Over the summer, my husband and I trekked back to our homeland–the upper Midwest. It was right on the heels of the flag removal in our downtown, and so after covering the weather (requisite subject matter for any conversation in the Midwest), we were sometimes asked, a little awkwardly, “So that racism in the South–it’s over now, right?”
As if there was a stomach bug traveling around and the taking down of one sheet of sewn fabric had finally quashed it once and for all.
I recalled my upbringing in Ohio, and how the homogeneity of my private school bred an ignorance in me that made diversity and racism seem like a hazy abstraction surrendered to the mists of time. College and graduate school in the South started to clear the fog, and my time at St. Joe’s parish church in Durham–at the seeding of the Community of the Franciscan Way–allowed me to view the realities of life in the South, outside of my Midwestern bubble.
Of course, as we learned this past week–yet again–it’s more of a socio-economic bubble than a regional one, as a shooting occurred at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis.
The most dangerous response is the one I heard when I was in Minnesota and South Dakota in August: “So all that is over now, right?” The most dangerous response to cancer, or HIV, is to misdiagnose it as a head cold or a simple sprain. Evil wins not only when people attack each other in hate, but when it is successful in disguising itself as a mistake, or a fleeting ailment, or a very small problem.
Building up walls against people who don’t look like me is nothing new, but it’s not a small problem. It’s systemic and enormous and deep, deep seated. It’s so big that almost no one sees the whole picture (I surely don’t), and so, so deep that it’s hard to know where the root ends (I surely can’t). As this evil–seen first in Cain & Abel, one brother killing another–continues to hunt and haunt through our country (and our world), the most powerful thing to do (sometimes the most frightening thing to do) is to continue pulling back the blanket that covers this evil, trying to pass it off as something already dealt with, already over.
My answer to those who asked me back in August whether it was “over” now, down here in South Carolina, was simply, “No.” Though the removal of the flag from the statehouse grounds was necessary, powerfully symbolic, and an important step, white people still mistake fellow shoppers who are black for employees at Target, for “the help” at wedding receptions, for suspicious intruders while walking through their own neighborhoods. The roots are deep, but our hope is that God’s redemption is deepest and most powerful, more than any evil that can infect humankind.