“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” declares the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Recent events would seem to affirm such an observation.
As a person of faith, and one who bears and speaks the Word, neither my hope, nor my faith rests in the systems of this world. Yet, while I sojourn through this valley of the shadow of death, I find that I am at times anxious about the evil. I wonder if the rod and staff of the divine shepherd will be sufficient. For this, I must constantly repent. I proclaim faith in one who was also an alien in this world and on the margin of the dominant paradigm of His day.
He knew he was never meant to survive because he proclaimed a way contrary to the ways and systems of this world and expressed thoughts that were not the thoughts of the temporal systems of this world. The truth he declared would survive because it was eternal and not of this world and neither the shadow of death, nor even the gates of hell, could prevail against such truth.
It was my privilege to preach such hope on the Sunday following a presidential election in the United States. It has continued to be my burden and my divine calling to persist in declaring such hope to people who walk and thrash about in darkness. That hope may be seeds strewn on hostile ground. However, it is a fire that burns in my soul. So, I sow while another waters, but it is the Holy One who gives the increase.
As is well-known now, the United States recently completed its quadrennial presidential election cycle and a politically naive individual, and master manipulator, managed to win the election. At issue in the campaign was an old fear, cloaked in a vision that the United States is the Promised Land and whites are the chosen people of God and the rightful articulators of morality and civilization.
Thus, as Henry Clay, a nineteenth century congressman from Kentucky, and other voices of the early nineteenth century espoused, “To make the black man free, it would virtually enslave the white man.” This fear was expressed in the recent election cycle (and especially the aftermath) in this way: “The election of Barak Obama traumatized the nation and made whites feel like aliens in ‘their own land.'” The president-elect, manipulated this unease and the republic was punked.
But, it doesn’t matter because, at its foundation, the republic, at its core, still has a “Negro problem” and still understands the United States to be the promised land of a certain kind of people and those people are not of African descent or heritage.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the nineteenth century, one response to this “Negro problem” was the rise of a movement known as the American Colonization Society. Many factions – from pro-slavery to radical abolitionists – were attracted to the ACS because its goal was the relocation of African-descended people back to their homeland on the African continent.
Many regarded this as a positive move because the formerly heathen African, having been exposed to the light of European morality and ways of knowing, would be the sparks and embers of civilization among the primitive African people. As the history of Liberia (and other such African spaces) demonstrates, such sparks and embers resulted less in Eden and more in a burning hell. Who shall save us from this body of death?
Henry Clay said in 1842, “What man, claiming to be a statesman, will overlook or disregard the deep-seated and unconquerable prejudices of the people. … What then would certainly happen? A struggle for political ascendency; the blacks seeking to acquire, and the whites seeking to maintain, possession of the government.” Clay was certain that the result of such a struggle would be “civil war, carnage, pillage, conflagration, devastation, and the ultimate extermination or expulsion of the blacks.
Nothing is more certain.” Clay was also of the mind that agitating for the human and civil rights of blacks would result in “increased rigor in the police.” Alton Pollard, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner are twenty-first century victims of this increased rigor in the police.
It remains to be seen what will become of African-descended people (and others of color) in the next few months and years. I anticipate a long four years in which the worst ghosts of the past will haunt and taunt and terrorize. From where will salvation come?
The flip side of a dream is a nightmare. Since 1619, the best one can say of our condition as Black people is that we have been in purgatory, which is to say a constant state of suffering as sinners who are expiating our sins (our blackness) before achieving citizenship in heaven.
James Baldwin’s words then continue to be as true as they ever were, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Equally true are the words of Audre Lorde, “For those of us who were imprinted with fear like a faint line in the center of our forehead … our words [may] not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”