a few days ago i watched a "law and order" marathon with a visiting relative. in one episode the plot revolved around the arrest of a black woman on a serious charge. a grand jury refused to indict her on the charges, and the episode ended with her husband confronting a departing black assistant district attorney on the steps of the courthouse. the husband said that for too long the arc of justice had bent in ways that penalized blacks, suggesting that it was now time for that arc to bend in the other direction. this was a rebuke to the ada who had insisted on the woman's prosecution, arguing that the law was the law and meant nothing if it was not rigorously applied regardless of race or mitigating circumstances.
the relative with whom i was watching commented that he was tired of hearing "blacks play the race card." "none of the problems blacks face," he opined, "are my fault or the fault of anyone i know." he went on to say that he knew lots of blacks who were decent human beings, but one had only to look at how many blacks were in prison and how much crime was committed by blacks to realize that blacks were just plain different from whites. one hears such arguments over and over in our country; one of the current presidential candidates is relying on such racism to get himself elected.
i just looked at him and said nothing, knowing full well that nothing i said could sway him. he would never hear the blood of thousands of blacks who suffered at the hands of their masters crying out to him. he would never understand the fear black parents feel every time their child steps out into the world. he would never admit that attitudes such as his caused the lynching of countless blacks at the hands of angry white mobs. he would never admit that it the responsibility of those of us whose ancestors perpetuated and fought for the institution of slavery to right the wrongs of those who went before us. "they" aren't like "us:" this rallying cry is the motto of bigots who are compelled to find a scapegoat on which to blame the ills of society. "it's 'their' fault" that they are poor, 'their' fault that there are freddie grays in the world, 'their' fault that young black men are jailed in disproportionate numbers, 'their' fault that blacks are too often the victims of police shootings.
no, it's the fault of all of us who refuse to acknowledge our own culpability for what our society has become, of all us who fail to temper justice with mercy, of all of us who elect racists to office. those who elect the leaders of our country must vote for the candidates and parties that recognize our responsibility to right past wrongs, to regard all people no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identity as equals who are entitled to pursue happiness. we are stronger together.
may we enlarge our liberties, increase the opportunities for all our people, broaden the scope of our democracy, and realize the dreams of those who founded our nation. may we turn from those who see only fear and distrust, those who would divide us rather than unite us. shalom.