It has been a heavy several weeks. We're learning to live in the limbo of a global pandemic, but most heavy is the news that more Black lives have been taken. Revolting videos surfaced of both Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd's last moments, while Breonna Taylor's story struggles for the same exposure - perhaps because there's no shocking video, perhaps because she's female, perhaps both.
I'm glad to see so much of my news feed condemning senseless and needless violence. But I'm also seeing some folks shocked that this is happening and I want to address this, because if you're shocked, you haven't been paying attention.
Which means, you have the privilege of not HAVING to pay attention to stay alive.
I have this privilege too. For years I wrote events like this off as singular awful terrible racist people doing awful terrible racist things. Then our nation elected as our leader a man who admitted to assaulting women, and whose campaign cultivated and nurtured fear and hate. January of 2017 was my reckoning. It's when I started paying close attention.
The point of this post isn't to critique the Trump presidency. Trump is a symptom of a much deeper societal disease. I once saw a bumper sticker that said "Make America Nice Again." At this point I was deep enough into my reckoning to realize that America has never been nice for those it colonized. Our desire to "make America nice again" just means those of us who our social order values don't want to acknowledge what's always been there - lack of honor for ALL human life, horrific violence, and unholy hunger for land and power. There is perhaps one quality I value in our president, and that is honesty. He is honest about his disregard for humanity, his voracious appetite for power and his pursuit of empire. Nice Americans don't want to see all that, they just want the perks of it, the privileges.
While it's revolting and horrific that our justice and governmental systems continue to enact violence against Black and Indigenous people of color, it shouldn't be shocking anymore. This is a tale as old as Columbus.
I get that this can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you grew up idolizing our founding fathers like I did. However just like many of us have to grow up and realize our parents aren't perfect (and some of them are dysfunctional and abusive,) socially it's time for us to grow up, look at our history, and chart a new, humane course.
Abolition may have secured the freedom of slaves, but the same president who freed the slaves sentenced 38 Dakota warriors to death in the largest mass hanging in our country's history after an Indigenous uprising. President Lincoln hadn't paid the Dakotas for their land, however settlers were moving in anyways. This led to violent conflict, and the president signed their death warrants in an executive order.
While we focus on the issue of taxation without representation when discussing the Revolutionary war, there was also the issue of the Proclamation Line - the boundary agreed on by Indigenous peoples and English government, limiting westward expansion. Here's where the proclamation line fell:
Our country was founded as much on pursuit of land and power as it was on any kind of freedom. The genocide of Indigenous peoples, American participation in the trans Atlantic slave trade, the treatment of share croppers, and then factory workers at the beginning of the industrial revolution, and our current political system of large corporations who extort their employees but contribute to political campaigns all show our systems of government choosing profit and power over humanity. Human rights have only been affirmed through legislation because of tireless activism and struggle.
Systems of dehumanization and white supremacy are as deep as Thomas Jefferson referring to Indigenous peoples as "merciless Indian savages" IN OUR CONSTITUTION. They're as deep as the crusades, as deep as witch hunts, as deep as the doctrine of discovery established in 1493, by Pope Alexander VI who issued a Papal bull giving "Christian" explorers (aka white dudes) license to seize lands occupied by non Christians (aka everyone else).
I'm currently reading Ain't I A Woman by bell hooks, which explores intersectional feminism. Specifically, bell hooks talks about the history and challenges Black women face as they simultaneously navigate both racism and sexism. In chapter one, she details the horrors enslaved women faced, the torture they underwent at the hands of violent masters and mistresses.
As hard as it is for me to listen to these details, they provide necessary context for the hate and violence we see now. It has always been about power and profit. We great great grandchildren of colonizers and plantation owners must dig into the work of reconciliation. We must confront our thirst for power and our need to be centered. We must honor humanity. We must recognize our capacity for evil. We must pay attention.
Maybe then we'll be able to create systems of justice and government that serve and protect ALL. But let's not pretend this is a new problem, or an isolated incident.
While I think this is an incredibly important topic for discussion, I'm not a social justice educator. For more information and further education follow and financially support:
Ya'll, buy her book. Latasha is amazing and her book is so needed. She also facilitates groups for racial reconciliation.
Rachel Ricketts hosts FANTASTIC seminars / webinars on decolonizing spirituality.
Lisa Sharon Harper is a treasure. Her experience and work is vital to this conversation.
Austin Channing is another fantastic author writing about her experiences as a Black woman particularly in spaces of faith.
And there are so so many more folks providing fantastic education. This is deep and worthy work, let's do it together.