There is an ongoing conversation about race matters in this nation and in fact all over the world. Lights from our political stage are ablaze with xenophobia, racist rants and unapologetic crudeness that set in motion acts of cruelty and savagery.
Conversations on the militarization of the police, the body count of black men killed in streets at the hands of police, the issues raised by justice movements, including ‘Black Lives Matter,’ point to a pernicious evil we call racism and its interrelatedness to other systems of wickedness.
My dear friend Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine released a new book, “Racism, America's Original Sin.” While I do have serious problems with the doctrine of Original Sin, I do believe in Original Blessing (Matthew Fox). Yet , I do believe that racism is a terminal illness, one that threatens to blot out the sun of human possibility.
Unlike apartheid, I am of the view that the systemic nature of racism in this nation and its relationship to capitalism cannot be easily, if ever dismantled. Capitalism is at its roots.
Winston Churchill stated, “The West Indies 200 years ago, bulked very largely in the minds of all people who were making Britain and the British Empire.Our possession of the West Indies, like that of India the colonial plantation and development as they were then called gave us the strength, but more especially the capital, the wealth at a time when no European nation possessed such a reserve, which enabled us, not only to acquire this worldwide appendage of possessions which we have, but also to lay the foundations of the commercial and financial leadership, which, when the world was young, when everything outside Europe was underdeveloped, enabled us to make our great power and position in the world.”
During my recent visit to London, I visited my old neighborhood. I was awe struck by the changing demographics and gentrification of this area and other communities. Areas that were populated by poor and immigrant families from British colonies in the 70’s are now peopled with trendy, professional men and women of privilege. My first impulse was to ask, “ Who moved my ‘hood?” And the racial character of this shift is undeniable.
My residence in London was within walking distance of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Clapham yet this same area was a hotbed of discussion and dissent on the issue of race for centuries. In 1793 a group led by its Rector launched a vigorous campaign for the abolition of slavery. Luminaries such as William Wilberforce, Clarkson, Sharpe, Buxton and others called on the experience of a notable African, Olaudah Equiano to articulate and give voice to the realities of racism and slavery. And while the Slave
Trade was outlawed by Parliament in 1807 and Slavery in 1833, compensation in the sum of more than a million pounds was paid to the plantation owners for the loss of their slaves and nothing paid to the descendants / survivors of 20 million Africans. This ensured that the long pall of slavery cast itself far into the future of the British Empire.
The odious practice of this engagement is a violence unprecedented in human history. And yet our struggle with racism continues. Increased weapons of mass destruction available to friends and foes alike make the search for coexistence among the residents of a shrinking planet all the more urgent. Feelings of superiority, inferiority and resentment are expressed in aggression and violence which in many cases threaten to erase the possibility of mutual respect and equality.
The debt we owe this fragile planet and future generations is to fix what we can. Time is up for war. Time is up for hate. Time is up for racism. Time is up for all manner and manifestation of evil that threaten the fulfillment and realization of our original blessing. And it starts with us. We must make choices that will heal each other’s brokenness.
Lemn Sissay, a poet of Ethiopian origin penned these words, “For My Headstone,” in a book entitled, “Rebel Without Applause.”
Here is the death of a son you never had the hand you never touched the face you never stroked
here is the morning after his bruises you never tended the laughter you never shared
and here are the tears he’ll never feel your eyes he’ll never see whispers he’ll never hear
the apologies will squirm in his coffin with the letters you never wrote
And so as we reflect, we come to realize that we are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper. The great myths and stories of our faith traditions remind us of this truth: that we are one people, redeemed, blessed, empowered and anointed, with a common destiny.