Let's talk now, honest people, about how short and contentious our moments of revelation are, and how they collapse under the weight of our ponderous human frailty--no wait. Let's don't. The song "Amazing Grace" is a beautiful song about turning over one's life through a thunderbolt of awareness of what one is now and what one wishes to be.
The author of that song was a slaver who was saved and became an abolitionist. That song is an autobiography of a turning point in a life. But more than that, it is a song about getting awakened. The people who lost their lives June 17th were awake in their faith. That song has been sung at many a Christian burial, and played beautifully by that least-loved of instruments, the bagpipes, at the funerals of soldiers, cops, and firefighters. It's a song we associate with the hope that this awake life was well-lived and that this soul comes finally home.
But let's not get too much overtaken with that song, although in that instant our President went and took us all to church. Let's consider the eulogy that he delivered for Pastor Clementa Pinckney about the arc of history within the Black church:
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah…”
… rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.
They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.
That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.This is a moment of short-lived grace--because we can talk about the survival of the black church, but the desecration and destruction of church buildings is a white supremacist goal, and one that seems to have been renewed with this recent attack.
There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church…
… a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.
And let's talk also about the short-lived grace of support for taking down the traitor rag of the stars and bars, that wasn't prioritized before it flew over the funerals of those black people so recently and so racistly slain. Let's talk about how that flag has been celebrated anew.
Sometimes we get to experience the grace of people who understand that other people matter.
This is not that time. This flowering of support for that flag is a forgetting.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the *forms* [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
All of the articles of secession read pretty much like this. They are racist and white supremacist and have the continuation of slavery at their core.
Now, despite what no less a wit than Ann Coulter has described as the finest army to have ever taken the field, the Confederate side lost. That flag should have been properly lost, as well. The point of flags is that the losing side lowers theirs and admits the other side won. But that didn't happen here. In the sense of historical importance, it was like the South was allowed their romantic view that they might just rise again--to do what? I have never entirely understood.
But if to do anything, to smack the shit out of black people, like what happened to John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Like what happens in small towns and large towns, to what happens to black kids north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, to the fates of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and to Mike Brown, and to adults also. So many names, so many of them I've blogged about here, and so many I hurt to think I neglected to tell their tales.
So sometimes we see a thing that looks like progress--a Barack Obama comes to office, and then is trashed by Tea Partiers to heck and back and called everything including that one six letter word. He builds on the legacy of Roosevelt and Truman and Johnson and Carter and Clinton to make affordable health care a thing, and gets called a Communist. He's blamed when racists strike out against black people anywhere, as if his black face is a practical incitement to riot and he can't even be presumed to not be a militant. ACORN and other good establishments are read for filth just because they carry out the liberal tradition of enlisting grassroots.
There is a thing even I, an non-believer, call "grace". It is that junction of events where progress is possible. It is that rare space in time where shame is called down on hate, and good works get recognition. It is where the deaths of Clementa Pinckney and these other people are not in vain. It is where we pick up that thread of civil rights once more because the same damn shit, like church arson and black people murder, still goes on. It is where we allow we need to reform our civil authorities to be more authoritative and less punitive. It is where we show compassion, and smack down on haters. It is where we let a flag go to the museum and the supporters of it can decide whether they really want to be traitors or not.
It's where we recognize that a brave soul like Bree Newsome is the inheritor of a tradition that produced Rosa Parks. Her civil disobedience was more civil than the state authority that tells her daily that people of her complexion are still regarded as "less-than".
It's where some blind people see that we still have a race issue here in these United States--north and south--but they are fixable if we get awakened and stop being blind to it.
It's time we see something beyond "history and heritage". We need to see a path to a better future for all of us.