And a Wounded Country
There is a deep wound cleaved in this country. Our shortened and selective memory would like us to believe it is a new cut, slashed by modern politics; left vs right, right vs wrong, sinner vs saved, white vs brown, and two oppositional, dehumanized political parties. However, the first blow was struck over 400 years ago when in search of freedom, the powers that became power, took that freedom away from others. First from the brown-skin communities that were here long before we ever forgot our own original languages and then from the black-skinned that we thought would make us wealthy when we didn’t want to do the work. We believed then that our whiteness was above the soil under the fingernails and toil in the heat and that those ‘lower’ than us were made just for it, just for us.
We are a country of many nations, containing diasporas from around the globe and yet have long held a monolithic vision of homogeneity, pasteurized of the things we don’t like. We cannot see each other as a collective or accept & meet the challenges presented by the foundational principles we hold up as truth, generally when it’s convenient.
The more things have changed, the more the clarity of the sameness of old cannot be missed. We are now in the midst of history repeating itself, of legislating wealthy and ‘straight’ whiteness as supreme. Despite the exalted ideals outlined in a Constitution that is touted as the foundation of freedom for all of us, those powers that be are actively seeking to remove freedoms from many of us, to restrain those they recognize as a threat to the power and control that they have become accustomed to. I’ve written these first few words on Easter, a day held as holy, representing the resurrection of the Christ who many in power hold up as underpinning their faith and politics. Jesus is held as The One who inspires them through his works for the poor, maligned, misrepresented, powerless and faithless. Yet, in the days surrounding this High Holy one, the same that hold him up as the exemplar they follow, actively seek to misrepresent him, their faith and the Constitution by resurrecting Jim Crow. This resurrection and the celebration of codified apartheid as well as the attempts to erase an entire segment of the population because their otherness doesn’t fit into our limited binary awareness is deemed an abomination, a sin of of such proportion that it can be weighed biblically.
This modern bondage is without chains of steel but the words on paper match its tensile strength. These laws, renewed after merely a few decades of being put to rest, reiterate that those who do not have skin color or money like us, education like us or engage in intimacies like us or identify their soulful selves in a manner that keeps us comfortable are to be confined by what makes us feel in control: our whiteness, our money, our virility as we think we know it and making invisible those with whom we walk this world together but don’t want to see as brethren, constituents, or children of the God we claim to hold on high.
When the definition of freedom still includes the control of others by a few, we have failed in what people call the American experiment and it is certainly not how we’ve sold–and bought into– the American dream. When the anger, born from the fear of losing power and control, begets the violence of words and weapons, we have failed each other. The attempted arrest of rights and freedoms that have been earned by blood, stolen breath and fiery crucifixion bears the weight of history, the murdered and the souls of the enslaved. That the fear of others’ freedom inspires such vehement opposition to that same freedom–to vote, to express themselves, to live openly in the image of God they’ve been made, is high hypocrisy of patriotism and faith. That ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ isn’t actually evident.
However, fractures heal with the right doctoring once the flow of blood has been stemmed. Sometimes nature does the work on her own and sometimes a human healer needs to assist. Now, in this time, we are the healers, the ones who can bind wounds and love our neighbors better, not as ourselves but better. Eldridge Cleaver said, “The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less,” and I’m fairly certain there’s been too much hate perpetuated to love ourselves or anyone else all that well. I’m also fairly certain that it also means we haven’t been loving the country herself very well. Like we’ve been holding her up as this ideal in the same way the politicians I alluded to earlier hold up the Christ. Lately, I roll my eyes when I read or hear, “Truth, justice and the American way” because the America I know isn’t about truth and justice. Inherently, those are both held up by a foundation of honesty that we don’t want to acknowledge here.
We can’t engage with each other when we’re afraid of each other. We can’t engage with each other without the total, honest histories that perpetuate the fear being acknowledged and honored as part of who we all are. We can’t build upon engagement without marrying how it is we got to this place with where we want to go and what we want for future generations.
This is not just a policing problem. The repeated deaths of Black men and women by police creates the most striking and visual death, but this is a societal issue that runs deep into everything from transportation, the national armed forces, banking, medicine, manufacturing, food distribution and it’s growth and harvesting, incarceration systems, education, and other aspects of our economy.
I’ve never been one to call myself patriotic. I’ve not understood the flag waving or how songs somehow connect us to a piece of ground we’ve never seen and, ideally, to people we’ve never met, until recently. A few months ago, I drove past a Texas car dealership-sized American flag in the middle of a pasture, so large it damn-near blocks out the road view of a 13,000′ mountain when it’s at attention in a stiff wind. There was some spicy language as I bitched about the idiot that couldn’t possibly forget which country he was in when he woke up every morning and needed a gargantuan, daily reminder.
Then that flag introduced itself to me in vision. Though it smacked me upside the head as a fluttering symbol, what was born of that encounter was a deep understanding of that ideal as real and tangible and a possible, necessary reality and appearing as an opportunity for embodiment in each of us: truth, justice, pursuits of life, liberty and happiness–and the individual expressions of living, liberty and happiness. However, we are not unified in those pursuits. The majority is still hanging onto the contradictions of our founding as if those are the truth when we actually know better.
Can we get to that place? Do we, as apparent comfortable separated societies, even want to get there? I ask this because this requires us to practice love without the condition of ‘sameness as me’. Can we go from the foundation of separation (clearly not equal in any aspect) and subjugation to one in union?
Something hinting at a positive response has occurred before when people have felt the country has been attacked by terrorists or Mother Nature. For many, the experiences and aftermaths of 9/11/2001, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and massive fires, albeit briefly, inspire a coming together, a unification to provide for the needs of others and find succor with each other.
Why is it that we cannot see the same thing is happening here, now? The attacks may be from the inside out but they’re profoundly devastating for For all the swiftness of the repeated deaths of Black men at the hands of police, what we’re seeing is a hundreds year old-growing internal insidiousness reveal itself. Again and again and again. Why can’t we see that we are not in Union but have the opportunity to be that ideal for ourselves and each other? Why don’t we want that? It’s a question that must be asked because we behave as if we don’t want it. And, here, I’ve moved from a generalized ‘American’ to speaking specifically of and to white Americans. What power exactly are we afraid of losing by recognizing others as humans to be honored? What is it within us that is unwilling to see others’ living, liberty and happiness as worthwhile as our own? How can sharing what we have inspire such hatred? What stories have we caught and held onto hook, line and sinker that keep us in this mindset.
I ask these questions because, to be frank, white folks are not doing enough about the problem of police violence against Black people or the attacks against Asians or migrants or missing indigenous women or the incarcerated. When the shit hits the fan, we have the habitual response of expecting those we’ve collectively victimized (yes, our silence does that) to do the work we’re completely capable of doing. As if we’re back at the edge of cotton fields waiting for the others to do the work for us. It’s not their job to fix what we’ve fucked up. They must have a seat at the table so we can understand how fucked up we’ve really made things but the work is ours: to not elect and reelect racists, to offer the seat on the bus, to push for law changes that support our kin, to hold people in power (including ourselves) accountable to a larger-than-us collective, take the tear gas when a brother from another mother takes a bullet, approve a grocery store people can afford to shop in, re-fund social services like we mean folks have the right to pursue life, liberty & happiness and we’re going to help them do it.
Our systems are not changing because they are steeped in the false notion of white superiority and associated bureaucracies were made to protect themselves. We designed them to they curl in when attacked to make it seem they are impenetrable. Yet it’s not true. Systems change if we want them to, when we remove the barriers to change, when we change our minds and hearts. We don’t seem to want to and therein lies the rub.
Lynchings have always been public affairs. Except for the Black victims and those that loved them, they were celebrations of state-sanctioned or state-supported-by-silence murder, as American as the fourth of July. Today, videos make the rounds sharing the pain that people still celebrate though not many do so in the same public manner. Today, the primary response is of protest & riot where Black people and their allies disturb the peace, disrupt the status quo, and violate the borders of privilege many have become accustomed to.
It’s time that honesty about our past and present become as public as the bullets, the blood and the choked breath. It’s time that white people step up to make the changes that bring about a more perfect union. Before anything can heal, we need to stop the bleeding through excuses and power-hoarding. Ask yourself why you’re afraid, what power is it you’ll lose if someone else accesses their own. Riot if you’re called to, vote locally in ways that support your not-same-as-you kin, look your brother from another mother in the eye and say hello. Ask how you can help. This has never been about a few bad apples in an isolated barrel. This is about how the entire American orchard has been made to keep out those we judge as beneath us, except when we want to hang them from a tree.