You have to feel kind of sorry for the once modest movement called Black Lives Matter. I suppose it started out earnestly enough. I’ll take it at its word. While not every case was honestly discussed, there was room and willingness in this country to discuss policing, racial profiling, and racism in some rare corners of our nation. People of goodwill all share a desire to identify, punish, and purge such behavior from the culture.
But just like the high school party you throw when your parents are out of town, all it takes are a few idiots to start throwing furniture into the pool and any goodwill and trust you’d built with your parents vanishes for quite awhile.
Last month I wrote about Jimmy Fallon tripping all over himself to apologize for an SNL sketch twenty years ago in which he appeared in blackface to impersonate Chris Rock. I noted then and still note – we never heard from Chris Rock on the issue. Why? Because Chris Rock is an adult who knows what’s real. He knows nuance and intent. He knows Jimmy Fallon. They’re probably friends. That “controversy” wasn’t real. It was the beginning of a month-long “controversy” avalanche that became more absurd with each passing day.
Two things can be true at the same time, of course. George Floyd was killed at the hands of an abusive cop. The mob rule that ensued afterward was outrageous. Individual police departments reviewing the way they physically handle those they encounter is warranted. Tearing down statues of Abraham Lincoln in Boston is intolerable.
Sadly, we’re marching full speed ahead into an all-or-nothing, dumb it down for cable news society where nuance is dead, where only one thing can be true and only one side can “win.” This means you have to pick a team. Are you on the team that takes over whole city blocks, lights churches on fire, and defaces war memorials? Or are you on the team that supposedly believes in silencing protests, pretends our history is perfect and refuses to have a conversation about race?
It’s a false choice, and most sane Americans support neither but are nevertheless backed into a corner. None of us believe we’re a flawless culture with nothing to learn. None of us suggest George Floyd deserved to die. None of us imagine Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus were Biblical figures of perfection.
Also, none of us think Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima, and the Cream of Wheat guy are symbols of a delicious and nutritious Klansman’s breakfast. Normal people also don’t think a statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse flanked by a black man and Native American man is a symbol of white superiority as much as a symbol of literal height differential between a guy on a horse vis-a-vis those standing next to a horse.
Last week, the CEO of Chick-fil-A was the guest of Passion City Church in Atlanta. He was invited to a discussion on race with the church founder Louie Giglio and a Christian rapper named Lecrae. Cathy and Giglio, it should be noted, are white. Lecrae is black.
Mr. Cathy began to tell a heartwarming story of a church service he once attended in which a younger white man with tears in his eyes dropped to his knees and shined the shoes of an older black man in the same service. It was a symbolic act Cathy said brought the room to tears because the community where the church was located was once a place of virulent racism.
Mr. Cathy never identified the town, so we’ll have to accept the story as sincere. But Cathy didn’t stop there. Holding a shoe brush in his hand he walked over to Lecrae, got on his knees, and said it would be a good idea if “we all” took personal action, dropped to our knees with a “sense of humility, shame, and embarrassment” and shined one another’s shoes as he began shining Lecrae’s.
Mr. Cathy may have a chicken sandwich company’s bottom line to protect by pandering, but the rest of us don’t. Normal people can be humble and kind to one another, but most of us don’t have the background or personal histories of hate in our hearts and lives for which we should feel shame and embarrassment. Even Lecrae’s reaction to Cathy seemed to suggest he found the display more than a little awkward, if not completely cynical.
When a “noose” was discovered in the NASCAR garage of the sport’s lone black driver Bubba Wallace, the country was treated to a 72-hour dialogue on the racism within NASCAR, its fans, etc. A twelve-person team from the FBI investigated and concluded the noose was merely a rope pull from a garage door identical to rope pulls seen on multiple other garage doors in the complex. It had been in the garage for over a year, at least.
Did Mr. Wallace express relief that it wasn’t the worst in us, but rather a giant misunderstanding? Nope. He went on TV with the flame-fanning Don Lemon of CNN to discuss how harrowing and hard it had been for him to suffer through the racist attack that never happened.
Normal people want to show compassion and empathy for our fellow Americans, but normal people also don’t like to be emotionally conned and taken hostage. It may not have been Mr. Wallace who pulled off the original con, but any goodwill he could have restored in his sport, in his fans, and in our country was instead dumped for an opportunity to squeeze a few more drops out of a bone-dry victim story.
Yes, black lives matter. Yes, racism and slavery are two of our nation’s greatest, original sins. We want to stamp out any trace of that sin. We want to continue to prove we’re a nation of growth, compassion, and tolerance. We’ve come a very long way in doing so, and most normal people know it.
Think about it: It’s been only sixty-five years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man. Were the heroic Ms. Parks with us today, I suspect she’d be equally delighted and bewildered to hear our biggest racial concerns are statues and food mascots.