For many people, God is not still speaking. God is still spanking. Setting up too high a bar. Telling us we are bad. God is still sneering. You are bad. Racism… needs a spanking. People don’t.
Fumbling a way beyond racism is a lot like standing on your own front porch fumbling for your keys. Someone must be to blame because the keys aren’t there. Perhaps it is I? Others look on, wondering if you really belong in that home. Maybe you don’t. The beat of the mastering narrative goes on, owning us when really should own it. The master narrative: right and wrong. Me right, you wrong. You right, me wrong. This story is as spacious as any plantation. It also pays out the same wages in oppression, self-loathing, and planter power. Blame is its game and blame is its name.
When Henry Louis Gates, an African American Harvard professor, was arrested while fumbling for his keys to get into his own house, small became large. The nation remembered racism. Black people don’t have the same freedom that white people do to fumble. My (white) husband went to the wrong house one night to stay at a friend’s house. The friends had given him a key but he had gone to 27 Trout Lane not 27 Trout Brook Lane and there, mistaken, with the (white) cabbie and (white) cop whom he had called to intervene all but broke into the wrong house. No arrests were made.
The master narrative tells us that Crowley, the officer, was wrong and Gates was right. Even if Gates got angry or was insulting to the cop, still, the cop was wrong to arrest a man on his own steps. So far, so good. I mean bad. I can’t imagine being anything but insulting to a cop who was trying to arrest me on my own steps. I can barely imagine not slugging him. I can surely imagine making it a full time job to gain retribution, not just his badge number either but his badge. If Gates got angry or insulted the cop, mazel tov. Of course, he did. How could he not? And Officer Crowley no doubt had his own justifications and didn’t need a Harvard Professor telling him how to do his job, especially given that it probably paid a third of Gates’ salary. Justifications abound for whatever their behavior was on the porch.
The problem only starts here. It doesn’t stop. The cop made a mistake. Is there any end to wrong? I mean, when do we get out of it? This goes for many white Americans like myself, who are willing to participate in the planter’s mistake, the slave ship mistake, and all the others that have followed to make up for the original theft of a people from its land.
Immigration narratives complement this story. We now blame and criminalize immigrants, the same way we objectified and turned black slaves into sexpots and stupid legs. We hired, says the farmer, 18 pairs of legs today to pick these strawberries. We have to have hate speech and we have to reduce people to their legs in order to use them. We make them wrong to make ourselves right. Now we have a near deportation frenzy, sending away perfectly decent people who committed crimes decades ago and went to jail for them and came out with their “debt” to society fully paid. When people tell me there is no racism, or we live in a post racism world, just ask them to listen to Lou Dobbs, who actually gets paid by CNN, a large and often respected US company, who sneers at immigrants on the air, reducing them to bad bodies so that they can be exploited for low wages. So racism is wrong. Hate speech is wrong. Making people into their bodies is wrong. Making people into objects is wrong.
But it is also wrong to objectify or hate a Cambridge cop. He was wrong. Repeat, he was wrong. But that is the cul de sac of the mastering narratives. Right and wrong aren’t going to help us. Something has to melt first.
I am as missionary (I am so right I have to convert you to my way) as any one else. I can point fingers with the best of them. I actually believe that congress should do what is right with comprehensive immigration reform and pay the political price. Who cares that the majority of Americans have figured out, with Dobb’s help, how to hate and dehumanize immigrants? Still, we should do what is right. I love that word should. Cambridge policeman should be fired. Again, what do we get out of this plantation of right and wrong, in which we are all shoulded to death?
Off the plantation, we could imagine Gates and Crowley having a conversation. One could imagine apologies being exchanged, laughter resulting at what a crazy world we have made for each other. I see a movie called Threshold, where fumbling becomes a high art. We could have a new dance, “The Fumble.” Forgiveness would be its forte. People would not be allowed to say, “I’m not a good dancer.” Nor would they be able to discuss the class/race dynamics between professors and police. That would be considered tiresome. Both police and professor, white and black, criminal and immigrant, even and especially terrorists would be understood to be human beings with bodies and brains. CNN would put Lou Dobbs on plantation probation. Once he figured out how to get the sneer out of his voice, he could come back on the air. Same goes for all who sell hate and that goes for we missionaries in the clergy as well.
When I figure out how to stop hating Lou Dobbs for the hate he promulgates, we will have found our keys. When anti racists figure out how to have less fun with this story of Gates’ porch, we will open doors. When Gates and Crowley figure out how to talk to each other, not as objectified representations of different oppressed classes, the mastering narrative will crumble and a new story will take its place.