Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
August 11-12, 2017, 152 years after the Confederacy ended, white men marched in the streets of Charlottesville,Virginia chanting “blood and soil”, to protest the proposed removal of a Confederate monument of Robert E. Lee. With the smell of citronella in the night air from myriads of amber tiki flames carried by alt-right white nationalist dressed in all white polo shirts, a chant was heard throughout the night,“blood and soil”. “Blood and Soil” comes from an idea older than Adolf Hitler himself, yet popularized by the Nazi movement. A term that emboldened that Nazi belief of a master race that came from the hard working soil of rural German bloodline. Yet, Nazis believed those rural Germans were being threatened by the Jewish community.
So why, seventy years after the end of Nazi Germany, were white people in the United States of America chanting “blood and soil”? Why particularly were they chanting this phrase at the site of a Confederate hero? The same Confederacy that fought to keep the institution of enslaving black people.
The answer to these questions are simple, not just for radical white alt-right members, but for all of white America. White Americans, we are racist.
It doesn’t matter if you’re chanting “blood and soil” or if you are a white soccer mom that has one black friend on the PTA, we are racist.
All white people are Alt-Right.
We are all skinheads.
We are all KKK.
We are all responsible for upholding White Supremacy.
I understand, I know, I know. Settle down. It’s not easy to hear, because I know what you are thinking, “but I have never said the “N” word”, “I have multiple black and brown friends”, “ I go to a multi-ethnic church”, “I went to school with black kids”, or “I have a black or brown spouse”, “I don’t see color” or a variety of other knee jerk explanations on why you aren’t racist. Bear with me though. If you believe in redemption stories, then white America has the greatest shot at making things right, turning things around, and destroying our creation, white supremacy.
James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology, and one of the main reasons why my white veil has been torn to start to see, shared a lecture in February of 2016 called “The Cry of Black Blood” at Union Theological Seminary. Mr. Cone begins his lecture with the story of Cain and Abel, and compares Cain to white people, and Able to black people as metaphors. “Abel’s blood spoke” Cone says, “ God asks white Americans, where are your black brothers and sisters, and they respond, “I don’t know, are we their keepers? And the Lord says what have you done to them for four centuries?” Cone says “the blood of black people is crying out to white people in the United States of America..Black Blood is crying out to God from the ground all over this land… Is anybody listening to the cry of black blood?”. I listened to Mr. Cones lecture over a dozen times after I initially heard it in 2016, and when I heard the white nationalist chanting “blood and soil” this summer of 2017, I knew Cones words were prophetic.
White Christian America has been called out before by the prophets of old, Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councile or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Yes, the beloved Martin Luther King, whom modern day white Christians love to quote when protest against police brutality on black bodies take place, yes the same King who we whites love to quote, had a beef with white America. He even said, “nope not even the KKK is as bad as white moderates”, now if that doesn’t make us whites clutch our metaphorical pearls, I don’t know what will. We whites think “I mean come on, MLK Jr. is our hero, he ended racism right, we just had a black President right, we whites aren’t racist anymore, we are all equal.” These types of statements are why James Cone is prophetic, black blood hasn’t stopped crying out from the ground, it hasn’t stopped since black bodies were brought in chains from Africa and enslaved, reduced to property, whipped and lynched, beaten with the empires billy clubs, sprayed with water hoses until skin ripped off, put into separate bathrooms, rail cars, the back of the bus, separate schools, forced into subpar living conditions, and incarcerated at higher levels than any white. Yes, Black Blood is crying out, still today, and just like MLK Jr. said, the white moderate, aka the regular white person, is responsible.
Just like Cain had blood on his hands, and yet told the Lord, “ I dont know” as to where Abel was, we whites too like to say, when asked about black peoples plights in America today, “ I don’t know, why don’t you ask them about their black on black crime”. We like to neglect our responsibility, and defer back to black people. We state “we are hundreds of years past slavery, how could we be responsible?”
Let me make this plain, regular/everyday run of the mill white people don’t carry tiki torches and chant “blood and soil”, no, we don’t have the outward appearance of racism or white supremacy. We just sit around lit tiki torches in our back yards, in our comfortable majority white neighborhoods, watching SportsCenter, thinking why are these black men so unpatriotic, or watching the local news and thinking why is this black womans hair so poofy and why does she have all these curves on live family TV. We go to our gentrified neighborhood eateries, to our gourmet chicken and waffles cafe. We pay for our daughters to go to Hip Hop dance classes and learn songs by Beyonce, yet when she performs at the super bowl and represents Black Power, we get mad and want to boycott Beyonce or the Super Bowl, or black people. We watch the evening news and see black bodies being gunned down by police at higher rates than whites, and instead of learning about historic police brutality against black bodies, we take cookies to our local Police Department and get a “Blue Lives Matter” bumper sticker. We post Facebook memes about the Heritage of The Confederate Flag, instead of learning the history of why black people might be offended and in fear of that flag. We tell stories and act certain ways that are natural to us, not realizing that the system of white supremacy is foundational to our behavior towards people of color.
The only way we can begin to unravel white supremacy in our lives, is to listen to Black Blood crying out from the soil. There’s black blood in the soil of our white neighborhoods, and every moment we continue to ignore its cries, we miss the chance to allow that blood to give us life and redemption. Just like James Cone compares the Cross of Christ to the lynching tree, so we must hear the blood of the crucified people of our land. Those that have been murdered by the empire for land and production.
As we listen to the cry, we can begin to say back to God, “Yes I know where my brother Abel is”, we can begin to locate pain and suffering, injustice and violence, against People of Color. We can let that blood cry to our souls, let it sing to our spirits, let it break our hearts, because we are beyond empathy as Sherronda J. Brown has recently written, we as whites cannot truly empathize with the Cry of Black Blood, but we can listen and act.
How we begin to unravel white supremacy must be taken very thoughtfully and with much consideration. We whites like to, as MLK Jr. said, “paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom”, we like to jump all in without considering where we are really needed. We must take a temporary hiatus from ourselves, and take time to educate our minds and listen. If we are lucky enough to have friends or family that are people of color, we must submit to their accountability and correction, without trying to justify ourselves. Our next actions after we are educated, have listened, and found accountability, must begin to work in our concentric circles of white friends and family. Challenging the stories we are told, the foundations we have been taught.
James Cone ends his lecture on The Cry of Black Blood, by saying this “it is also my hope that whites can be redeemed too and be redeemed from their blindness, and made to open their eyes to to terror of their deeds so they will know that we are all of one blood and what they do to black people, they do to themselves.”
In response to the Alt-Right chant of “blood and soil’” from the hearts of all white people, Mr. Cones words were/are prophetic. He directly calls upon whites to recognize the shared blood of us all, that yes we are of the same “blood and soil”. We whites can redeem the chant “blood and soil” by listening and coming under the leadership of Mr. Cones call of action for whites. If we can peel back the blinders from our eyes, and see white supremacy in our everyday lives, we can move towards redeeming a narrative that we’ve created, a narrative of destruction and marginalizing.
bell hooks has said, “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
Our only hope is to be redeemed beyond our brother Cain’s example. Will we be banished from this land for our violence against black bodies? Or will we find a way to say to God, “here I am Lord, I can show you where my brothers and sisters blood has been she’d, I’m culpable, but I’m willing to move forward with undoing these horrendous acts done by white supremacy against my black brothers and sisters.”