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When Talking about Lives Lost, Don't Forget to Say “Black”

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Friends, may we pause for a moment.

Ruth Whitfield, 86

Katherine Massey, 72

Margus Morrison, 52

Andre Mackniel, 53

Aaron Salter, 55

Roberta Drury, 32

Pearl Young, 77

Celestine Chaney, 65

Heyward Patterson, 67

Geraldine Talley, 62

The other day I was invited into a moment of silence for the Black lives in Buffalo, NY that were taken by white supremacist violence, and in that silence I listened. I wrote in my last message about Mary Oliver’s poem “Praying,” in which she writes that prayer is “a silence in which another voice may speak.” Yet while I waited in this silence, I did not hear another voice. This was a silence in which nothing can be heard, yet we are still called to listen. This is the silence created when Black voices are taken. And we are called to listen.

This week I began a week-long intensive summer course called “Black Embodiment and Womanist Ethics.” When our class began on Monday morning, we started with the moment of silence that I described above, followed by a discussion on the language being used (and not used) regarding the heinous act of racist violence that occurred in Buffalo. Our professor provided a statement which was given by a faith leader in Buffalo and asked us what we noticed about the language. What was addressed in this discussion was the absence of the word “Black” in the statement, as well as the use of “innocent souls” in its place. It was noted that the language of innocence is irrelevant to the validity of Black existence. I did not initially think anything of the use of “souls,” however, in listening to the discussion, I was reminded that the use of “souls” neglects a connection to the body and addressing systemic violence against Black people cannot occur apart from the Black body. Womanist scholar M. Shawn Copeland writes that “The body constitutes a site of divine revelation and, thus, a ‘basic human sacrament.’ In and through embodiment, we human persons grasp and realize our essential freedom through engagement and communion with other embodied selves.”

It is not enough to call for the dismantlement of white supremacy if Black lives and bodies are not explicitly named in the process. White supremacy is a system which seeks to render the Black body invisible, and part of doing this work is recognizing how we, too, have been complicit in its perpetuation. Eastertide is a season of reconciliation, of death and violence not having the last word. Kelly Brown Douglas writes that “in asking his disciples to meet him in Galilee, Jesus was indeed calling them to imagine something different for the world. Jesus was asking them to imagine a world where life, not death, is centered.” There is much to be learned together, in community, but for now, let this be our prayer, an invitation for another voice to speak, for Black voices to be heard, and to hold space for the silence created by the loss of Black life. May we have the courage to honor our responsibility to not remain silent in the face of white supremacist systems, and the grace to always show up imperfectly.


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