Black September, Part One: One Month in America

It’s amazing what one month can do to show us we still haven’t settled the question of race in America. In September alone we’ve had: - The massive protests last week in Jena, Louisiana, reminiscent of the 1960’s civil rights era, over racially charged incidents at a local high school and what many view as the unjustly harsh sentences of six black teenagers for beating a white schoolmate.

- The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s accusation that presidential candidate Barack Obama, whom he has endorsed, was “acting like he’s white” because of his measured response to the “Jena 6” episode.

- Continuing fallout from the Michael Vick dogfighting case, with indictments on state charges in Virginia announced this week and a town hall meeting on the “Vick Divide” in Atlanta sponsored by ESPN that was so racially contentious that even the local director of the American Humane Society was shouted down for pointing out the horrific acts Vick committed against defenseless animals.

- Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, widely regarded as the poster child for successful black athletes, stating in comments aired this month on HBO’s Real Sports that black quarterbacks are subject to more scrutiny and criticism than white quarterbacks.

- The noose found hanging from a tree in front of a cultural center serving primarily minority students at the University of Maryland in College Park.

- O.J. Simpson back in the news with the publication of the controversial book, “If I Did It” by Fred Goldman, the father of murder victim Ron Goldman, after he was awarded the rights to the manuscript in which Simpson “hypothetically” describes how the murders of Goldman and Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson went down. Oh, yes, he’s back in jail also after being arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping over some sports memorabilia he claims was his.

- Bill O’Reilly’s comments about his dinner date with the Rev. Al Sharpton in which he appeared to express surprise at the quality of service and the well-mannered customers at a Harlem restaurant owned and patronized by blacks. He argues that he was speaking of the contrast between his experiences and the views of most Americans whose perceptions about blacks are influenced by the rap and hip-hop culture, and how important it is for whites to get out more.

- Five of the Republican candidates for President, including the four front-runners, snubbing a long-scheduled minority issues debate at a historically black university. Some, including many Republicans, have criticized the no-shows for not attempting to engage minority voters, while others say there’s no reason for them to show up at a forum where they are likely to be vilified by a hostile and immovable audience.

Pretty unbelievable, isn’t it? These are just the newsworthy items, and there are probably several more in the news that I missed and even more that take place every day outside of press scrutiny. Personally, the events of this month regarding race have me in a state of despair over the topic and it was the Vick town hall meeting that put me over the edge.

Here is a situation where the highest paid athlete in the NFL, heavily marketed as the face of the NFL and making silly amounts of money from huge endorsement deals, engaged in clearly illegal and unspeakably cruel activity for six years. His illegal activities were discovered by chance, not by design, and the preponderance of the evidence and the collusion of his accomplices with the authorities led him to plead guilty to federal crimes. Right up to that time, he lied to his teammates, the owner of the team, the commissioner of the NFL and the legion of fans who bought his jersey and wore his shoes. He himself has accepted full responsibility for his actions and blamed no one, not even his posse. Yet when ESPN hosts a town hall meeting on the topic, it degenerates into a shout-down by a horde of pro-Vick audience members, mostly black, who want to frame this issue in racial terms. They were rude to the panel members who held an alternative view, regardless of their race, and they even dismissed Vick’s actions and their categorization as a federal offense as insignificant because they were “just dogs.” They even demonstrated a complete lack of perspective by trying to compare Vick’s illegal and vicious behavior with that of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick who was recently punished by the NFL for filming the opposing team’s defensive signals. Chuck Smith, a former teammate of Vick’s and a black man, tried to point out the silliness of this analogy and he was booed lustily by the crowd. My heart sank. I’ll be honest – I was embarrassed by their behavior. We have a fairly recent history of defending our scoundrels, the aforementioned O.J. Simpson being a signature case, and justifying it because of the injustices of the past. The weights and measures of equal justice, however, are right and wrong, not black and white, and if we are to be credible partners in calibrating the scales of justice so they work equally for everyone, we need to stand for right and wrong above all else.

One of the more irritating comments made during this town hall meeting was by another teammate of Vick’s who is still very close to him. He admonished the listeners to be careful how they judge others because they’ll be judged equally in return. The crowd erupted in cheers, and it turned my stomach. Just last month, another black athlete in trouble with the law, Travis Henry, declared that “only God can judge me” over his inability to pay child support for the nine children he procreated – I can’t use the word “fathered” because he’s no father – with nine different women in four different states. What a charade to pridefully wrap yourself in the Word of God to justify behavior He condemns without reservation or condition!

As a Christian, I know that God, the Creator of the Universe, the Ultimate Judge, doesn’t excuse my sins simply because I’m black. He forgives me, but only if I’m truly repentant and I change my ways. Moreover, even His forgiveness doesn’t excuse me from being held accountable for my actions, and He clearly grants government the authority to administer justice and enforce accountability for illegal actions – those who reject terrestrial judgment ought to read Romans 13 in its entirety. The only time we are to stand against the authorities of this earth is when their laws are in violation of God’s laws, and we are to do so peacefully and respectfully. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated in word and deed the Biblical way to stand against injustice and if he expended his precious moral capital on scoundrels, I’ve neither seen nor heard of it. This tendency by people who are either in trouble or defending others in trouble to hide behind God’s grace by defiantly declaring “only God can judge me” ought to be careful what they wish for. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Next Post: My thoughts on Jena, Louisiana.