Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all.

A picture of a moving walkway at an airport

We know that lynch mobs are unreasonable. Two grown men coming together to beat and kill a black 14 year old boy because they think that he whistled at a white woman. That is unreasonable.

If you look at the actions in the Tamir Rice case, they all seem so reasonable especially when the situation is uncertain. You see a kid playing with something that looks like a gun, it might be a toy. You are uncertain, but it’s reasonable to call the police just in case. You’re a policeman responding to reports of someone with a gun in a public park. You are uncertain about whether this person poses a threat, but it’s reasonable to think that he might. You are on the grand jury, and you’re uncertain about what role race played in this shooting, and what the police officer perceived. So you come back with a judgement that the policeman acted reasonably.

Beverly Tatum, in her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria: and other conversations about race uses the metaphor of a moving walkway at an airport to describe the way racism (and other systemic problems work). If you are on a moving walkway, you can choose to walk forward, or you can choose to stand still, whichever of those choices you make, you end up moving in the same direction, and ending up at the same place. In the same way, racism and other systemic sins are self-sustaining, and you can chose to be overtly prejudiced, or you can choose not to be. In either case, the systemic part of “systemic sin” means that our perfectly reasonable choices bring us to the same place as the unreasonable choice of bigotry. With dead children, and no culpability.

The only choice, if you don’t want to go where the moving walkway of racism is taking you, is to turn around and walk backwards. To be a little unreasonable about racism, to be anti-racist. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech he made in 1963 had a specific word he used for this type of unreasonableness, ”

In case you can’t hear the speech above, here’s the relevant excerpt from its transcript

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

I don’t know what it looks like in your context, but my hope for you is that you will also be maladjusted to these things. Maladjusted enough that you will choose not to simply be satisfied with the reasonable.

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