In the wake of the killing police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, as well as our country’s on-going discussion on Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, not to mention the end of one of the most xenophobic and frightening political conventions in history, “We Talk. We Listen.” is now teaming with its authors to point a way forward out of the tragedies of the from the beginning of this month. Pulling from the wisdom of African American thinkers, Prof. Kelly Brown Douglas of Goucher College reminds us all that there is indeed a way forward, and that we needn’t despair even when facing the most intractable evils of our country’s history. Please read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Yesterday morning I sent my son the following text as I was unnerved by videos of yet two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, being killed by police officers for no readily apparent reason…
“Just saw the video of police killing yet another black man. As always be careful, stay safe and remember what to do if you are stopped for whatever reason by the police: hands on the steering wheel, do nothing and say nothing, stay alive.”
This morning I received this text from my son: What do you think about what is going on in this country? He was apparently unnerved—as am I—about the slayings of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of seven others.
There is trouble in our land. The deadly tragedies of the last few weeks are only symptomatic of the trouble. For it is about more than the apparent suspicious mistrust and broken relationship between police and the black community. The trouble in our land is about a divide which we have yet to have the courage to face in this country: it is the divide of race.
As Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison once pointed out, “Deep within the word ‘America’ is its association with race.” There is no getting around it, “racism” is endemic to America’s very identity. Though sometimes unspoken, throughout America’s history—in both explicit and implicit ways—a racialized narrative has circumscribed the meaning of citizenship for certain groups of people. It has determined who is and who is not “entitled” to the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And, it has created a violently racialized society that compromises and endangers all life in this country.
And so, “where do we go from here?”
Fifty years ago, in response to President Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, “Our nation should do a great deal of soul searching . . . while the question ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question ‘What killed him?’ is more important.” King’s words are instructive. For, if there is to be an end to the epidemic of “racialized” violence in this country, if there is to be justice, then at the same time that we seek arrests, indictments, and guilty verdicts, we must demand that this nation engage in hard soul-searching regarding the question of race. It must confront the ideology that sustains systemic, structural and cultural forms of racism. We must be clear that systemic, structural and cultural racism is violent—left unchecked and unaddressed it is deadly.
Borrowing from the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, America is a nation defined by “two warring thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings, two warring ideas.” This country must decide if it is going to be a nation torn asunder by race or a nation unified by a commitment to freedom and justice for all.
It must determine if it is to be a nation divided by lines of color or a nation dedicated to the declaration that all persons, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual identity or any other human attribute, are created equal and deserving of all that is necessary to flourish into the sacred beings they were created to be.
What happened to Alton, to Philandro, to the five dead and seven wounded Dallas police officers was not just about events that unfolded on any particular night. They are about the insidious and unexamined racialized history and identity that is America.
Poet and scholar Audre Lorde once said, “Our silence will not protect us.” We must break the deadly silence in this country about the matter of race if ever we are to stop the senseless brutal and fatal attacks upon innocent lives.
An interview with the Dr. Douglas talking about her book Stand Your Ground.
Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, is Professor and Director of the Religion Department at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a leading voice in womanist theology and has served as an Episcopal priest for over 20 years. Widely published in national and international journals, her groundbreaking book Sexuality and the Black Church was the first to address the issue of homophobia within the black church community. Her most recent publication is Stand Your Ground, where she writes, “There has been no story in the news that has troubled me more than that of Trayvon Martin’s slaying. President Obama said that if he had a son his son would look like Trayvon. I do have a son and he does look like Trayvon.” Other publications include, The Black Christ, Black Bodies and the Black Church, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It? She has also received the Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement, and was honored as “Womanist Legend” by the Black Religious Scholars Group.