Some Common Sense

Posted on August 19, 2014


I have put aside the Rev. Al Sharpton’s sermons, and tucked my white sheet back into the attic trunk, in the endeavor to make some sense of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

We are dealing here with some basic elements in our culture and society that sometimes get buried in the rancid rhetoric generated by both sides.

The facts are clear, kind of. A black man, running from a white policeman, is shot in the policeman’s cruiser by the policeman as the policeman struggles to defend himself from the black man, who, it turns out, had robbed a store a short time earlier of a package of cigars. Hardly the stuff of a black tie, million dollar diamond heist in a fashionable neighborhood of London or Rio de Janeiro, but enough to set everyone on edge in this country. The question is why?

Black African slavery receded all across the Americas in the nineteenth century. Other countries with large numbers of descendants from African slaves—Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.—don’t to go into semi-cataclysmic fits when something like Ferguson, Missouri happens, publicly beating breasts and suffering collective angst in the various racial communities, slinging racism, police insensitivity and brutality, and other insults at each other.

Riots and looting seem to be a required, or well-rehearsed, part of all these scenes also.

Even the President came off his golfing vacation to hold a news conference, although, from I heard, he could have more profitably worked on his short game—chipping and putting—where most amateur golfers rack up strokes.

At stake here is not racism. It is everywhere and always will be. Not the pernicious, mean-spirited racism, of which there will always be some, but an understanding that people are different, and they invariably like to categorize or organize life into systems that explains things.

So, instead of “all men are created equal,” (Thomas Jefferson) or “there are no races,” (José Martí, Cuban counterpart to Jefferson), we find ourselves described as whites, African Americans, blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, American Indians and I don’t know how many other categories the census has created to identify us. I started life as a little American gringo, so I thought. Now I’m a Hispanic, but still white as near as I can figure, even after a week in the sun in Florida back in August.

But that is not the issue. The issue is based on several facts. One set of facts has to do with us as a people and nation. The second will hit closer to home. How we raise our children.

As a nation, we are a free people, and, two, we are a people living under order. And those two principles sometimes contradict each other and can lead to a lot of tension.

Let me suggest an example. We send two very different messages to immigrants wanting to come from Latin America to work in America. You could summarize them in two billboards. One, “Come, come, we need your labor, we need you to pick the vegetables, to pluck the chickens, to build our homes, to work where no others want to. Come to America!” The second billboard, right next to the first, might say. “Go Home Mexicans! Go Home Latinos! You are not Legal! You Don’t Pay Taxes! You Live off of Welfare! You are ILLEGAL and we are a land of Laws! Go Home!”

These are contradictory messages. So is the freedom and liberty we have to make ourselves into whatever we want to, but with it comes the responsibility and accountability of working within a system of laws and order.

Whoa! A pocket racist you might be thinking! I heard that phrase, “law and order,” which is, of course, nothing but code for racist. Sorry, but you are wrong. You cannot rob me of what I know is part of the woof and warp of life in this country. It is a country of laws. And if you don’t like them, it is also a functioning republic where power is vested in elected officials.

So, we live in a land of laws and order that we all recognize is necessary for peace and security.

What about liberty and freedom? We are given those by the bill of rights in the Constitution, which in fact is based on the theory that we possess these rights as natural rights as human beings. The Constitution just codifies them.

So, why are these two principles the cause of so much unrest? Because, if you use your freedom and liberty for something other than a legitimate end (something inside of the law), and you move outside of the rule of law and order, then you are upsetting the system of political and economic equilibrium that has been so successful over the past 200 or more years. The exception was, of course, the Civil War, but that for another time.

Or, in other words, you have the freedom to realize your economic, social, and/or political potential, or not as the case may be, but in doing so you also have the responsibility to work within the system of law.

I think the system of law has broken down. This leads us into the home.

Where are laws and regulations first heard? Where do we learn rudimentary ethics, morality, obedience and hope?

At home, out of the mouths and discipline and experience provided by parents.
If there is little or no regulation at home, then why should I be expected to obey laws or work within the system outside of the home?

This goes for the poorest kid in the Black Belt of Alabama, to the richest, rich kid born into a family of wealth in a fancy suburb of Birmingham. Bring your kid up wrong, and they will not understand the values and morals they are expected to live by.

It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated. We can follow this thread in a future column, but let me suggest the answer, and it is my prejudice.

You need a Christian framework to work within parents, and children, grown or otherwise, if any read this column. You cannot establish the parameters of a good and decent life, filled with hope, work and the expectation of success and happiness (or joy in a Christian context) without putting yourself in the will of God.

Some of you reading this may be atheists, agnostics or even a few from other faith traditions, like Islam, Buddhism, or Jews. Some may just feel that religion is spiritual and mystical hogwash and not at all practical and rational in the “real” world.

This is still a free country and you can have your prejudice as I have mine, as long as we don’t cross certain accepted legal and ethical boundaries. For, living in a free country, we also have certain public standards of behavior—laws, regulations, and traditions—that ensure we are held accountable and responsible for what we say and do. That is part of the deal of living in a republic with freedoms.

When those boundaries are crossed, when we forget we are part of a whole, not just a racial stereotype looking out for ourselves, when we don’t have the foundations of living in God’s will inculcated in the home, then we become free agents and disorder and chaos can, and does, ensue.

So there you have it. Parents, look at the way you rear your children. And Christians, are you living like the wonderful Apostle James so felicitously phrased it? “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22) Or, perhaps as Paul expressed it in his letter to the Ephesians: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

And finally, for you parents, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Posted in: History, Human Rights