Wishful Thinking: If Only We Could Take a Time Out To Think Things Through

By Tom Gilson Published on June 5, 2020

One of the best things that’s happened lately to the American economy has been the Wall Street “circuit breaker.” It’s a literal switch that stops all trading at the first sign of panic. The idea is to put a short halt to automatic market processes, and allow time for human wisdom to intervene.

I wish we had one of those for society as a whole. We’ve just gone from slow-moving crisis to fast-burning panic. This past week’s protests, riots, and looting are layered over with more complicated factors than perhaps anything our generation has faced before. It would take days just to list them all, much less think them through clearly enough to apply real wisdom, yet we’re racing through them as if we were on automatic ourselves.

I won’t take days, I promise. But here are at least some points we absolutely must be able to think about. If this looks like a long list of bullet points, that’s the point. I challenge anyone to show where even one of them is unimportant.

Protests, Riots, and Looting

  • There are protests, riots, and looting. The three are not the same thing and must not be confused with each other.
  • George Floyd’s murder was undeniably a turning point. But racial anger has been building for a very long time, for very real reasons.
  • For many Americans, blacks who’ve long suffered discrimination, dehumanization, and misunderstanding, these (non-violent) protests are a sign that the injustices they’ve suffered are finally getting a hearing.
  • For many others, mostly whites, the protests signify reason to fear. They see risk of violence breaking out. They may fear being dehumanized and misunderstood themselves. And some simply fear change.
  • Still others see the protests as nothing but signs of irresponsibility or entitlement. See my third bullet point above, however. Note also, though, that “getting a hearing” still isn’t enough to solve the underlying problem.
  • For all of us, these events overlap with America’s most unsettling, frightening, disruptive crisis since at least World War II. We were already hot-wired for trouble.

For recognizing there are multiple sides to this issue, I will undoubtedly be charged by some conservatives as going liberal, caving in to the “woke” crowd. It’s happened to me more than once. Progressives will accuse me of being beholden to my conservative roots. So be it. I stand my ground with preferring to seek thorough, three-dimensional understanding. And I stand especially with wanting to treat all my fellow human beings as fellow human beings, as Christ would have us do.

Unclear Objectives — At Best

  • When Martin Luther King, Jr., marched, he marched for specific legal change, as steps along a journey toward a just society. The current protests have little to no defined end or goal in sight.
  • Some protestors do have specific goals in mind, but not wise, helpful, or good ones: They’re advocating for permanent subjugation — by shaming, if nothing else — of white Americans.
  • This goal of subjugation has long been fed by progressives co-opting the race issue for political gain.
  • Too many whites make a grim mistake of thinking that’s all this is about. Racial discrimination is still real, however. It’s disgusting, disturbing, and dehumanizing to those who experience it, so the level of anger should be no surprise to anyone.
  • It seems likely that political motives can explain some progressive leaders’ silence toward the rioting and looting.
  • Meanwhile it’s not as clear as it should be that our president is making the vital distinction between protests and rioting or looting.
  • Some portion of the looting and destruction has been credibly linked to organized crime. Far from being part of the protests, it’s actually hurting African Americans in multiple ways. Some are obviously being harmed in their persons, their property and livelihoods. But it’s also badly distorting the most important message they need to get across.

Race Relations

  • Black Americans consistently tell white Americans we “don’t get it.” If we think we do, that’s just proof how much we don’t. Having listened to enough of them explain why they say so, I’m convinced they are exactly right, and that this contributes understandably to their frustration.
  • Yet a whole lot of white Americans are also tired of being told we’re “racist” when we’re doing our level best not to be. Seriously. If it’s so extremely hard for whites not to display at least some racism — as Black Americans say it is — why can’t we get some credit for at least attempting to do this hard thing?
  • With so little credit granted for trying, some white Americans are giving up in anger and choosing racism intentionally.
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  • Many African Americans say they wish white Americans would just listen, for starters at least. Unfortunately, not enough whites are doing that.
  • Unfortunately also, too many blacks want something other than that for a first step. They’re looking for shaming, reparations going back to times of slavery, and other impossible or unhelpful outcomes.
  • Distorted code language infects the whole process. “Racial justice,” for example, should be a category of justice, period, and as such, every person of good will should desire it. But it’s been wrapped in “woke” language that associates it with the same shaming, reparations, and so on. Meanwhile real justice gets left in the dirt, including real justice for minorities.
  • Race relations have increasingly departed away from the gospel’s approach of dealing in guilt, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and toward a worldly approach dealing in shame, “canceling,” putdowns, and revenge. This is hardly surprising in a world that’s gradually forgetting the gospel.

Time to Think It Through?

That’s enough for now. Even a list that long, though, hardly begins to tell the story. There are at least four sides to it: Black, white, political, criminal, and more. But no, it’s worse: There are at least four sides to each of the four sides. And out of all that, what’s most visible to most Americans right now? The smashing and looting. How much good is that doing for race relations or racial justice?

You may ask how much good would a time out, or a circuit breaker do us now, when this has already been going on for decades. Am I calling for one more useless delay? No, not really. This is wishful thinking, remember. If I’m calling for any kind of delay, it’s the kind where we really grapple with all this, and push for real answers. Without any looting and violence going on to confuse us, by the way. (I faulted Barack Obama this week for taking the slow approach, but that’s because he needs to say the right things right now to help slow down the rioting that’s been confusing the process so badly.)

Wishful thinking. Doesn’t do much good, does it? Maybe not much — but maybe a little. I’d settle for this much: Let’s recognize there are real people living on every side of this incredibly difficult matter. Each one is fully human. Each one deserves a hearing. (The looters and burners deserve a very special type of hearing — in a courtroom, that is — but that’s another matter.) Let’s not assume we understand more than we do. Let’s be willing to take time to listen and learn.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.

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