We are responsible for the sins of the present, both the individual sin of prejudice and the social sin of racism. When I saw racism on my campus as a college student, I looked away and stopped attending those parties. This sort of passive resistance is not enough. White people must speak out against these behaviors.
The punitive reactions against a few individuals or an isolated fraternity chapter are no more effective than any other punitive measures taken against scapegoats. They shut the door on something unpleasant, in the process heaping blame on isolated individuals that ought to be borne, or at least processed, collectively.
The president doesn't "love" America? Would that it were true. Would that the president felt a responsibility to the global future and, at the same time, could summon our real past, grieve for its victims and vow with every fiber of his being to atone for our history of slavery and conquest: the "white terrorism" of manifest destiny. Would that the president didn't "love" our myths.
Too many treat greatness not as a responsibility but as an entitlement, an inheritance that was earned for them. They fail to grasp that the struggle for our values is the prize. Take it for granted and it slips away. We will defeat enemies like the Islamic State by learning from our past, not airbrushing it.
Accountability for people of privilege must include breaking out of the safety of our cocoons of privilege and building relationships with people across lines of difference. It must begin with examining our privilege and then figuring out how to use our privilege to address the ongoing forms of injustice that we see.
Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 -- 1968! -- there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the U.S. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks. My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey tracing our roots many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened. Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us.