The Depth of Our Hidden Wound
by Apolonio Latar III
After the death of George Floyd, I peacefully protested for the same reason I go to the March for Life: it is a small gesture to show the presence of a people that affirms the fundamental goodness of life against the evil present in culture.
One of the most beautiful and difficult things I have learned from Monsignor Luigi Giussani is to see reality as a gift and to never censor anything. Having this understanding does not come about overnight. It requires friends who help me see what I don’t see, patience with myself, a true affection for the depth and meaning of things, and painful trust that the Father is faithful. It is within the understanding of reality as a gift that I let myself be provoked by the current events of the death of George Floyd, the anger of many protestors, and the division in the country.
This is how I am making sense of current events in light of this country’s history. Early in this country’s history, laws were passed to make race the criterion for the superiority of one group of people over another. These laws made slavery the permanent state of many people of African descent.
What were the experiences of a slave? If you were a slave, then your body was a memory of being someone’s property. You were domesticated so that you could look healthy and be sold. (see Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South). One of the first experiences of a slave, then, was that the other had power over you and was a threat to you. It was not an experience of being a son or a daughter.
A black slave was someone who was in a land that was not his own. You had been sold from one country to another, from one state to another. You were dislocated, detached from your family, friends, community your land, and values; you suffered from “cultural dislocation.” You simply did not have a culture (see Eugene Genovese’s “The Negro Laborer in Africa and the Slave South”).
A slave's work was defined by the amount of his production. Especially after the industrial revolution and technological advancements, slaves had to compete with the production of machines. A cotton picker had to increase his production day by day and sometimes would be beaten if he did not do so (see Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told).
So, a slave was fatherless and motherless, an orphan with no culture and with nothing that expressed his dignity. A slave was a tortured orphan. And it is clear that the experience of being a slave did not go away overnight. For many black people, the experience of slavery continues because of the deep inequalities in our economic, educational, and criminal systems. For hundreds of years, a whole race has grown up thinking that the other is a threat.
This is my understanding of the plight of black people and why it is easy for me to believe that I, too, have to protest. It is not true that I cannot do anything in front of this injustice. I have encountered people that believe that reality is not a threat but a grace. This allows me to see the other as a gift, to listen, and to go deeper than their anger. To put it another way, receiving a great love allows me to suffer with the other.
During the protest, I was with a friend of mine and we held a sign that said, “Racism is a sin of the heart.” What I remember most was walking towards a police officer. It was an awkward moment for me because it is very easy to be against police brutality in the abstract, when one is not in front of a police officer or when one does not have to imagine the other’s face. Yet when I was walking towards this police officer, I had a decision to make: do I drop the sign I am holding out of fear or hold it with pride and remind him of the injustices his fellow police officers commit? I decided to do neither. I and my friend held the sign with the firmness of our convictions and said “thank you” to him for keeping the protest peaceful. We said this to every police officer we encountered.
When one has experienced a great love and mercy, it is easier to imagine the other, to judge and decide that the other is not a threat, but a gift.
I believe it is important to read the experiences of ex slaves. You can read some here.
To understand the history of slavery, see David Brion Davis’ Inhuman Bondage and Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution. To gain an understanding of major figures in the black community, consult the words and works of W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Davis, Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison, and Ida B. Wells. The book that helped me the most is Albert Murray’s The Omni-Americans.
Apolonio Latar III has an M.Ed in Administration and Supervision from Marymount University and is currently a Theology teacher.