ethnicity, or ability, should be treated as "less" than the rest of us simply because of any non-behavioral attribute or characteristic. Ultimately, that is a denial of the Word of God, which says we are created in His Image. And I include in that, saying someone should not be held responsible for acts of destruction or harm they commit, because they or their ancestors have been harmed by racism. That is where our liberals go off course. 

  • TWH
    Posted: Thu, 06/25/2020 07:36 am

    I read the thoughtful, insightful column and then went to the comments, thinking I might add something. I found so many thoughtful, insightful comments already expressed that I have nothing to add except appreciation! 

  • Mark
    Posted: Thu, 06/25/2020 09:02 pm

    Lynn,

    Thank you for your article.  I do have a couple of questions:

    You assert the following in the article:

    "Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism permeated much of America, especially the South.  So, yes, slavery ended 150 years ago. Street-level and institutional racism did not."  I would ask you to define the term "institutional racism" and then provide specific examples that substantiate your claim.  The same would go for your statement "especially the South".  Please provide evidence that your statements are true.

    Please be aware that I am not claiming that your statements are false, but many news sources are using terms like "systemic racism", "institutional racism", etc, but I haven't found any news sources actually defining the terms and substantiating such claims. 

    Thank you again for your article.  Mark Closson (mclosson@aol.com)

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 06/26/2020 03:02 pm

    Allow me to throw out a couple of thoughts on institutional racism.
     

    One, the concept of "separate but equal schools."  In states with segregated education, the schools provided for Black children were hardly ever close to equal to those provided for whites. The blatant deprivation of "colored" schools of resources and adequately trained personnel insured Black children would not receive an equal education.  Blacks denied entry to colleges, even taxpayer-funded state institutions.

    Two, legal discrimination in hiring.  Generally it was legal in many states for an employer to simply send Black job applicants on their way with the statement, "We don't hire n_____s here."  Or Blacks never hired for any but the most menial work at the lowest pay. 

    Three, legal discrimination in accommodations, housing, etc. In many states a developer or individual home seller could simply refuse to sell to Blacks. Homeowner association covenants could state, "No home in this subdivision shall be sold to Negroes."  Hotels and restaurants, city parks and swimming pools and other facilities funded by taxpayers including Blacks, closed to Blacks.  "Whites Only" was a commonly seen sign.

    Four, city "sunset ordinances". Laws that forbade any Black person remaining in a town overnight--"after sunset,"

    Five, restrictions or "tests" before being allowed to vote, with the primary aim of turning away Black voters.  A "literacy test" with questions like "Quote Article Four of the United States Constitution," but only required of Blacks, was a well-known ploy.

    Many more examples of discrimination encoded in law and followed in daily custom and practice could be cited. None of these examples were limited to Southern states. I am old enough that I witnessed these things with my own eyes. They are not exaggerations. It should be noted that at various times in our history, some of these restrictions were also applied to other groups: Irish, Jews, Poles, Italians, Chinese, etc have also faced discrimination but never so widespread or over such a long period as that faced by Blacks.