They Too Are America by Karen Leslie Hernandez


George Floyd.

It has been a week.

But, not really just a week. Months. Years. Decades. Centuries.

1,253 black human beings have died at the hands of law enforcement in the United States since 2015. And we just keep watching. Mostly by fatal shootings from on-duty police officers, The Washington Post has kept track of all those killed by law enforcement since 2015. The numbers are staggering.

This indiscriminate killing is not just of black people, but a disproportionate number of those killed, are black and Latino. In fact, according to the Post, “The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans.”

Sons. Brothers. Fathers. Cousins. Husbands. Dads.

Rayshard Scales, 30
David Tylek Atkinson, 24
Finan H. Berhe, 30
Adrian Medearis, 48
Dreasjon Reed, 21
Jah’Sean Iandie Hodge, 21
Qavon Webb, 23
Demontre Bruner, 21
Brent Martin, 32
Shaun Lee Fuhr, 24
Malcom Xavier Ray Williams, 37
Elmer L. Mack, 40
Chase Rosa, 24
Virgill Thrope, 28
Steven Taylor, 33
Derick L. Powe, no age listed
Jasman Washington, 31
Goldie Bellinger, 39
Zyon Romeir Wyche, 19
Joshua Dariandre Ruffin, 17
Dewayne Curtis Lafond, 45
Idris Abus-Salaam, 33
Nathan R. Hodge, 66

These are names of the black men killed by law enforcement throughout the United States between April 1 – May 14, 2020. That is an average of one black man killed every other day. There have been 73 black men killed by law enforcement in 2020 thus far. Names we never hear or see. Hushed. Silenced. Buried. Just like our actions.

And, it’s not just men. Moms. Sisters. Daughters. Wives, a total of 47 black women have been killed since 2015. #SayHerName

When will it be enough? When will we view our black brothers and sisters as the sacred humans they are? When will white people understand that their notion of a social, racial construct based solely on skin color is, at the very least, invalid, weak, warped, unholy, and more, un-Godly?

Prominent Womanist theologian, Kelly Brown Douglas, speaks of the dehumanization of black bodies by white bodies, in an interview she gave back in 2015:

How does blackness get constructed? Why is the black body always the guilty body? Why do all these dead black kids have to defend themselves in their death?

I discovered, even more poignantly than I knew before, how the chattelled black body has become the criminalized body – transformed like a virus. The goal of this system of oppression, of white racism, is to keep the black body out of the free space. Free space is synonymous with white space.

We know from the prison industrial complex that this has been effective.

The image of the black body as the chattelled body has become part of the collective imagination of the U.S. I always call it chattelled slavery because the black body has never been seen as human. It was always considered property, belonging to the other. That becomes important in revealing how the black body has been acted upon.

The personal journey to understand the engrained and insidious racism in the United States is a journey that many are unwilling to take or acknowledge. Yet, those of us on the side of justice and equality must continually insist on bringing to light this racism, this injustice, and this dehumanization. This isn’t just about law enforcement. This isn’t just about Trump. This is about us, collectively, as a nation, as individuals, as communities, as families, as friends, as coworkers, and as human beings.

Inequality and inequity in the United States is not just illustrated by our law enforcement. No, inequality and inequity are found in food insecurity, housing insecurity, job insecurity, educational insecurity and healthcare insecurity. The facts are inarguable and to devalue what is so apparently blatant, is insulting. We must hold each other accountable. We must sit at the table and create a sacred space for all those who God has created as equal. And, by the way, that’s everyone.

One of my favorite poems, I Too, by Langston Hughes, has come to mind the last month. When I read this, I am filled with questions … What gives anyone the right to decide who is an American? What sense of entitlement must someone have to believe they can dictate what race is “superior”? He reminds us that humans are too proud. Too selfish. Too vapid.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

May the racism that plagues our nation be fraught with angst, and may that lead us and change us for the better.

Because countless Black Lives Matter. They too are America. And they are depending on us for protection.

 

Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Some of her past gigs include designing and teaching an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, as well as spending four years working with United Religions Initiative, in several different positions. An Over-Achiever, Karen has not one, but two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies, where she wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and their misuse religion for political gain. Karen currently lives in California, works at three faith based non-profits, teaches and lectures, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a certified domestic violence advocate.


Categories: Body, Justice, Slavery, Social Justice, Violence, Womanist Theology

Tags: , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Thanks for writing this–I believe it continues to happen because in the small number of these cases taken to court there’s never a conviction. It started with Rodney King and continues today. Without retribution these killings won’t stop. There’s no justice. There’s Just Us. Convict!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I agree. I also think it continues due to the systematic racism that is so ingrained in our country, we can’t see it clearly.

      Like

  2. Thank you for bearing witness for all of us to see. And for laying the foundations of what is happening. We need to know these names and to honor them. The women too. We need to pay attention and to speak up! Are enough people shamed yet (to quote Hughes)? I am afraid not.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so sad and it makes me mad as hell. I think we can at least partly blame the situation with people of color on our history of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the racists occupying the White House. I don’t know what to do except to personally be kind and polite to human beings. Well, not to the racists. Can anyone think of a solution to this awful problem?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes!! Charge and convict these cops!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • The solution is to be anti-racist in all facets of life – to change our systematic racism. We must end the school to prison pipeline. We must offer the same opportunities to all – access to education, adequate healthcare, safe housing, food, etc. That is a start. We have a lot to do. This work can’t happen overnight, but, it can happen within each and every one of us first.

      Like

  4. Thanks for this post! Theactionpac.com has a number for people to call to reach officials on behalf of justice for George Floyd: 612-324-4499

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Right now with so much happening in this country reading about how we colonize black people is almost too much. Will it ever end?

    Like

    • It is a lot. I feel though right now, we can’t buckle down or give in. It is so difficult to remain grounded in what we stand for, when it feels like it doesn’t matter. But, it does. And we need to remind ourselves of that every day. People are dying. And we cannot let that happen.

      Like

  6. Yes. Very much yes. And Langston Hughes. Again, yes!

    Like

  7. Very well articulated and yet, disarmingly raw and therefore thought provoking. The world needs mire individual voices like this, voices that speak up for a sense of equality, speak up so that others may have to contemplate about doing the right thing.

    Like

    • Thank you very much. I appreciate that. We all need to use our voices. Voices for justice are easily dismissed and muted. We can’t met that happen. I sometimes feel like humans just easily give in or give up. But right now, especially, all over the world, we can’t. Thanks again and I hope you are safe and well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a powerful moment in history… Just think what the rally response would be if Covid was not a factor! I really enjoy reading the insightful, positive and hopeful thoughts being expressed while sheltering within the safety of my home. So I thought that I would take a moment to weigh in on some thoughts.

    I agree that we must all use our voices and be anti-racist in all facets of life. I would also agree that each and every one of us needs to get involved to make a difference. We must all attempt to be engaged further and embrace human decency towards all — 24/7. Whether our daily actions and thoughts encounter racism, sexism, ageism, bullying, etc. an open mind needs to be maintained to recognize and respond to issues appropriately. It may be a simple internal response like making a mental note when being approached at night by a black man that he is no different than others. Or, if applicable, a mental note to work on not feeling uncomfortable in situations like that… Speak up if you see active discrimination, for any reason, and if you don’t feel safe, enlist the help of others too.

    Be honest with ourselves first and self-assess any penchant for biased attitudes. Talk to your partner or friends and family to share thoughts about how to improve attitudes. Because it really will take a concerted and continued effort to make any dent in systemic and deeply ingrained societal prejudices.

    Granted, the Black Lives Matter movement is long overdue and the loss of black lives by the police is something that must be addressed. But the police force is arguably a microcosm of our society as a whole and therefore, we all have some work to do…

    Like

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