One Sunday morning it was June 19th, or Juneteenth, and Mother Freda Marie, a brilliant African-American woman and the assisting priest at my parish, asked us if we knew why the day was special, other than it being Sunday?
Mine was the lone hand raised. This particular bit of history was specific to Texas, and I didn’t grow up here. How did they not know? Probably because most of us were White, and I only knew because I’d been an adult college student and required to take Texas History.
We don’t like looking at the ugly parts of our past, me least of all but once I was told I was a “three-dimensional thinker”, and I have always had a gift for seeing the interconnectedness of tasks and issues. It can be a bit of a curse at times, blessing at others, and currently it’s made it impossible for me to deny the Original Sin of these United States has been Slavery. It’s a sickness being felt still by this living generation and sowing seeds of injustice, racism, hatred, and violence, so much violence, today and forever until we look this bastard in the face and full-throatedly repudiate it.
What does that look like? For one, I think we have to take the Founders off their pedestals and acknowledge they were enlightened, educated, but all too flawed human men. They offered high ideals but showed hesitancy in doing the right thing in the face of expediency. A lot like us today.
When we’ve wronged another, re-establishing trust requires humbly asking forgiveness. This should come from an official, the President if we had one, offering a heart-felt acknowledgement and apology to Black Americans. It might go something like, “Our Founding Fathers were really smart men, men of the Enlightenment, but they made a Faustian bargain in allowing, for pragmatic reasons, the sin of Slavery to infect our nascent Country. The very first instance of American kicking-of-the-can-down-the-road, trusting future generations to fix the flaw they created. In the years since, Slavery and Racism have insidiously poisoned every facet of our communal lives – relationships, our institutions, the law, our very folk ways of life.
To our Black citizens descended from those brought here in chains, illegally and against their will, we offer a remorseful Nation’s heartfelt apology. For those who felt the scourge of Reconstruction, the KKK, Jim Crow and “Strange Fruit“; Redlining, Segregation, the school-to-prison pipeline; an unjust Justice system, for-profit prisons, and young men shot dead in the streets; we mourn the lost promise of your lives.
And, because apologies, like confessions, are worthless without real change, we hereby agree to Reparations, in forms recommended by the Country’s best Historians, Researchers, and Social Scientists – their goal the greater equity of all citizens through an unflinching examination of the societal and institutional ills thwarting our progress to becoming the greatest nation on Earth. It stands to reason that the greatest majority of those will be Black and Americans of Color . Together, we are going to legislate a way forward, cleansing the sins of the past from our shared path forward.
Your forgiveness is most humbly asked, and your help in creating our collective future, essential. Will you forgive your Country, and lead it to a better way?”
Then, we let them. Truly I tell you fellow White People, we have nothing to lose when all are truly equal under the law, and every citizen guaranteed equity (for a great example of the differences between “Equality” and “Equity”, listen to this short, marvelous sermon).
I hope to live long enough to see a day when Juneteenth might be a bigger celebration, like the Fourth of July, a special day when we celebrate legislation that starting healing our Country. I know a priest who could give one heck of a blessing over that.