Robert E. Lee Statue: Virginia Governor Announces Removal of Monument

It had to be done. Not only the Lee monument but all those Confederate statues.1 I wrote in 2017, “As the saying goes, take it as you will, ‘They’re history.’” 2

Two years after arriving, reluctantly, at the realization that the Confederate statues in my old home town would have to be removed, I revisited Richmond and was a little surprised they were still there. I drove along Monument Avenue, circling the statues in their roundabouts. I walked around the lovely park up on Libby Hill overlooking the James River, with its stately granite column honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors. People were out strolling, some resting on benches. There were no signs of graffiti, no other signs of strife. People, Black and White, greeted me as they walked by under the gaze of the bronze soldier standing relaxed, as if weary, atop the column.

Protesters gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia A large group of protesters gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue near downtown Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Steve Helber / AP (Click on photo to go to AP story on NBCNews.com)

Yesterday I watched the memorial service for George Floyd. It was a ceremony of respectful reflection on his life by his family and others who knew him. It was also an expression of determination and resolve to force changes to systemic American injustice, far stronger than the “We Shall Overcome Some Day” of years past. It was a church moment, one different from the other church moments3 punctuating the turmoil that has defined these days of disruption.

Just last week I wrote about Trump’s Covid-19 response, and trying to get the nation to pull together in spite of him (The Value of Hatred). In doing that I was criticized for not being sensitive to the systematic oppression of Black people. Things I wrote about Trump were interpreted in light of the President’s (later) actions and statements on the demonstrations following the brutal killing of George Floyd. There’s no point now in trying to explain what I was trying to say about hatred and how it is so destructive in handling the pandemic, but I was not writing about George Floyd. Well, that was then. Covid-19 is no longer at the top of the headlines, and now our attention is focused on racial justice. So let’s turn to that.

It’s about time.

The depth and extent of racial injustice in America is not misunderstood. It is ignored.

If you condemn the protests and do not condemn the cop slowly choking George Floyd until he died, you are ignoring the cause. If you think protesters are looters and window smashers, you are ignoring not only the cause of the protest but the reality of the protest. Protesters and looters are not the same people. Looters came in cars to take advantage of the situation. In Minneapolis, the epicenter of the unrest, almost all of those arrested for looting were from out of state. *[Edit: See 6/7/2020 comment] Many of those arrested were identified with White supremacy groups. If you condemn the violence when protest got “out of control” did you ignore the fact that there were as many White people as Black people involved? Not that it changes anything, but where was your angry voice when Philadelphia “celebrated” their Super Bowl win in 2018? Stores were looted, cars were overturned, street lights were toppled. People set fires, fought with each other, and damaged property to the extent of millions of dollars. Oh, that was different. You might also be ignoring video evidence of the police provoking peaceful protesters in the current protests. Your Mom’s old question of “Who started it?” does no more good now than it ever did. “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate… ”

“… All are punished.”

Does a burning police car upset you more than police killing a man by kneeling on his neck? If it does, is it because you are sure it will never happen to you? And is that because of your skin color?

If you’re White like me and you want to do something but don’t know what to do, here’s a list. (Thanks, Sid. I hear you.) 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. Read the whole list, then pick one to start. By the way, you don’t have to be a White to do these things; it’s just that the list is made for us because we need to catch up.

The Value of Hatred

I read an article in our local newspaper, headlined “Stop the malicious, divisive hatred of Trump during this unprecedented pandemic.”1 It’s here, if you want to read it. It will probably make you mad. If it doesn’t then most of the comments from readers will make you mad. It didn’t make me mad. It got me to thinking about some of my friends, some of my dearest friends, who have been overcome and controlled by blinding hate. They cannot think of the President of the United States without being immersed in a burning, seething rage. I have other friends whose rage centers upon the former President. He’s out of office, but the hatred burns just as hot.

President Donald Trump is accompanied by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, left, during a tour at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Sure, Trump actively pursued the fiction that it would all go away as the virus started to spread, because if it took hold it would hurt him politically. Sure, he locked the door on Chinese immigration, “after the burglar was already in the house.” (Remember though, how he was criticized as racist for doing that at all, rather than for doing it too late. Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.) Sure, he said that he had no responsibility. Sure, he chose to blame China, the World Health Organization, the White House Pandemic Office after he dismantled it, the former President, and then later the governors, the medical establishment, and anybody else in sight. He does stuff like that, Haven’t you come to expect it? He’s a jackass. But hate? What good does that do? Who does it hurt? Weren’t you in church when they covered that?

Did you read that article, by the way, the one I mentioned at the top? Never mind, here’s the heart of it:

He may be suffering from narcissism and adult attention deficit disorder. But the nonstop, vicious, hatred of the president, during a time of national crisis, is simply wrong.

I am reminded of the “Not My President” people. Not your President. Who, then, is? Denial has consequences, almost invariably destructive. Hatred as a motivation works out badly for all desired outcomes except destruction. Destruction, in this case, of our system of government from the top down. You want to talk about blame? You want to lay it on Trump, that incompetent, bloviating, self-centered Toddler-in-Chief? Hate him for his incompetence and for what he is? If you satisfy yourself by doing that you’re stuck in a dead-end alley. Hating him won’t make things better. Here, more from the article:

Dr. Anthony Fauci and President George W. Bush, among others warned about it in 2005. Bill Gates gave a stern warning in 2015. Such an event would require massive stockpiles of protective gear, ventilators, and ICU beds. It would take years to accumulate this stuff. Yet despite the warnings, for decades no president, no congress, no governor, or mayor did much of anything at all to prepare for it. By the same token, the governing boards of our nation’s roughly 6,100 hospitals failed to prepare for it. It caught us all off-guard, but certainly not unaware of the distinct possibility of its arrival. There was no way that in a span of a month or two Trump, or anyone else, could have made up for those years of inaction.

In January, February and into early March Dr. Fauci and other experts were assuring us that the “the risk is low.” Trump believed him, and so did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who as late as February 24 was urging San Franciscans, to come to Chinatown and that “everything is fine here.” No one, not even Fauci, had a crystal ball.

Will it ever be possible for our tortured system of government to return to being functional? It must. Surely this aberration hasn’t made the ideals impossible: the ideals of a free people living in a democracy, working and living together, being productive in industry and congenial in leisure. It can never work if we are separated from each other by hate. Hate won’t fix it.

When I started writing in this space a few years ago my focus was on Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria in particular. Well, our topics have drifted through an epoch of change, and shifted inexorably back home. We’ve talked about refugees (a lot), and racism, the Greek economy, Crimea, Confederate statues, capitalism and democracy, and threw in some poems too. If you’re curious about Bulgaria though, I can tell you that they’re “past the peak” on the Covid thing. So is, famously with their near-eradication of it, New Zealand. (You can google “coronavirus statistics by country” and get a little interactive chart.) In terms of new cases per day, Taiwan is down to about zero, as is Japan. Hong Kong is pretty much over it, though heaven knows they’ve got enough other problems now.

What do these countries have in common? I think a big part of their success is that each one has a disciplined population. Here in the Land of the Free, people don’t line up quite so readily when the government starts barking orders. That Freedom thing, you know… it’s a conundrum. In the effort that it took to win World War II (as told in rose-colored retrospect) Americans pulled together in a way that we can’t imagine now. They worked together, toward a common goal.

Hate won’t move us in that direction, not one small step. Working for good, hatred has no value. None.

Refugees

I have been writing about refugees since December 2013, when I first started reading that Syrians, escaping war and running for their lives, were overwhelming the poorest country in the European Union, a place where I feel a deep connection and affection. “Bulgaria is a thousand miles from Syria! Are they desperate? Well, yes. That’s war, don’t you know? Damn them there, damn them here. War is hell…” That was part of my melancholy homage, that year, to the Christmas spirit. I continued hammering at the subject of refugees until late last year, when with a weary sigh I started picking at a few other themes to fill the space. About three years ago I decided to stop just figuratively wringing my hands about refugees and started volunteering at a refugee resettlement center. Doing something about something is so much better for the soul than complaining about it.

Photo from The Economist (2015)

In the time that I have been working at the African Community Center — don’t be misled by their legacy name; they handle refugees from all over the world — the world and I have both changed. I have become defensive on the subject of refugees, to the point of not writing or talking much about it. I have become tired of the arguments, and resigned to the cynicism and lack of compassion I see outside the small community of concern. I have had to accept that I can change my heart but no other. As for the rest of the world, the situation is dire and getting worse. For both those blissfully unaware of it all and for those feverishly working against the tide, the result is the same: apathy and futility have the same result.

Refugees are living displaced from their homes by the millions — millions! — in Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran. Lesser numbers, but still large, live in Uganda, Jordan, and Germany. Really, enumerating more countries hosting refugees is pointless; they are all over the world, mostly in poor countries nearest to the places besieged by war and terrorism. 1 Only a fraction live in refugee camps, although refugee camps recognized by the UNHCR 2 are the exclusive screening mechanism used by the United States for admittance of the few who are selected to be resettled here. Refugee families typically arrive on an airplane, bringing documentation and medical clearance papers. They also carry a note of indebtedness for their airfare that has to be paid back to the U.S. State Department as they become employable and get on their feet in their new country.

As for the United States, though, we’re not even talking about the refugees that have been my focus for so long. Unlike refugees, who flee their homes due to war or persecution, migrants choose to move for better economic opportunities or family reunification, or, as a separate but overlapping reason, for asylum. Still, the parallels are striking, starting with the lifeboat analogy and encompassing every kind of response from unalloyed and impractical mercy to vicious, blind hate speech. Why is this so hard?

What has consumed us since before the last election, when fear was weaponized as a political strategy, is the terrible mess at  our southern border not with refugees but with other kinds of migrants. Many of those are seeking asylum, as is their legal right if they can prove they would face danger of harm or death back at the homes they left. Our broken-down system of handling the process of granting asylum has choked on the volume, and is completely unable to sort out the legitimate asylum seekers from those that will not qualify. Worse, it cannot account for, let alone care for, either category.

I read an article in Time that reached into my heart, and expressed so much better than I could the reasons for my concern. It was written by a celebrity [groan] but one with a high degree of earned credibility on the subject. I recommend it for your consideration.

Angelina Jolie: The Crisis We Face at the Border Does Not Require Us to Choose Between Security and Humanity

TL;DR

“We all want our borders to be secure and our laws to be upheld, but it is not true that we face a choice between security and our humanity: between sealing our country off and turning our back to the world on the one hand, or having open borders on the other. The best way of protecting our security is by upholding our values and addressing the roots of this crisis. We can be fearless, generous and open-minded in seeking solutions.”