Ranting on the Right and Left

I think President Obama was right to soften the tone of his statement the other day on the Gates arrest … Continued

I think President Obama was right to soften the tone of his statement the other day on the Gates arrest incident; the word “stupid” wasn’t a helpful word choice. But the word, I think, accurately describes the reaction of a lot of white male commentators to the incident.

Let’s assume (for a minute, anyway) that Sgt. Leon Lashley, the African American officer who was present at the arrest, got it right when he said Dr. Gates reacted inappropriately to the investigating white police officer, Sgt. James Crowley. Further, let’s assume that Sgt. Crowley acted “according to protocol” in arresting Dr. Gates for his overreaction. And further, let’s assume that President Obama spoke inappropriately when he used the word “stupidly” without knowing the full story. I’m not saying this is the whole story, or the best way to view the story, but even if we grant these assumptions …

What remains truly stupid, in my opinion, is for the discussion to stop where it seems to stop among many cable news pundits, sanctimoniously blaming Gates, Crowley, or Obama for this or that transgression.

It’s especially unwise for white folks like me … many of whom remain surprisingly unaware of the concept of white privilege … to fail to see the background reality into which this incident provides a teachable moment. (For a refreshingly reflective analysis, see this short article.)

Whether it’s the Gates incident or the Sotomayor hearings, I am saddened to hear so many white American Christians (Catholic, Evangelical, etc.) jump on the Hannity/Limbaugh/Buchanan/Beck/Fox News bandwagon. Their reactive move toward finding someone to blame — case closed — reveals to me how much these commentators (rather than Billy Graham, any recent Pope, the Bible, or any denominational headquarters) have become the primary source of spiritual formation (not just political misinformation) for large sectors of the white American church.

Sadly, many commentators in the world of Religious Broadcasting simply apply a thick coat of cosmetic prayer and Bible-talk to the same ideology of their secular thought-leaders. (If your blood pressure is low in this regard and you need to notch it up a few points, watch, listen to, or read Bill Moyers’ recent piece on Right Wing Radio … Rage on the Airwaves. Especially note Bill O’Reilly’s spookily frank comments on the “white male power structure.”)

Thank God for bridge-building leaders like pastor Efrem Smith, seeking to provide the American Christian community a more fair, balanced, and wise perspective. He, like many of my friends of color, understands how Dr. Gates must have felt, because he has his own stories of committing the “crime” of DWB or DWH (Driving While Black, or Driving While Hispanic). Notable quote:

It’s important that my White evangelical brothers and sisters not let Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh give the proper perspective on seeing this issue. Jesus had the ability in Scripture of seeing the world from the vantage point of the child, the woman, the Samaritan, and the poor. Why are some evangelical conservatives only willing to see this from the vantage point of the police officer? I know that Dr. Gates isn’t poor, but he does represent the historically marginalized in our nation. And please don’t down-size this social sin to victimization. I’m not a victim, I’m just an African-American male who gets pulled over by the police from time to time for no reason. This is why, I’m with Dr. Gates on this one and you should be too.

“Jesus had the ability … of seeing the world from the vantage point of the [other],” Smith rightly says. The Biblical word for that ability, I think, is compassion. So, as we assess this situation, may we have compassion for Dr. Gates, for Srgts. Lashley and Crowley, for President Obama, and for all our neighbors of whatever skin color who share an ugly history and a messy present moment and the common challenging of creating a better future.

And yes (I’m preaching to my own soul here), may we also feel compassion for the broadcasters whose punditry serves to reinforce white male privilege and reduce compassion for too many of us. After all, they can only speak what’s in their hearts, and right now, there’s a lot of fear and outrage screaming inside them. Their fear and outrage will only grow as resistance to white male privilege grows, white male privilege being so inherent to reality as they have known it that they consider it normal and the way things ought to be. Unless they are liberated from their fear and freed to discover a better vision of how things can be, their reactions will only get even more shrill and extreme.

Without compassion, without the ability to see the world from the vantage of the other, we’re all TWS (talking while stupid).

Brian D. McLaren
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  • edbyronadams

    Laws are stupid. Written procedures and protocols are stupid. They are ideas codified into text and no matter how imaginative the writers of the written laws are, they cannot conceive of the myriad circumstances that confront people, especially peace officers, during the course of the day.I’m certain that Sgt. Crowley followed department protocols in Gate’s arrest but they were not written with this particular scenario in mind. So we get stupidity. The irony is that volumes of procedures get written for policemen, usually out of fear that he will exercise discretion in a way that will violate someone’s rights but no matter how intricate the rules that they expect the patrolman to follow, they remain a blunt instrument in a surgical situation.

  • CalSailor

    Part 1For the last 15 years or so, we have had a concerted effort in this country to paint ANYTHING which does not support the privilege of white males (and especially white, male, Christians) as somehow an attack on everything sacred, moral and American. Perhaps two subjects are sufficient:1. Removing prayer at the beginning of the school day (in a format and belief system of that supporting the beliefs of white male Christians) as: Kicking God out of the schools. If you are a muslim, or a Hindu, or an immigrant from any of more than a 100 nations, prayer in the morning was not a positive way to begin the day, but another reminder that they don’t FIT IN. God has not been removed from the schools, rather more children have the opportunity to pray (or not) according to their own beliefs. I think God has found a broader home in the schools. (for Christians: we are specifically told to go into the closet and pray in secret. There is no way such activity, silent prayer between the student and his/her God can be prohibited.)2. The ATTACK on Christianity, symbolized especially by Christmas displays. How is Christianity under attack? Our entire culture supports Christianity in almost every possible way: the entire work week is structured around Saturday and Sunday as days off (weekend). Now, if we went to Friday and Saturday as days off, THEN people might complain. The few remaining “blue laws” are directly in support of Christian religion. When a Christian church is trying to build, the neighborhood might complain about traffic and noise, but let a Muslim mosque try and get a building permit…and watch the objection. And on, and on. How is asking Christmas displays to be either on private property, or allowing other religious holidays to be celebrated at the same time an “attack on Christmas” Why does the City Hall HAVE to have a Christmas display, anyway. Because we like red and green is the best I can imagine. MANY people celebrate “Christmas” with NO religious connotation. So they are hardly in a position to scream.Pr Chris

  • CalSailor

    Part 2How many guys like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly have really had any discrimination. How many of these guys have been told they could not pursue their desired career path, go to the school of their choice, or anything else, because of their gender? They have no idea.Listening to the sanctimonious Senators objecting to the “wise Latina” quote of Judge Sotomayor [the entire sentence was that she hoped that “a wise Latina woman out of the richness of her experience would make a better judgment than a white male WITHOUT THE SAME EXPERIENCE”. Too bad they kept dropping the last part of the sentence. I, too, would expect that a “wise Latina”, say in her 50s might make a better decision than a white male who had just graduated from law school, at the ripe age of 25. If not, she hadn’t learned much in 25-30 years or so. I guess it shows that the Senators hadn’t learned much, either.I also don’t understand how they can object to the idea that a person’s life experiences impact on how we see different facts. Obviously the experiences of a white male Senator are going to be very different than those of a black or Hispanic who has been living in poverty. And so, the facts that resonate with them will differ as well. The poor black or Hispanic will be much more aware of issues of wealth and its lack; of possibility and obstacle than the Senators. This is what it means to be a living human being.The same article that carried the “wise Latina” phrase that caused the Judiciary committee members so much grief was part of a speech in which Judge Sotomayor said that part of judging with wisdom is to KNOW what one’s biases and experiences have done to impact one’s life, and then to make sure, as far as possible, that they do not subconsciously dominate and determine one’s decisions. How can this be a negative.I think Judge Sotomayor will be at least as good a Justice as several of her (potential) colleagues, who are now serving. Those Senators who have announced they will vote against her because of “concerns” are coming from an ideological set of unexamined biases…the worst kind.Pr Chris

  • coloradodog

    The obvious reason is that many of Limbaugh’s Huckabee Lemmings are white racists as well (no, I didn’t say all, I said many)In their twisted Leviticus world, only liberals and commies would favor speaking out against discrimination against blacks, Mexicans, gays or anyone different. They hate the words tolerance and diversity as evil hates the light.

  • Dermitt

    Number One is protect and serve. I have to go weed and feed, so round it goes. Without emotional security you have a big mess. Lunch is coming soon. I have to ramble on now. Until later, keep the faith. Love is either in your heart or it’s on the way!