Before reading this piece, I’d recommend reading Chapter 7 (“Culture”) from Ibram Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist.” Then, if you’re interested, come back here!
Didn’t sleep much. All night helicopters overhead and the sound of sirens. Gunshots reported several blocks east of us, University Ave on fire a few blocks north, the third precinct burning a couple of miles west, and looting to the south of us. The Cities in chaos.
Some reports of burglaries of homes. Residential areas, however, were NOT targeted by protestors or rioters. What you’re seeing on your TV or social media is not indiscriminate chaos. It’s the manifestation of the collective trauma of members of our community, trauma held and passed on and perpetuated through generations (book recs: The Body Keeps the Score and The Conservative Mind).
Rioters and protesters don’t want to hurt us. But they want us to see what they have carried within themselves. They want us to see the effects of America’s original sin, how it lives on. It lives not only in racist malice, but most effectively in the silence of others, acting as both an acquiescence and contribution to it. They want us to see in real life the fires of insecurity, turmoil, and social abandonment that a nation has placed into their hearts (book recs: White Fragility and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria).
This is not a call for them to be better. This is a call for us to be better.
Black people know that this city was not built for them. In fact, this city has displaced black communities for the sake of a highway, constructed in curves to avoid requiring changes to wealthy and white neighborhoods. That’s why I-94 matters. One in eight African Americans living in St. Paul lost their homes for the construction of the highway. The displacement of black people for white convenience is not limited to the nineteenth century. We see it now. (Resource: the racial dot map.)
I think about the historical claim associated with “make America great again.” What America? America of 1789, with men, women, and children, stolen from their countries and enslaved here? America of the 1950s, where my grandparents were banned from movie theaters for being an interracial couple? Or America pre-2020, where a police officer could kneel on the neck of a black man for seven minutes, killing him, and get away with it because it wasn’t filmed?
Yes, I do have concerns about what happens to a community when law can no longer be enforced. But we need to see the existence of two realms of law: one that has applied to persons of color, and one that has applied to white majorities. Rioters have closed the gap in this city for the time being.
Yes, I do have concerns about the effectiveness of rebellion and revolution in bringing about true and lasting social change (book rec: On Revolution). Anarchists are always the worst at setting up governments, and they have tended historically to rule by terror, violence, and intolerance. But I do think there’s time to heal, to reform, and to change. In order to do that, we (“we” meaning me and you, reader, as opposed to the rioters we tend to see as “other” and bearing the brunt of culpability in these situations) have to stop being driven by our passions in these situations, to step away from our impulse reactions, and to all engage in a serious reflection about how the problem does not lie at root with the rioters and the protestors. It lies within our own hearts. Yes, we do each carry the burden of original sin. But America carries the double burden, which requires constant effort to resist: the burden of the apple eaten and the burden of slavery.
If you want to start helping damaged local businesses, go out to University Ave with a broom. I write this with all seriousness. We need to do everything we can to support our local businesses. Also, they can rebuild. They can repair. Merchandise can be replaced through an insurance policy. But human lives cannot be.
But whatever you do, resist the urge to flee. Be safe. But resist the urge to separate yourself from what is happening. Work for change. Start with yourself and those closest to you. It is an immense privilege for you to think about leaving a city because it now has this history of rioting. Think about the black people who live in a country whose constitution was ratified with the compromise of enslavement.
So many disparate thoughts. So many different feelings. It’s ok to have varied and seemingly conflicting thoughts and feelings right now. But don’t waste this moment. This can be a time of conversion for us and our communities. I wish you all well. Stay safe.
“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
Excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America,” 1967 at Stanford University
Some resources, if you’re interested:
Other related writings:
- A Conservative Consideration of #BlackLivesMatter
- Why objections to defunding the police are racist
- Your Kids will Aid Bullies
- Catholic Misrepresentation of Pope Francis Today Shows the Subtle Silencing of Black Voices
- If you blame protestors, you likely would have blamed George Floyd
- Why I Left the Law Firm Life: A Letter to My Former Boss
- Last Night Was Different: More on the Fires in my Cities
- My Racist Exchange Today
- Do I Support Looting
- Reflections on a Second Night of Fires
- Trauma and Setting Fires
- More of my writings on race here
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.