The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
What is an act of racism and how do we stop it?
Howard Thurman, a Christian mystic and theologian, wrote in his important book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” that people who have been oppressed have to address their experiences of fear, deception and hatred as a part of the process of moving toward living a love ethic.
The racism of his time and what the life of Jesus had to offer suffering people was the context upon which he was reflecting, and his own sense of how he freed himself from some of the impact of racism. He argued that the oppressor and those whom they oppress suffered from a fear of one another and flawed ideas about who each of them is — a feeling of either superiority or inferiority. The racially segregated society that has been created and sustained by racism breeds hatred between the oppressed and the oppressor.
The beating by police officers of Tyre Nichols that lead to his death once again placed before the world a culture of policing and of our society that values violence as a mean to an end. The way those who perpetrated the violence upon Mr. Nichols seem to me reflected that they had internalized the culture of fear, deception and hatred about which Thurman wrote.
The behavior of the police officers toward Mr. Nichols was a racist act that includes but goes beyond our response to others because of our perceived judgment of the color of their skin. Mr. Nichols was Black, as were the police officers who beat him. Their use of force was about power and how to exercise it over another human being. However, to use such power the way they did required those police offices to see Mr. Nichols as less than a human being, objectifying him — as a “thing” to be dealt with. Racist behavior to me includes demeaning another human being by considering them “less than” or “othering” them in such a way that promotes empathic failure and humiliating them.
Thurman urged that a kind of psyche surgery is needed to reveal how the true nature of fear, deception and hatred is lived in the culture, minds and souls of people if their impact is to be diminished. The psychological, spiritual and behavioral results of the conditions that foster a rationalization of hatred, self-hatred and hatred of others is one of the ethical and moral issues that face us as a society, nation and world. Dealing with this culture of violence and coping with its longlasting impact is not just an individual issue.
Not until we address the culture of violence in policing, law enforcement and its many other forms of manifestation in our society will all of us as citizens feel safer. Doing so is an act of nonviolent resistance to violence and can move us closer to learning a meaning of loving one another that is in our mutual best interest.