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THE SIMPSON LEGACY : Looking Toward the Light : The Traumas That Reveal Our Divisions Can Guide Us to Each Other

October 10, 1995|THE REV. CECIL L. (CHIP) MURRAY | The Rev. Cecil L. (Chip) Murray is senior minister at the First AME Church

Racism is real, the darkness awaiting the light of a better understanding.

Misunderstanding, misapprehension--these foster darkness and chaos. In the small flicker of light available to us, we see blacks and whites in tunnel vision throwing verbal stones at each other. Reason says, lower your voices, lower your hands . Then raise your level of consciousness, solve the problems. Naysayers, of course, are endemic. They go with the tunnel, speaking in the monotone of racial stereotyping. Their script is fixed, their audience prescribed. They are left to review by a higher authority.

Our problem is the silence of the saved, those who have been gifted with the lamp of reason. Let the redeemed say so. The voice of reason is so often preaching to the choir because the choir is part of the problem. Those with vision are challenged to see that our traumas are our testings: Latasha Harlins, Eulia Love, Rodney King, O.J. Simpson. These reveal a malady, calling us to problem-solving. Here, dialogue with this.

The dialogue must start with an understanding of the enormity of the problem. A national magazine asks, "Will the verdict split America?" Perhaps more properly it might ask, "Will the verdict reveal an America already split?" In this regard, O.J. Simpson is not a cultic hero, but a cultic cause, a microcosm of the macrocosm of racial tensions sweeping our nation; some people see black and they see red; some see white and they see red. So as a litmus test, we are faced not with O.J. the individual, but O.J. the collective.

And not the collective conscience. Neither Rodney King nor O.J. Simpson mirrors the ideal of black spiritism. Not the black conscience, but the black consciousness, an awareness that whites are the lightning bolt and blacks are the lightning rod in America: The power, the impetus, the control, the climate, the system--these lie somewhere beyond the rod. The rod, of course, is not throwing a pity party, for it has power of its own and must stand tall in the midst of the storm, but its utter pain is its enforced reactive mode that yearns to be proactive.

Perhaps a majority of whites view black jubilation over the verdicts as vengeance, reactive vengeance. Here is a test: Try hearing the majority of blacks saying, not vengeance but vindication--defense, justification, revelation of a truth long proclaimed, that unbridled police power, unmonitored court systems, unjust economic barriers tilt the bar of justice away from those who are without power.

*

Our executive secretary, the Rev. Jeanne Beharry, comes very close in her assessment of black vindication: "The shoe (for once) is on the other foot (instead of on my neck). After 300 years of whispering, then whimpering, then crying, then screaming, 'the shoe pinches--the shoe hurts--the shoe is killing me'--only after centuries of singing the same song did blacks achieve enough freedom to demonstrate reasonable outrage. After one incident, whites have thrown off the shoe."

Power can put shoes on or take shoes off. Powerlessness, on the other hand, must learn to dialogue with tight shoes and pinched nerve endings. Powerlessness, therefore, develops a deep sensitivity to pain, its own and the pain of others.

The vindication of blacks is not an unfeeling vindication. They wept with the Browns-Simpsons-Goldmans in the tragic losses endured. As veterans of pain, blacks and browns surrender thousands of loved ones each year to the same hand of violence that shook the Browns, and the Simpsons, and the Goldmans, casting them into the cave of despair. Blacks insist on remaining an inclusive, not exclusive society. They feel, they care. So when white outrage over the verdict is compared with black outrage, the near-unanimous response comes from the black community--our outrage is historical, yours is hysterical. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

Shifting shoes, shifting blame, shifting eyes--these will avail nothing. Why do we not shift emphasis? Shift to process, and the product will take care of itself. Process. Is there equity in the selection of site, jury, prosecution, defense, judge? Is there parity? Is there peerage? This we can control. The outcome is beyond control, as it should be. But with the right input, the output will take care of itself.

Apply that same concept to the larger society: a civilian review process that sublimates police power to people power; use of downsized military installations to equip the homeless, the unskilled, the underskilled while drawing heavily upon volunteer tutoring and resources; a precise agenda with timelines for systematically purging the system of racism--one that draws upon corporations, government, education, community organizations, religion to lead us out of the darkness.

The race card is part of the American deck, complete with self-serving jokers who want to keep it that way. We need a new deck. We need a new light. This does indeed beat cursing the darkness.

Those who dare to discard their tunnel vision and to dream the impossible dream are privileged to see the light at the end of the tunnel is not a freight train, but the angel of hope bringing us a fresh lantern to replace the dimmed one that guides our paths to each other.

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