I had nearly completed one blog when the not-completely-surprising insurrection at our nation’s capital filled our TV screens today. Someday I will share with you how the Holy Breadcrumbs image is no longer sufficient for our time, but for today I just need to share some of the initial thoughts that are bouncing around in my head like an out-of-control race car.
I have this sick feeling in my stomach. But not from what you would expect. Yes, I feel sick for how far we have fallen in trusting our democratic processes. Yes, I am sickened that people would resort to violence in order to make a point. Yes, I feel sick that the absence of the peaceful passing of the presidential baton will probably haunt us for years to come.
But that is not what is disturbing me the most. In this year of reckoning with the white privilege and racism of our society, I feel sick by what this insurrection has taught us. If all things were equal the first conclusion we would have come to is that our nation’s capital is much less secure than we ever imagined. We would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that if a mob of thousands could so easily vandalize and occupy the chambers of the Senate how vulnerable might we be to Russians and Chinese and Saudis and Iranians? We would have seen this first as a security failure.
But we all know that the issue is not that our nation is vulnerable and lacking in security. What happened today is the result of white privilege. George Floyd died for attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Do you think he would have been allowed to step onto federal property, scale a wall, smash a window, and gloat with his feet on the desk of the Speaker of the House? How far would a group of Black Lives Matter protesters have gotten today had they had the same intentions? How about a group of bearded men and burqa-clad American Muslims?
I admit, I have been slow to fully comprehend the issue of white privilege and structural racism. I have been as guilty as the next white person who looks at himself and says, “Couldn’t be. I almost always have good intentions.” But this year is teaching me something—I don’t have to be personally racist in order to participate in structural racism. I don’t have to demand privilege in order to be the recipient of privilege.
If I am wrong, please call me on it. But I just can’t seem to make sense of how a country with the mightiest military and security in the world could not protect its nation’s highest leaders from domestic criminals. I would love to find some other explanation. But increasingly I am having to accept that America’s great sin is racism and white privilege.
I just can’t picture it—thousands of black or Muslim or LGBTQ people somehow getting the upper hand against our nation’s mightiest security. I just can’t picture it—a black man sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk without a bullet in his chest. I just can’t picture it—Muslim men scaling the walls of the Capitol without machine-gun equipped helicopters closing in.
There is a lesson here. Either we are more vulnerable than we thought or we are more racist than we thought.
My friends, we have a lot of work to do.
Thank God for a God who doesn’t give up on us.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades