— Donald Trump
Our alarm during the past week is evidence of how little we understand that the destruction, damage and despair we are witnessing on our city streets is the fruit of the deep-rooted and cankered tree of racism that has been growing in American soil for four centuries.
Our alarm betrays how brief is our interest, how shallow our resolve, how unlikely we are to accomplish change.
Our alarm is evidence we can still be surprised by a president who gasses us and with horses drives us like cattle so he can stand in front of the church where presidents have worshipped for more than two centuries, using it as a mere backdrop and a Bible as a prop — much to the dismay of Episcopalian Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde:
"I am outraged. The president did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor ... did he acknowledge the ... 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.”
Our alarm is proof that mere proofs do not prove to us that Incarceration of blacks has tripled, that the income gap blacks struggle to climb out of has tripled, that black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated and dramatically more likely to die violently, that the incidence and evidence of racism in the United States has been increasing.
Our alarm is evidence we are white.
But white though we are — in Trump’s increasingly white-privileged America — once again we have found our voice, as have some of our religious leaders, baffled and appalled as they most recently are by our president’s intolerance, racism and religious ignorance, as expressed by his photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church and again at the Shrine of St. Pope John Paul II, where Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory echoed Bishop Budde’s alarm:
“Saint Pope John Paul II … certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate … [Americans] for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
When Trump said he’d make America great again, the past week is what he meant. He meant great for white Americans, not the others. Not the families huddled for months the far side of our southern border where they are refused refuge, or our own citizens struggling for “equality” in Puerto Rico or on Native American reservations. Not the black families of our cities and towns where we are now demonstrating for them, and for ourselves.
And — while in the midst of dual pandemics of disease and despair — we repeat the truth that “Black Lives Matter,” Donald Trump speaks of that “great America” in which he will be permitted to set loose “vicious dogs” and discharge “ominous weapons” at us, the Americans protesting at the gates of the house he does not consider our house — “The People’s House” — but his White House.
We are alarmed not only because we witnessed the slow, torturous death of a fellow human being, but because he represents the millions of men, women and children who have died because they are not white.
We are alarmed because the way George Floyd suffered and died is an American tragedy and only the most recent reminder of the way black people in America suffer and die and live in fear that we will continue to support a racist system and a racist president.
And we will do it because he and we are white.
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., is a visiting professor and director of Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.
Clifton Jolley, Ph.D., is president of Advent Communications, Ogden.