Ferguson, Action, and Emotions

In Candid Christianity: The Blog by Antwuan Malone

What if racism’s not the real issue with Ferguson?

Every so often the scab of racism is peeled off society to reveal the ugly sore hiding underneath. If you’ve had a conversation with me, you know that I strongly believe that classism is the new racism. In all honesty, I think that applies even here in this situation. Mike Brown, had he been a well off, affluent black kid would in no way have been considered dangerous. Or, he would not have been a target some bigot could shoot and think he’d get away with it.

But Mike Brown was not affluent. He was of a lower class. And the desperation present in the lower class lends itself to a certain unpredictability that produces fear.

As I sit here trying to make sense of what I”m seeing, I’m left with this idea. Poverty kills.

Poverty breeds a desperation culture that strains any society trying to move forward. The real culprit is not white people, or even cops. It’s the cycle of poverty.

Poverty produces desperation. Desperation produces unpredictability. And unpredictability, fear. Fear leads to “fight or flight.” And fight leads to loss.

MORE HARM THAN GOOD

I hate saying it, but if the reasoning holds, then the rioting and pillaging happening in Ferguson only serve to increase the fight in the fearful. Give me enough time and I could argue that chaos and unpredictability is what produced the shooting of Mike Brown in the first place. The actions of the radicals in Ferguson appear to have no order. No strategy. Only an indulgent binge on the emotional deliciousness that is anger. A binge that is highly contagious in an emotional greenhouse like the scene at Ferguson creates.

Listen, I’m not an emotional person. But I do feel emotions have a place. Passion drives all of us.

I am, however, wondering just how we think pure emotional indulgence moves us forward. History teaches that peaceful public demonstrations do create positive movement. Dr. Martin Luther King showed us that focused emotional energy and restraint can be a vehicle for change. His non-violence decree presented a strategic boundary for emotional firestorms. We didn’t have to destroy, loot and engage violently with our oppressors in order to make our points. An overly aggressive approach was a foolish approach, if for no other reason than that the fact that they had more fire power (or hoses, dogs, etc…) than we did. “They” still have more firepower today. Picking a fight is not the best move.

What we are hoping, perhaps, to do in these moments is to tap into some sense of honor and decency in those who we oppose. We are looking to demonstrate the seriousness of the injustices, and to communicate the importance and significance of whatever we are championing to the powers that be. In other words, we’re not picking fights, really. We’re trying to make a point. We’re saying, “This needs to change. And you know it does!” But the message is lost in the method. Reason often goes out the window when fear is overwhelming. So then, the challenge of our community leaders is to meaningful, impactful ways to deliver our message so that it is actually, with a bold exclamation point. Right now, fear plugs the ears of those in power to really make a difference.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

The first step to making a lasting difference is to properly diagnose the problem. The scene in Ferguson is about racism, but only as a byproduct to classism. The root here is the poverty culture present in so many towns in America. The poverty culture requires an all hands on deck approach to making a difference. It requires the impoverished to take responsibility for their own lives and well-being (not look for handouts) and it requires a balance to the inborn advantages of the rich high-class.

I’m not a politician. And I don’t mean politicize this event. But somewhere along the line, America’s got to do something about the poverty culture that creates so much mayhem in our communities. As long as the system turns a blind eye to the disproportionate amount of opportunities that exist between the rich and the poor, I fear we’ll always live in the cycle of desperation-fear-fight-loss. And we’ll continue to see the sames situations play themselves out over and over again.

The “Fergusons” of the world are all ticking time bombs waiting to explode. Let’s not waste our energies fighting symptoms and let’s find a way to deal with the root issue. Classism is the issue of our time, not racism. The sooner we recognize this, the closer we get to the next level of social change.

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.