Kathy Boyum and Jeffrey Edwards hug during a reconciliation revival in Minneapolis June 20, 2020. The event was part of Juneteenth, the date that honors the end to slavery in the United States. (CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters)
Kathy Boyum and Jeffrey Edwards hug during a reconciliation revival in Minneapolis June 20, 2020. The event was part of Juneteenth, the date that honors the end to slavery in the United States. (CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters)

Each day I wake in skin that has been judged as inferior since the time my ancestors were forcibly brought to the Americas. Before the colonizers formed territories and then states, Africans were not human in the eyes of the people who savagely chained them and carried them in the belly of ships across the Atlantic. African people who were taken from Africa at no request of their own, were merely property — chattel. Just like owning a cow, a chicken, or even a five-pound bag of sugar, my ancestors were considered inhuman and subhuman.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was not written with my ancestors in mind. African people were not included in the celebrated language of “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” African people who had been in the colonies since 1619, were not the subject of the words that proclaim, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

White colonizers who capitalized on the need for free labor nearly 100 years before the Declaration of Independence, deemed Africans property. The colonizers came up with the thinking that people who did not look like them were not people at all. The colonizers tried to enslave Native Americans; however, this plan of action failed. Beginning in 1837, under President Andrew Jackson’s administration, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands, marched across the Mississippi River, and relocated to reservation camps designed to keep them away from people that did not look like them.

The United States of America was founded on a principle that it has failed to live up to. Even the Constitution of the United States ratified in 1788, further designated enslaved African people as less than human through the provisions that allowed southern states to count enslaved Africans as three-fifths a person for purposes of apportionment in Congress.

When my white friends ask me why the rage, I take the time to let them know that as a person of African descent, I understand how the United States has thought about me and black and brown people for nearly 500 years. My rage is built into the fabric of the United States. My rage is that white America wants to disregard and in fact dismiss my history behind statements like, “Things have changed, we elected a black President,” or “I had nothing to do with slavery.” I would like to say to my white friends that statements that attempt to placate me to think that things have changed only substantiate the fact that you do not hear what I am saying or cannot or will not accept that my story is ­legitimate.

When Amy Cooper, who was simply asked to put her dog on a leash, went to that awful place in her heart and called 911, telling an African American man that she was going to tell the police that “an African American man was threatening her,” she exposed implicit racism. Having gone to that place inside herself where she believes that being a white person claiming she was being threatened by an African American man can cause an immediate remedy that would leave her innocent of any wrongdoing is blatant racism. She claimed later, “I am not racist.” She missed that her actions demonstrated her racism. What she did was to act out of a conditioning that made it possible for her to think that she could tell a lie on a black man and the police would believe her. She weaponized her whiteness and had no idea what she did. This is an example of how racism is embedded in behavior. Weaponizing whiteness is an ugly way of being and it has to be exposed in order for justice to prevail.

To my white friends, go ahead and approach me with your concerns about racial tensions because you know that I will tell you exactly what I feel, think and believe. We can and we do agree to listen to one another and not dismiss each other’s experiences. Because we value one another and many of my white friends believe that we all were created in God’s image, we have common ground. I would like us to always recognize that we all bring to the discussion of race relations our baggage conditioned by our life experiences. Not all of the things we have been conditioned to think about people of African descent are true. But what is real for African American people is that our history in the United States of America has been tumultuous for centuries. This will not change overnight, but we have to keep working at it and remember we are still a work in progress.

I am of the opinion that, as Maya Angelou has taught us, “When we know better, we do better.” I am aware that “doing better” is only the case for people who truly want the United States of America to be better. I believe the first step on this journey to doing better is to be willing to listen to the voices of the people who are telling their story. Listen with the heart to want to hear. It will hurt but we can all heal together.

The wounds of painful experiences of racist undertones in the memories of my life were ripped wide open after seeing and hearing George Floyd cry out, “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” has been the cry of people of African descent in the United States of America for centuries. Metaphorically, listen when you hear someone say, “I can’t breathe,” because it is a cry of distress. Millions have died needlessly and we don’t need any more deaths due to the neglect of showing all humankind dignity. My prayer is that we, all Americans, will not allow the flame of the call for justice and equality to go out. It is an eternal flame that needs to be kindled and rekindled to burn throughout the generations. The preacher in me says, “It’s not over until God says it’s over,” and in the meantime, “Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” — Amos 5:24

Rev. Dr. Roxanne Jones Booth is co-pastor of the River­view Missionary Baptist Church in Coeymans.