Today, in the United States, we pause to celebrate workers. It is a holiday we call Labor Day. There is disagreement about when the holiday was first celebrated. 1882 appears to be the earliest date. However, by 1894, the first Monday in September had been established by law as a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.
Typically, Labor Day marks the end of a summer vacation period considered to begin on Memorial Day at the end of May. The day will be celebrated in a variety of ways across the United States. Some will actually celebrate those who labor.
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” He declared, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” With the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the unlawful death of Michael Brown, my mind also turns, not to celebration, but to reflection on the mythical core values of the United States. With Frederick Douglass, I mourn as I ask, “What to the weary Black body is Labor Day?”
On this Labor Day, I ponder the mythical core values of the United States, famously embodied in the words of Emma Lazarus and also associated with the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In these words are echoes of the words of Jesus who pleads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (MT 11:28 NIV).
But, while the African-descended body may find a friend in Jesus, it finds only turmoil in the Diaspora and in the alleged land of the free. Thus, Labor Day, a day with overtones of Sabbath, becomes a day on which we who are Black reflect on just how much labor remains to be done. We labor both as ones pregnant with vision and hope and as bodies yet enslaved by a paradigm that continues to great us with folded arms and hearts.
We are people of great value who produce things material and spiritual of great value. Yet, we find no rest from the work of plowing the fallow ground of the Pharaoh. Our hoes, plow blades, and heavy equipment are no match for the soil of a dominant cultural paradigm that continues to affirm the Hegelian logic that, “Africa exists in itself and outside of history.” The sharp plow blade of Michael Brown is no match for the soil of Darren Wilson. Thus, we continue to be good seed cast on bad soil merely to be consumed or trampled upon or aborted.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is correct in saying, “The price for freedom is eternal vigilance.” Yet, such vigilance takes its toll on the soul.How long O Lord! When will we rejoice on Labor Day? When will we know that our work is not in vain? How long will we find ourselves mourning on Labor Day? On Labor Day 1955, we were mourning the death of Emmett Till.
On Labor Day, 2013, in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict, we were mourning afresh the death of Trayvon Martin. We continue to mourn our sisters who are held captive by Boko Haram.
On this Labor Day, 2014, we mourn Michael Brown and others whose lives have been snuffed out by those who are presumably are committed to protect and serve. But, this is the point. Many are excluded from protection and service because of the color of their skin. They are presumed to have no character of any content worth considering.
Thus, the words of Martin Luther King on that late August day in 1963 leave us in agony as we yearn for that day when the Black body will not be feared as if it were Ebola incarnate.
We must persist in labor to bring forth a Sabbath rest, the peace of shalom. How our weary souls long to rejoice at such a birth and rest. Will we be able to rejoice on Labor Day 2015 or will we once more mourn a blade broken upon the fallow, rock hard soil of a paradigm that resists the Black body?
By Darren J Elzie, a brother in the Diaspora contact me https://twitter.com/djelze