Ain't I a Human? Ain’t this America?
In 2019 the family of Ronald Greene was contacted by Louisiana State Police and notified he was killed in a car accident. In 2020, the world watched in horror for eight minutes as George Floyd plead for his life, called for his mother, and died at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve in Minnesota. In 2021, the video footage of Ronald Greene being beaten to death, tased while lying face down with his hands behind his back, writhing in pain, acknowledging “I am Afraid,” and crying for mercy was released.
His video is a grim reminder that what happened to George Floyd is not unique. Black bodies have been brutalized, black lives have been minimized and black people have been murdered since the beginnings of this country. For some reason, George Floyd made it apparent to many who hadn’t noticed before, shined a light on a reality that others had tucked safely into the darkness, and provided unmitigated proof that America has a deeply rooted problem.
The Founding Fathers in all of their “wisdom” remained silent about the genocide upon which America was forged. Despite this silence, they spoke clearly to affirm that Black-Americans were not fully human, but merely three-fifths of a human. Since that time, this message has been fortified and reiterated in ways that challenge any notion of recognizable humanity. Native Americans have been tucked safely away in reservations where they are “protected” yet suffer from higher rates of poverty and suicide and health challenges than seem imaginable. Their images only conjured in mass media as team mascots. Black-Americans have been lynched without retribution, mutilated without remorse, and dragged and slain in more ways than I can name at the hands of unnamed individuals, unpunished mobs, and unrepentant police. Their lynchings, previously captured on postcards are now documented by police body cameras.
I hear my sisters and brothers calling out in cacophony, “Aint I a Human?” When Sojourner Truth considered the ways in which white women were revered and protected; when she witnessed the ways their gentility and femininity were affirmed and nurtured; when she experienced the contrast in how she was treated relative to those who shared her gender but not her color, she was compelled to ask, “Aint I a Woman?” These many years later, as I consider the ways in which white lives are revered and protected; when I witness the ways their worth and humanity are affirmed and nurtured; when I experience the contrast in how Sandra Bland and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ronald Greene are treated relative to those who share their species but not their color, I am compelled to ask, “Aint we Humans?” and “Aint I a Human?” At no point does the question suggest lowering the bar for those who do receive the benefits of full humanity. It suggests that we need to raise the bar for those who do not.
Do #WhiteLivesMatter? YES! Do #BlueLivesMatter? ABSOLUTELY. Has the legitimacy of white or blue lives ever been challenged in a systematic or consistent way? NO. Has their value ever been questioned by law, constitution, or other official means of state? NO. Hence, the affirmation: #BlackLivesMatter. Perhaps this is the true question – are we sure that #BlackLivesMatter? They didn’t matter to the police who laughed about their brutality against them. They didn’t matter to the mobs who made postcards of their corpses. They didn’t even matter enough to all who stood silently by as these atrocities happened and continue to happen. They don’t matter to those who see the education gap, the health outcomes gap, or the wealth gap and do nothing to change it. They don’t matter to those who know bias exists – in the office, in the c-suites, in the courts, in the banks, in the country clubs, in the ads, in the contracts, in professional sports leadership, in the standardized tests, and more – and do nothing to challenge it. #DoBlackLivesMatter? Do they matter to you? Do they matter enough?
The reality of African-Americans’ historic “three-fifths-ness” is a pervasive influence woven into the fabric of the American economy, judicial system, education, and communities. So, I cry out to America to do more than make good on her promise – for her promise only affirmed me as three-fifths, not a whole. I need the America I love to be the America I am no longer ashamed of – or afraid of. I don’t want to die – or fear that my daughters or son may die – prematurely from health issues or at the hands of a racist police officer. I don’t want to suffer – or fear that my daughters or son may suffer – due to inequity or profiling. I don’t want to watch – or know that my daughters or son or future generations will watch – a repeat of the reality we currently see. After all, Aint this America?
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.