Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Christian Hope In A World of Injustice

In Minneapolis, protests continue over the police killing of Jamar Clark, an unarmed Black man police claim scuffled with officers but some witnesses claim was handcuffed when shot.

In Cleveland, citizens await the near-certain exoneration of Officer Timothy Loehmann, the murderer of Tamir Rice. Having upheld the principle that police officers are entitled to different grand jury proceedings than ordinary citizens, prosecutor Timothy McGinty's sympathies are clear.

In Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the officer who killed Corey Jones after Jones' car broke down on the highway has been fired. His arrest is far from assured.

In Wilmington, Delaware, there are still few answers for why police shot and killed Jeremy McDole, a wheelchair-bound man in clear distress. The video looks damning. It is not known whether a serious investigation is being conducted.

In Chicago, people are on edge as they prepare for today's release of the video of the shooting of seventeen-year old boy Laquan McDonald. Officer Jesse Van Dyke shot him sixteen times. The city paid out a five million dollar settlement as part of its efforts to keep the video under wraps. Now a judge has ordered the city to release the video. In a remarkable "coincidence", Van Dyke will reportedly be charged with first degree murder today.

I'll stop there.

What are we supposed to do with this information? I'm not sure.

I've been thinking about the popular American notion of "the rule of law." We've all heard this. America is a nation of laws, we're told. We're governed not by the whims of people but by the dictates of law. This ideal is important, and it has made a material difference in the lives of millions of Americans. It has given us a standard to which we can appeal. It is also, in a more basic sense, an obvious fiction. From the founding of the country on stolen land and labor to Prosecutor McGinty's depraved behavior, we've operated by the dictates of cold and cruel power.

And it's worse than that. For injustice often comes not through flouting the law, but enforcing it. What are we to do when the law is not designed to do justice?  Prosecutor McGinty is not doing anything illegal. Nor did officer Loehmann when he shot Tamir, our legal system will soon declare. What are Black Americans to do when the law has never, and does not now, contain the protections necessary for full citizenship in a racist society?

One of the oddest characteristics of much American Christianity is that we don't think of our country as a place where oppression occurs in any serious way. We read in the Bible about oppression and injustice but we don't make the obvious connection. This is in part because so many American Christians are nationalists at heart. Nationalism is not a Christian value, but many have made it an integral part of their faith, bolstered by the false and offensive myth that this country is or ever was a Christian nation. Our failure to apply Christian notions of oppression to an American context also has a lot to do with our Whiteness. But many Christians are so invested in it they don't even know it's important to them. They just think it's "Christianity."

I've been thinking a lot about Tamir. We already know how this is going to go. The grand jury will decline to recommend charges. If by some miracle they do favor a lesser charge, he will not be convicted at trial. This is not fatalism. Remember, America is a place of oppression. I've been wondering what Tamir might have been thinking as he bled out on the ground. Did he wonder why no one was helping him? Was he conscious of his sister's screams as the officers tacked and handcuffed her? Was he hoping he would see his mom again?

And I've been thinking a lot about my childhood. To put it more precisely, I've been thinking not only about Tamir's murder, but about the likelihood that it was always going to be him and not me.

Tamir had a toy gun. The orange tip was off. From a distance, it looked real. I've been thinking about the toy gun my brother had. It shot little plastic BBs. It didn't have an orange tip in the first place. It was all black. Sleek. Looked like the real thing.

Tamir seemed to point his toy gun at some passersby.  I've been thinking about all the times my brothers and I must have pointed that gun at each other even though we were told not to. It was so cool. Looked so real. It was a fun game to play.

A man called the police about Tamir, but noted that the gun was probably fake. Tamir was in a public park across the street from his house. It was his front yard. I've been thinking about all the crazy stuff we did in our "public park," our expansive yard in rural Western Maryland. There was no one there to see us. No one called 911.

It's not hard to understand why Tamir, a Black boy, played with his toy gun in a public park in a decaying rust belt city with an oppressive police force while I, a White boy, played with mine in a bucolic rural setting where police were unknown. But people don't want to understand.

I know many people will seek to justify Tamir's murder, or at least soften the blow by noting, like the experts' reports, that the shooting was "lawful." As if what is legal has a good track record in American history. For Christians, such reasoning is an abdication of our responsibility. This is another oddity of American Christianity: many of us think we can have conventional White American opinions about racial issues and be faithful to Christ at the same time. We're deluding ourselves.

I've also been thinking back to the day a jury acquitted George Zimmerman. I remember how people defended him. Some of us, a little less entranced by racist tropes and pro-gun mania, had always regarded Zimmerman's poor character with relative certainty, a judgment that has been borne out in his subsequent behavior. Though I had not expected a conviction, the weight of the acquittal hit me with unexpected force. And I remember it very well, because I had what I guess I would describe as a nearly mystical experience. I did not feel self-righteous, looking down my nose in anger at the jury members or the people defending Zimmerman. I just felt an incredible sense of grief, a grief that encompassed not only everything outside me but everything within me as well. In other words, I lamented my own injustice. Yet at the same time, I felt a bizarre sense of closeness to God, as though the sadness I felt was a taste of what he feels in every moment. It was as though God himself pulled up a chair and said, "Here, Jesse, let me show you something."

I know this all sounds incredibly odd to those of you who have different beliefs. But there it is. And it brings me to what I suppose is my final point: Christian hope. What are we to do with the injustices above? One popular answer, masquerading as the Christian answer, is to emphasize the positive. Keep a good attitude! Stay positive! Look at that police officer hugging that cute child! That's often little more than an attempt to change the subject. Christian hope is something else. It allows us to face injustice without looking away. It allows us to fight it without despairing. And it allows us, as I knew for at least one night in my life, to stand against injustice without believing we're really any better than the evil we face.

There's a psalm that says, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." That's not an opiate. That's strength to stay in the fight. Because we will see his goodness one day. American lawlessness will not have the last word. No American court will give the last word on the value of Tamir's life. 

Christian hope is the understanding that there is a place for the wrath of God, however archaic that concept sounds in our culture. We can fight injustice without giving in to vengeance and violence because we know that God will repay. I know this sounds naive to many who have different beliefs, and even to many Christians it is just an abstraction. But ask some Black Christians about it. They tend to know more than we do about Christian hope. 

The 59th chapter of Isaiah's prophecy presents an image of Yahweh as a warrior-God preparing for battle against injustice. I've shared it many times in the past few years, but it's worth sharing again.

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
    so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
    and retribution to his foes;
    he will repay the islands their due.
From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,
    and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
    that the breath of the Lord drives along.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Don't Be A Clueless White Person

Before those of us who are White form any opinions about racial matters, it is useful to be aware of our majority status and our racial isolation. All of us are in the majority, and most of us are isolated, which is to say we spend most of our time in largely White contexts. Combining majority status with racial isolation is a recipe for ignorance and lack of empathy. The best solution is to simply change the very structures of our life so that we are less isolated. But many of us do not have the opportunity to do that in a substantial way. The good news is that there is a shortcut that should help us at least a little bit. So, I have a list of questions below to help us think about what it actually means to be a racial majority. If you're White, have opinions about race, but have not seriously meditated on these questions and others like them, you're in dangerous waters.

How often have you been the only White person in a room? How did you feel? Do you believe this affected your behavior or the behavior of others? (The latter two questions can be asked of each of the questions below).

How often have you been the only White person in a classroom?

How often have you been the only White person on your dorm floor?

How often have you received an important grade from a professor of a different race?

How often have you been the only White person in a place of worship?

How often have you received religious instruction from a person of a different race?

How often have you been the only White person in the room during a job interview?

How often have you received an employment evaluation from a supervisor of a different race?

How often has your loan application been decided by a person of a different race?

How often have you rented an apartment from a person of a different race?

How often have you sent your children to a school where most students were of a different race?

How often does the color of your skin make you stand out in your own neighborhood?

How often have most of the police officers in your town been of a different race?

How often have you been the only White person in a store?

How often have you been the only White person on a sports team?

You can think of your own questions too. Obviously, the point here is to think about what it's like to be a racial minority. But we're not done! Indeed, I haven't yet mentioned the most important part of this exercise. Consider this: even if you, as a White individual, leave your White world and answer "lots of times!" to all these questions, your experience will still be distinct from people of color. You'll still be living in a society where power operates along a racial hierarchy and stereotypes run in specific directions. Let me show you what I mean.

Alicia and I have been in many situations where our race really stood out. It can be uncomfortable. It can change the way others treat you. It can even change very concrete outcomes like employment and housing. But here's the thing: for Alicia and I, the stereotypes and assumptions are almost universally positive. People have assumed I am more competent than I am. They've assumed I'm wealthier than I am. They've assumed I'm not a criminal even when I matched the description! They've treated me with extra deference. All because of my race. Heck, our race appears to have been a factor in allowing us to secure our current house on favorable terms. For people of color, these assumptions work in exactly the opposite direction. They're alone in the room (literally or metaphorically) and instead of the positive stereotypes that have worked in my favor, they are often assumed to be less competent, poorer, criminal.

So don't be a clueless White person! Think about this. We shouldn't feel ashamed to admit that we are isolated and ignorant. Instead, we should be a lot more embarrassed to have opinions about things we haven't actually thought about.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Colorblind Racism

Last night at the University of Missouri someone vandalized the Black Culture Center sign, spray-painting over the word Black.
It's important to think about the nature of this vandalism. There are no epithets or crude expressions here. Instead, there is simply negation of identity. This is vandalism motivated by colorblindness.

For many of us, "colorblindness" conjures inspiring visions of a world where the inherent worth and dignity of all people is affirmed and there is no racial hierarchy or discrimination. I like that vision as much as the next person, but if you think that is how colorblindness has actually been operating in the United States, you haven't been paying attention.

In practice, colorblindness is the dominant form of White racism in the contemporary United States. This is a different colorblindness than the vision sketched above, though it appropriates its language. Proponents of colorblindness fail to recognize their own Whiteness and the White spaces they inhabit. They falsely label these identities and spaces as non-racial. In effect, they demand that others adapt to White norms, values, and practices. Instead of working hard to undo racial hierarchies, they unilaterally declare their irrelevance. The effect is not to dismantle racism, but to hide it. Like the vandal, proponents of colorblindness then take offense when Black people respond to this oppression by seeking to make space for themselves and speak of race in explicit terms.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you think we should all be quiet about race, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you think your responsibility is simply to be kind in your interpersonal relationships, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you don't support legal and institutional reforms, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you don't understand that White Americans gain specific advantages because of their race, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you insist on forgetting American history, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but refuse to let the experiences of others shape your perceptions, you're part of the problem.

If you would never dream of vandalizing a sign, but you're a Christian who thinks your faith teaches you to be colorblind, you're part of the problem.

We must be willing to examine not only the superficial rhetoric of colorblindness that sounds so nice, but the actual purposes for which it is deployed. Colorblindness negates identities, silences protest, and affirms the legitimacy of an unjust society. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jeb Bush, Black Politics, and Respectable White Supremacy

We're going to get to a recent news headline soon, but let's begin a little earlier in the story. It's useful that we do so, because Black politics have confounded White assumptions for centuries.

A stylized rendering of an escape attempt
During slavery African Americans carved out systems of reciprocity and mutual obligation between enslaved and enslaver that defied their status as chattel. The demands they made--from time off on Sunday to space for a measure of familial autonomy--though often breached by White enslavers, nonetheless exposed the gulf between the White ideological construct of "slave" and the lived reality of human beings. This was a form of politics that, in the White imagination, could not exist. Yet it did. During the 1850s a steady stream of enslaved people escaped to the North. Meanwhile, free Blacks in the North launched repeated salvos of antislavery propaganda. These actions were so politically explosive that they did much to provoke the Civil War. [1]

Lady Columbia asks, "And not this man?" Harper's, 1865
The service of Black troops during the Civil War caused some racist Whites to reluctantly conclude that enslaved people had not only earned their freedom, but could perhaps become members of the polity. Before he died, President Lincoln began to imagine the possibility of Black voters. But the idea of Black citizens remained deeply radical for White Americans. This was a society in which respectable White opinion about African Americans traditionally ranged between the goals of perpetual enslavement or total deportation. Either case assumed White supremacy.

In this context, most Whites viewed Black politics as a grasping and illegitimate imposition. Black politics demanded of the nation the same rights and privileges afforded to Whites. But in a society in which White supremacy was normative, such claims were controversial. For most White Americans, the very meaning of words like freedom and equality assumed a racial hierarchy with Whites on top. To "give" Black Americans citizenship, then, was not to grant them their due. It was a special concession, an unearned privilege. It was, in short, the ultimate handout.

Anti-Freedman's Bureau Campaign ad. Pennsylvania, 1866.
In the first year after the war, southern states passed "Black Codes" in an effort to reassert White control over Black labor and reestablish the social order on something as close to slavery as possible. The ongoing efforts to steal Black labor and gain unearned advantage defined the politics of White southerners. Such double-standards loomed large in the imagination of White northerners too. In the 1866 campaign for Pennsylvania Governor, the Democrats ran a race-baiting campaign warning Whites that a vote for the Republican candidate was a vote to give handouts to Blacks at the expense of Whites.

The Freedman's Bureau, a federal agency established to assist African Americans in the South, was the target for much of this criticism. What was the Freedman's Bureau actually doing? It provided limited food assistance to a countryside devastated by war, and it offered freedpeople the possibility of justice that could not be obtained in southern courts. But most of all, the Freedman's Bureau arbitrated labor disputes and tried to compel African Americans to sign unfavorable labor contracts, often with their former owners.

In the White American imagination, restoring land to wealthy White property owners represented nothing more than the protection of property rights. They had been killing U.S. soldiers a few months before but their property in land (if not in people) remained sacrosanct. Meanwhile, Black squatters eagerly working the land for themselves had to be either evicted or compelled to sign an onerous labor contract. The unearned advantages of Whites could not be seen as such, for the ability to control the labor of racialized others and the assumption that the government should facilitate that control defined the very meaning of freedom.

Perhaps what's most striking to the modern reader about the Freedman's Bureau officials' reports is their abject fear that any measure of help for freedpeople would create dependency. Though practical freedom for freedpeople was hard to imagine without land redistribution, the Freedman's Bureau was reluctant to even distribute food to prevent starvation. Assistant Commissioner Rufus Saxton of the Georgia Freedman's Bureau ordered his agents to "bestow as little charity as possible" even during the desparate first summer after the war. [2]

While Freedman's Bureau agents fretted about the dangers of creating Black dependency and took unearned White advantage (and thus, White dependency) for granted, Democrats in the North ran the kind of racist campaigns reflected in that poster above. The political discourse of Black dependency existed independently of any facts on the ground. By the time a Black cry for freedom made it to White ears, it had been disfigured into a demand for a handout. 

Northern Whites strongly believed in a free labor ideology. Everyone should have the right to keep the fruits of their labor earned by the sweat of their own brow. Those who worked hard would rise by virtue of their industry and frugality. Surely African Americans in the South would embrace this ideology and would emerge as a sturdy class of independent laborers. Yet with unexamined assumptions of White supremacy still at the root of White politics, many northerners failed to see that  conditions on the ground in the South foreclosed the promise of upward mobility. Black politics demanded the destruction of systems of oppression that many Whites insisted did not exist. Thus White northerners reinterpreted Black demands for basic rights as a dangerous form of politics that was unamerican and socialistic. [3]

Let's zoom ahead 80 years. During the civil rights movement as Black Americans demanded equal rights, a common White rejoinder was, "Whites have rights too." This made no sense in context, but it did make sense if one assumed that among those White rights was the top status in a racial hiearchy that distributed social and economic benefits. On the Senate floor, southern senators warned that the Civil Rights Act would "take away rights from one group...and would give them as privileges to members of another group." [4] In such rhetoric, Whites were invariably endowed with legitimate rights, while Black attempts to secure those same rights were grasps for special privileges.

HOLC map of Philadelphia. Part of the system of White subsidies.
This played out not only on the field of high politics. Ordinary White Americans during the civil rights era had little sense of how their society was structured. They put a down payment on their first house, not realizing they were getting the subsidized White price for it. They held down that good job, not realizing their Whiteness was one of their key qualifications. They sent their kids to school, not realizing that their Whiteness was, in part, paying for their children's education. However confused they may have been about the nature and source of these subsidies, they knew they did not want to lose them.

In short, for centuries Black politics has demanded equal citizenship while mainstream White politics has naturalized the denial of it. The result is that most White Americans can't understand Black demands, for Black Americans are demanding something that, in the White imagination, they already possess. "This is America! Everyone is equal! There are no second class citizens!" This is the essence of the respectable politics of White supremacy. It is a politics of denial. It is the politics of good and ordinary people.

And it's popular! This week at a campaign event a man asked Jeb Bush what he and the GOP could do to woo Black voters. Bush responded mostly by talking about school choice, but not before saying this:
Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.
I want to emphasize that this is wrongheaded regardless of what you think about the efficacy of government programs. It is wrong not because "free stuff" may or may not be good for people, but because it is represents a comprehensive misreading of Black politics and the normalizing of White supremacy. African American voting patterns are rooted in the effective denial of equal citizenship in twenty-first century America. Black politics has nothing to do with the pursuit of "free stuff." Nor do African Americans embrace a politics of "division." The idea that success ought to be "earned" is on the one hand uncontroversial. On the other hand, White Americans' very concept of freedom intertwined for centuries with expectations of unearned success. Building the country on stolen land and labor and then calling it a heroic pioneering project was a massive delusion that grips us still. It may be that someone needs to hear Bush's message of earned success, but Black Americans are probably the last people who need to hear it. 

Jeb Bush sounds like someone who doesn't understand the United States. He sounds like someone who can't hear Black demands for equal citizenship for what they are, so they must be reinterpreted as something more sinister. He sounds like a proponent of the respectable White supremacy that has defined America for centuries.

[1] See Steven Hahn, Eugene Genovese, and Walter Johnson
[2] See Paul Cimbala
[3] See Heather Cox Richardson
[4] Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., April 17, 1964, 8292.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What Do Historians Actually Do?

I recently read an article that clarified my thinking about what historians do and what we have to offer to the public. Much of this had been swirling around my brain in muddled forms. Then I read Sam Wineburg's article "Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts," and immediately asked, "where have you been all my life?"

The public thinks that historians are people who know lots of facts about the past. But this is only incidentally true. We do learn a lot  about the past, but this is almost in passing--we learn those things while on our way to the more interesting stuff. What historians bring to the table is not an unusually large compendium of dates and trivia, but a way of thinking. Historical thought is an unnatural act.

Wineburg argues that every encounter with the past confronts us with "the tension between the familiar and the strange, between feelings of proximity to and feelings of distance from the people we seek to understand." When we become too comfortable with one side or the other we make the past too simple. For Wineburg, "mature historical thought" is found in the capacity to "navigate the jagged landscape of history, to traverse the terrain that lies between the poles of familiarity with and distance from the past."

Wineburg argues that we especially need to encounter the unfamiliar past, for "It is this past, one that initially leaves us befuddles or, worse, just plain bored, that we need most if we are to achieve the understanding that each of us is more than the handful of labels ascribed to us at birth. The sustained encounter with this less familiar past teaches us the limitations of our brief sojourn on the planet and allows us to take membership in the entire human race."

Wineburg explores this with three fascinating case studies of people doing historical tasks. In the first case, when a 17-year old student in an AP class read primary source documents that did not make sense to him, he incorporated them into his preexisting view of the world. As a result he learned almost nothing from them. He didn't understand the people in the documents, so he made them into his own image. In the second case, an elementary school principal participated in a workshop where she was thrilled by the primary source documents she read about women in the early Republic. At the end of the workshop participants had the chance to rewrite a portion of a textbook using the new knowledge they had gained from the primary sources. She believed the textbook slighted women's activity and she was excited to craft a new narrative, but this collided with her preexisting belief that history was meant to be dispassionate and objective. In the end, she wrote a new narrative that was as bloodless and boring as the one she replaced. In the third case, a professional historian, Bob Alston, grappled with primary source documents from an area outside his field of expertise. What separated him from the first two cases was his constant questioning. His notes were sprinkled with phrases like, "I don't know...I'm not quite sure...I don't know enough about..." The professional historian exhibited a willingness to be unsettled by what he read, to be confused, to be changed as a result of his encounter with the past rather than making the past conform to his preconceived notions.

Wineburg comments, "His questions dwell in the gap between his present knowledge and the circumstances of the past. Alston is an expert to be sure, but he is an expert in a very different sense from the way that term is typically used. His expertise lies not in his sweeping knowledge of this topic but in his ability to pick himself up after a tumble, to get a fix on what he does not know, and to generate a road map to guide his new learning. He is an expert at cultivating puzzlement."

Historians as a group are probably as likely as anybody else to be arrogant in their daily lives. But in this specific sense historians cultivate a radical humility that is unsettling to the public. Wineburg continues: "Alston's reading shows a humility before the narrowness of our contemporary experience and an openness before the expanse of the history of the species. It grants people in the past the benefit of the doubt by casting doubt on our ability to know them as easily as we know ourselves. This does not mean that we cannot judge the past -- we can't help making judgments. But it does mean that we must not rush to judgment. Other readers used these documents to confirm their prior beliefs. They encountered the past here and labeled it. Alston encountered the past and learned from it."

This is what I tried to tell my students even before I had read this article. History--if they will let it--can teach them humility. But in my limited teaching thus far, I have struggled to get students to be interested in understanding historical people. It is much easier to cast people in the past as heroes or villains and be done with it. I find that students tend to think that slaveholders, for example, were really bad people. Now, I'm ok with that I guess, provided the students are also assuming they themselves are bad. But all too often the public wants cheap morality tales--people to imitate or people to condemn. Either way, we use history to make ourselves feel better.

In contrast, thinking historically compels us to realize that what it means to be human is much less settled than we tend to assume in our daily lives. We begin to see that people have ordered and understood their worlds in extraordinarily diverse ways, and that they were, alike with us, human beings. This is the jagged terrain between familiarity and distance. It would do Americans some good to consider what it might mean to be human in a world without nationalism, capitalism, Christianity, Western individualism, race, and more. Many millions of people have lived in those worlds.

If historians are cultivating intellectual humility, if we chuckle at the quaint notion that objectivity is possible, why does our public posture often look so different? Ours is often a curmudgeonly presence as we make an appearance only to denounce the latest historically inaccurate statement from a public figure (or worse, from school textbooks!). We claim to be practitioners of a humbling discipline, but then we act as arbiters of what is true or not true in history. This is because what historians are asking of history and what the public is often asking are completely different things.

Historians ask questions like, how did people in the past understand themselves and their place in the world? What made sense to them? Why did they do the things that they did? The public is more likely to ask, "Our ancestors were good people, weren't they?"

Historians see a phenomenon and ask, "Hey, where did that come from?" The public might look at the same phenomenon and say, "Isn't this the best way to order society?" or, "Isn't this natural?"

Historians and the public often talk past each other because the questions the public asks are often not, in the end, historical questions at all. Take the Civil War for example. Historians are engaged in a lot of interesting debates about it. Then the public comes along and says, "Isn't it true that slavery really wasn't at the center of the war?" As a historical question it's absurd and we're right to say so, but that's also why we end up appearing so different from our self-image as humble explorers of history. Perhaps the key is for us to recognize that the slavery question is not primarily a historical question. It is instead a variant on, "Weren't my ancestors good people?" or "Isn't my country good?"

I'm not sure historians can offer a satisfactory response to those kinds of questions. I imagine my public history colleagues have more developed thoughts on this. It's not fair for us to expect the public to "get" what it is we do. How can we instead, in at least small ways, bring historical thinking to the public, inviting them to explore? That is a far better outcome than us acting as figures of authority presiding over the past.