By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
In an essay written by James Baldwin in 1962 entitled, “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” the author/essayist asked “How have we managed to become what we have, in fact, become? And if we are… so empty and so desperate, what are we to do about it? How shall we put ourselves in touch with reality?”
It might be that, instead of “becoming,” we have merely matured into who we are as a nation. We were never the embodiment of the words written in the Declaration of Independence. America was never a country which believed in and practiced equality of all people.
In our maturation process, we have carried with us an unhealed spirit, because we have never attended to our racism. Thrust under and between the pages of the Bible and the United States Constitution, we have lived as though racism does not exist, although we have known that it was there, but in our denial, the droplets of our systemic societal illness have spewed and splattered over Americans – all of us, regardless of race or ethnicity – and caused a grave moral condition which has only gotten worse over time.
And now, the moral and the physical viruses are meeting and clashing.
While Black people are fighting for an end to racism and specifically, an end to blatant state-sanctioned violence, the white power structure is fighting to hold onto its domination of both people and property. Black people, thoroughly disgusted by the murder of George Floyd by an ex-Minnesota police department, have spilled out into the streets – accompanied by White people – lots of White people – who have decided to leave their places of relative safety to fight alongside Blacks for injustice based on race which Floyd’s death made impossible to ignore.
In fighting the systemic virus of racism, they are risking their lives and the lives and health of others as they have ignored all social distancing rules designed to keep the physical virus from infecting them.
We do not care. We are tired. And it seems that this systemic virus has exhausted a lot of other people as well. The power structure is being challenged in a way it never expected – by both viruses. Both are deadly and both will contribute to the continual weakening of America’s social structure. The “good old days” are gone, and just as life as we knew it changed after 911, life as we knew it before the dual hits of the physical and systemic virus will never return.
The viruses are not fighting against each other. They are operating in tandem, both attacking the loss of life that each causes. They both exist because of white supremacy, a social construct which cares only about money and the exploitation to get it and to keep it. In that goal, the social construct resulted in the creation of a society that the disparities of care given to the haves and have-nots have produced the perfect environment for this war to be waged against it. The dual viruses are flourishing because they have infected and attacked the spirits of people who suffer from poor health care, economic inequality and poverty, poor education, and poor housing.
Baldwin said in the same essay cited earlier, “we live in a country in which words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not to wake him up …” In other words, this nation’s maturity has resulted in this merger of the dual viruses because it has insisted in living in the myth of American exceptionalism. It has refused to see and to acknowledge its racism and what it has been doing to the very fabric of this country since its inception. Words have been used, as Baldwin states, to “cover the sleeper.” America has not wanted to wake up, and so it hasn’t, but now, it is as though the light of morning has rudely intruded the dark that America has chosen to live beneath.
In this light, over 100,000 people have already died due to the work of both viruses, and we have yet to see how many people will be affected by the physical virus even as they are fighting the systemic virus which has already caused so much death and destruction.
Baldwin asks, “How is America to become a nation?” That is the core, the unstated reason for this war that we are in. America must become what it professed to be, or it will die, joining the ranks of other empires that have fallen. America’s arrogance and her denial of who she really is has catapulted us to where we are now, and my prayer is that the viruses alter the core and the character of America so that there is room for it to breathe, and live into its lofty goals.
Even in doing that, however, America’s illness has severely debilitated it. No country in the world will look on this nation with the respect we once inspired. The world sees how our disease has infected us, and its nations are turning away, disappointed and sad, but clear that what they admired for years is no more.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.