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Robert Azzi: Trust in the children

For the Monitor
Published: 8/1/2021 8:00:11 AM

In 1706, the congregation of North Church in Boston gifted their minister, Cotton Mather, an enslaved African man whom he named Onesimus.

In 1845, in Augusta, Georgia, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was created by anti-abolitionist pastors who interpreted scripture as supporting slavery and who counseled the enslaved to accept their fate and obey their masters.

So rooted in southern apologetics that it was not until 2016, a year after the Charleston church shooting and four years after the SBC had elected their first African-American president, that the church felt compelled to call upon its flock to stop flying the Confederate flag.

In 1915, Methodist preacher William Joseph Simmons, with fellow racists, built an altar on Stone Mountain in Georgia, laid an American flag, sword and Bible upon it, set fire to a cross and swore an oath of allegiance to the “Invisible Empire.” Limiting membership to white Christians, Simmons’ revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses to signify “the Light of Christ,” by the 1920s had over 5,000,000 adherents, including in the pews and pulpits of thousands of Christian churches.

In 2021, I evoke those dark moments along with others like the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, MLK’s assassination, Dylann Roof’s murder of worshippers in Charleston, Charlottesville’s rioters who chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” the massacre of worshippers at Pittsburg’s Tree of Life Synagogue, because I recently read an opinion which argued that if Critical Race Theory (CRT) is to be taught in schools then the role of Christianity should also be discussed. “… to understand that it was people of great faith that also helped lead this great country to abolish slavery.”

I agree. Children should indeed be taught that while many abolitionists rose from their pews to oppose enslavement of human beings many other people of faith used, and many continue to use, as witnessed in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, scripture to support the sins of white racism, white supremacy and white privilege.

I agree. I believe, as German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a founding member of the Confessing Church who was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp believed, that “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”

I believe it is immoral to teach children that white is a race separate and superior to others. Teach them instead that we know, at least those of us who believe in science know, that all humans while perhaps differing in melanin share 99.9% of DNA with each other.

That we are, indeed, one people created equal.

One people despite America’s settler-colonialist origins, despite foreigners, many fleeing oppression, who came to what is today called America. Foreigners who overpowered the original inhabitants, engaged in genocide and trafficking in humans, and treated the Indigenous peoples they conquered as being lesser beings than they.

Then as conquerors they created a narrative to convince themselves that not only do they have righteous claims to lands they stole but that their descendants have inalienable rights to not only keep what was pillaged but to remain in control of those ill-gotten treasures.

“Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote. “Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture, but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

And what’s immoral today is that the heirs to the legacy of settler/colonialism are having tantrums about perceived threats that they believe could de-legitimize their origin myths.

Perceived threats to dominance like the Civil Rights Act, like voting rights, fair housing rights, education right, despite even a national MLK holiday, all were perceived to be threats before their adoption.

Today, the perceived threat to white supremacy is believed to be Critical Race Theory.

Today, what’s important to critics of CRT is not what it really is, it’s important only that they believe what others tell them it means, and what they’re being told is that unless they defeat this anti-American chimera, Jews, Muslims, people of color, feminists, vegans, cyclists, LGBTQIA+ peoples and others, allied with Marxists, Commies, Anarchists, will take over their white country.

CRT is an academic framework that scholars use to try to understand how institutional systems — legal, political, educational — perpetuate systemic racism and exclusion in order to sustain authority and class structure.

In opposition, those who identify as “white,” wishing to protect the privileges they automatically obtain by merely being “white,” oppose any critical awareness of how they might’ve come by their privilege or challenges to the perpetuation of that privilege.

They’ve come to believe, with no intellectual foundation, that CRT says that America is an inherently racist and evil country and that white people are inherently racist and evil.

Such beliefs are wrong, vile and inflammatory.

They falsely allege that CRT allows people to be shamed for actions they have not committed. They oppose any form of critical thinking that attempts to identify and confront the roots of persisting fundamental injustices.

Conservative David French wrote in Time critiquing parents who are “afraid children will not love their country unless they are taught that their country is good” argues that we should we should love America the way we love our family, “telling our full story, the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

I agree. We tell that story by trusting that our children, raised in diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities, untethered from the prejudices of their parents, can form a more perfect union — with liberty and justice for all.

Trust in the children.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wor dpress.com and he can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com.)




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