(the following is the text for the sermon from today’s Eucharist service on http://blogtalkradio.com/grace-independent broadcast at 9am EST and available as a podcast on blogtalkradio or on iTunes through the Grace Independent feed)
All my plans for today’s homily -promised to be fiery, illuminating and eloquent; focused on creating change and overall, not that specific in nature, went out the window.
Yesterday was the monthly meeting of my writer’s group and one of the writer’s finally showed us all the beginnings of her book that was a fictional examination of the issue of racism in America. The story slid between the present day and the past, focusing on the history of slavery in the Northern states. States that are usually excused from the class on slavery because they are given the title of “benevolent masters” and the focus returned to the widely known atrocities of the South.
This writer had documentation, regularly occurring news articles from that time period that reported on these Northren benevolent masters whipping slaves, cutting off their hands to reclaim the appendage for the Lord and other such benevolent tasks. Such occurrences were the norm and not the exception. But our history books would have you believe otherwise.
There are several members of the writing group who do not live in the particular state the woman was focusing on and that the writing group is based in, the state of Rhode Island or actually, its full name to this day is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. So we filled them in on the history of slavery here and also, how that history had carried forward with its path of racism, discrimination and hate into the present day.
There are still certain places in Rhode Island where, if you look of a certain ethnicity, it is best that you do not drive alone or go for a hike. Many of the large churches devote great outreach efforts toward the immigrant Liberian and Nigerian communities, but little towards the black american communities. Local amnesty international groups choose to agitate for prisoner’s rights except for those of the black american rail roaded an sentenced to death. Racism, discrimination and hatred in the North can be found not in the obvious Southern style of what is done, but in the subtle act of what is left out.
Of course, we entered into the discussion of ‘what is the use of talking about all this anymore’ it is in the past, it is resolved, we have gotten past it.
But we haven’t. And I wonder if we ever will. Hate has a way of getting into the soil and from there into the food leaving a bitter taste an also becoming an accepted part of life. In the south, racism, hate and discrimination is allowed closer to the surface than it is in the North. I for one, feel safer traveling alone and in strange places in the South then I do in the North because it is easier to recognize hate and discrimination, to come face to face with it in the South than in the North because the culture of political correctness is not as pervasive.
Many people are unaware that being politically correct in many instances serves to camouflage discrimination, racism and hatred rather than to address and resolve it. By disallowing the authenticity of confrontation, every one is left speaking in half-truths and with cushioned words. No one is really sure what the other person is saying and everyone is left with suspicions.
But within the drive to continue the discussion and healing of slavery in our history something equally terrible is happening that applies to the present day. The rhetoric of many who seek to confront the history is dismissing the present. I cannot tell you how many blogs and posts and poems I read this month (black history month) that demanded that even though slavery has ended, the legacy goes on and must be addressed.
But slavery has not ended. Even here, on American soil, slavery has not ended. The Berekeley Human Rights Center and the Washington DC based anti-slavery group, Free the Slaves, both report that at any given point in time, in over 90 cities across the United States of America, there are between 10 to 20,000 people in slavery. And slavery is prevalent in the world today, there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today,
Right now, at this moment, there are more people held in slavery today then at any other point in history. There are more men, women and children who are held against their will, sold like property, forced to work without wages or rights, forced into sexual acts, beaten, tortured and often killed at this point in history than at any other.
I understand and honor that the purpose of the month is to focus on Black History, but some parts of that history can and should become doors to discussing the present and the future. We are past the point where we can separate the examination of our histories from an examination of our present. And the sense of our present is no longer limited to our national borders and identities, but is inclusive of the global community. That is the reality of our modern world.
What could become a discussion fueled by our legacy of the battle against slavery on our soil that then turns outward to focus on how to continue the fight against present day slavery, is closed. The only slavery that I heard mentioned as worthy of attention in the rhetoric over the past month – the very same rhetoric that for our youth will often be their only exposure to an indepth discussion of slavery – was that of Black Americans in the 1800s. While I feel strongly that this is an area of our history we must never stop discussing and that racism and discrimination must continually and vigilantly be confronted in this country – I don’t think it wise for our futures to exclude talking about and struggling to find ways to end human slavery and trafficing in the world today. I also, do not think it wise or realistic to separate an individual commumity’s history from the whole. There is a time and a place to address the history on a smaller and more contained level but the rhetoric I witnessed in the past month treated one part of one country’s history as the sole global instance of slavery and that is both insult and disservice to the weight of that country’s history and the youth those people professed to want to educate about the legacy and effect of slavery and it is insult and ignorance of the many people who remain suffering in slavery today.
The Black American voice in this struggle has the weight of history, study, understanding and legacy that would be more powerful than any other voice contributed – yet it is a voice that is missing, for the large part, from the work to end human slavery and trafficking.
The legacy of racism, discrimination and slavery that to this day still poisons and holds down the Black American would begin to find its path to healing within the community when the community gives itself the opportunity to heal others who suffer the same. That is the core principle of recovering from trauma – those that can help others to recover find recovery themselves. No apology, no restitution can even come close to the empowerment of being able to prevent someone else from suffering the same harm.
And in gaining the voice of those who have healed and those who help, the power of their voice to redeem this country from its cesspool of hatreds and racism cannot be underestimated.
America needs powerful and fearless leaders from all of our cultures and communities who stand strong for our right to be within the community of mankind – without separation, without discrimination and with the expectation that our histories will teach us how to heal and grow.
We have sat by for too long and allowed our histories to be the textbooks only for tyrants.
We have allowed ourselves to adopt the attitude of ‘me’ first and lost sight of the fact that those who take, those who hurt, those who harm – make no such distinction between us all.
Consider your life.
What is it that you consider to be of you and important enough to command your energies and your efforts?
Is it only what looks like you, or that you consider to be related to you by blood or nationality or ethnicity?
If the blacks only stand for the blacks, the Jews only for the Jews, the Arabs only for the Arabs, Latins only for Latins, Asians only for Asians, Whites only for Whites, Gays only for the Gays, women only for women, men only for men…then we are a world divided and a world that is easily conquered by evil.
Every voice should raised for the defense and support of those who suffer and are in harm’s way. Every voice should be raised to shout down even the barest idea that would cause harm to the least among us, for it is in recognizing that we are all related through our humanity, that we will heal ourselves and the world. It is in loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, that we shall know peace on earth.
In Christ’s name,
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe/Grace Independent All Right’s Reserved