Black Lives, Black Deaths, and American Social Inequality

Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an example of American tragedy repeated ad nauseam. In this troubling event, we see the fears and prejudices of previous generations yet alive in our day, bearing ugly and strange fruit.

I’ve been writing about social and economic inequalities for more than three years. The slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 initially served as my inspiration to write. In the post-2008 wreck, pension savings vaporized, numerous jobs were lost, and some housing markets tanked leaving homeowners in the cold. People suffered.

But Wall Street recovered soon enough, and nobody from the big banks went to prison or took responsibility for the havoc brought upon the economy because of overextension and greed in the housing loan market. The very well-to-do didn’t suffer. As a matter of fact, in the eight years since the recession, 1 percenters – the term coined to describe the very well-to-do – have prospered fantastically compared to the rest of us.

What does this have to do with Terrence Crutcher – a forty year-old African-American father of four who attended community college and sang in a local church choir – whose car was either stalled or left in the middle of the road? Four police officers on the ground apprehended Crutcher as he walked from and to his car, and two other officers watched him from the sky in a helicopter. One of the officers on the ground shot Crutcher, and he was left to bleed while lying on the black asphalt of highway 36 in northeast Tulsa. Unattended for two full minutes, he later died. He was unarmed. The police officer who shot him is a white woman. Her husband, also an officer, happened to be in the helicopter hovering overhead. His partner in the helicopter initially described Crutcher as a “bad dude . . . who might be on something.” Even if he was on drugs (police claim there was a vial of angel dust in Crutcher’s car; Crutcher had spent four years in prison on drug charges) or somewhat uncooperative – his death was entirely unnecessary. This disturbing case isn’t one of Crutcher being apprehended for “driving while black,” but “car breaking down while black.” Even in our advanced and oh-so modern twenty-first century society, the great American tenant of presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to all. It especially doesn’t apply to American black men, who are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white American males.

Social inequalities naturally exist and contribute to the healthy functioning of a society. The incentives and rewards to advance one’s standing in a market-based economy properly boost social and economic mobility. But rampant and extreme social inequalities make for an unhealthy society. Extreme and chronic social inequalities are created and maintained by unequal opportunities and disproportionate rewards or punishments for people of differing ethnic, economic, or gender categories. The long list of black men and children recently killed by police officers – Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Tyre King are but a few – speaks of a type of social inequality abhorrent and out of control in the US.

Increasing economic inequality in the US – the rich getting richer, ongoing now for thirty-five years – has contributed significantly to social inequality. As Bill Bishop details in his book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Mariner, 2009), Americans have been steadily sorting themselves into more homogenous communities, neighborhoods, and social groups since the early 1980s. Social isolation and seclusion do not make for a stronger and more resilient society.

If you are white like me, I have a few questions: Do you have a personal relationship with anyone who is black? If so, have you discussed this issue – black lives and black deaths – with your black friend or acquaintance?

diversity_and_unity

Social problems have social solutions. What we need is more face to face time between the diverse collection of Americans – and less reinforcement of previously held opinions bolstered by hyper-partisans showcased on outlets like Fox News and MSNBC. What would our society be like if people replaced time spent watching Sean Hannity (Fox News) and Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC) with time spent talking and listening to fellow Americans who are in a different category socioeconomically or ethnically?

These conversations, I trust, would bear healthy and beneficial fruit for us today and our descendants in their tomorrows. These interactions can help us get to the place where we place less blame on others and work toward greater shared responsibility with others for the well-being of our society.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Octubre de 2016!

Listening to Other Voices

If only Jesus of Nazareth had a Twitter or Facebook account, he would have had so many more followers! I jest, of course; self-promotion, while not a modern invention, has reached a fevered pitch in the social media saturated twenty-first century.jesus twitter

Jesus did call upon many to follow him, but on occasion he also practiced something with which the human family has always struggled: listening to other voices.

Mark’s gospel – chapter 7 – tells of Jesus travelling to the foreign city of Tyre, four to five days walking distance to the north and west of Jerusalem. Presumably, Jesus travels to reach out to Jews living there. A woman, decidedly not Jewish, with a sick daughter engages Jesus. Desperate to the point of trespassing convention – women were not to address men in public – she wants Jesus to heal her daughter. He puts her off by saying that he has only come to serve and seek Israelites: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Not only was this an insensitive comment, it was arguably a racial insult.

The Syrophoenician woman, however, doesn’t flinch. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus, as if slapped in the face, acquiesces. He tells the woman to return to her daughter; she does and finds her daughter restored to health.

We assume that Jesus had everything figured out at the commencement of his public ministry, and that consequently he needed no further social or theological development. Listening to the voice of this foreign woman, however, Jesus had to reshape – in an instant – some of his understandings. She wasn’t a dog but a full member of the human family; and, God’s mission extended even to her.

Jesus was a committed social egalitarian before this encounter with the unnamed foreign woman; he became a stronger one after the encounter. A social egalitarian is a person who understands all others – those similar and those different – as equals in God’s eyes. Because of this conviction, Jesus spoke and interacted with all sorts of people: religious leaders, the well-to-do and powerful, the sick and excluded, common folks, women, children, and, yes, foreigners. Rarely did he exclude others.

Those who follow Jesus today – not on Twitter or Facebook – do best to heed his example of social egalitarianism, listening to the other and regarding the other as equal in God’s purview. It’s intriguing that in the twenty-first century world with myriad media for communication and connection, we still don’t know one another all that well within the human family. We yet rely on stereotypes and innuendo in our attempts to understand the neighbor who is different. These weak attempts at understanding contribute to many of the problems – from the inability of Congress to enact immigration reform to police brutality and the targeting of police – besetting our society.

We hear it said today that black lives matter. Absolutely they do, just as the lives of widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners matter according to the divine language of the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. A good question for my fellow white readers who are Christian: Would you have the same type of worldview and outlook you currently claim if you had been born black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim?

A worthy goal in today’s modern age is to have a worldview and outlook that incorporates the wisdom of other voices. Authenticity requires being true to one’s own experiences. It also requires the responsibility of listening to others’ experiences. If your experience is the only one that matters, trumping all others, most likely you’re nothing more than a self-promoter.

Much more often than not, spending face and ear time with someone who offers a different perspective than your own makes the world a better place. In today’s America that suffers of too many hot spots of polarization, listening to other voices is difficult but necessary positive social action. Democrats and Republicans, gun owners and non-gun owners, rich and poor, blacks and whites, atheists and religious partisans, folks living in zip code A and folks living in zip code B – what would it be like to talk with and listen to one another rather than talk about others in negative tones and stereotypes?

Social egalitarianism – it sounds like a political party. Rather, it’s a spiritual commitment utilizing the gift of other voices that has the ability to improve our politics and common life. It’s truly what the one human family needs now.

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!