The Dehumanization & Demoralization of Black Lives
We celebrate a black man’s resurrection every Easter. A Roman supremacist society crucified Jesus based on trumped up charges. His cross became his lynching tree. But, Jesus arose.
No one will witness Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s resurrections. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, among others, have no more earthly tomorrows.
The Creator sees us all as children. But, some of our siblings don’t claim us. They see dark skin, but they don’t see our humanity.
The dehumanization and demoralization of black people isn’t a new or abstract concept. Eighteenth century Botanist Carolus Linneaus, who broke humankind into categories, placed black people just below giants and gnomes. Linneaus transformed black people from children of God into animals, over which Adam had dominion.
Transforming black people into animals made it easier to reduce them to 3/5s of a human being. Controlling slaves mirrored livestock management. The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 outlawed gun ownership by free Blacks and supported the apprehension of slaves. Castile, a free Black man, was legally permitted to carry a gun and cooperated with police. But, he is dead.
White perpetrators of violence, including Charlotte shooter Dylann Roof and Aurora shooter James Holmes, survived their arrests for—obviously—violent crimes. Sterling and Garner were killed for peddling loose cigarettes and bootleg CDs.
The blood of black bodies flowing in the streets, and the aforementioned double-standard in the interactions between police and the public, fuels the rage black survivors feel. Dehumanization and demoralization of the victims in death only adds lighter fluid to the flame. Death by police brutality subjects victims to a trial by public opinion.
Pundits of all stripes pontificate about their lack of purity. He was no angel. He was no saint. Jesus was more than an angel or saint. Yet, He was still crucified. Behaving or cooperating didn’t save him.
White people resist arrest and point guns at police—and, for the most part, live to tell about it. Certain people can cantankerously interact with law enforcement without inspring police officers’ fear.
Fear, of course, is the go-to excuse in cases of police violence. Repeated over and over when the public asks questions. Just so we’re clear, once is too many times. One instance is too many. It has been said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s more true for black people than any white allies will ever know.
Many black people fear the level of a police officer’s fear. Racism blinds some with privilege to black people’s humanity. Fear only heightens that figurative blindness. The intersection of racism and irrational fear is a dangerous combination.
Let us that pray the scales are lifted from people’s eyes. We must ask God to remove the socially and culturally-constructed cataracts, which allow certain people to see black bodies as animals and threats. They are not animals and threats. Black bodies are children of God.
Jason Carson Wilson is the UCC Justice and Peace Fellow in our Washington, DC office. He is a recent graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary.