Fear in Charlottesville

August 22, 2017

I was at the beach today in Chicago. I laid a scarf that was substituting for a beach towel down and watched the sail boats on Lake Michigan. There was a group of Hispanic and white friends celebrating a birthday together. They debated who would carry the empty box of Goose Island 312s back to the car.  Their music spilled over.

There was a Muslim family taking pictures. Well, I assumed they were Muslim. They were covered from their shoulders down to their ankles. One young woman waded into the lapping waves and motioned her mother to join her in the water. They posed with a young boy who had thick black hair and a smile for days.

A group of young very dark skinned boys was kicking a soccer ball to the left of where I laid my scarf down. They spoke with African accents and when they inched into the water, they splashed the water on their skin and rubbed it in.

I sat on the beach and thought about how beautiful the world and all of its myriad people are and how fortunate I am to live in a country where a scene like this can unfold.

It was good to feel that. Hopefully the beach was as healing for the non-majority lake lovers as it was for me. Like many of you, I felt sick on August 12 after scrolling through line after line about the protests that were happening in Charlottesville. And if I felt sick on Saturday, I can’t imagine what my fellow beach compatriots must have felt. 

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

I mean, I get racism. At least, I understand having racist thoughts and feelings. Every now and then I will do something or assume something based on someone’s race. And on occasion, usually in a snap reaction to something, I will think something racist. I hate that it happens. And when it does, I check myself.  But I’d be lying if I said it never occurred.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Huddling with people who look the same and being scared of people who look different is, regrettably, a pretty human tendency. Crafting narratives that justify fear, segregation, and the subjugation of others is a habit so ingrained in our way of life that we often aren’t aware that it is happening. I am complicit in racism in ways that I can tell you about and in ways I am unaware of. The protesters in Charlottesville want to create a movement out of that complicity. They want to justify this most egregious sin and legitimize the fear they feel.

These men feel threatened. Anyone who doesn’t look exactly like them is in their words, “a threat.” Which means they are afraid. Despite their bravado, fear feeds the insecurity that propels them to strap guns to their legs, guns meant to disguise their weakness as strength.

“Aren’t others afraid?” I hear them ask, lips trembling. “Aren’t other white people sick of being called out on their privilege? Aren’t other white people sick of their history being critiqued? Aren’t other white people incapable of imagining a future where over half of the population in the United States isn’t white? …aren’t you scared, like I am?”

Their fear has sculpted an ideology that sensible people cannot even consider because of its logical inconsistencies and moral repugnancy. In general, the resounding NO that echoed across this great nation in response to these groups was encouraging. But plenty of white people share some of the fears that laid the groundwork for this protest. Alongside the NO was a silent indifference-a reservation-a ‘there are two legitimate sides here’ argument-from too many people.

On the topic of human worth, there is only one side. There is nothing more fundamental than the equal value of all human lives. Fear would add caveats.

Perfect love casts out all fear.

Hatred hands it a torch and tells it to march.

Looking out across this beach, I can’t believe anyone would ever choose the latter.

About the Author
  • Caleb Schut recently moved to Australia with his family. He graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 2016, served as the associate pastor at Grace Chicago Church in Chicago, IL for six years, and currently is an Assistant Pastor at an evangelical church in Sydney. Additionally, Caleb and his wife run a non-profit called Beautiful Response in partnership with leaders in Uganda and Haiti.

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