Race, Roots, and Blood

By Andrew Prevot, Ph.D.

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Roots

What do you love more, hearts of flesh or idols of stone? This is the question I would pose to anyone worried about statues. Let those useless attachments go. Love your heart and those of all of your brothers and sisters, whatever their outward bodily appearance, whatever their so-called “race.”

Reflect for a moment on this very odd word. The etymology is disputed, but some suggest that the root of “race” is itself “root” (French, racine; Latin, radix). Before it has any association with skin color, race refers to the root—the tuber underground, which gives rise to miraculous, wondrous, nourishing life. The modern notion of race is based on the discredited assumption that the roots of diverse human beings are fundamentally different. This is false. Our roots are superficially different. At the deepest levels, in our deepest origins, we belong to the same human race. Each one of us is gestated in a womb and, before that, dreamt in the infinite mind of God.

Who are you? I ask. Is your ego really so fragile that it needs to comfort itself by imagining itself reflected in a stone idol? You are already made in the image and likeness of God. This is you at your deepest root. This is your race.

Stop looking for yourself in white marble. Look for yourself in the dark and luminous abyss of God’s creative love.

Many of our problems result from the fact that we have forgotten who we are most radically. I tell you: your body and soul are embers of an eternal flame. Your skin is a sacred veil adorning a living temple of God. Each hair on your head is counted and loved. Each hair. This is true for you. And it is true for your neighbor.

The resurgence of racial hostility we have been witnessing lately—the emboldening of white supremacist movements against black, Jewish, Muslim, Latino/a, Asian, and indigenous communities—is an absurd reflex manifesting the longstanding injustices of a centuries-old Euro-American empire. When seen from a theological vantage point, this racial hostility is not only hateful. It is blasphemous.

Is there any decency left in your heart when you take up a torch and join a mob with the aim of terrorizing a gathered community of God’s, at prayer no less? What pain you must feel—or be afraid to feel, even though it lurks within you—to contradict your very being in this way. What great terror must reside inside you. To approach any of your neighbors with anything other than respect and humble gratitude for their presence—to laugh, deride, and threaten. What pain must drive you to such a hardened way of comporting yourself. Each of us bears deep wounds and scars. None is unscathed. But to continue a white supremacist assault after centuries upon centuries of atrocity already committed, to persist in the course of such violence and desecration—what pain drives this madness? What pain and self-contradiction!

You are a child of God, a mirror of God, a gift from God, a beloved of God. What are you doing to your brothers and sisters? Why would you behave this way?

Perhaps some of you reading this will say, “I have taken up no torch.” But what have you done? What have you failed to do? In what ways have you not treated each of your brothers and sisters as divine gifts in your midst?

Some reflection on your individual thoughts, habits, and daily interactions is certainly a good place to start. But think also about your family: your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents. What did they do or fail to do? Have you profited from their discriminatory actions and continue to do so at others’ expense? Think of institutions, organizations, businesses, groups, parties, and clubs to which you belong: do any of them need to change in order to better honor the God-given dignity of all people? Can you be an instrument of such change?

If these examinations of conscience convict you in any respects, do not dwell on feelings of guilt or shame. Change your life. Remember who you are and start living from that place of strength and hope. This is your root. Grow from here.

 

Blood

In the stadiums of this country, knees touch dirt. But that is not all—heads crash together, brains are rattled, permanent damage is done.

Some officers sworn to protect life have done the opposite in black and brown neighborhoods, functioning as on-the-spot executioners—no jury, no due process—and then the justice system subsequently gives them a pass. To draw attention, some players take knees. And outrage ensues. This gesture of peace—one does not kneel to hurt—occurs in a raging world of violence. Soldiers live and die oversees fighting for the same flag which waves over local games of sanitized blood-sport; their opponents, protecting other flags, die in droves. Bodies fall to the ground. Wounds abound and multiply. Warriors kill. Police kill. Civilians kill. Parents kill. Children kill. Death comes from guns, from explosives, from narcotic “medications”—in staggering numbers, distributed for profit. Bodies fall, bleeding the same red.

I, on my knees at night, praying in carpet not dirt, ponder this relentless bloodshed. Does some blood “count” more than other blood to God—as though God assigned numerical value to different streams? Is anyone’s life not already “covered in full”—a universal health plan—by Christ’s blood on the cross? Is any drop of blood less precious?

O these unholy libations that we pour out ritualistically! These anti-Eucharists!

Who are we killing when we spill another’s blood on the ground? So many names etched on memorial walls, so many forgotten names. Jesus says to us, “That is my blood too.” To the ones with diseases, the ones hemorrhaging, the ones in bodily pain, Jesus says “I share my blood with you, freely.” He lets all come to him. His body is theirs and theirs is his. He is ours. His blood, our blood, his blood.

Some scholars contend that modern notions of race originated in the fifteenth century Iberian politics of “blood purity” (limpieza de sangre). Jewish and Muslim families were slaughtered by Christians eager to prove their religious and national zeal. Instead, all they proved was their depravity. The blood of a country does not become “pure” (as though this concept had any real meaning) through acts of shedding others’ blood, mixing it with metal and dirt, letting it soak the ground. This ought to have gone without saying. Holiness is not found in murderous desecration of bodies and land. What sacrilege! The myth of pure blood, achieved by force, is not faith but idolatry.

Reject this myth. Honor the oxygenated blood that courses through your neighbors’ arteries and veins. Revere it as you would revere the blood of Christ, because he claims it as his own.

Care more about this liquidity than you do about the liquidity of your personal financial accounts—and what blood is on this digital money? Seek the life-giving streams of divine mercy, pouring forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by loving your neighbors’ cardiac and spiritual health.

Let bloodlines merge freely, when they may, in fruitful relationships of joy and love not constrained by racial prejudice. Enough with the policing of interracial love—this heinous pretext for thousands of lynched human bodies, dangling from trees.

Let us take the cup of Christ and not drink condemnation upon ourselves.


Prevot1.jpg Andrew Prevot is Assistant Professor of Theology at Boston College. He is the author of Thinking Prayer: Theology and Spirituality amid the Crises of Modernity (Notre Dame, 2015) and co-editor, with Vincent Lloyd, of Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics (Orbis, 2017).

3 responses to “Race, Roots, and Blood

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  3. I agree with so much you say. Especially your comments indicating we are superficially different, and we all belong to the same human race. However, your focus on white supremacy is confusing and disturbing to a degree. To ignore groups like Black Lives Matter and the hate they spew when they chant, “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon,” is to be intellectually and theologically dishonest. Your comments about some police being executioners is inflammatory and is not balanced by comments regarding the number of police that are “executed” in the line of duty or shot by snipers like those in Dallas. If you are going to talk about racial hostility, don’t single out just one race, don’t ignore the same sins of the others, and don’t ignore the fact that white supremacists are a tiny fraction of that race.

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