The hymn Amazing Grace, ironically a standard part of most funeral services for members of the police force, has its origin in global history – an African dirge heard from the bowels of a ship by a captain transporting human cargo during the Middle Passage. When this captain, John Newman, wrote the words, “Was blind but now I see,” he was referring to the fact that he realized that he had made a living in a horrific business – the trans-Atlantic trade of human beings. This awakening led him to later renounce slavery and fight for abolition.
Once or twice in a lifetime there are opportunities to make real change for the better, a second chance. MPCPMP believes that we are in one of these fortunate, historically perfect storms. The notion that we can go back to “normal” – before the coronavirus pandemic, before Black Lives Matter became an international movement, and before the massive economic downturn – is naive.
Even with a documented history of more than 490 years of racialized behavior in this country, instances of police brutality were considered isolated and were rationalized as a means to maintain law and order. The systemic racism that protects the police guilty of violent acts against the Black community also undergirds disparities in health care, employment, education, housing, employment, and the inequities of the justice system . . . too frequently viewed as the fault of those on the bottom and considered to be the result of their own failure and/or lack of initiative.
“I once was lost, but now am found”
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, and the cellphone technology that allows everyone to see the prevalence of police brutality, large numbers of people, in particular the young, nationally and globally, are now personalizing their social responsibility and advocating for equality. Debt, lack of income, unemployment, inadequate health care, food shortage, and stereotyping based on color and class are a visible reality, and for the first time, many Americans are acknowledging what has been routine injustice and unfairness that targets the poor and people of color. Absence of common-sense leadership and responsibility have compounded the problem. Until now, many have chosen consciously or comfortably to be ignorant of the injustice, inequality and discrimination . . . that is, until today, when the evidence is unavoidable, in your face, and has touched the hearts and souls of multitudes in the nation and triggered them into action.
“Was blind but now I see”
On many levels this period in the evolution of the country is giving sight to the blind. People are critically assessing themselves, their institutions, their behaviors, and their personal responsibilities to deconstruct and reform the nation’s “normal,” which began with European empire building in the New World. On the U.S. mainland in 1513, with Ponce de Leon’s arrival and in 1526 in the short-lived Spanish colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, the seeds that became the American guiding principles of ethnic superiority, human exploitation, and the acquisition of material wealth were planted. We are living today with the fruit.
Yet, today, if this present momentum is sustained, there is the possibility that we could have amazing grace and achieve what, to date, has seemed to be wholly impossible. Using 2020 vision – past, present, and future – with a commitment to action can lead us to taking a step in the direction of creating fair and just societies at home and abroad. We can live with the power of amazing grace going forward, and the nation can collectively sing:
“T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far/ And Grace will lead us home.”