Unflattering Portraits

Unflattering Portraits

July 27, 2014
Written by Steven Liechty

John Edgerton

"But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons." - Genesis 30:25-43

Jacob always thrived against the odds. From his savvy handling of lentil stew to the fake-hairy-forearms subterfuge, Jacob advances and thrives where others might not. But then Jacob begins working for Laban. And Laban cheats Jacob at every turn, stealing years of Jacob's labor and enriching himself in the process.

Jacob's day to receive fair payment finally comes. But when he is set to receive the agreed upon compensation for years of work—all the black and speckled livestock—Laban pulls a fast one. He removes all the black and speckled animals and gives them to his sons to hide far away. Jacob looks over the flocks to see what his work has earned, and sees nothing but a sea of white. There was no black or brown wealth anywhere. Where did it all go?

In Ta-Nehisi Coates' shattering article, The Case for Reparations, he surgically dissects American history into one era of white supremacist exploitation after another. African American labor and endeavor has been stolen generation after generation. Legitimized by the law, enforced through public violence, too often blessed by the church; the wealth of America has accrued in white hands through dishonest means. If I read the story of Jacob and Laban through the lens of race in America, an unflattering portrait of this nation emerges.

However, no one talks about the Twelve Tribes of Laban. In the end, God's justice prevails and Laban's white-washed wealth turns back to its true colors, black wealth returns to its rightful owners.


God of Jacob, may the old stories come to life again, today.

About the Author
John Edgerton is Associate Pastor at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

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