A Sunday Sermon

Camille is a very frustrated woman who wishes she was a man so she could preach.  Or something. She really likes to explain at length about what Jesus meant and what God means and all that stuff.

And she has really glommed onto the Charleston shooting—so she’s now on FB telling us all about what Jesus really thinks about racism.

She begins with Nikki Haley. Doesn’t have to be the SC governor, of course. You can actually choose any Republican candidate for president and he would do nicely instead. They’re all basically offering up the same bullshit: This is a unique, lone circumstance and hey, we don’t even know for certain why he did it.

Of course, we actually do know why. He is a young high-school dropout, with substance abuse issues, who is unemployed, and who has been arrested on a couple of different charges in the last few months.  He has a long history of harboring racist sentiments, probably worsened by reading online neo-Nazi stuff. He lives in a state that is full of these types of people, so many of his neighbors and probably some of his friends are just like him.

Camille goes on to contrast Haley’s statements with Jon Stewart’s very good monologue on the whole thing, and assures us that Haley is wrong and Stewart is right.

So far, so good.

And then she just goes off the rails.

She starts spouting stuff about “sin.” And Jesus. And how it’s all so easy to fix. You just let Jesus do it. He will “show us how.” Sure.

Because that has worked out so well for the last, oh, 2000 years.

I agree that racism is pretty much systemic. The question is why.  Camille just throws up her hands and says “It’s sin, don’t you know?”  But it isn’t.

It’s a hold-over from our evolutionary past. We’re tribal creatures. That’s how we evolved to live. Not solitary animals, like grizzly bears, but more like cows or chickens.  We hang out in groups. And we have to be able to identify our group.

Our group (historically, about 150 people, BTW, no more) is comprised of folks we trust. They’ve got our backs. We have theirs. If the group’s hunting males take a large animal, everyone knows that they’ll get a share.  If a predator attacks, everyone knows that everyone else will fight.

But we can’t trust the outliers. We don’t know them. And one way we identify an outlier is by how he looks.

If you want to see this in action, get a flock of hens and tie a red ribbon around the neck of one hen. (Red because hens see red really well—better than you do.) Be sure to stay close by to rescue her because if you don’t, the other hens will kill her.

Or put a new calf in a small herd of cattle and watch as everyone evaluates the newcomer and knocks him around a bit (stay close, BTW, to extract him if it all gets to be too much), butts him and generally makes sure he knows he’s on probation.

This is how we are wired.  This is exactly how chimpanzees (our closest relatives) behave. They form small groups and they raid, kill, and otherwise treat outliers terribly. We have the same genes they do.

Telling Jesus you’re sorry you got born is not going to cure anything, folks.  You will look up from your prayer and find that you have the same genes you did before.

What makes a difference, a demonstrable, easy-to-see difference is education and reason.

“I would like to speak to Jim XXXXX,” said my dad on the phone one day when I was about 8. “Yes, I know he’s the hospital administrator. Tell him Jake Slaton is calling. We went to high school together. He’ll take my call.”

And then:

“Jim?  Good to talk with you. How’s Betty?  And the kids?  Good.  Listen, I hate to bother you, but I want to talk with you about Inez XXXX.  She’s a patient in the hospital there and she wants a private room. Yeah, I’m paying her bill. She’s our maid.  I know it’s a problem, but she really wants to be in a private room.”

Wait.

“Well, I understand that you just have few colored private rooms available, but isn’t there something you can do?  Jim, she’s my n—– and I am paying for this and I want her in a private room.”

Pause.

“That’ll work. Just some curtains in the alcove will be fine. Anything that makes her feel like she’s not in that ward.  Thank you so much.  Let’s have a golf game soon.  Okay.  Bye.”

I still remember it. Even then, at eight years old, I thought, “What? Daddy owns Inez?  People don’t own people.” And Dad thought he was being kind.  He really, truly did. He didn’t think he was being racist or mean.

Later on, I started nursing school. On my first day on the floor, I had to give a patient a back rub.  My patient was a black man.  I was going to have to touch him.  I was horrified.

And it turned out fine. He was nice. He knew I was a new student and he was very kind to me. It wasn’t scary or anything.  🙂

After that, the real clincher came in.  I went to work in the premature nursery (what would now be called a neonatal ICU) – on the night shift, and my co-worker was black.  A black RN.  I had never met a black RN.  She was my peer.  She became my close friend. We spent a zillion nights together with those babies and we fed babies with small nipples and we rocked babies and we talked for hours. And I came away from that experience a different person.

I found out that the outlier wasn’t scary or threatening or inferior or anything. The outlier was just like me. She just didn’t look exactly like me, and that was not just okay, but really good.

I went on to marry a man who was raised in racist Greenville, in a racist family and who, just like me, found out as an adult that his black peers were not just equal to him, but often superior in talent and brains and ability and everything.

And we went on to raise a child who was pretty much color-blind.

That’s not bad for three generations.

This essay reduced me to tears, and I really feel bad for his despair, but I also am optimistic that in my family, nobody would call the hospital today and say, “Well, see, she’s my n—–” ever.  Nobody would even think such a thing. It’s appalling and I won’t even write it out.

And it’s not about “sin.”  It’s not about some miracle that Jesus “shows us how.”  It’s about education and reason, and coming to understand that our tendency to nationalism (which is just tribalism writ large—and the root of racism) is genetic and that we don’t have to yield to it, just like we don’t have to yield to lots of genetic, evolved tendencies (we evolved as hunter/gatherers, but I don’t see most of us doing that either).

South Carolina needs to take down that damned flag, and the whole south needs to focus on improving their abysmal educational system, and change the name of Wade Hampton High School to something that doesn’t make graduates like me cringe.

But the more focused point I want to make here is this:

Camille goes on to do this blanket “apology” thing after explaining to us how Jesus will “show us how.” She does this every now and then.  She “apologizes” for something nearly universal and vague, and declares that it is “her sin.” And her little mindless friends all tell her that she’s “brilliant.”  You see, the problem that she has is that she spent 20 years marching happily in lock-step with BJU and never said a single word about racism or abuse or anything similar until she had been well into her revenge quest for several years, and those issues became convenient bludgeons to use.  So she does a mea culpa. “It’s my sin.”

Well, I beg to differ. If we want to talk about “sin,” Camille, let’s talk about making fake profiles and calling those innocent people who accepted those friend requests “whores.” Or let’s talk about inventing and spreading rumors about an innocent person like Leah Hayes.  Let’s talk about Murray Havens and your really bad “research.”  Let’s talk about posting a photo of a child when you knew nothing had happened to him and insisting he was part of a pedophile ring at BJU.  Let’s talk about insisting that you had nothing at all to do with the Manhater pages when you were in fact a moderator.  Let’s talk about all the accusations you made against me personally, Camille.

Fewer sermons and a bit more action might be the way to go here.

I’m waiting.