Abby Johnson: Police will racially profile my biracial son; that’s smart

Abby Johnson felt the need to speak up about race.

In a June 25 YouTube video titled “My biracial boy,” the 39-year-old anti-abortion activist used her five-year-old adopted son as a jumping off point for a 15-minute manifesto on the roots of racial unrest in the United States. She made the video private a few hours after publishing it, but said she plans to make it viewable again soon. Other have reposted saved copies of her video.

Wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt printed with lyrics by Vanilla Ice,  Johnson said in the video that her son is now an “adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy [but] one day he’s gonna grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking, maybe, brown man.”

 Johnson said that while her four other sons “are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys,” her biracial son will likely be racially profiled by police when he grows up. 

“That doesn’t make me angry,” Johnson said. 

“I realized I’m gonna have to have a different conversation with [my son] than I do with my nerdy white kids,” she said. 
 
With the voices of her children audible in the background, Johnson explained that she knows black men are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes than white men, and because of this, a “smart” police officer will be more careful around her “brown” son than around her white ones. 
 
“I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes; so statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my [child’s name] walking down the road, as opposed to my white nerdy kids … these police officers know in their head … that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons. Okay. So the fact that, in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics,” she said.
 
“I’m a researcher by nature,” Johnson said. 
 
 
Johnson said that, according to her research, high rates of incarceration of black men is caused by black fatherlessness. She then claimed that, according to her research, there is a push to make black fatherlessness culturally acceptable.
 
“There are studies out there that are trying to redefine black fatherhood. They are essentially saying that the seventy percent number is a lie because black fatherhood looks different than white fatherhood; that black fatherhood actually does look like a black man coming in and out of the home and not being a consistent presence in the home, and that version of fatherhood is equivalent to a white father being consistently in the home,” she said.
 
“Okay, I don’t want to cuss on here, but that is B.S., and that is racist,” Johnson continued. 
 
“[B]lack fathers do not get a pass. Just because it is culturally different, just because black fathers don’t want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women,” she said.
 
Johnson did not specify which studies she read that attempt to redefine black fatherhood. 
 
Apparently referring to the ongoing racial unrest following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, Johnson said, “Yeah, we’ve got big issues right now in the black community, but at the root of it the root is not with bad cops. The root starts in the home.”
 
“It’s not because of bad cops, [but] because of bad dads,” she said.
 
The video’s settings were changed to “private” a few hours after it was published. 
 
 
 
I called Johnson on Thursday to ask some questions about the video. Here is our conversation:
 

SF: What were you hoping to achieve with this video?

AJ: I wanted to give my opinion and how I’m feeling about this whole situation. Particularly as a woman whose family is affected by this, because we do have a son who is biracial. We do recognize that we do have to have different conversations with our son. It’s not something we shy away from in our house. Race is not something we shy away from in our home. 

 
SF: What study were you referring to, when you said you read that black men aren’t expected to be monogamous or raise their children?
AJ: I’ve seen several of them. There’s quite a few out there that show basically redefining black fatherhood, sort of showing that black fatherhood expectations are different. The expectation is different in black homes than in white homes. That was surprising to me. For me, fatherhood is fatherhood. It was just interesting to see that people were trying to differentiate fatherhood based on race.
 
 I talked about that with some of my black friends, and they were really appalled by that. They were really outraged. I’ve had several discussions with one of my friends in particular about that. We both said this is something that needs to be addressed, by not just the black community but by everyone. 
 
SF: Do you think black people might see your video and start to think differently about fatherhood? 
 
AJ: I don’t know. Right now, tensions are very high, and I think in general, if you’re a white person and you’re not part of the Black Lives Matter movement, which I’m not, then your opinion is not valued. You’re seen as a racist. You’ve done a good job to paint me as that, anyway. I’m sure this article will do the same. 
 
I think if you’re not on this “social justice warrior woke” train of thought, you’re considered a racist. I don’t think that’s fair. I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve ever discriminated against someone because of their race. I can’t remember a time when ever in my life I have acted on any sort of prejudice.
 
Of course we all have fleeting prejudiced thoughts that we all have to check. That’s something we all have. I just can’t ever recall a time in my life when I’ve actually been racist toward someone. But I think we’re living in times where it is the popular thing to call someone a racist. If your views don’t align with someone, you call them a racist, and if you disagree with what they say, you call them a racist. 
 
I took my video down for a moment. I wanted to talk to my husband. I’m gonna put it back up. My family was getting threats from the supposed Catholic community.
 
SF: Who was threatening you?
 
AJ: People who subscribe to you. It’ll get worse once you put this out. 
 

SF: What kind of threats are they making?

AJ:  People saying they’re gonna call CPS, they’re gonna do everything they can to remove this child from my home. That’s ridiculous. And, this probably wasn’t a Catholic person, but one man messaged and put up a comment that said I didn’t deserve to be a mom, and someone should shoot me and put me out of my misery?

 

SF: Did you screenshot that comment?

 

AJ: I immediately deleted it. I don’t want to look at that. 
 
This is the kind of hate that’s being spread right now. What you’re doing right now will only add fuel to the fire. That’s probably what you want. It’s just a very tense time, and it’s unfortunate people can’t share the things they want to share; they can’t share the things they discuss with their friends, with their family. They can’t talk about things without receiving threats, without being attacked from within the Catholic community. It’s a sad time. 
 
SF: If we could, I’d like to go back to those studies you read that showed that there’s a push to change notions about black fatherhood. You said there was more than one. Do you remember where you saw those studies?
 
AJ: It led me down a rabbit trail. I looked up fatherlessness in general in homes, and that led me to fatherlessness in the black community, not that it was seen as appropriate that they weren’t in the home, but it was saying: In black culture, it’s acceptable for black men to be regularly in and out of the home, and more often than white fathers. 
 
It did talk about black fathers being more likely to do more domestic things with their children, bathing their children, one study talked about that. Feeding their children, things of that nature. But there were other studies showing that fatherhood just looked different in the black community.
 
To me, it simply appeared they were trying really hard to justify the 70%, and to reduce the 70% number that’s been hanging out there for years and years. Instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem, it seemed like they were trying to justify the number. 
 
SF: Are you aware of statistics that show that black men are more likely to be arrested more often for the same crimes that white people commit, and given harsher sentences when they are charged than white people who are charged with those same crimes?
 
AJ: I just simply looked at the statistics that were out there. Black men are disproportionately incarcerated. 
 
SF: Is it possible that they don’t actually commit more crimes, but that they’re incarcerated more often anyway?
 
AJ: I don’t know. I’d have to look at numbers showing that. I don’t have that data in front of me. I think it’s possible. I think we just have to look at data as it comes. I’m always interested in looking at data. I can say that I am a person who, in general, appreciates data over emotion.
 
SF: If black fatherlessness is at the root of black incarceration rates, what is at the root of black fatherlessness? What do you think is the cause for that?
 
AJ: I’m not sure. I’m not a historian. I don’t have all the answers to everything that ails us in our society. I think there has to be something at the root of that. I think Alveda King has talked about that a little bit. Cultural expectations are different for various reasons. I don’t know all those reasons. I’m not a sociologist. 
 
Why is breastfeeding different in the black community? That goes back to the time of slavery. I know there is something there that causes the stats to be the way they are. [fact check: there are modern, ongoing causes of racial disparities in breastfeeding] Why are serial killers 95% white? I don’t know. [fact check: the racial diversity of serial killers mirrors the general population] I don’t have the answer for that, either. Why are the majority of white collar crimes committed by white men? 
 
SF: If you know police officers are more likely to see your son as more of a threat than your white sons, do you discipline him in different ways from your white sons?
 

AJ: No, that’s a disgusting question.

SF: You said it would be smart for a policeman to treat them differently, so wouldn’t it be smart for you to treat them differently?

 
AJ: That’s a disgusting question. For you to think I would treat my children differently. The fact that you can’t see the difference is disgusting. 
 

SF: Does the pro-life movement have a racism problem?

AJ: I think racism exists, yes.

 
SF: Do you think this video will help?
 
AJ: I didn’t create this video to extinguish racism. I created it to share my thoughts. 
 

SF: You said you took the video down, but you’re going to put it up again. Why is that? Will there be a disclaimer or an explanation when you put it up?

AJ: I don’t need an explanation. 

 
Here are some useful links for further reading. I will continue to add to this list. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Our first BLM rally, and what Catholics can do

We went to our first Black Lives Matter rally today. I was emboldened by our bishop, Peter Libasci, who went to a vigil last night. He brought with him the stump of the Easter Candle. No one was able to go to the Easter Vigil, because churches were locked down, but he brought a light with him, and shared it. 

A friend who was there gave me permission to share these photos:

So today we painted up some signs and went to our local rally, which my husband was covering. I wanted to make a point of being there as a Catholic, so black Catholics could see that they’re not alone. Here is what we came up with (on somewhat short notice):

We brought masks and hand sanitizer and parked several blocks away. We took three cars and arranged a secondary meeting spot if things got hairy. I didn’t expect any violence, but you never know, so we only brought the teenagers, no little kids. 

It was a pretty good crowd for our area. Maybe 600 people? I’m not good at estimating. Loud enough to make a real roar when we got going. We were in the commons that traffic was constantly circling, and people laid on their horns and made an enormous ruckus for about two hours. The city we were in, Keene, is 92.07% white, but I saw many more people of color than usual at the rally. 

Here is a pic my husband took of me and some of my kids:

The crowd was probably 60% people in their 20’s or younger, but there were many old men and women, and including some episcopal clergy and people dressed like, well, New England rednecks, with ill-fitting tank tops and neck tattoos. Nearly everyone had masks, although the social distancing left something to be desired. A few organizers were walking around handing out masks, and several people walked around offering bottled water.

I saw a few ACAB signs and a few calling for the police force to be dismantled. A few signs were profane and some that were just unintelligible, and seemed to be made by people working out their personal issues with cardboard and ballpoint pen. Most of the slogans were expressions of solidarity, calls for justice, and “black lives matter.”

 I was on the calmer side of the commons. We chanted “I can’t breathe” “Black lives matter,” and some call and response: “Say his name: George Floyd” and “Say her name: Breonna Taylor” and “No justice: No peace.” 

A sheriff and some police officers were walking around holding signs that said “We hear you.” I thanked one of them, and he seemed surprised. 

The only person I saw who was carrying anything that resembled a weapon was this fellow. 

He explained that he was there to defend local businesses. His services were not required, though. 

A white man kept circling the crowd waving a huge American flag with a Trump flag attached to the back. He was followed by a small group, but one protestor, Keene resident Tay Jennings, who is black, got in front of the others and held them back, repeatedly urging them, “Let him be, let him be.” 

I prayed, “Jesus, keep everyone safe.” Eventually the flag man left. When the flag man came around, the police officers folding up their “we are listening” signs and took out their radios. A drone hovered overhead and a helicopter kept circling. 

A whiskery old man in a backwards baseball cap cruised around the commons repeatedly, singing — something, maybe sea chanteys and gospel music, and shouting, “Keep it peaceful! Keep it peaceful!” leaving a wake of alcohol fumes. 

I couldn’t hear the speeches at all, and didn’t want to get into the middle of the crowd, so we stayed on the periphery.

There weren’t a lot of kids there. One was the four-year-old daughter of Tay Jennings.

Another child held a sign she had evidently made herself, reading, “I’m sorry that George died.” 

A white mother carried her black son with a sign that said, “When do I stop being cute and start being dangerous?”

I’m ambivalent about giving protest signs to children. 

My sign, “Jesus hates racism,” got some attention from passing drivers. A woman who looked to be in her fifties slowed down and snarled, “Why don’t you get down on your knees and shut your mouth?” I laughed, not knowing what else to do. One other woman had a sneer and some angry response, but several people nodded and called, “Yes, he does!” and one woman shouted happily, “I hate racism, too!” 

We left after about two hours. I don’t know how much longer people congregated in the park. I was glad my kids were there to see what there was to see. 

Now, we live tucked away far from danger. I want to stress: This was a very low risk, positive experience for us. I understand that many people, for various reasons, cannot participate in rallies, and there are rallies that are very different from this one. But if you are Catholic and if you can speak out, you should, somehow or other. You should let the world know, in a way that makes sense for your station in life, that Catholics reject and revile racism.

And speaking out is not enough. I know that. The whole time, I kept thinking, “This is the exciting part. This can’t be all we do.” It’s exhilarating to stand there screaming “Whoooooooo!” and “Yeah!” while trucks honk their horns and people grin and cheer. But this can’t be all we do.  

Here is a thread that collects video of police brutality at rallies

What else can we do? 

Here is a statement from Karianna Frey and Leticia Adams, Catholics who started the #rendyourhearts movement:

We are Catholics, and Catholics of Color, who are exhausted by the continued systemic, institutional, and implicit racism in the United States and at times in our Catholic Church and the effects on the targets of it.

We are broken-hearted for our Black brothers and sisters who for years have been ignored, dismissed, and marginalized by our Country.

We pray for justice for the victims of racism in all its forms, but especially, lethal, and their families and communities. We stand in solidarity with them as Catholic Christians and as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
We believe in the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, and sustained by the Eucharist.

We are one body in Christ and therefore we have a responsibility to fight against the demonic force of racism.
As such, we invite you to join us in observing a nineteen-day period of prayer and fasting as an act of reparation to God for the sin of racism in all of its forms.
From the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, on June 1 through June 19, Juneteenth Day and the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we will pray the Prayer to St. Michael for his protection from spiritual attack, and/ or join our Lady of Sorrows in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and will make daily sacrifices appropriate to our own circumstances for this intention.

This call to action is based on the words of Joel 2:12-13: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Believing in the longstanding Catholic concept of making Acts of Reparation, my friends @kariannafrey and @leticiaoadams have written this statement.

You can share your own words and/or images using the hashtag #rendyourhearts. You can also participate privately if you prefer.

#CatholicChurch #Catholic #antiracism #OneBody #CatholicsforRacialJustice #BlackCatholic #BrownCatholic

The wheat and weeds in my heart

I was startled to realize that even some of the things I think of as wheat are really weeds.

What kind of things? Righteous indignation that goes on too long, feeding on itself, delighting in itself. Vigilance that turns into paranoia and unseemly scrutiny of friends. An important political argument that takes so much time and energy that I have nothing left for my family. Whistling in the dark that finally stops hoping for comfort and starts revelling in the darkness.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Is silence consent? Virtue vs. virtue signalling

Yesterday, I tussled with some friends over the issue of “virtue signalling.”

In the immediate aftermath of the hideous events in Charlottesville, my social media was flooded with friends passionately denouncing racism and white supremacism. Some of the denunciations included an exhortation for all decent folk to do the same: You must speak up. You must take a stand. You must say something. Silence is consent.

Then followed a wave of irritable scoffers who refused to join in the mass denunciation. Their arguments were pretty solid: Of course we reject racism. Of course we’re anti-Nazi. It doesn’t do any good to say so on social media. The only reason you’d do so is to get your social piety card punched, and that’s just cheap and gross. Tomorrow it’ll be another thing that we’re all required to say. Who can keep up? Let’s just talk about what interests us, and refuse to be pushed around by a mob, even if the mob is correct.

Let’s untangle this a bit.

There are most certainly some folks who latch on to every cause, and their passion never rises above virtue signalling. They never act, but they never stop patting themselves on the back for saying the right thing when it’s popular to say it (and somehow, they never feel the urge to speak up when their cause is unpopular). One day, they’re slapping a flag overlay on their profile picture; the next day, they’re wearing safety pins; the next, they’re insisting that everyone stop what they’re doing and sign a useless change.org petition. And that’s all they do. They endlessly congratulate themselves as they flit from one cause to the next, from passion to passion, never seeming to notice that they stopped talking about yesterday’s all-consuming cause as soon as the hashtag stopped trending.

This is pure virtue signalling, and it’s gross. It changes nothing, it means nothing, and it’s actually counterproductive, as it relieves us from truly thinking, engaging, and acting. It’s the ultimate participation trophy: Hooray, you had the courage to be on Twitter and retweet something popular! Go put your feet up, you warrior, you.

So, phooey on this.

There is, however, another large group of people who were saying things very similar to what the virtue signallers were saying: I reject racism. I denounce Nazis. They don’t belong here; they don’t speak for me. America is better than this.

These folks felt like that had to say something, because they were confronted with something so monstrous and incomprehensible, they could not be silent. They wanted to do something, and there was nothing to be done — nothing but saying something. So they said something.

This isn’t virtue signalling. This is the normal, healthy response of a human being who feels appropriate sorrow, appropriate outrage toward aggressors, and appropriate compassion toward victims. It would be best, and truly virtuous, to follow up a public statement with some kind of action —  praying, perhaps, or getting more involved in local politics, or sending a note to someone who identifies with the victim. But there’s nothing inherently odious or insincere about responding to evil with a loud, public “Hell, no.”

I have heard from people who identify with the victims — from people raising black kids, for instance — that it gives them great comfort to hear a crowd of people loudly defending them. It would hurt, and be frightening, not to hear it. That in itself is good reason to speak up.

I have also heard from people who’ve said, “I have been too timid to speak up in the past. I’ve let racist jokes slide, and I’ve let insults go unchallenged. Now I see where silence leads, and I’m not going to be silent anymore.” This isn’t posturing; this is conversion of heart. Not virtue signalling, but a sign of actual virtue.

Mere words aren’t always empty, even if they’re popular words.

But what about the claim that silence is consent? This is more complicated. We have heard over and over that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. If an individual is silent, that may not mean that he consents to evil, but if every single individual decides that he’s going to sit this one out because everyone already knows that racism is bad . . . well, if that worked, we’d have a lot fewer names to remember on Memorial Day. And Holocaust Remembrance Day. And so on. If everyone is silent except the ones chanting, “Sieg heil,” then yes, silence is consent.

At the same time, when everyone is shouting at the same time, very little gets heard. When the crowd is screaming at you to start screaming, too, it’s hard to think, and impossible to say something more nuanced than “HELL NO.” And sometimes we expend all our energy in screaming, and then it’s hard to feel we have to do something else, such as actually doing something.

So, sometimes thoughtful, reasonable, courageous people don’t say anything in public. This doesn’t mean they’re cowards, and it doesn’t mean they’re complicit. It doesn’t mean they’re privately rooting for evil.

At the same time, sometimes thoughtful, reasonable, courageous people feel like they cannot be silent in public. This doesn’t mean they are smug, shallow, social justice warriors who are only in it for the applause.

If it’s wrong to demand that Every0ne Use the Hashtag Now Or Else You Are the Problem, it’s also wrong to demand that Everyone Shut Up Because We Know Why You’re Flapping Your Useless SJW Lips. We would all do well to give each other a little clearance when something horrible happens. People respond differently to trauma. This is a feature of social discourse, not a bug.

When we demand unanimity — either of speech or of silence — we’re making ourselves weaker, not stronger. When everyone is saying (or refusing to say) the same thing, we’re like a flock of cloned sheep: A single superbug can take us all out, bam.

Of course, all of the above applies to private people. But if it’s your job to speak out, like if you’re the president of the United States, then you have a clear obligation to condemn specific evil acts and specific evil groups, and silence or vagueness is rightly construed as consent. Damn.

But for the rest of us? You could always just split the difference and let your sousaphone do the talking.

God bless the sousaphone man. More like him, please. And more wiggle room for each other, please, as we hash out our response to the intolerable.

Let’s resist kneejerkifying history

Every few weeks, a group of enlightened teenagers, who have been raised since birth to believe such-and-such is wrong, will get together and demand that a long-dead man should be punished for not having been raised since his birth two hundred years ago to believe that such-and-such is wrong.

Sometimes, they’re onto something. I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoons bathed in the hues of a stained glass black man kneeling before John Calhoun. (I wouldn’t smash a window depicting slavery, but I would put up a fuss.) There’s a fine line between acknowledging the past and condoning its errors.

But it sure does get old to hear that Abraham Lincoln was “not the great emancipator” because his stated main goal was to preserve the union, and because he was against interracial marriage. No: Lincoln was a white man was born in 1809, and he thought like a white man born in 1809; and he was a great and good man.

Same thing for great thinkers of the Catholic Church. You refuse to employ your super-fine mind in the same room as Thomas Aquinas just because he had some dumb or hinky ideas about the ladies? Your loss. The rest of us don’t have much time to be offended; we’re too busy trying to keep up.

Just as irritating as the knee-jerk judgment of the past? The wholly unearned smugness that often goes along with that judgment. Let’s be fair: If I can’t blame Lincoln for thinking like everyone thought when he was alive, then why should I laud you for thinking like everyone thinks now? You’re not a courageous free-thinker for wearing an anti-racist T-shirt in 2016. You’re just someone who noticed that “NOH8” or “BLM” or whatever is trending right now.

Even worse than wagging our fingers at history is when we try to protect our paper-thin skins by blotting out the past altogether. What a horrible, self-defeating error. If our country is guilty of crimes, then there is one foolproof way to ensure that we repeat them, and that is to erase all evidence of them, to cleanse our living space of any exposure to them. Your body won’t fight back against a disease if you spend each day bathing in Purell, and the same is true for our collective soul as a country. You must endure some exposure.

Well, here’s an encouraging spot of sanity: Yale announces new procedure for renaming of university buildings. They’re not going to refuse to hear any argument against honoring a historical figure who held troubling views; but neither are they going to knuckle under to the mob and despise greatness when it comes dressed in historical clothing that clashes with current political fashion.

In an interview with NPR yesterday, Yale dean Jonathan Holloway said:

The fact is as human actors we’re all flawed. So I really wonder if you are going to be using the Oregon test [which applies strict, inflexible criteria] against historic figures who are operating in a world in which you – people did not even know or worry about the experiences or views of women or immigrants or minorities, you’re going to fail the test pretty quickly. And so I think any renaming test has to be mindful of the present and the past and also the future in trying to sort out what its litmus tests are going to be.

To my mind, when we wonder if we should honor someone who held views that most people now despise, there are four issues to be considered:

  1. Were these views widespread and unchallenged at the time? Would the person in question have to be an outrageously original and insightful thinker to even consider holding a different point of view?
  2. Are the unpleasant views he held even relevant to why he is being honored today? Are we honoring him for all aspects of his entire life, or can we say, “Even though he was terribly wrong about this issue, his achievements in that other field are immense and indisputable”?
  3. If he did do great things, were the bad things he did so bad (even if they were in an entirely different field from the great things) that they overshadow what was great?
  4. Have we done our research, really? Or have we just read a line or two off some Buzzfeed compilation of the Daily Snit?

Yale is apparently taking a measured approach to challenges from people laboring under what Halloway calls the “arrogance of your contemporary moment,”and is trying to slow down that locomotive of self-congratulatory outrage. He wants, if you can imagine such a thing in an institute of higher learning, for complainants to thoughtfully and dispassionately contextualize history, rather than just reflexively scratching whatever the current mob considers itchiest.

It’s especially admirable that Yale is choosing to do this now, in post election 2016. With Trump as president, and the alt right ascending, we’re likely to see more and more re-legitimization of historical figures who truly ought to be intolerable to everyone today — not because of current, changeable sensibilities, but because their views were intolerable to decent people even while they were alive.

I expect that a president who reportedly kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside (just for the articles, you understand. He doesn’t even notice the pictures) will breathe new life and vigor into old, deservedly condemned causes. We’ve already seen some efforts, from a population indispensable to Trump’s victory, to reanimate fetid corpses of egregious racism, anti-semitism, denial of Bosnian genocide, and more. Confederate flag sales skyrocketed in 2015Trump himself praised the “strength” of China’s response to Tianamen Square; and Trump openly admired Saddam Hussein’s efficiency in dealing with his enemies.

This man is now our president, our representative to the rest of the world.

Anticipating the battles to come, we might be tempted to suit up with an extra, protective layer of righteous indignation. If we’re going to be led by a man who dabbles in horrors, we might decide ahead of time that we’ll have a prophylactic zero tolerance policy against anything and anyone that smacks of his ugly ideals.

But let’s not. Let’s not respond to kneejerk politics by jerking the knee in the other direction. This country isn’t over yet. We’re still writing our history, still making adjustments, still figuring out who we are. Let’s take a clue from Yale, and slow down, do our research, think things through — and above all, not respond to unthinking rhetoric with more unthinking rhetoric.

In an absurdly awful election, where there could be no winning for the American people, we lost. Yes, we did. But that doesn’t mean we need to surrender. We still have time.

 

Brilliant men in dark boxes

Anybody remember when this happened?

 

 

PIC statue behind box

 

This was back in 2011, when the NAACP hid a prominent statue of George Washington inside a wooden box during a MLK Day rally, offering the terminally lame excuse that the box that shielded the crowd from Washington’s face would make a more suitable backdrop for the rally’s speakers.   The NAACP denies any intention of disrespect, but their narrow view of history is no secret:  anyone who owned slaves is a racist, and anyone who is a racist cannot be called a great man.  This is what is taught in history class, and several generations have been nourished on these junk food ideas.

Students are taught that they must not squander their exquisite admiration on someone who owned slaves.  They are taught, by implication, that it’s not enough for a man to give up his family and his safety for the noble cause of independence.  It’s not enough to inspire and command.  It’s not even enough to triumph in a way that directly benefits millions of people today.

He must also be . . . EVERYTHING MAN.

He must leap out of his time, and see with the eyes of every possible future type of enlightenment.  Did he accomplish the massive victories that his generation desperately needed?  Not good enough.  We also require him to be the role model for solving any type of conflict that might ever turn up, or else he’s no good to us.  Into the box you go, little George.  You don’t impress us anymore.

Where else do we see this same lazy, self-absorbed analysis of history?  In the sour voices that grumble over John Paul II’s beatification.   He may have been good, they say, but oh, he was not great.  Oh, sure, he was very charismatic and all.  He clearly prayed a lot, and that’s commendable.  But what a hash he made of the Church!  It’s all his fault!  He’s the one who wrote all those lame hymns, he’s the one who offered free butch haircuts to nuns, if you’ll recall.  And who can forget those Woodstock-style World Youth Day rallies, where he encouraged the youth to hold hands during the Our Father?  Never mind that the number of Catholics worldwide grew from 700 million to 1.2 billion while he was Pope — the guy was a squish, a pushover, a washout.

Listen to me.  God sends certain men to achieve certain great deeds while they live.  They are not responsible for what future generations may require:  that is up to the heroes born of those generations.  Great men are great because they do what needs to be done at the time.  They put their own desires and frailties aside, and they make the world new with their particular strengths, their particular form of brilliance.  Heck, that’s what Martin Luther King Jr. did.  A holy man?  No.  He was a serial adulterer.  And Washington owned slaves, and John Paul II allowed the monster Maciel to flourish.

But they were great men.  They took their personal, God-given talents and turned them into something immense — something that made the world better.

It’s not just that we should forgive the wrong they did because they did so much good (although that is also true).  No.  I’m saying that these men were good in the way that they were designed to be good, great according to their own natures.  George Washington’s great strength wasn’t as an abolitionist, you know?  John Paul II’s great strength wasn’t as a disciplinarian.  It wasn’t his calling.

Do we criticize Fra Angelico for not figuring out how to split the atom?  Or do we sneer at Herman Melville because he couldn’t outrun Carl Lewis?  I mean, what do we want from these guys?  And can’t we even imagine that whatever  heroes we admire today may someday be judged harshly by our great great grandchildren — and wouldn’t that seem unfair?  Men are men, and they live when they live.   Who is good enough for us?  Who can escape our endlessly dissatisfied dissection?

There was only one perfect Man.   The other great men of the world — Washington, King, John Paul II, and any hero you can name — are only mirrors, who catch and show to us a little bit of His radiant light.  The world is dark enough already.  Let’s not become so enlightened that we spend our time setting up boxes around the brilliance of great men.

 

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This post originally ran in 2011.