Changing Our Hearts … And Laws

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  ― James Baldwin

I, like many of you, have had my world stopped, once again, on the issue of racism.

After the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis I called Jai, my surrogate nephew, to check in on him. Jai, who is both a St. Paul police officer and a person of color, was stunned and heartbroken. He is an exemplary officer and human being, the kind in which any community would take pride. In the weeks since, he has shared his thoughts and his heart as he wrestles with how to be a force for change from within law enforcement.

Then there is Jeremy, my nephew by marriage, also a person of color, who has experienced targeted police harassment throughout his life. Jeremy and I have been in dialogue as he is grappling with today’s events and re-reading some of the great intellectuals of the civil rights movement. He is sharing with me his experience of discovering and cultivating a new depth to his identity as a person.

Many call slavery the “original sin” of the United States of America. As we experience a new wave of heightened awareness about the enduring and deep-rooted racism that slavery spawned, I ask myself how can things change.

Musician Jonathan Byrd wrote in a recent blog, “In confusing and anxious times like these, I return to one question that helps me clarify my thinking: how am I personally responsible for this? If I can point to my own role in the brokenness around me, then it becomes clear where I have the power to fix things.”

Marsha and I are having some soul-searching conversations right now. In one, she listed off a bunch of ways she has benefited from white privilege. “I have educated parents who didn’t have to worry about discrimination. They had hard-working parents who could provide for their families, and could do business wherever, and with whomever they wanted. They were never shut out because of their skin color. All of that has accrued to me, has given me an edge in life, and continues to do so.” We are trying to have honest conversations about our own racism. We are trying to listen to the voices of those who are speaking their pain and outrage. We are trying to open and soften our hearts. We are asking ourselves how we need to change.

David Brooks wrote in the New York Times this week about five “epic crises” occurring right now, two of which include issues of race. He argues against over-focusing on cultural symbols like statues, slogans, and language, and says, “Dealing with these problems is going to take government. It’s going to take actual lawmaking, actual budgeting, complex compromises — all the boring, dogged work of government that is more C-SPAN than Instagram.”

Yes, there is truth to what Brooks says. Thank God for laws. Laws that are fair and just are often all we have as a barrier to oppression, brutality, and economic exclusion. And yet, what is going to inform all of that lawmaking and compromise? I hope it will be informed by changed hearts. I hope it will be informed by people of color who have the heart to continue to speak their truth, and by white people whose hearts are opened and softened. Isn’t it changed hearts that people yearn for as they call for the removal of Confederate statues that were erected long after the Civil War to reinforce white supremacy? 

Laws are there to prevent us from treating each other badly. Changed hearts impel us to treat each other well.

In addiction terms, it’s the difference between a “dry drunk” and someone in recovery.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”  ― James Baldwin

The task before us is as much personal as it is collective. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ought to be the guiding law of the land. Unless and until it is, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Click here to listen to King’s words.

Just a thought…

Pat and Marsha

Copyright © 2020 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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