[if you prefer to hear this rather than read it, I took the liberty of recording myself reciting the following blather over at The Cinch Website. You’re welcome. Share and enjoy.]
I saw a T-shirt the other day worn by a black woman which had Barack Obama’s face on it with the caption “From Chains To Change.” I did not confront this woman. First off cuz I’m nowhere as boldly insensitive in person as I am online. I could be wrong, but past experince informs me it is prudent not to challenge the sentiment of a T-shirt to its wearer. At least not to her face. Secondly, because even tho I admired the sentiment, what I want to convey in response to that sentiment may be met with offense and outrage. I say this to caution you cuz I’m gonna tell you what I didn’t tell her, and I just wanna warn you that you may be offended or outraged. You also may not. I have no way of knowing. You’re not concealing any firearms are you?
This is of course not my intent, to offend and outrage you, but that may be how its taken. When the 2012 Summer Olympics opened, US republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney did not mean to insult the entire United Kingdom with his constructive criticism of how he felt they prepared poorly, but what he said was taken as an insult. As well it should have been. Cuz he was an idiot. And yes, I’m well aware of the hypocrisy of what I’m about to commit. I’m an old white American male. This is what we do.
Now, just what would I want to convey to a young black woman wearing an Obama T-shirt that says “From Chains To Change”? Goodness me. Where do I start?
The woman in question also wore a golden cross necklace and was carrying what appeared to be a light-grey leather-bound book that may have been a bible, but I could be wrong. It is amazing how much we deduce from a singular appearance and take as gospel without further proof. For the sake of argument, let’s assume by way of deductive reasoning she is christian. I grant you that perhaps there is some other explanation why she wears a cross round her neck. Perhaps what looked like a bible to me was actually a strangely designed purse. Perhaps she was really a man. I did not bother to stop her and check.
Again, I’m aware of the hypocrisy I’m committing and I’m aware I’m over generalizing and I’m aware there are other explanations for everything. Feel free to berate me all you want but I’m trying to make a point.
From Chains To Change. The sentiment brings to my mind the historical data of mankind’s fascination with slavery. For thousands of years, people with power, money, and influence, would use their power to enslave others. This enslavement usually involved white men yoking blacks. There are other variants of indentured servitude but they are not pertinent to the point I’m trying to make. I could get to my points faster if I didn’t have to caveat everything with acknowledgements of how many over generalizations I’m making. This is not a doctoral thesis. It’s the Internet! Over generalizing should be considered par for the course by now!
How did these white people come to the conclusion that enslaving black people was completely acceptable? Well, that’s complicated. It would necessitate a few semesters of world history to explain properly, and again, would sidetrack me from the point I’m trying desperately to eventually make!
It’s more about economics and sociology than about skin color, but in the past couple centuries, it has deteriorated into a disgusting variant of us versus them or shirts versus skins. This is frankly an embarrassing blemish. How could we ever explain this pathetic behavior with our own fellow man to some outside party who hasn’t experienced humanity’s millenia of history? I’m well aware there is no evidence of alien life, but I imagine if they existed, aliens from another planet might find such behavior barbaric and repulsive and I’d have to agree with them. Yet that’s how we treated ourselves for thousands of years. In some ways, we still do. There’s still slavery and indentured servitude practiced in many parts of the world. It hasn’t gone away, and it’s not limited to white on black. There’s a veritable rainbow of slavery in third world countries. Some chains have yet to change.
How do we rationalize this behavior? One helpful clue to answering this question can come from studying judeo-christian and islamic texts, which may not directly condone enslavement, but offer pointers on how to do it. Slaves are often described like livestock in the bible, which accepts slavery as a common and normal part of human culture. There are slaves and there are masters and god loves them both equally, but expects people to know their place in the social pecking order, as if we’re chickens or sheep.
Centuries ago, when Africans were removed from their homes and shipped to colonial America, many of them had not heard of the Judeo-Christian god. However, their masters were god fearing folk, and naturally over time the master’s beliefs were shared with their servants. Masters also often condemned their servants for continuing to practice whatever beliefs they remembered prior to captivity and enslavement. Why? Cuz the mythological Abrahamic god is a jealous god who does not like competition, mostly cuz he can’t compete very well. Any old beliefs from the slaves’ home country were not christian and therefore by default assumed to be satanic, even though there were no reported satans or devils in the African beliefs of the time. Based on what little I’ve read about it.. well I’m already in deep enough doodoo here. Go research ancient African religions yourself if you’re so inclined. They weren’t Christian is the point, and so Christians jump to the conclusion that they must be of the devil. The natural inclination of colonial Christians was to beat the devil out of you, or be real super nice to you so long as you agree to believe the same crap they do, and if you refused to play nice, then the beatings would commence. It was a complicated codependent goodcop/badcop situation that developed over many generations and eventually this abuse led to the pagan beliefs of displaced Africans being largely lost here in the States. Even after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, most recently freed slaves did not return to the beliefs of their forebears. Entire tribes of culture were abandoned by neglect and ignorance, despite some humble efforts to save them. You might still see some remnants of them here and there, but today most descendants of those slaves are either Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Christianity is most common, with Islam gaining prominence, and black jews being comparatively rare. Islam is seen by some as a rebellious choice by black people who wish to reject the beliefs of their ancestors’ masters without abandoning the perceived god they still feel exists. Islam is still an Abrahamic religion. They have rejected nothing. However, the vast majority of descendants of these slaves still embrace the Christian dogma that condoned their enslavement. They even see parallels between their own plight and that of the Jews fleeing Egypt’s tyrannical rule in the time of Moses, which is a cornerstone of all Abrahamic beliefs including Islam.
Presumably, their god allowed Jews and Blacks to suffer enslavement and persecution so that they would have the chance to learn life lessons like humility and patience. So their god was again presumably doing them a favor. Cuz it’s one thing to read the words “From Chains to Change.” It’s an entirely different thing to experience it personally.
What I fail to grasp is how someone can claim to understand those words, even experience them personally, yet still wear that cross-shaped yoke around their neck.