Last year in Charlottesville the country was dramatically awakened from its momentary daydream of a post-racial society. The Klan and its affiliates rallied. The backlash-president cheered them on. We needed to resurrect old language to describe the scene. There were White people, “their lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification” as they argued states’ rights to keep monuments of racists in public squares. Modern digital White people had to say Ku Klux Klan out loud for the first time. Real America stood up to be counted since Sanitized America had silenced it for so long. The value of Black people to the country was brought back into question and our bodies became an issue. Strangely, it put a particular strand of White people on trial.
The daydream was rudely interrupted for some. Black people had never taken the nap. We knew.
While the Sanitized slept, Black people were still being killed mercilessly by White people – shot by police, choked and strangled on national television, hunted and stalked in subdivisions and brutalized at swimming pools and in classrooms, murdered in church. Mental lights of Black children were snuffed out by failing schools. The cauldron was so pressurized, we were killing each other. During the daydream we were screaming that we couldn’t breathe. We were in a constant battle for breath, for dignity and for citizenship.
The value of our very bodies became a subject of national conversation. In the public dialogue, “Black bodies” was a topic. How do we develop places and spaces that ensure the safety of Black bodies? How do we reconstruct a policy infrastructure based on the premise that Black bodies are valuable? How do we build educational institutions that value Black bodies as well as Black minds?
When the value of your body is a discussion, the depth of the problem is revealed.
It divorces your body from your person. After tragedies, bodies are recovered and people are rescued. It is a separate matter to discuss whether the body is the temple of the soul – a theological question that in this context is worth considering. Talking about Black bodies in the abstract, however, is dehumanizing. It puts Black people in the position of having to defend our basic humanity. It creates the challenge of having to make a public argument to demonstrate that our bodies are not separate and distinct from our identity as people.
Our bodies are not disposable as historic American evidence would have the world believe, or as the behavior of the Unite the Right movement would have the world reconsider. That is a fundamental fact. There aren’t Black minds and souls and a separate set of Black bodies. There are merely Black people. That, in the beginning of the 21st century, ought to be self-evident. It is neither the task nor the responsibility of Black people to prove our humanity. It is, and has always been, self-evident.
Ironically, the conditions that raise the discussion of the value of Black bodies are the basis of an indictment on a strand of American ideology that is resurgent. Those people that champion the memorial of racists who supported the sale of Black bodies on the block or the separation of Hispanic families at the border have to be brought to account. Their humanity is on trial and that is not my cross to bear.
The healing required for the country to regain a sense of decency has to begin with those American White people whose humanity is so broken. It is their charge to look inward and repair the relationship between the White body and the White person. Ultimately, the conclusion has to be that there is no distinction and the color qualifier is irrelevant – we’re all merely people with the same human yearnings. Only then will they be able to recognize the humanity in themselves which is a prerequisite for recognizing it in others. Then there won’t be a need for a Sanitized America. The Real one will be the right one.
In the meantime, the body is the temple of the soul. That’s how we know we’re human.