This Intractable Lie

"It’s time to confront the virus that doesn’t live in the body but in the mind."

Wintley Phipps is an internationally-renowned vocal artist, and founder of the U.S. Dream Academy. He previously served as the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s representative to the U.S. Congress. Phipps also pastored several Adventist congregations in the Washington D.C. metro area, and now serves as pastor of the Palm Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church in Florida.

Monday, May 25, 2020, America’s seething cauldron of social turmoil erupted into a rage that has become difficult to suppress. It is a rage for justice and the unmasking of a lie. As a black man I know this: everything you’ve seen on television is only the iceberg’s tip of how that lie has misshapen the day-to-day living of people of color. Many African Americans live every day knowing that their color is a huge target on their backs. Being black can take its toll — ravaging the mind, threatening the psyche, turning homes into bootcamps where children are trained early to war against the lie.

I too have been profiled and detained by the police and even by the FBI. Traveling early in ministry I frequented too many airports. So they detained me and questioned me about my prolific travel habits — just to make sure I wasn’t dealing drugs.

As a father I live every day with the foggy fear that George Floyd’s story could be mine, or my son’s — anyone of the three. Every day comes with a calculus that keeps me from doing things that would be perfectly normal if I weren’t black. The perennial thought is: “reduce the risks that come with your color.” You learn to calibrate your steps by a lie.

Twenty-one years ago my family and I moved into the neighborhood where we now live, a quiet, peaceful, patriotic community. In all those 21 years we have never met or seen another black family with children in our ZIP code. Moved by wisdom, prompted by knowledge of the lie and the need to “reduce my risks,” the first thing I did upon arrival was go over to the police station and introduce myself, in person, to as many of the officers as I could. I was fearful of dying by the lie, afraid that officers would blunder because they saw me going into my own house. You might ask: who does that?

Who moves into a neighborhood determined to meet the police as early as possible? Those are the kinds of calculations you make as a black male trying to be safe in America. Because you know so many in America believe the lie.

The lie is racism, and its evil animus lives deep in America’s soul and psyche. It is a disfiguring trait, a profound moral deficit that many moral, loving citizens both countenance and cherish. This lie is America’s original and enduring sin.

Racism, this profound moral deficit, has given birth to unspeakable horrors and indescribable ugliness: George Floyd’s life slowly, deliberately snuffed out on a Minneapolis street, is only one more of its most recent repulsive proofs.

Through proclamation, legislation, and even a civil war, we have tried to command it away, implore it away, sing it away, even pray it away. Yet the lie remains, a formidable demon, refusing to submit to exorcism.

Racism is a tenet built for tyranny, not for freedom. It is a balm that strives to soothe deep fears of ordinariness and shallowness. It fuels a fake sense of superiority, the very antithesis of the truth that all people are created equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

This intractable lie of a God-given preeminence based on color is the breastmilk many white nationalists imbibe. They have nursed on it since this nation’s infancy; and its toxic nutrients continue to toughen and harden ugly spirits.

Most Americans live with little knowledge of the bleaker annals of our earliest history, the shocking savagery of the Puritans and Pilgrims. And today, because of instant recording and live-casting, everyone has become their own pbs (personal broadcasting service). For the first time in history, the world can witness in real time, via cable tv and Facebook Live, so much more of what is repulsive and vile in the American character. Our children look on in bewilderment, forced to stare, through eyes of innocence, at the blight concealed behind generations of glamorous gates. Ubiquitous recording devices now give inescapable exposure to crimes once familiar and yet invisible.

But now the George Floyds of the world, long stifling under the crushing weight of America’s sins, no longer live and die in tortured anonymity. The scab has been torn off. Our nation must finally come to grips with the fact that, for all its greatness, too many of its people must still walk long trails of tears, weeping for those who never made it home alive because of a lie.

There are reasons the “knee on the neck until domination or death” images have seared their way into our subconscious and hit a nerve. Instinctually, emotionally, collectively, most African Americans recognize those images as an apt representation of the collective systems of oppression and injustice that keep making it difficult for ordinary African Americans to breathe socially, emotionally, economically, and spiritually. With the weight of oppression upon their backs, they cry, “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t make it; I can’t get a break.” The knee on the neck also illustrates the establishment’s response to a people’s cry for help. Instead of comfort and relief, the cries are met with tactics designed to quell and silence resistance to the status quo. The knee on the neck is also a macabre, prescient warning of a future many are resolved they must act swiftly to avoid.

Just when this proud nation has been brought to its knees by a pandemic virus, it must also confront simultaneously, another invisible virus; one that lives not in the body, but in the mind.

Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” That tells me that we must all act and do, speak and live against the lie for our own sake and our nation’s sake.

We must find ways of loving the nation while hating its sins. And we must turn to each other, not on each other, ever aware, there is a judgment coming for everyone who “loveth and maketh a lie.”

To combat this doomed invention, we need a transformative vision and visionary leadership in America; leadership that is cleareyed on this truth: that racism is a lie, an intractable lie that must be uprooted, an idol that must be torn down, a haunted house, built over centuries, that must be dismantled.

To those who feel rejected, belittled, and abused, I say: love is stronger than the lie; and as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” As we grieve together, let us not be afraid to build together and look to each other with love, with humility and civility. Working against the lie, let us lift each other, embrace and affirm the dignity of others; we can build a bright future of truth for our children and leave to our posterity the destiny they deserve, confident Thomas Carlyle was right: “No lie can live forever.”

And Nelson Mandela added, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

This article was written by Wintley Phipps, for Adventist Review, where it originally appeared. It is reprinted here with permission from the publisher.

Image courtesy of Adventist Review.

Further Reading:

"Wintley Phipps Tells His Story" — Interview with Spectrum by Alita Byrd

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10507
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Thank you Wintley for sharing from your heart. Now we understand just one more dimension in the deep silence that is to take place in heaven, while our Saviour returns to bring us all home. God weeps for you and with you. Stay strong. Lo He comes!

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As someone with Jewish heritage and background, I can relate to cultural paranoia and PTSD associated with the past in which any sign of antisemitism could be viewed as “second coming of Adolf or Stalin”. And it’s certainly something I can sympathize with.

On the other hand, I find it deeply ironic that a pastor, who builds the narrative about “the lie of racism” in this particular article, would imply that he is threatened by police and white neighbors.

Could there be any “lie of racism” in “wisdom” that assumes that unless one introduced to police, then one in danger of being shot for no reason at all? And could there be similar “lie of racism” in a concept that cops like Chauvin kill people like Floyd? Could it be because of their incompetence of handling a panicking drugged up person of Floyd’s size as they try to very poorly pin him down until the ambulance arrives?

But it’s only, and only… no other reasons or questions allowed, since we can read their minds and faces so well. It couldn’t be anything other than racism? That’s not a lie? That’s not a misleading narrative that assumes intent before smoke clears?

Thus, there’s a legitimate excuse today as to why black communities can’t get ahead. It’s not because of 77% of babies born to single mothers. It’s not because people in these communities tend to sell their votes in exchange for very incentives that destroy these families and have father divorcing just so they could take advantage of welfare. It’s not because kids who grow up fatherless end up having bottled up anger that results in deep psychological scars.

It’s because of the police killing 17 unarmed black people per year as they try to manage the warzones that these communities become as a result. The very same communities that claim over 2000! of it’s young every year due to gun violence.

And perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all of this is that people who historically overcame unimaginable difficulties of being stolen from their land, bound up in chains and sold on the markets, systematically raped, shot and lynched. People who worked hard just to make sure they buy their spouses and children freedom. People who were bombed into oblivion when they had some comparative success, and people who were spat on when they decided that they will sit in the same classrooms, busses, and play on the same sports teams and use the same restaurants and bathrooms as everyone else. People who were thrown into the front lines as human shields. People, who against enormous odds earned the respect and proven stereotypes wrong, and built successful businesses, and became role models and leaders, and perceviered through all of this nasty s***t. I’m sorry, but there’s no more appropriate word for it.

The grandchildren of these people can’t graduate high school! Not because teachers segregate them, but because they don’t aspire to educational success and would rather not be there at all. Grandchildren of these toughest people can’t stay as fathers and raise their children for better future. The grandchildren of these people have to demolish businesses in their neighborhood because of occasional police incompetence because they decided that that’s the real problem that holds them back, while they kill the most distinguished of their own for a price of a TV or an iPhone.

I am dissapointed because I have seen first hand what such narratives do to such young people. I have seen NBA-grade talent throwing their life away because of the behavioral templates set by their fathers and bothers, which makes being “gangsta” a cool marker, and doing all of the gangsta ****.

I lived with that, and have seen that first hand. And unfortunately that’s the flip side of that lie that no one would like to address when George Floyds die, and people like Terry Crews and likes get eaten alive the moment they open their mouth and discuss responsibility.

And I am deeply disappointed that they have traded SCLC for BLM, and they handed the microphone to guys paradoxically named “Killer Mike”, who exacerbate the very problems with police violent confrontations as they turn around and have the audacity to call for peace when police-related tragedy strikes.

And I find all of that deeply disapointing, because the very first thing I teach my son when he hit 7 is that necessary “toxic masculinity lesson” - Crying doesn’t get you what you want. It may seem insensitive. But it’s the truth that American Slaves learned well, but their grandchildren forgotten as they traded purpose and resilience for an idea that they can’t do anything at all unless white people allow it, and certain political leaders are very happy to feed off sympathy to the victims while making them cry more, and more… Year after year.

I love you, pastor. But teaching false fear isn’t how we get out of this mess. We need more of toughness and resilience. We need more responsibility and more taking charge of your own destiny, much like you did. We need more Christian love and Christian morality and boundaries. We need more confidence for those who are demoralized with false narratives.

And, most importantly, we need more role models like you, and less “role models” like George Floyd, who has my empathy, but has not earned my respect.

So, please , give the same chance to people in these communities instead of giving them reasons why they can’t.

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Whoops! Slow down a little. My own stepmother was Jewish and welcomed marriage to my non-Jewish father since she could hide her Jewish parentage in the South. One cannot hide color. His going to the local police was prophylactic, ensuring that they would not assume he “did not belong” in a white enclave, an experience replicated more often than we realize, when black residents drive through their own neighborhoods late at night, driving a fine car, and are stopped by police who–not knowing they live there–wonder what they are doing there. That would never happen to a Jewish citizen driving through a white enclave, and you know that. Furthermore, while the black community has its own responsibilities for what has been happening to the stability of some of their families, to imply that the power structures of this society have not systematically and cleverly found ways to make black “success” as difficult as possible in our country is to deny salient and painful facts. My white father abandoned my mother with three boys when I was 9 years old, my next sibling 8, and the last only three. Thank God we qualified for welfare and had other family help. But, in my neighborhood (Coney Island), dozens of my white friends ended up in Sing Sing for drug dealing, murder, theft and gang activity. I was rescued by the church which gave me father figures and emotional support, something many black families rely on as well. Poverty was our challenge and whiteness did not help. But I did not have to contend with what my black friends faced, whether in elementary, high school or college. Granted this was many decades ago, but since then I have worked for a foundation trying to help black students in the Anacostia-DC area. As tough as it was for me growing up, what I witnessed these kids facing made my experience a cakewalk by comparison.

Your comments are not wrong so much as incomplete; let me put it that way. Enough said.

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According to a DOJ bulletin “Early antisocial behavior may be the best predictor of later delinquency. Antisocial behaviors generally include various forms of oppositional rule violation and aggression, such as theft, physical fighting, and vandalism. In fact, early aggression appears to be the most significant social behavior characteristic to predict delinquent behavior before age 13. In one study, physical aggression in kindergarten was the best and only pre- dictor of later involvement in property crimes (Haapasalo and Tremblay, 1994; Tremblay et al., 1994). In contrast, prosocial behavior (such as helping, sharing, and cooperation), as rated by teachers, appeared to be a protective factor, specifically for those who have risk factors for committing violent and property crimes before age 13.”

This also has been my experience as a practicing child psychiatrist. The significant risk factors we focus on when evaluating the possible emergence of antisocial behavior and/or chronic criminality are individual factors such as early antisocial behavior, emotional biological factors such high behavioral activation and low behavioral inhibition, poor cognitive development, low intelligence and hyperactivity; family factors such as parenting, maltreatment, family violence, divorce, parental psychopathology, familial antisocial behaviors, teenage parenthood, family structure and large family size; peer factors such as deviant peers and peer rejection; school and community factors such as failure to bond to school, poor academic performance, low academic aspiration, neighborhood disadvantage, disorganized neighborhood, concentration of delinquent peer groups and access to weapons. These are the common factors that increase the chances of anyone, whatever color they may have in their skin, to get into legal trouble. I still have to meet a child who got into legal problems during their adulthood that did not experience or lived through these factors.

Now if these “invisible viruses” were confronted successfully in addition to the race factor, as the song goes, “the world will be a better place for you and for me.”

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Honestly, I don’t believe that “racism” (aka discrimination) is curable. It is certainly one of the most unfortunate maladies affecting humans. It’s a moral tragedy. It’s certainly learned, and I don’t think it can be easily unlearned.

The way racial discrimination happens in the US is sui generis. I lived in another country for my first 40 years in life; we heard about the racism in America, but didn’t quite understand how severe it was. Sure, there was discrimination in Brazil (where I landed at age of 10 months, coming from Europe), but nothing to compare to what happened in America. Then, 30 years ago I moved to the US, and bit by bit I was learning how tragic the problem was, how deeply it was rooted in the culture.

The problem is so severe that not even the Christian faith have been able to neutralize it. There are so many, too many, people who are racists despite of considering themselves Christians. And, for me (just my personal opinion), a racist Christian is a fake Christian. Everyone has to evaluate themselves and check how genuine is their “Christian status.”

Discrimination of women in our Church is also another example of how people can pretend to be spiritually developed while being morally flawed.

I believe that, if the Devil actually exists, he is very astute and is utilizing discrimination to fool the fools, to deceive those who may consider themselves “superior saints.”

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How did you learn about the connection of racism and US culture? What were some of the clues of deeper roots than you thought?

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It is probably more complex than I can understand or explain. It seems that those (many) whites in the US that are racist just try to normalize their sick attitude - and then they behave accordingly.

So, when we watch, on video, a man being killed unjustifiably with three shots by a father & son, and the POTUS says that “we need to know what happened prior to that,” what can we expect from the racists in general? They must feel really proud and vindicated. Maybe even enabled???

It’s the normalization of the abnormal that is deeply rooted in this culture. The reaction of the whites when a tragedy happens is as cold as the reaction of the non-violent Muslims when a Muslim terrorist group carries out a carnage attack, i.e., basically insignificant.

I hope the George Floyd case will change something. Will it?

Well, when a “George” is involved, things may actually start to change and be redirected toward the right direction… :innocent:

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I think we are discussing a different set of issues, and I understand a perspective you are pointing to quite well.

As a little background, I came to the US very young and alone to a Miami suburb called Opa-Locka. At that time in 90s, it was one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the US to live, and it was quite obvious given the number of gun shots one heard in the neighborhood, gas station attendants hiding behind bulletproof glass, and bars and iron fence on any house in the area that could afford it.

I also understand the psycho-social dynamics of violence as a rite of passage to success and dominance in these communities, especially when these became the “underground market” for drug trade, porn production, and prostitution, which was fairly rampant in these neighborhoods.

One of the issues with American culture as it recycled through American media is two-fold:

  1. The first one is the mythos of the “sheriff vs outlaw”, which jumped from demise of Spaghetti Westerns to Italian Mob tales, to CSI telenovela soaps of Cops fighting mostly “criminal black” people as they are consistently portrayed in those narratives, even though some of the cops are black.

  2. The second one is normalization of that mythos of “crime as a rite of passage and symbol of masculinity” in the inner-city black culture.

And, of course, we can’t ignore the third element that ties it all in:

  1. The community leadership groups that in 70s-80s-90s decided to clean it all up by being tough on crime and drug trade, with harsher punishments and more strict policing.

I’m not saying that all of the issues with police brutality are due to #3, but much of these are.

So, one can’t viably abstract the psycho-social dynamics of a person growing up in Opa-Locka, who were growing up chanting the NWA’s “f**k the police” narrative as their youth anthem and structuring the meaning of “success”… not in terms of education and understanding, but rather in blunt power, pimping out their own sisters at times as prostitutes, and general “letting go” of any hope for normality… you can’t abstract that from police who are sent to resolve violent conflicts, and prevent crimes that tend to grow out and source from these neighborhoods that breed such mindset.

Keep in mind that the above isn’t representative of black America as a whole. I know it’s not… but the problem is that by integrating this into “cultural mythos” which gets rationalized because of past racism, it becomes a proverbial fashion that many of these kids adopt, and at times act out as a norm, and almost an expectation of what it really means to be “black”.

So, none of that can be sourced and dissected without reducing these problems to some core issues that need to be dealt with, as opposed to ignore and turn the blind side on these issues, saying that it’s because of “racism”.

On the other hand, because overt and systemic racism have been dealt with at the level of legal requirements, there’s a diminishing necessity for civil right movements which adopt “fighting for justice” to be a de-facto life goal for them and people who they recruit.

That’s why when you look at BLM page, and you read things like… “We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege”, “We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.” (I’ve never heard a black person call someone a comrade), and things like “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children”… these objectives are written for them by someone else.

So, all of this becomes very confusing… especially for the kids growing up in the middle of these dissonant signals that cancel each other at every turn.

So, again, I agree that the view I described is incomplete… but this issue is so complex and multi-dimensional, that I’m not sure that we can approach it apart from trying to target core problems, which IMO begins by pointing out that people are barking at the wrong trees in all of this. Police isn’t the core problem. Even if we take away the racial profiling issues and 250 black people who get shot… it resolves none of the issues above. It arguably exacerbates these issues, because it emboldens the criminal factions in these neighborhoods. And that’s the real tragedy of the current marches. They are not willing to discuss these issues, because any narrative or questions of these kind will land one a “racist” label, which is ever-expanding to encapsulate any and every opposition to certain political agenda these days.

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Thank you. Very insightful. But as I understand the police issue from “the media,” it has more to do with the exponential increase in “policing” in many cities which ate up more and more of budgetary and community priorities. Granted this is unbelievably complex when you isolate all the root causes, and the “racist” label may be used much too loosely, but I have not heard that the march participants won’t discuss the issues you have raised. Is that your experience? If so, very sad.

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Thank you! I noticed the coldness as well. And the word “but”, so many "but"s, so many “but what about-ism.” When we start with ourselves, detecting racist mindsets in oneself hurts at first, and then one can change, small steps at a time, in addition to the big ones on a political level.

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You noticed the same that I did in relation to the utilization of the word but. It’s absurd when people agree to condemn something that is wrong and then use the word but almost as a justification or excuse for the wrongdoing.

It’s outrageous seeing Donald Trump doing this so very often. When he is informed about something that is evidently wrong or lawless, he immediately says “but.” This is why he needs to urgently get a kick in the butt hnd be removed from office. Though I am very concerned that, if he loses the election, he will come up with so many ifs and buts that will trigger a national security crisis. Will it be necessary to remove him from the White House by force? Who knows?

I learned recently that former prisoners (regardless their crime) are not allowed to vote in many US states even years after prison time. I don’t get it, it’s like punishing them twice. That would change pretty soon if white people would be the majority in prison.

And no, moving the POTUS by force is in my POV always wrong in a democratic election, even if you cannot understand why he was elected. Freedom even for those, who think differently. Even if that means you suffer and half of the population with you until the next election. It’s just 2 terms in office.

I said, “if he loses the election.” He will forever say that the election was rigged, and will resist transferring the power to the new democratically elected President. Stay tuned…

Oh, I missed that. Sorry. I am afraid that you could be right. And I am glad about the ocean, the big, big ocean between there and here should this happen.

Haha, I may jump in that big, big ocean and just swim to the other side fast… LOL
We don’t know, nobody knows, how this story is going to end. America is in a decadence trip with this guy, though many Americans are still being fooled by him - and they feel proud and intelligent about it. I don’t know what part of this disgrace they don’t understand, and why.

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I’m not sure that you can make a case in which a police and EMT wouldn’t be a community priority in a growing population of urban dwellers.

I think it’s rather naive to expect the established criminal power elements in these communities would just welcome internal social reforms with arms wide open if policing is reduced. My guess is that the opposite would happen.

No social reforms are possible in communities in which law enforcement isn’t a guarantee.

An eye-opening article by one you would think should not be subject to such profiling. These experiences I read about make a difference in understanding when one tries to be imagine being in their place.

At the same time, I also learned a lot from the comments by Arkdrey and Londis. They both have a grasp of the real problems behind the headlines. So does the child psychiatrist. These are looking at the dilemma from a more factual or “scientific” stance rather than the emotional experiences that are real as well and affect those outside the cultural explanations. Sadly all people of color are stereotyped because of it. This is so unfair and horrifying. On a much smaller scale it was like having a German name during WW 2 or being Japanese.

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