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?

#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with ReligionAndPublicLife.org.

 

more from IFYC

Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh, the person who nominated Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize and encouraged King to speak out against the war in Vietnam.
What Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh taught me about the power of mindful breathing through art.
A scholar of democratic virtues explains why Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on hope are relevant today.
From covering spirituality in Silicon Valley to writing an online newsletter about her own journey to Judaism, reporter Nellie Bowles keeps finding innovative ways to reflect on religion and technology.
Six ways religious and spiritual leaders can help the internet serve their communities right now.
At the request of his editors at Religion News Service, Omar Suleiman writes about waiting with hostages’ families.
Regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, the PNBC leaders said they plan to lobby Congress in March and register voters weekly in their congregations and communities.
King’s exasperation at self-satisfied white Christians holds up a mirror that is still painfully accurate today.
A day before the U.S. Senate was expected to take up significant legislation on voting rights that is looking likely to fail, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eldest son condemned federal lawmakers over their inaction.
The congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, is particularly well connected to the larger interfaith community and on good terms with many Muslim leaders.
For Martin Luther King Day, an interfaith panel reflects on the sacredness of the vote and the legacy of Reverend King.
In his new book, Princeton historian Julian E. Zelizer reexamines the life of Abraham Joshua Heschel and finds lessons for interfaith political activism today.
King drew criticism from Billy Graham, who told journalists that he thought King was wrong to link anti-war efforts with the civil rights movement.
Some are calling out historical injustices the church has carried out against Native Americans, even as others find their faith empowering.
IFYC’s Vote is Sacred campaign launched on January 13. Faith leaders, public intellectuals, activists, and organizers are joining to advocate for an inclusive, nonpartisan interfaith approach to restoring and protecting our democracy.
One out of five Muslims is in an interfaith relationship, surveys suggest. But few imams are willing to conform the traditional Muslim wedding ceremony to their needs, couples say.
In her popular podcast series, Corrigan invites guests to wonder about 'the elephant in America's living room': belief and religion. 'I hope I have a hundred more conversations like these in 2022 and beyond,' she says.
In his annual address to the Vatican's diplomatic corps, the pope stressed the individual's responsibility 'to care for ourself and our health, and this translates into respect for the health of those around us.'
The very people who have been subject to the worst of the United States have embodied its best.
The Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol drew recent attention to the phenomenon of Christian nationalism, but religious and spiritual leaders acknowledge its existence long before that.
A new interfaith curriculum designed for Christian universities and seminaries recently got a test run. One professor who tried it says it's opened hearts and minds: "The desire is very much there."

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.