Genesis 1 King James Version (KJV)
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
Somehow, we have lost God and returned to darkness. Somehow, we have given up all that was good and fallen into Hell. Somehow, we have chosen to live in darkness, but we need not continue this way.
I was 10 years old when President Kennedy was slaughtered in Dallas, Texas in November, 1963. I was in music class. As a nation, we stopped what we were doing and we mourned the man. We felt hope being stolen and the darkness began to descend As a 10 year-old, I only knew that sadness and grief gripped all the adults around me. And I was sore afraid.
In February of 1965, in New York City, Malcolm X was executed. His death was a political assassination of a black leader and was just the beginning. I had a vague awareness of Malcolm X, but I was only 12, so his death was not immediately impactful in my suburban life. But I was aware of the fear and mistrust.
In April of 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I was now a much more impressionable age of 14. I had heard Jesse Jackson speak of Dr. King. I had marched with my mother to support Civil Rights. I had celebrated when our minister had gone to Washington, D.C. to support Dr. King and join with millions of Americans who were asking for justice for African Americans during the March on Washington. I remember going out on my back porch and looking up at the heavens as the TV and radio covered the riots that were spontaneously erupting in my home town of Chicago and in neighboring communities in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles. I knew the world that I had grown up with had died along with Dr. King.
Just two months later, Robert Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles. It seemed as if the world was unable to accept any sort of hope or light or promise of equality. I, along with my mother, wept at the needless deaths of individuals who had carried the promise of a brighter, more equitable future for all of us.
Television covered all of these moments in history. Walter Cronkite informed the nation of JFK’s death. We collectively grieved and found ourselves in video filmed following Kennedy’s cortege and freeze-framed John-John’s salute. Malcolm’s death was covered by mainstream media with a focus on his role in instigating uprisings among Blacks (then called Negros). He was cast as a violent man who called upon Negros to take up arms against Whites.
Our eyes on the world were filtered through journalists who had reported the evils of Hitler, Communism, and socialism. We were indoctrinated by pundits and power brokers who brooked no opposition and expected us to fall in line and accept what we were being told for our own good. But the medium of television brought a new and more powerful persuader – pictures in real time of the events as they were unfolding.
The Reverend King was sanctified by his followers and vilified by our government (FBI). His murder by a southern white man was covered by mainstream media that included footage of his “I Have A Dream” speech given at the foot of the Lincoln Monument.
Between 1968 and 1970, there was relative calm, except for that nagging conflict on the other side of the world in Viet Nam. Protests persisted as casualties were reported daily. More and more young men refused to sign up for the draft or went to Canada. Those who did get drafted were predominantly young me of color who saw service as a means of bettering themselves rather than as valorous service to a nation that disregarded them.
When white students were killed at Kent State in May of 1970, the mainstream media once again covered it. What was disregarded, but no less horrendous was the shooting at Jackson State. Since this was a predominantly Black school, it was discounted.
I list all of these moments in my formative years because they have contributed to my numbness in the blatant commission of murder of people of color by some citizens and some law enforcement. It has become common. So much so that it doesn’t even make mainstream news, except when there is destruction and push-back. And I am saddened because along with my lack of shock has come an acceptance of these acts and an unforgivable silence on my part in speaking up for those who have no voice.
In the last week, our nation has crossed the threshold of 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19. We have seen the hunting of one black man by white men and the murder of another in custody of those who were sworn to preserve and protect. These events were shared over and over on social media, mainstream media, and in newspapers and magazines. Outrage? No, just a Tweet. Just another headline. No action on the part of our elected officials.
Yet, we have been here before. As a nation, we have stood on this precipice, not once or twice, but more than five times in our recent history.
What is different this time is that we are all feeling the vulnerability. People of privilege are not immune to COVID, although we seem to be numb to the suffering of other fellow beings. COVID has taken more people of color than whites, giving false witness to a belief that whites are somehow favored or protected against death and suffering. I am here to bear witness that suffering is not the sole domain of skin color or age, or economics, or zip code. All of us are diminished by every death. Our humanity is stripped when we go about our lives claiming rights that are based on misconception and bad education.
Perhaps it is time to admit that we have stayed in darkness too long. We need to explore our own darkness and surrender to a more potent truth that we need each other and without finding ways to coexist and collaborate we will all succumb. When God created this earth, I have to believe, this was not what He had in mind.