For if the disinherited get such a new center as patriotism, for instance — liberty within the framework of a sense of country or nation, then the aim of not being killed is swallowed up by a larger and more transcendent goal. Above all else the disinherited must not have any stake in the social order; they must be made to feel that they are alien, that it is a great boon to be allowed to remain alive, not be exterminated. This was the psychology of the Nazis; it grew out of their theory of the state and the place given the Hebrew people in their ideology. Such is also the attitude of the Ku Klux Klan towards Negroes. — Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited
The poignant and timeless words of Howard Thurman seamlessly speak to the present dilemma of the disinherited within America who sit in the tension, terror and tragedy of a nation that consistently fails the “folk.”
“Folk,” those who are at the margins, exist in the gaps, are discarded in the valleys and left to survive on their own methods absent of communal or governmental intervention. Those bearing ailments, disabilities, possessing financial lack and material insufficiency, yet clinging to an internal disposition of survival while all the world around them decays. Those who sense there is no righteous indignation for their sustainability and progression.
This is the dilemma presently intensified within a United States Senate unable, and unwilling, to pass voter rights protections amid democratic decay as morale continues to decrease. Such is the state of America’s conscience marred in moral bankruptcy and communal decay.
This nation’s foundation, one claimed to be built upon communal concepts of justice and liberty for all, has long needed deconstructing and reconstitution. Institutional apathy, capitalistic abuse and white hegemonic fear exuded in displacement tactics have caused us to arrive at this present hour. An hour that is witnessing the American project hang in the balance as the folk are seen as disposable commodities and viewed as replaceable — irredeemable — cattle on the farm of American disenfranchisement and plains of fertile white fragility.
This is the same fragility that would lead the Senate to pass a bill granting the Congressional Gold Medal to Emmett Till and Mamie Till yet possessing no gumption to deem the acts of Jan. 6, 2021, as domestic terrorism.
This is the same fragility that sees no issue changing the filibuster rules under a Republican president to secure Supreme Court judges yet exasperates claims of “process” when the people are centered.
“This is the same fragility that sees no issue changing the filibuster rules under a Republican president to secure Supreme Court judges yet exasperates claims of ‘process’ when the people are centered.”
This is the same fragility that claimed sorrow and grief at the passing of Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John R. Lewis yet lacks the gall to ensure folks, Black folks, are seen as equal.
This is the same fragility evidenced in the words of Mitch McConnell from the Senate floor declaring, “If my colleague tries to break the Senate to silence those millions of Americans, we will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House than what anybody has seen in living memory.”
McConnell’s statement is a clear commitment to block the rights of some for the sake of retaining power. This is not an American anomaly, instead it’s the honest state of American consciousness.
There was living, and evidenced, angst and anger with the Trump administration coupled with undeniable agony toward our democratic affairs and nation’s republic. Manifested through a summer, in 2020, where Black bodies hung and lay in the streets as strange fruit only for thoughts and prayers to be uttered. All while a pandemic ravaged the homes, communities and lives of the disinherited whose existence is viewed no different than Henrietta Lacks. Black and brown bodies were deemed absent of patriotism and only worthy of death.
Consequently, we arrive at this point of apathy as the minority struggles to find hope and help amid a government that has failed collectively. Jeremiah Wright Jr. in his 2003 sermon “Confusing God and Government,” highlighted such: “And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed.”
“Denial, deception and delusion enable a state of ill existence to become, and remain, normative.”
Denial, deception and delusion enable a state of ill existence to become, and remain, normative. These practices must be replaced with a communal and reconstituted democracy built by and for the people, where the folks are not discarded. Where the aim of not being killed is swallowed up by a larger and more transcendent goal.
However, if this nation is to change for the good of the folk, a larger and more transcendent goal must be imagined, sketched and actualized. This goal must not center on American exceptionalism, imperialism, militarism, supremacy or xenophobia but be directly confronted by the truthfulness of its failures.
We must be honest about this nation’s failures, commitment to abandon the vulnerable and unwillingness to reconstitute for the sake of all, forcing the folks to erect a more divine goal. We need a goal larger than amplifying American wins and losses, addressing white hegemonic fear amid massive demographic shifts, and skating the surface of inter-generational terror.
If America’s consciousness is to contain a morality of righteous indignation and communal ingenuity, the attitude of Congress and the nation toward and commitment to the disenfranchised must change — or the country we’ve known will be no more. Without such, the disinherited remain external to this nation’s construct and priorities and alien to the prospect of life.
Jamar A. Boyd II serves as senior manager for organizational impact with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
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