Minds That Hate

A Meditation on Racially-Charged Rioting

Tear gas fills the air as demonstrators clash with police near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on June 8.
Tear gas fills the air as demonstrators clash with police near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on June 8. (photo: Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

But if you want money for people with minds that hate

All I can tell is brother you’ll have to wait.

                                    John Lennon (From the lyrics of Revolution by the Beatles)


The recent racially-charged rioting across the United States has been described as the worst civil unrest in this country since the wave of rioting that followed in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. In the same year as the King assassination riots, John Lennon wrote the Beatles song, Revolution, as a protest against the use of violence by “people with minds that hate.” In the previous year, Lennon had penned All You Need is Love which was released as a single in July and would become the anthem of the so-called “summer of love.” It was ironic, therefore, that the “summer of love” in 1967 could be followed a year later by months of hate-filled riots on both sides of the Atlantic in which many of the perpetrators were the same hippies who had preached “peace and love” and worn flowers in their hair only a few months earlier. What went wrong? Was there something wrong and wrong-headed about the “love” that Lennon told us we needed which metamorphosed so quickly into hatred? And what lessons can the “love” of 1967 and the “hate” of 1968 teach us about the riots in contemporary America?

If “love” is something we need, as Lennon insisted, and not something we are commanded to do or to give, our demand for “love” can turn to a hatred of those who don’t give us what we feel that we need. If love is something like food, which we need and cannot live without, we will feel that we have a right to demand that we be given it and will feel aggrieved if we don’t get it. Against this demand for love is the command to love that we have received from God. Christ doesn’t command our neighbor to love us, he commands us to love our neighbor. It’s not about my right to receive the love I need but about my duty to sacrifice myself in giving love to others. It’s not about me and my needs but about the needs of my neighbor. It’s not about my rights but about my responsibilities. When my rights supplant my responsibilities, my rights become wrongs. And this is why those who demand Lennon’s “need love” turn all to quickly into “people with minds that hate.”

Having discussed love in these general terms, we can see how misperceptions about love, as exemplified by the songs of John Lennon, are having such a destructive impact on contemporary politics, especially with regard to the relationship between the races. The love we are commanded to give to our neighbor is color blind. It’s about the dignity of the human person as a being made in the image of God, irrespective of his physical appearance or his physical abilities or disabilities. Those who refuse this color blindness, insisting instead on seeing people in terms of their skin color, are being racist, even if they call themselves “anti-racists.” Those who see all white people as oppressors, simply because of the color of their skin, are seeing things through a racist perspective. The ancestors of African Americans were brought to this country by slave-traders who were no doubt racists. How else could they ply their disgusting trade? But the ancestors of the vast majority of European Americans were not slave traders but immigrants, many of whom were economic refugees and some of whom were fleeing from religious or racial persecution. It is simply unjust to see all whites as being tarred with the same brush as the slave-traders.

If racism can be defined as seeing a person in terms of his race and not in terms of his inherent dignity as a human person, we can say that those who call themselves anti-racists are as racist as the racists themselves. And the sad and sordid fact is that much more racial hatred is being caused by those “anti-racists” who see everything in terms of race than by the tiny fraction of the population who are white supremacists. The anger and rioting which we’ve seen across the United States since the killing of George Floyd is a direct consequence of the racializing of politics. It is presumed that George Floyd was killed because he was an African American and not for any other reason, and it is presumed that all white police officers are racists and are therefore presumed to be guilty of racism until proven innocent. It is presumed, of course, that Derek Chauvin is a racist, though no actual evidence of this has been produced thus far, and it is intriguing that he and Mr. Floyd worked at the same nightclub and would presumably have interacted on a personal level prior to the tragic incident which led to Mr. Floyd’s death. It is also intriguing, though not deemed relevant by the media or the rioters, that Mr. Floyd had what the head of the Minneapolis police union has called a “violent criminal history,” including a five-year prison sentence for assault and robbery, as well as convictions for theft with firearms and for drug-related offenses. None of this justifies the brutality of his arrest but why are no other motives beyond the presumed racism being discussed or investigated?

Many years ago, in 1981 to be precise, and long before my conversion, I had been present at the infamous Brixton riots in which the African-Caribbean population of that part of London rioted in protest against the “racism” of the London police, at the very same time, ironically, that this same “racist” police department was also charging me for “inciting racial hatred,” a charge for which I would be sent to prison a few months later. At the time, as a member of a white supremacist organization, I rejoiced as I witnessed the riots and the breakdown of relations between the black population and the police. I hoped in the depth of my hate-filled heart that it would lead to the violent meltdown of the multiracial society. My feelings of elation in those dark and far-off days are not unlike the elation being felt by members of Antifa and other extremist groups as they witness a similar meltdown in contemporary America. And this is the final and most sobering lesson to be learned from these riots. Nobody will benefit from this racially-charged violence except the people with minds that hate.

This essay was originally published in Catholic World Report and is reprinted with permission.