Blood on our hands

An earlier version of this pay was mistakenly published early

Then YHWH said to Cain “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know” answered Cain, “Does my brother, the keeper of sheep, need a keeper?”

YHWH replied, “What have you done? Can’t you hear it? Your brother’s blood is screaming out to me from the ground!”

–Genesis 4:9-10

I’ve struggled to write this post. On the one hand, I’ve felt so inadequately placed to even begin to address the issues surrounding the most recent series of murders of Black men and women at the hands of current or former police officers: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I had originally planned to write about Ahmaud Arbery, and then the news of Breonna Taylor came out. I thought to write about what happened there and the challenge it presents the Church. Then the video of George Floyd being murdered before us by an officer of the state was posted.

I will not be posting that video here. It is shocking, it is uneasy, it is also far too common. A High School classmate of mine, who now teaches rhetoric, has spoken about the uneasy tension such videos have. On the one hand, people want to be informed, and they should know what’s happening. On the other, the history of public lynching in the US gives the viewing of the video an even darker tone than it had before. Make no mistake, when you saw the video, you saw a man being murdered. So what do we say to that?

I am not a black. I am an almost middle-aged, white man who grew up in the American Southwest. My college education was primarily in the American Southwest and South. As a result, I recognize I am ill-equipped to approach this topic. So I’ve been listening.

person s hands covered with blood

I’ve pointed people to other resources, to black authors, especially those in the Black Theology and Womanist Theology traditions. I’ll continue to do so (James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree should be required reading for whites in churches and Delores S Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness for all men). Before I get too far into this, I want to be clear: this is the perspective of one white man. I can only lisp where others, due to their education and experience, are better equipped to speak.

Despite this, I recognize that while it is tantamount that priority and preference be given to black voices above white voices like mine, it is also extremely important that I not be completely silent in these conversations. With that in mind, I will not be entirely silent. This is partly so people of color might know they are not standing alone. Whatever privilege I inherited by virtue of my birth and history, I hope to use in order to lift up black voices.

Also, I am still learning. I will never not be learning. I may falter and fall. But I won’t let fear of failure keep me from adding my voice to the voices of many others.

Above all else, I would hope my white friends would hear this: it is not enough to simply not be a racist.

You must move toward being anti-racist. That journey starts with listening, recognition and educating yourself. I hope to contribute to that process. I hope that, together, we might learn to listen.

As God declared to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me”. The implication is that Cain should be able to hear the blood cry out too, if only he tried to listen. By not listening, Cain continues to do violence to Abel. In the same way, even though we may not have performed an explicitly racist act, even though you were not the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, by not listening, by not letting the blood of the black saints cry out to you from the ground, you perpetuate the violence against them. All of those unjustly slain as part of system set up to keep them down. So I hope to acknowledge, on the one hand, the blood on my own hands, and to give voice, on the other, to the blood that cries out.

For those of you still with me, I’m going to start next time by examining these most recent cases.

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