May 29, 2017KR BlogCurrent EventsEthics

On Race and Recent Events


Some guys on the football team took one of their teammates—I’ll say his name was Ned—out to the field, got some medical tape out of the locker room, and taped him down. You’ve probably seen those low fences made of thick cable running through metal posts—they sat Ned on the ground and taped his arms, crucifixion style, to the cable. I don’t know what else they did to him that night, but I doubt any of it was pleasant.

This happened back in high school. It was reported to me by some of my cross country teammates. I’ve never known what Ned did to prompt this, if he did anything at all beyond being African American in southern Indiana. I’ve never heard of anything remotely like this happening in my hometown to a white person.

Several years later, as I was looking through a friend’s yearbook (I was sufficiently disaffected in high school never to buy a yearbook), I found, in a collage of photographs on the final page, a picture of Ned from that night years before, sitting on the ground, arms taped to the fence, tears in his eyes. I remember him as a really tough young man, among the toughest I’ve ever known, and I imagine that making him cry was quite a feat. For whatever reason, someone thought it fitting to memorialize this occasion in the yearbook.

I wasn’t there that night, had nothing directly to do with what happened to Ned, but as I recall, even then I couldn’t escape the sense, however vaguely felt, that I might have something indirectly to do with what happened. This has nothing to do with white guilt—at least, I hope it doesn’t because white guilt is boring and hardly relevant to the issues at hand. I think what this is about is responsibility to the world in which we live, a recognition of our interconnections, which are powerful, subtle, and often difficult to trace. It’s about attempting never to forget the kinds of complicities I’m ushered into simply by being white and male in a society that denigrates “others,” and continuing to work for the true liberation of all peoples.

Obviously, that story about Ned has stuck with me; I’ve tried to write about it before without finding a workable way of doing so. If nothing else I try to use this memory as motivation to continue asking myself what I can do to keep working toward a more just and loving world. I live in Portland, Oregon, where a man spewing racial slurs recently stabbed three people (two of whom died) when they tried to intervene in the man’s abuse of two young women; so I guess I hardly need to say that recent events out here have prompted my current reflections. Last night at Mass we were talking about these stabbings in light of the scripture readings, which reminded us in part how confused and scared the disciples were after their leader, teacher, and friend died a humiliating death by crucifixion. Of course, I don’t know what was going through their minds, but I can imagine they were longing for greater clarity about what to do. It seems to me, however, that clarity seldom arrives. I know that there have been times in my life when I’ve made myself sick by my demand for clarity. Sometimes what we have to do is trust and keep on working.