There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about “justice.” Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good thing. However, sometimes I wonder about the scope of justice that we want to see and who we think deserves “justice.”
Over the last year talk of justice has been spurred by the death of various African-American men at the hands our nation’s police. No question these victims, including the latest, Freddie Gray, deserve justice.
But I wonder…..has “Justice” just been turned into another cable news soundbite or social media buzzword? Hashtag campaigns on Twitter and Facebook aren’t going to bring justice to anyone. The idea that throwing out a hashtag or a Martin Luther King Jr. quote on social media is going to “raise awareness” is insane. At best, people are preaching to the choir, at worst it raises the possibility that we are reducing complex societal issues to a minor abrasion that can be treated by lobbing a quote or two and shouting down someone who doesn’t agree with you.
It’s not going to work, yet a lot of people, some of whom I respect very much, seem to think that this is the ticket. We go on Twitter or Facebook during times of great upheaval, drop an MLK quote, get into a couple of arguments, and we think we’re good. I wonder how many of us translate our “passion” on social media into actual action: going out into the world and seeking to make a difference. Not enough of us, not near enough of us.
There’s no way that 140 characters can address these issues. These issues have been around as long as our country has, and even before. These things didn’t begin with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or Freddie Gray, but we find that these causes are ones we can get behind, at least on Twitter. I wonder if we’d be as comfortable talking about justice for other folks though, especially when giving that justice might inconvenience us more than stopping to drop a tweet or two.
Let me drop a quote on you that you probably haven’t seen on Twitter:
The United States of America is not rich and powerful because of God’s blessing. We are rich and powerful because we are systemically racist and inherently unjust.
Native peoples know it. African Americans know it. Other colonized nations and peoples around the world know it. In fact, much of the international community knows it.
But most Americans don’t.
This quote is by a man named Mark Charles, the son of an American woman and a Navajo man. Mr. Charles lives on the Navajo reservation and advocates for his people. His blog is great and highlights many of the issues inherent in our shared history.
That’s right, our shared history. Long before Ferguson, or even Martin Luther King Junior, the United States was not only importing black slaves from Africa, but we were intentionally committing genocide on millions of people of the Tribal Nations of America. As Charles points out, 30 lines below where it says “All men are create equal,” the Declaration of Independence, supposedly one of the greatest liberating documents ever written, refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages.”
That should be a gut check for each and every one of us.
When I was in school 20 or so years ago, history teachers taught this as “Manifest Destiny.” God had given this land to us that we might possess it and subdue it from coast to coast. It rings similar to the genocidal accounts in the Old Testament. Today, local school boards and various states ban the teaching of this genocide at all because it is viewed as “unpatriotic” and against “American Exceptionalism.”
Which brings us to Mark Charles’ point. Many Americans don’t even know this happened. Many that do brush it under the rug as we hit up social media for our cause of the day.
The descendants of these people still live on reservations, often in extreme poverty. When was the last time anybody tweeted about that? Apparently it’s quite en vogue to talk about white privilege when it comes to the plight of African Americans, but nobody wants to talk about it when you look at Native Americans, who have been shoved to the side as we stole their land and destroyed their cultures.
So what’s my point? My point is that people today seem to think that weighing in on Twitter is actually contributing to justice. However, we don’t see that these issues ask many questions. We might be fine with these questions when it’s about a young man who died in a city across the country, but I don’t think these questions are as comfortable when we begin to talk about our country’s history and the systemic racism that our ancestors participated in, and that I think we still do today in some regards.
Understanding and justice can only start to be achieved when we, as descendants of colonizers, start to confront our past and our shared history with those who are descended from the colonized. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s the truth. By telling our stories to one another and sharing each others pain, then maybe that can be the first step toward justice, change, and reconciliation. If we can’t do that, I see many more burning buildings and much more extreme poverty in our future. All the twitter angst in the world won’t change that.
I’ll give Mark Charles the last word:
Historically, our country has a built-in problem with race. But I do not think race is our primary problem. Today, not only are we dealing with the historical trauma of African Americans and Native peoples, but we also have a deeply traumatized white America. The path of healing and the road towards reconciliation will not begin with new laws, or even with an amendment to our dehumanizing Constitution. Instead, it must start with the telling of the truth and an accurate portrayal of our history.
If we want real community in this country, we must begin with creating a common memory.
You can check out his blog here.