All summer long we have been reeling, as both individuals and communities, with the violence of recent months, grappling with the devastating realities of division and oppression and the ever-present call to protest and lament. Here, Susan Kim, a licensed therapist and member of our Teaching Staff, writes about the need to confront the hate that is bred by fear, and the common resistance to naming hate. Susan’s words insist that we look at our own lives and stories, our own fear and hate, before we can truly challenge those realities on a systemic level.
We are here again: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and since I first started writing this you can add names like Charles Kinsey, the unarmed African-American behavioral therapist with his autistic patient, who was shot by police as he was on the ground with his hands up, or Paul O’Neal, the African-American teenager fatally shot in the back running from the police, or the countless others whose names do and don’t reach the evening news.
This is a carousel of familiarity that is sickening with despair. More Black children, men, and women gunned down by the police, for reasons that so underweigh the penalty of their lives.
I can already hear those who want to remind me of the attacks against and tragic killing of police officers, particularly those shot in Dallas. Sadly, I know, what happened to them never should have happened. But if you are one who feels the pull to remind me of that, please pause to consider what that may be about for you. Why is it so hard to hear and hold the reality of the trauma and death that comes with being Black in this country?
Why is it so hard to hear and hold the reality of the trauma and death that comes with being Black in this country?
There is profound tragedy in the loss of the lives of those officers and in the manner by which they were taken, but also in the act of being targeted as representatives of an entire professional group. For those named in the first paragraph and for those police officers, these are perpendicular stories that bear such ironic similarity. Only for the police officers they have the honest words of intent by their killer: “I want to kill white people…”
In no way was the killing of those police officers justified. I am angered and heartbroken that the shooter’s intentions were realized, and there is also this strange rest/unrest that comes with the rawness of the shooter’s words without spin or language crafted to more palatably justify his cause.
There is no doubt complexity to his desire to do such violence against those who represented his “enemy,” his perpetrators. It is a complexity woven with centuries of enslavement and oppression, and of debasement—not just to a status of less than, but to the spoken and more often unspoken American caste that labels Black people and other marginalized groups as “bad.”
This is not just the opinion of this writer. Research has shown the internalized, devastating trauma of racism in this country. There is developing research on the effects of “Racial Trauma,” but we have research dating back to the 1940s. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, two African-American psychologists, conducted an experiment with Black children and white-skinned and black-skinned baby dolls. This experiment was conducted and has been replicated many times over, and the tragic findings have been consistent for decades.
When asked which dolls are pretty, nice, and good, consistently the children choose the white-skinned dolls, and when asked why the children would say it is because of their white skin. Then, when those same Black children were asked which dolls were ugly, mean, and bad, they consistently chose the black dolls. When asked why, they would say it was because they have black skin. In some experiments, when the children are then asked of their own skin color and if it makes them good, by this point they are only left with one conclusion: no.
Generations of children have been raised in a society that has been committed to the perpetuation of the conclusion that they are to be seen by themselves and by others as bad. Were it not for good Black parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, churches, student groups, or even the Black Lives Matter movement and other allies to uphold a different, truer narrative, we as a society would move forward committed to the idea that the Dallas shooter was just another dangerous Black man, when in fact the racism endemic to our society and culture raised and nurtured him to be seen as bad and to be feared, even though we as a society offered no safety for him because of the color of his skin.
His words bore a sad integrity. He could name that it was the color of his victims’ skin that motivated his violence. I wish Alton Sterling and Philando Castile could have the same respect. It was not the guns in their possession, it was not their “resisting” the police. It was the fear that bred hate of the color of their skin in the hearts of those officers—a fear and hate that in no way begins or ends with them. If you are alive you have consumed the insipid and insidious garbage that Black men/people or other People of Color are inherently disposable, responsible for their own suffering and even death, and ultimately lacking in the Divine dignity and beauty of personhood graciously gifted to all by God of the Universe. Nobody escapes drinking from this corrupted well.
You may struggle with my use of the word hate. Listen to that. Don’t give up wondering why you struggle with calling what happened to Alton, Philando, and too many others acts of hate, because too many people are suffering and dying due to too many others who are not willing to struggle with their own discomfort.
If perfect love casts out fear, what do you think gets created when fear is invited? And fear of Black people has been systemically and institutionally invited, nurtured, bred, and fed without any challenge to think about what makes me afraid of him and what that fear says about me and my heart more than his.
If perfect love casts out fear, what do you think gets created when fear is invited?
We are here again, and we can attribute that to our continued issues of racism and systemic oppression, which is true, but they feel like euphemisms for what we are afraid to say as true: we hate. We construct reasons like color of skin as justification to fear and demonize people, to then excuse our mistreatment and ultimately gilded hatred of them. We are all guilty of this. And until we own up to this so we can accurately know the terrain we are on and the battle we are fighting, rather than blame it on a “threatening” kid in a hoodie, or a “dangerous thug” selling cigarettes, or a “suspicious” driver with a burned out tail light, and repent and lament the devastation of our hatred, we will return to this tragic place like a dog to his vomit.
This is a weighty and ongoing conversation, one that demands more than a single post; stay tuned to this blog and The Allender Center Podcast over the next week as we wrestle with how to join God’s work of restoration in a divided world.