It’s Water Time: An invitation to a statewide dialogueRev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman / April 8, 2021
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For the past year I have been coping with the death of Dr. Charles. H. Long on February 12, 2020. Dr. Long was one of the most influential and pioneering scholars in the study of religion over the past 50 years. Through the study of his book Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion, I was exposed to one of the best analyses of how the study of religion expands our understanding of culture, politics and human action.
One of the tools that has been of tremendous value to me down through the years is Dr. Long’s presentation entitled “Reflections on the Legacy of Slavery and Implications for the 21st Century.” There, Long reflects upon the historical introduction of Africans onto the North American landscape and its impact. Among other things Long discusses the creation of wealth, the historical inequalities involved with that wealth and the concept of reparations. He posits that although there were Africans and Europeans together on one boat, they were taking two different journeys. Those journeys must be reconciled in terms of a concrete and unfiltered meaning of what happened to those two groups.
Through the lens of those journeys Long explains that one of the great disappointments of the Civil Rights Movement was coming out of the Jim Crow era only to see the structural difficulties of a place that is so racially constituted with a notion of who and what it is that it is unable to take on any critical change.
One of the groups went on to ordain and establish a document, called it the Constitution for the United States of America, claimed it would establish justice, yet to date that group has remained unwilling to ‘constitute’ the other group traveling on that same boat to share in what had been ordained. It did not have to be that way.
It should be clear that a Reconstruction movement cannot operate among us that simply sees ourselves as pawns of the American Constitution. Long says that African Americans cannot do so because they are “water people”; which signifies that they have been an “unconstituted” people who have long languished in the turbulent waters of a devastatingly unique journey; a people brought in chains and forced to float incessantly through the most virulent forms of genocide known to humankind and other evolving forms of oppression; a people labeled the gold standard of the nation’s economy and reduced to a minuscule fraction or three-fifths of a human being.
For them the waters had given rise to a very new world of human degradation. These people did not wish to be here.
According to some of the myths of creation, water is the unformed, unstable and pregnant reality out of which the universe was born. While it is a symbol of the uncreated, chaos, water is also a symbol of peace capable of surpassing all understanding.
It is time we return to the womb of the journey that brought us here to reform, renew and bring stability to our purpose. There are tremendous lessons that were dumped in those waters that must be acknowledged. Will we ever gain access to the excess in this nation? There were some particular peculiarities that developed during that first journey that must be resolved.
On that journey the Africans were on their way to becoming unique among all the ethnicities to inhabit the new landscape; the only human beings there whose presence would be involuntary. No other ethnicity can boast of that distinction and that distinction manifested in the three-fifths compromise found in the national sacred text of America. What is so interesting is that the compromise remains there in Article 1, Section 2, clause 3, conspicuously overlooked.
Africans on the same boat have been forced to obliterate their valuable inherent data and it has been embargoed and co-opted into a system of lies and their “discovery” of a true democratic system that could lead to a more perfect union drowned in the waters of that journey.
Out of that death were born some of the most peculiar cultural practices and lies imaginable, lies about the “true system” of their world. There would be misplaced affections that would evolve into macro-aggressions. There would be intimacies that had to be hidden. As such, fathers became intimate enemies with their sons, mothers became intimate enemies with their daughters and perhaps even more detrimental than that, lovers were forced to become intimate enemies with the ones they loved. Living this sort of strange freedom from which more lies and untruths spring will always be oppressively burdensome. And the only way left for us to resolve it is to plunge back into the waters to reorient ourselves.
This invitation, which will hopefully be the first of many goes out to members of the judicial branch of government, Black attorneys, members of the Black Caucus, Black medical professionals and psychologists, historically Black college and university presidents, educators of all rank and file and community conscious young people, who understand the time has come for us to cross collaborate over culture, politics and human action.
In 1909 the NAACP, completely in tune with the times in which they were living, issued a call upon all believers in democracy to join in a statewide conference for the discussion of the present evils, the voicing of protests and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberty. It is in that same spirit that we issue this call to you today.
Please save the date of Saturday June 19, 2021 for this statewide dialogue.
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman is the president of the N.C. NAACP.
To register in advance go to: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAsduurqzMtHd09fO9iHsvQRU5v_WzKwlE8.