by Lisa Sharon Harper
In 2007, on her death-bed, Carolyn Bryant confessed to Timothy Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till: Emmett Till never did anything.
This is the story that plays on repeat in this nation; not once in a generation, but rather once a week. Black men, women and children are wrongfully accused of criminal activity or misdemeanors and are killed by cops or vigilantes, as a result.
This is how it is. This is how it has been. People are calling for police reform, but I’ve begun to wonder out-loud: Can policing be reformed in the United States. Is it enough to tinker? Or is it time to start new, dream new, design a new way of being together in the world?
I’m in the midst of writing my next book, Fortune.
Fortune traces 10 generations of my family history, back to 1682, Maryland.
The book asks the question “How did we get here and how do we repair what race broke in the world?”
What I found in my research was that at various points in the history of our nation, we came to forks in the road. Our nation was presented with a choice:
We could choose domination or we could choose humility.
We could choose exploitation or we could choose honor.
We could choose genocide of the First Nations that walked this land or we could choose deference to them.
When the first Africans were forced off The White Lion, we could choose to send them back home or hold them and exploit their labor.
When Virginia and Maryland were faced with the conundrum of White plantation owners raping the African women they enslaved — and white women coming from England, Ireland and Scotland and choosing to marry enslaved men of African descent — and they all bore mixed race children, The House of Burgess and the Maryland legislature had a choice, racial hierarchy or humanity.
When America became the United States of America and they penned the text, “all men are created equal” the first Congress had a choice: entrench racial hierarchy or give Africans in America the vote?
When the 1865 Congress was penning the 13th Amendment, they could have chosen to abolish slavery, but they didn’t. They chose to shift it to the prison system.
When Whites in the South were faced the reality that their free labor had been set free, they could have done the work to figure out a system of just payment, government subsidy, partnership and mutual struggle to rebuild the south. But they didn’t. They chose convict leasing and subjugation through terror.
And when 7 million Africans in America fled Southern terror the North and the West could have welcomed them, trained them, worked with them, but they didn’t. They ghettoized them. Red-lined them and exploited them.
And when our nation’s conscience was seated by the blood of four little girls and horses trampling people on Edmund Pettus Bridge, Congress could have permanently enfranchised all Americans, but they didn’t. They passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, both of which must be reaffirmed by Congress every 20-25 years.
And when those Acts were passed the Southern Dixiecrats could have chosen to embrace this new world, but they didn’t. They streamed into the Republican Party where they staged a 50 year take over and revival of the Civil War.
And when Eric Garner cried “I can’t breathe!” America could have risen up and said, “Let him breathe!” “Let them all breathe!”
And right now, The United States of America stands at a crossroad once again, we can look at Mr. George Floyd’s broken neck declare with our incremental political tinkering, with our Evangelical theological justifications for sinful votes, with our GOP silence in the face of Constitutional betrayal: “Black life does not matter to us!”
Or we can agree with God once and for all; declaring through the way we love and our Black neighbor and Native American neighbor, and our Asian and Middle Eastern and Muslim and Jewish and Sikh and Hindu and Buddhist and LGBTQIA+ and women and disabled and aging neighbors with our hands and feet and policies and votes!
When you plant a seed, you can’t be surprised by the fruit it bears. In 1619, we planted the seed of human hierarchy in the soil of America. For 400 years we have watered that seed. We have basked that seed in Southern sun. We have pruned the seed. But each time it comes back and we eat the fruit. And we are surprised by the fruit.
America, the seed determines the fruit. If you want different fruit, you must plant a new seed.
We need a new seed America—a seed that renounces the sin of human hierarchy and treats every human being with our jurisdiction as if they are our family—The American family—the global family—the human family.
This new seed demands that we take up the root of the tree of human hierarchy in this nation. To do this we will need to vote Trump out! And we need to vote out Trump’s party, as Conservative columnist, George Will, says: “Vote them all out—up and down the ticket!”
And in that day, we can plant a new seed.
It feels like the nation is unraveling. It is frightening. But what if this unraveling is not such a bad thing. What if it is a requiem for the seed of human hierarchy; planted on this soil in 1619.
What if the unraveling is an opportunity. An opportunity to plant a new seed?
Let it be so.