Recently, the nation witnessed one of the most heart wrenching and, to a degree, mind-blowing events in recent American history. At the southern US border, human beings are being detained in fenced-in cells that some have called “cages.” In addition to the images we’ve seen, ProPublica published audio clips of children who have been separated from their families, crying out with fear, pain, and confusion. The hopes of entering a “land of the free” have been dashed with no clear sign of an opportunity to gain citizenship. Families are being torn apart literally at the nation’s southern border.
We’ve seen this before!
We, as children of God who have been kissed by the sun and are not melanin deficient, are the descendants (most of us) of broken families, due to the triangle slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. I raise this reminder to help contextualize this moment in history for us. We have seen this before. Our people were taken from their native lands and brought into the Western Hemisphere as laborers — as slaves. If our people were fortunate enough to arrive on these shores as a family unit, they still always fearfully faced the auction block, which was notoriously known for sending fathers to one plantation, mothers to another and children to yet another. We’ve seen this before.
I’m reminded of writers of slave narratives such as Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass and Henry Bibb. I’m reminded of poets throughout our history such as Phillis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes. I’m reminded of the countless other black writers and artists who penned, authored, drafted and designed their reality in print so that a flawed people in a flawed nation could see, artfully so, the error of their ways. They speak to us throughout history and live through pages of print today. They were able to give voice to their experiences of oppression, disinheritance, dismemberment and disillusionment. We have seen this before.
What we have witnessed is a new wave of an old reality. The reality is that our nation is and has been sick for quite some time. This sickness is not due to any political leanings or party affiliations. This sickness is not a failing of some policy or set of policies. This sickness is not the result of any lapse in judgment or change of heart. This sickness is actually a side effect of a disease that has existed in this nation since its inception. Listening to political commentators, the question has been asked, “Where is our moral compass?” The answer is simple. The moral compass of America is built on whiteness and is enforced by preserving the principles of whiteness at all costs. Whiteness, contrary to popular belief, has little to do with complexion or nationality; rather, whiteness is a social construct and manner of being in the world. What I mean here is that there are those in our society and world that benefit from constructing and maintaining the idea that white is right and anything else is othered. This othering sets up and maintains the various dichotomies we see in our nation. In this nation, there have always existed the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor, the right and the wrong, the privileged and the underprivileged. We’ve seen this before.
As I examine what we’ve witnessed recently, I cannot help but hear the clarion call of the writer of Chronicles who states, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, turn from their wicked ways and seek my face, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Not only do I hear the chronicler, I firmly and fully believe in the power of prayer to change things. So, we must pray! Not only that, the good news is that this sickness does not have to be unto death. In Nazi Germany, those who endorsed and operated the concentration camps were defeated. Yes, many lives were lost, but God brought an end to those heinous designs. This nation does not have to face the same fate. Prayer is a part of the chronicler’s admonition, but what is truly central to accessing the power of God is in the turning. There is a need to turn from idolatry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry, heterosexism and all other divisive deterministic demarcations we have promulgated throughout this nation’s history. We must turn! We have seen this before.
I believe this nation’s failure, shortcoming and sickness ultimately lay in those who are harbingers of whiteness being unwilling to turn due to ego and fear. They are fearful that evening the odds will somehow diminish their capacity to be “white” in America. There is a need, as there was a need centuries ago in Rome, to maintain the American version of Pax Romana at all cost: Pax Romana is directly translated the Peace of Rome. Peace was to be maintained at all costs, even to the point of killing those who did not look like you or have a Roman seal of belonging — citizenship — on them. This nation’s ego is actually edging God out and not allowing God to be God. Until we turn from these worthless things and turn to the true and living God, we will not truly be able to live in harmony. I pray we turn quickly, for the children who are trapped at the border in cages are depending on us. Yes, we’ve seen this before, but now it’s time to be “one nation under God!” How long will it take?
#FamiliesBelongTogetherDr. Wallis C. Baxter III (Pastor B) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church SW in District Heights, Maryland