Martin’s Buffet

While I do not count myself as an active member of any denomination or religious tradition, though raised in the rich tradition of Adventism, I do count myself as a believer in the great Teacher. I am a “Red Letter Christian,”[1] if you will, a disciple who aspires to walk in the footsteps of the man from Samaria, that hero on the road to Jericho. As we witness the events unfolding since the murder of our brother, George Floyd, my conscience will not abide a genteel sip of the holy cup. Rather, I must drink from that noxious dew the “great cloud of witnesses” leaves for nourishment to those who pray for help with unbelief.

These are times filled with the déjà vu of racial and political violence, times where the “sins of fathers” reverberate and cry aloud in these Groundhog Days of injustice. I believe it is important that we reconsider the words of the revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding the "white moderate." Albeit, in our "modem" time, I assert this includes the black moderate, the minority moderate, and the LGBTQ moderate. Those from communities, where systemic injustice is so greatly felt, yet who enjoy, at least from some physical position, comfortability and franchisement.

The moderate, often those of the self-proclaimed faithful, are those who have a “critique for the resistance,” but no “established record of critique of [the] oppression.”[2] Those who gladly partake of the fruit from the table of sister and brotherhood, but ignore the blood and human fertilizer of innocents who nourished and watered the harvest and trees from whence that fruit came. These moderates will not partake of or serve a full meal, but provide a whitewashed fusion buffet of “all you can eat” rationalism. There are no Michelin stars at this buffet. However, you can find the “A+” rubber stamp of respectability, and belonging to the club from yesteryear, that tired, old certification of “taking the higher road to a better path.”[3]

This moderation, this rationalism, that appears at inopportune times, proclaimed by an apparatchik people who rear their heads to sneer at injustice, is akin to the proverbial mote vs. beam in one’s hypocritical eye. Floyd's murder was not rational. His unheard cries for life’s breath on his last day on Earth simply were not rational. To expect then a rational response, a peaceful response, in the face of irrationality comes from a place of moderate comfortability and gain. I would posit that the moderate position obfuscates what is in truth, intellectual laziness. To assume that irrational behavior, predicated in violence, will be met with docility and an unexpressed rage, is a conclusion fomented with the admonishment, "Don't do as I do, do as I say I do."

Is it surprising that those whose humanity we have not dignified would destroy or take for themselves that which American society has consciously chosen as representations of human-ness, franchisement, and dignity, i.e., property and material possessions? Does not a response of "we will hear you” or “we will hear you better” if you do not touch property or take things, give the proverbial finger to those unheard, those crying out when property and possessions were not at stake? Intellectual chicanery permits a buffet service of Dr. King's words. The fractured soul calls for peace when facing the consequence of riot. This is not condoning behavior, but understanding it and, even though it may be uncomfortable, accepting it. As Mama Till cried, "Let the people see."[4] We must stop and see. We must stop and hear. 

I choose to comment on this moderate perspective because, while physical attributes bring me skin to skin next to George Floyd, my lived life is nearer to those that cry for moderation. It is comfortable; I enjoy privileges and an enfranchisement that others who look like me often do not participate in. And while I do partake in certain privileges, it is not lost on me that those who scavenge at the table, who accept my enfranchisement, may do so only because my visage aligns with their fabrication of what it means to be a respectable, worthy Black man.

As I look to the higher calling, of a believer in the teachings of Jesus, I ask myself, how can I be an engaged, proactive peacemaker? How do I balance the anger, pain, and hurt I feel as skin kin to George, with the selfish fears I encounter in my heart about misrepresenting myself as a minority in the places where I partake of privilege and gain? How can I help build the Kingdom of Heaven and concurrently build the streets of gold, so often discussed in the context of unknown futurity? I think it is helpful to remember that a man so engaged with the political movement of his time that he is remembered as Simon the Zealot. He too, Jesus called. James and John, the Sons of Wrath, were also his disciples. Keeping this in mind internally, I try to parlay it into understanding and acceptance of individuals whose means I may disagree with, but whose ends are for Kingdom justice.


Notes & References:


Jamison Howard is a non-practicing lawyer and recent-ish transplant to NYC. He has a J.D. and LL.M. in Rule of Law of Development from Loyola University Chicago. He is a proud alumnus of Union College. #slingadaink

Photo by munshots on Unsplash


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I’m not sure that it’s as much of an effect of the intellectual chicanery, but a “minitus” problem of the system that we have, in which we don’t care to justify philosophical position of “mine” beyond it being an assumption that’s perpetuated as an axiom. That axioms is seldom deconstructed, and the scope of our responsibility as it relates of how we as individuals benefit from broader net of structure, is seldom explained.

Yes, you could say that it’s about cops killing black people like Floyd. But, these killings are arguably rare. What isn’t rare is a context in which these type of encounters exist. Cops, who are middle-class citizens, end up largely enforcing the property rights of their communities in a way that “maintaining order and justice”, which in some isolated settings becomes “order over justice” that MLK was disappointed with. So, it is a problem of “minatus” expressed itself differently on either side of that equation of “what’s mine is mine”.

On one end, there’s a feeling of deserving something because one worked for it and earned it. On the other , there’s a feeling of deserving something because of the idea that it was taken from you… as an opportunity, dignity, etc.

The first important thing to recognize is that either side of that equation understands justice to be two very different concepts, and looks at justice through two different lens. Hence, I’m not really sure that throwing the word “justice” without a clear definition would achieve anything other than what I described above - people talking past each other. One side points to the rules of the game in order to justify winning the game. The other claims that the rules are rigged and unfair, even though one signs to play by these rules.

The second thing to recognize, depending on how one defines justice, is that MLK was both wrong and correct. If we define justice as some existential phenomenon, independent of any human contracts and agreements, and largely stick with some ideals of the “grand narratives”, then both you and MLK have a point. Picking justice over order makes sense. On the other hand, if justice could only be viably defined in a scope of human contracts that are formulated in the societal laws, then we can’t have justice apart from the system in which justice is a mechanism. And you can’t rationalize away the theft and private property damage simply because one feels wronged and sees no other way to make a point.

So, before we get to discuss these issues, I think we need to stop assuming that there’s a default understanding of “justice” apart from subjective “push and pull” mechanism that mitigates some “middle ground” ideals. As you know, most of the cases are settled out of court.

The second point to make, which is a little more complex to address in full here, but it relates with statistical approach of projecting injustice on some scope of disparity as opposed to addressing these issues in specific case-by-case basis in which individuals and not groups are evaluated. After all, one couldn’t be saying that all of the individual cases are accounted for, yet as a whole there’s some “emergent wrong”.

There’s a tendency as of late to consolidate statistics derived from complexity of individual cases, and then re-project it back on individual without any nuances that such statistical models couldn’t communicate.

If you have time to, I would like to hear your perspective on these issues, or anyone’s perceptive for that matter. What does the concept of justice mean to you?


David Hoffman, is a documentary film maker - or was. Every few days or so, he releases footage of old interviews he’s done (on his YT channel), which he believes helps his viewer better understand the past - he’s got some really good stuff too. On June 17th of this year he shared with us this 26 min interview. And the title couldn’t have said it better:

"The Most Intense Heartfelt Description Of Racism I Ever Filmed"

As my subscribers know, I have done thousands of interviews in my life. This interview with journalist, civil rights advocate, lawyer Roger Wilkins was one that I never forgot. I asked him to be straight and honest with me and to speak to his grandchildren in the future, of his experiences. That is exactly what he did, with such intensity and clarity. During this challenging time with the black lives matter movement and police unfairness and the coronavirus pandemic, I thought that I would present Roger’s comments again. I always felt that every student (at any age) should hear Roger to better understand what was experienced by so many Americans during slavery, in the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and, to some extent, today. I want to take the time in this description to thank Roger Wilkins for the effort and energy he put into his responses to my questions.

I will most definitely watch this again.

Roger Wilkins: "And when we get together, they will cease to be ignorant about us, and the scales will fall from their eyes and they will begin to be decent… that’s what I thought, I was pretty naive."

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