Friday, August 6, 2010

Omar Thornton, race and America

In our current political landscape, the boisterous nature of the Tea Party movement boils over from hostility and displaced sense of identity I wrote about in an earlier blog on The Fire Next Time; the identity crisis is caused by the election of an African American man to the presidency of the United States, a nation that many believe is their white nation (“We want our country back”), to have and hold the final authority in as they please.

Taunts, threats, and name-calling that President Obama has been subjected to from Tea Party members and their conservative media leaders are evidence of more than frustration with the nation’s deficit, else the men and women of the overwhelmingly white Tea Party would have taken to the streets under the former president as vehemently as they do today.

As much as he may want to, President Obama cannot temper these vitriolic eruptions by sitting down with Glenn Beck ("This guy, I believe, is racist") or Joe Wilson (“You lie!”) to have a beer and smooth things over. The situation is really beyond that cordial scene of armchair diplomacy.

That was made clear this week when the latest incident of racial unrest blew up, ironically, at a beer distribution company in Manchester, Connecticut. On Tuesday, August 2, 34 year-old truck driver Omar Thornton called 9-1-1 to explain why he had shot numerous employees that morning at the Hartford beer and wine distribution company where he had just resigned after being exposed for stealing.

In the 9-1-1 call, released by the CT state police yesterday, August 5, Thornton said the Hartford beer distributor was a racist company and that people had treated him badly since the time he began to work there.

Company and union officials said only that there was no record of complaint regarding racial harassment, a far cry from saying no harassment took place. Statements by some of the family members of those killed have indicated that racial allegations Thornton and his family made were disappointing.

That unattended tensions in the workplace resulted in a loss of eight lives is tragic; the trauma to those injured by gunshots and scared by violence in their workplace is also serious and regrettable. Our nation too is injured by this latest blow to an open wound of racial divide, festering from four centuries of anger, resentments, demeaning behavior, mistreatment and denial.

Omar Thornton was injured by the racial harassment he said that he suffered at the Hartford beer distributor company before taking his deadly actions this week. Yet, the particular racial trouble Omar contended with in his workplace, until he reached a breaking point, are the chronic racial problems of this nation, writ large.

If these problems will be resolved, it will not be because there is no documentation of them, nor because someone takes care of business with violence. No, racial reconciliation will cost those of us who remain after these violent episodes, not our lives but something people are sometimes willing to die for, and that is our pride.

Racial reconciliation will require payment due in the form of humility one to the other, in the form of grace, mercy and forgiveness, in the form of love—agape love. That’s the only way out of the racial mire, to give preeminence in our interracial relationships to a standard of behavior greater than our human emotions and instincts.

If America is to be that “city set on a hill” that truly leads the world to aspire to its greatest potential, then Americans will have to lead by being the example. Racial reconciliation would be the costliest social agenda pursued before or since those of President Johnson's Great Society. Presently, America would seem to face a deficit of these divine qualities that is more costly than any budget shortfall this country has ever known.

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