Monday for our family this week was grocery shopping day. Christy and I met up at Kroger during our lunch break to fill a cart to help keep our children fed. As is normally the case, when I put the groceries away I found opened boxes of different items that had been abandoned over the past few weeks. As dad, I subject myself to checking to ensure that cereals, cookies, and various other items have not gone stale since they were originally opened.
I have often blamed my children for their failure to finish items, properly store items, and opening boxes of cookies that are already opened. However, there comes a point in time where I have to own my role as a parent. There are many things that I can do to help change this situation, and yelling and fussing at the kids achieves only serves to set us against each other.
There is something about personal responsibility that forces me to enter into each and every situation. How am I contributing to the ongoing issues in our society? How can I challenge the behaviors of our society? How can I help those who share similar cultural experiences to reconsider the way they view things?
These are my thoughts and where I have realized the beginning of my responsibilities. Where I have either remained silent and not confronted ridiculous and self-serving behavior, and where I have myself contributed to the systemic inequality that still confronts our country. These are general observations, which can certainly feel personally motivated.
My first observation is primarily to the religious community that I have inhabited since birth. Conservative in our social and fiscal politics – unless of course we’re talking about military or police spending – we have long believed that America’s brightest and best were somewhere in the past; at least culturally.
In this community we have criminalized cultural differences. When you think of the culture of young Black people in America I realize how much my religious community has criminalized their behavior. Rap is a genre of music. As any genre of music it has quite a variety of artists and subject matter. Yet, this is not what we have heard from the pulpits and stages of our religious institutions. Rap, as a genre of music, has been portrayed as all that is wrong in America. When it comes to clothing styles I cannot count the number of times I have heard from our pulpits and stages condemnation for the pant styles of young Black men – in congregations that were over 90% white.
The last preaching conference I attended almost 10 years ago had so many of these observations and provocations from the stage that I observed that the entire point of the conference was simply to build a false dichotomy of ‘us vs. them’ that ultimately had some serious racial implications. Fight your culture wars pastors, but fight them in your church and with your people. In these congregations they would have been better served to challenge the Instagram innuendo and the proliferate mockery of others if they wanted to point to a decaying culture in their church. For every complaint about a lowered car blasting rap music we have had thousands of opportunities to critique our boys for flying their Confederate flags up and down our streets, and to challenge their reasoning for doing so. To make a more direct observation; if our religious leaders are more concerned that ANTIFA should be classified as a terrorist organization, and has never given the same privilege to the KKK; well …
My second observation is directed towards the socio-economic class that I have occupied to some degree since adulthood. I often refer to my position in this group as lower-middle class. This is somewhat a reference to how my social status – a religious leader in the South – has far outweighed my economic status and ability. In this group we have valued convenience over challenging conversations and moments. How often have we called the police when we saw someone – of a darker skin color than our own – ride through our neighborhood or perform some other simple innocuous task and yet we deemed them out of place?
In the early 2000’s Georgia instituted a tax-free weekend to encourage purchasing of school supplies, clothing, and electronics. The store I managed; Hibbet’s in Valdosta, was completely unprepared for how much our customers – and a great number of other folks – cared about a measly 7%. We were absolutely overrun. I left for a few hour break and came back to a store that was in complete shambles. We simply had to many customers and the store was supposed to close in 30 minutes. Thinking absolutely nothing of it, I walked through the mall until I located the two off-duty VPD officers that I knew from their regular patrols on weekend nights. I asked them to help me clear my store of customers. They did. They did nothing irregular, except that wasn’t really their responsibility and yet they felt an obligation to me and my store, and as such I put them in an unenviable position. Multiply this situation by hundreds of thousands of requests by neighborhoods, businesses, and a multitude of examples and we have too many times asked our police officers to keep the separation that we desired.
Back now to my grocery discoveries this week. I found a box of Rice Krispies that had been abandoned to the back of the cupboard and three; 3!, bags of opened marshmallows. Had I set these two items on the counter and asked my family to eat them here’s what might have happened; my youngest would have eaten a handful, possibly two, of marshmallows and if Christy did not like my cooking that night she would have eaten a bowl of the Rice Krispies. Years of experience told me that wouldn’t work so I took two simple ingredients; time and butter, and made Rice Krispy treats. Almost all of them were eaten that night.
I’m asking you to take some time and then to bring in the ingredient of introspection. Ask yourself if these two realities have been part of your life. How many times have we sought to criminalize cultural differences that go largely ignored in their counterparts in our own culture? How many times have we sought convenience to the destruction of our neighbors?
This is where I have begun to see my own responsibility.