Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’
9 people are dead in South Carolina. 9 people who were gathered to pray and study their holy texts. 9 people are dead, and it’s becoming normal. Because they were black, that too, becoming normal. They were shot and killed inside an American Methodist Episcopal church, a church founded as sanctuary from racism and violence.
I am sick to death of the excuses. I am sick to death of the double standard, of young black women in bathing suits brutalized by police, I am sick to death of young black children being shot within seconds of police contact; all while a white mass murderer out to sew terror is apprehended alive.
And I am sick to death of hearing white people say “racism is over,” “I never owned slaves.”
Yes. We. Did.
Our white skin still glitters with the privilege of having never been owned, of having owned, our ancestors might have come without two pennies to rub together but they came free. They might have come as exiles from their native land, but they arrived here free. That skin bought even the poorest of us the manifest destiny that stole every scrap of every inch of soil on which we stand from the people who were here first. And ever since that day? That sparkling light skin has given every last one of us a free pass from the experiences of our black brothers and sisters. It is what lets us feel angry and then turn off the news and go back to our lives.
It is what makes the policeman who pulls me over apologize and calls me ma’am; while my black sister is afraid her son will be shot dead, harassed, walking home from school in his own neighborhood.
“He didn’t look like he belonged here.”
Don’t you dare say the words on the end of our tongue, don’t you dare if they sound anything like ‘black on black crime.’ Don’t you play that card: every white person’s “get out of jail free” card, the slave owner’s excuse, the quibble of Cain, garbage. Listen to yourself and realize it is time to shut up. It is time to close those privileged lips and listen for once in our collective lives.
Listen to the lives our culture of superiority and supremacy has ground into the mud, to the whole peoples we have exterminated in our certainty that we were God’s chosen, God’s city on a hill. Listen deep and long no matter how uncomfortable it becomes because that is the least we owe our brothers and sisters.
And then we have to do something. Not just listen, change. We must, finally, value lives over guns. We must acknowledge privilege and power we’d like to pretend don’t exist. We must make hatred and violence so foreign and strange to our children that they will look back on this day and be unable to understand.
We must admit that our society is deeply, fundamentally, broken. Broken. We, together; no matter our race, our religion, our gender, our sexuality, are the only ones who can fix it. And we can only fix it, together, only if there is room for all.
I will not call for your prayers,
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)
Neither will I wish for peace or healing.
It is time for action; peace and healing can be only when the wrongs have been made right, when the price of generations of injustice has been paid in full.
The first step on the path is confession,
and then it is those who have been wronged who tell us where we go from here. Because forgiveness without reconciliation brings no healing, but leaves the wound to fester.
It is long past time we heard God’s silent answer
to Cain echoing through the ages:
There is no lone gunman. We raised him. We shaped him. And we must redeem.
(Featured image credit: “Yo Mama’s Pieta,” a photo by Renee Cox, as seen in “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” a film by Thomas Allen Harris.)