Staying With This Cry
In front of the "buzzwords," the true temptation presents itself: remaining "above it all."
Following the death of George Floyd and the widespread protests around the country, I was invited to take a day off in support of the protests. We were asked to use this past Wednesday as a day of “strike” (actually paid vacation) to “engage in reflection, educate with antiracism resources, and take action.” As a manager, after checking with my director, I invited my team to consider the opportunity and I myself joined the initiative.
During the day, I first managed to do some urgent work, but at some point, I started checking the extensive educational material that had been posted on the recommended web sites. Browsing through the long list of online articles and resources, it started to come back to me, that old inner conflict between my total, unequivocal sympathy and solidarity with the oppressed minority, my profound hatred of racism and violence, and the uneasiness with the buzzwords dropped here and there (diversity, identity, gender. . . and the most horrible, “latinx”) that smell from a hundred miles off of a culture with which I am not entirely sympathetic.
So, as I was reading, my attention drifted. Rather than learning (and there is quite a lot to learn!), my main concern became navigating through those words, approving this and disapproving that, nodding here and rolling my eyes there. It was as if my goal were to find that magic point of balance, of equidistance, where I as a Christian could stand high above the ground dotted by the errors of the others. I was thinking a bit like this: “I cannot be with side A, but neither with side B, for all these good reasons, so I must be ...somewhere else.”
Then, taking a break, it came back to mind when in the mid ’70s in Italy the Red Brigades were at the apex of their criminal enterprise. At a certain point, the Communist Party had to drop any sort of even implicit sympathy for the terrorist group, and they came up with a chilling slogan: “Neither with the State, nor the Red Brigades.” An equidistant, superior middle point. I remember how those words, in front of the evil what was daily in front of us, sounded nauseating and cowardly.
Is this what I was looking for in front of reality? A position of cultural superiority, a higher moral stand "somewhere else"?
I wondered what would happen after I found that magic middle point. Would I still have some blood left in my veins, having nailed down the right judgment, the right discourse? Would my life be more meaningful if my posts on Facebook were the smartest ones, and I had checkmated everybody else?
It seems to me that here, in the safety of my nice home, nihilism might become a concrete possibility because of my distraction. But not distraction from “Christianity” as the right theoretical set of values and judgments, but distraction from myself, from the cry that the scenes that I have seen provoked in me, distraction from being finally upset, from the embrace full of friendship and charity I can give to those around me who struggle to give sense to all of this, even if sometimes they use the wrong words.