I Can’t Breathe


White House3

I wanted to write a different sermon. In fact, I’ve already started it. But it will have to wait, which I suppose is alright, because we’ve all gotten used to waiting these days. And in any case, this sermon has to be delivered now. Because while it’s good to learn to wait for some things, in this instance, now is not soon enough.

Black lives matter. They really do. And although the reason they matter is because all lives matter, the truth is black lives in the United States have not ever counted for much. Since the days of the founding of the country, when black lives were literally set at three-fifths of the value of white lives, to the present day, black people have been less than second class citizens. For far too many of us they have counted for absolutely nothing. Disposable people.

Now, to begin with, counting anyone as less important than yourself and believing that you are worth more than anyone else, is being a dick. I want to be clear about this because if you think about it, you must see that it is true. The first step toward being a full-time dick is thinking that you are more important, more worthy, than someone else.

Now just imagine what life would be like living in a country more or less full of absolute industrial-strength dicks. Where everyone thinks they are better than you, and your family and your friends and your kids and everyone who looks like you. Imagine living in a whole country of dicks.

That’s the United States of America. A whole county of dicks.

At least if you are black, that is. If you’re lucky enough to be white, not so much.

Now I can hear you thinking, now wait a minute, not all white people are racist. And you are right. Maybe most are not. I don’t believe there are any data on this, but let’s say it’s a majority. But too many people are, and the system is built to be racist, so what does it matter if 55%, or 70% or 90% of the white population are not dicks, but the whole system is?  Because if the people around you aren’t being dicks to you, how would you know?

So, if you can get your head around the awful idea of what being constantly surrounded by dicks must be like, imagine how frustrated, how angry, how desperate you would feel. Everybody is a jerk to me! They all treat me like dirt! One step out of line, and they will kill me, and not think twice about it! (Which must be the ultimate in dickishness.) Just imagine.

And then you pop. You lose your rag. You explode.  

Would it be surprising if you acted just a little dickish yourself? That you, just might throw some bottles of water, or break a window, or even worse? Because arson, looting, and destruction are also the acts of a dick. Because you are putting yourself over someone else.

But there’s a lot of provocation there.

Which brings me to the main point I want to make.

Not all bad actions are equal. Not all dicks are equal. In fact, two people doing the same dickish thing aren’t always equal. Because although thoughtless, destructive, hurtful things done out of frustration and righteous indignation are dickish, they are also human. But thoughtless, destructive, hurtful acts built into the system are institutional dickishness. And institutionalized oppression and injustice is more than inhuman. It is inexcusable. It is unforgivable. It is unacceptable. And anyone who encourages institutional injustice is taking dickishness to a whole new level.

Now the reason I am talking about all this is because of the understandable complaints that I have heard that some of the demonstrators may have vented their centuries-old frustration on property. ‘Isn’t that wrong?’ people ask. And the short answer is, yes, it is.

The long answer is ‘it depends.’ First of all, it depends on whether the damage is actually done by a demonstrator. There is a lot of evidence that there were people using the demonstration and the violence let loose on the demonstrators by the police to set fires, loot stores, and burn cars. In those cases, it’s just dicks being opportunists.

Second of all, it depends on what provocation there was. If it was done by an angry, frustrated demonstrator it is more understandable. Because, ask yourself this, would you have been better? Because unless you allow other people the same feelings and actions you allow yourself, I’m sorry, but you are being a dick again.

And let’s face it, we are all dicks at some point. All of us. Some worse than others, true, but none of us is perfect. Not white people, not brown people, not black people — no one. Not the police. And that’s where we come to the crunch.

When people say there are rights and wrongs on both sides, they may be factually correct. But we have to also look at the relative levels of dickishness. On one side, an outburst of quite normal human anger resulting from frustration and years of institutionalized abuse. And on the other side, centuries of injustice, murder, violence, and that very institutionalized abuse that caused the anger. Just who is the bigger dick?

Once upon a time, many years ago, I got beat up for being a Hippy. And at that time, I thought, “If I cut my hair, and wore shoes, and took off my love-beads, this wouldn’t have happened. Black people can’t take off their skins. They have no choice.” And as I limped home I thought, “This really sucks. I can’t imagine how much it sucks to be black in this country.” 

I imagine it must be like living in a whole country full of aggressive, untouchable, belligerent, armored, heavily-armed dicks, who are just looking for an excuse to kill you.

No wonder the signs say “I Can’t Breathe.” 

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