“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” - Matthew 6:24.
“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” - Mark 3:25
By Gregg Hunter
This has been a very trying couple of weeks for every U.S. citizen. Seven deaths, seven lives lost, two regular black citizens and five police officers. Outrage, frustration and hopelessness have cycled through just about everyone’s minds. People have shed tears for their lost loved ones and for the lack of progress on race relations in our country. I attended a memorial service at my seminary, McCormick Theological Seminary recently to grieve with my fellow students and citizens of our wounded nation. Earlier that day I listened to an expatriate from the Dominican Republic who grew up in Brooklyn and now attends seminary in Cuba accuse the U.S. of being the primary problem with not just Cuba, but the world and especially for violence towards those of African descent.
I thought I had no more tears to cry and had moved forward, but it turns out I still had a reservoir of emotion that I had left untapped. I am wounded, black people are wounded and our nation is wounded.
So much anger, so much pain, I have witnessed in the last month. At the service, we couldn’t even bring ourselves to sing songs of healing because what good are our songs when they paper over feelings of a wound that still has not healed. I could barely bring myself to speak and cried later that night in the solitude of my apartment. I thought I had no more tears to cry and had moved forward, but it turns out I still had a reservoir of emotion that I had left untapped. I am wounded, black people are wounded and our nation is wounded.
Who wounds us? The nation to whom we pledge our allegiance. We might not be considered three-fifths human anymore, but instead one could say three-fifths American, not fully woven into the fabric of the American Dream and not melted into the pot fully. And therein lies the predicament which I find myself. I am divided and trying to serve two masters, and I am not standing. I am black and American; I love my country yet my country has a strained relationship with people who look like me. I suffer from the disease of what W.E.B Du Bois called “double-consciousness”, trying to be fully black and fully American.
When I say I love my country, I mean it. I own a lot of U.S flag paraphernalia: shorts, t-shirts, sunglasses, jackets; you name it and I probably own it. I mouth the national anthem along with the singer every time I hear it played, imagining the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air as the tune is sung. I cheer enthusiastically whenever I see red, white and blue clad athletes take to their fields of play, spirit rising and falling like rolling hills in those great western parks like Yosemite with every second. There’s no other place I’d rather live. I love the freedom we espouse, the opportunity we offer, the food we consume, the music we listen to, the movies we produce; I love being a U.S citizen and the benefits that come with that.
I suffer from the disease of what W.E.B Du Bois called “double-consciousness”, trying to be fully black and fully American
Yet, those benefits came with a huge cost. This land belonged to other people and the Europeans that came seeking religious freedom, among other things, seized that land. They violently took the land and a Trail of Tears soaked the ground as they traveled to reservations, prisoners in their own home. That was the first wound, the original sin, the loss of paradise and Eden forever marred. Slavery was the second, Cain enslaving Abel instead of killing him. Europeans stole Africans (sometimes even with the help of other Africans) to work the newly stolen land of the “New World”, a vast frontier ripe with potential riches.
When the United States won their independence from Britain, the Founding Fathers reached a compromise on a problem the War for Independence had posed. They based the newly formed government on the premise that “all men are created equal”. Yet, they had not only maltreated the native peoples that lived here, but now enslaved another group of people. If all “men” are created equal, then can we justify keeping some in an inferior position? The debate tortured the consciences of these enlightened men. To some whites, the “Negro” (they had too much refinement to say “nigger,” I imagine) was a beast meant for field labor. Some whites were not comfortable with the reduction of the Negro to beastliness but also did not see the Negro as fully human, a tempered recognition of their humanity. They reached a compromise: the “Negro” was ⅗ of a person, not fully human but not fully beast either; an inferior specimen ordained by God to remain in subordination to superior races.
Therein lies the first division of the house. In the Northern states blacks were hewed to a tempered humanity and in the Southern states to a vastly inferior subspecies. Do not interpret this to mean the Northern states did not utilize slaves; they used slave labor but abandoned the practice earlier than their Southern counterparts. Either way, the Negro held no place in their vision of equal humanity. As the northern economy and southern economy diverged and the country expanded westward, the Negro debate grew tense. Western settlers wanted nothing to do with Negroes. Northerners pushed for abolition but not full equality. The South raked in profit, at least the small number of huge plantation owners did anyway, off the free labor of black bodies. This divided house between North and South didn’t even last a century and Civil War erupted, tearing the fabric of the country asunder.
I have never truly experienced poverty. I was too young to remember when my parents were bankrupt and simulating poverty while I served in a volunteer corps is nowhere close to the real thing
The Union Army won the war and black people finally had a measure of freedom. While we no longer worked the fields for free, we still had no stake in our adopted country. The great leaders of
our race felt that we were entitled to the protections of the law as citizens of the U.S. but the great leaders of our nation did not feel the same uniformly. So we stood in this uncomfortable space between blackness and being American. We fought in the country’s wars to bring peace to the world while we knew no peace. We did not reap the benefits of war’s spoils: the GI Bill and white picket fences in the suburbs; instead we got bills to pay and decaying communities. The only value came from our labor in war, on the field of sports or in music; we could fight, compete and entertain but God forbid we tried to break out of that mold to become a doctor, teacher or lawyer. We worked new fields in new plantations and the U.S. reaped what we sowed.
I have never truly experienced poverty. I was too young to remember when my parents were bankrupt and simulating poverty while I served in a volunteer corps is nowhere close to the real thing. America has been good to me. I’ve never had a run in with the police, I have attended elite private schools and traveled the world. I have never wanted for anything in my life; I’m not rich─ just another middle class young black male who was lucky to have a strong support system in my mother, sister and other family members. I have no reason to dislike my country since my country has shown no dislike to me personally.
However, I have struggled over the last month with the latest shootings of black males and the reality that being black in this country can get you killed. How can I love a country that doesn’t love people that look like me? How can I love a country that causes so much pain to its own citizens and other citizens in different countries like Cuba? The system that the U.S. set up in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War greatly benefited the country and by extension me, but had done almost irreparable harm to other countries. If anything is to change the system must not be incrementally reformed but overthrown. Yet I participate in this system and benefit from our place in the world. I’d rather be black in the U.S. than in Ukrain, Syria or Venezuela. Being black in the U.S. still grants more benefits than being black just about anywhere else.
I love my country and I love being black. Yet I cannot serve two masters because I will hate one and love the other, I cannot love them equally. I cannot serve God, my country, and mammon, that is to say, my black flesh. The U.S. claims to serve God but also has a love affair with the god of mass consumption and wealth accumulation; one of the most famous lines in American cinema is “greed is good”, said Gordon Gekko, words from the 1987 movie Wall Street. The U.S. claims freedom for all its citizens yet polices some groups unfairly. Today, people from places like Mexico, China and India, are caught between the good immigrant narrative, a desire to maintain their cultural heritage, and the U.S. culture of greed.
The U.S. claims to serve God but also has a love affair with the god of mass consumption and wealth accumulation
From the beginning, the U.S. has divided its consciousness between guilt and greed, slavery and freedom That division infects us all. I benefit from the sins of my country despite my country’s sins against people who look like me. Just as our nation stands conflicted, so did I stand conflicted.
I have a stake in maintaining the current world order with U.S. as hegemon yet for anything to change that order must be abolished. I know it, I feel it, I understand it, but don’t know if I can wish for my country’s reckoning. My house is divided and I’m falling apart with each passing day. I don’t know if I can choose between my country and my black kin.