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If You Sow Lies You Will Reap Violence: America’s Original Sin is Anti-Black Racism

NPR, CodeSwitch, “Saytheirnameslistv4” (May 31, 2020)[1]

“Destruction always happens by sowing evil.” Pope Francis[2]

The present state of dis-ease in the United States stems from centuries in the making of America’s original sin.[3] The disease of anti-Black racism is responsible for yesterday’s and today’s harvest of violence, rage, and perpetual war.[4] The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed its share to the anxiety of this season’s harvest but the produce of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation has long held sway through machinations designed to profit the mighty, to tolerate some of the proletariat, and to crush most of the already most vulnerable in the nation. We are witness to a reality that has been hidden from general white consumption. “Slavery didn’t end in 1865 [with passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the legal Constitutional end of chattel slavery and involuntary servitude]; it just evolved.”[5] This ever-evolving oppression continues despite the fact that, since 1883, the US Supreme Court interprets enforcement of section 2 of the Amendment as empowering Congress “to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” inclusive of “all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States. … Congress has used this authority to prohibit racially-motivated violence.”[6]

In the early decades of the Civil Rights Movement, television and news cameras captured the violence where peaceful protests were scheduled. One of the first images—likened to the “shot heard round the world”—was of the June 18, 1964 civil disobedience swim by Black and white integrationists in a pool at the “whites only” Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, FL. Within 24 hours, after photos and television camera footage of the motel manager pouring muriatic acid into the pool near the swimmers appeared on the nightly news and in newspapers nationwide, the Senate passed the languishing Civil Rights Bill, followed by then President Lyndon B. Johnson’s July 1, 1964 signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act.[7] Another national broadcast of violence against Black people that upset the privileged status quo was “Bloody Sunday,” the March 7, 1965 attempt by then 25 year old Chairman John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with Hosea Williams and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Committee and 600+ other activists to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, AL.[8] That evening’s news coverage appalled viewers and galvanized public opinion in support of the Voting Rights Act, which Pres. Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965. Today, with widespread ownership of camera-capable mobile phones, video recordings of racially-motivated violence have confirmed not only police brutality and white mob justice. These images serve as testimony to the evolving legacy of inequality sown in the United States by white privilege. The pandemic has exacerbated this fetid state of affairs sown with the deadly, corrupt, and villainous heirloom seeds of hatred. The harvest of the nation’s lie-ridden fields have been exposed for all who have noses to smell, tongues to taste, eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to care about and touch the agony of and injustice inflicted upon Black and Brown people by the intractable wounds of institutionalized oppression: their flesh ripped open from whips, their blood poured out on the streets, their necks broken and choked from another kind of lynching tree.

Above, the NPR “Saytheirnameslistv4” graphic offers just a fraction of the recent deaths of Black and Brown citizens of the United States at the hands or knees or elbows, or clubs, or firearms of law enforcement and vigilante thugs. Artist Kadir Nelson, whose “Say Their Names” graces the cover of the June 20, 2020 New Yorker magazine, presents images of Black women and men who have been abused and killed as a result of the peculiar institution of slavery since this nation’s founding, in its yesteryears, and in a particularly virulent anti-Black racism that persists to this day. This New Yorker issue includes an interactive “closeup examination of the [cover], in which the murder of George Floyd embodies the history of violence inflicted upon Black people in America.”[9] And New Yorker columnist Casey Cep offers a consideration of systemic violence against Black and Indigenous Peoples in “Do You Think You’re Not Involved?,” a review essay of the book Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by poet Patrick Phillips. Cep writes, “Whites used vigilante violence to assert their supremacy, and then used the law and the criminal-justice system to augment it.”[10] These histories are gaining ever wider acknowledgement among the white U.S. population. Duped into a kind of stupor designed by schoolbook authors (by their own ignorance or under orders from their publishers, school boards, and secretaries of education[11]) to fail in reporting comprehensively the slave trade, chattel slavery, or post-Civil War reconstruction in both Confederate and Union states, too many white people remain therefore unaware and oblivious thereby to the realities experienced by People of Color. There’s a lot of catching up to do and even more considering just how thoroughly corrupt the nation and its economy has been from segregation to New Deal programs, housing redlining, the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration, and how multifariously unrecognized, unexamined, and unaccountable this ignorance of white privilege persists.

The evil sown in the United States from its conception has borne 400 years of violence harvested from devious, disdainful, and durable violent racist roots. These roots and their produce are so deep and well disguised that it is all-too-easy not to notice, especially if you have never been on the receiving end of racist words or deeds. For white people in the U.S., this failure to notice is coterminous with white privilege and its agenda of anti-Black and Brown racism. Such privilege remains the stumbling block to any unearthing of systemic racism, to any knowledge about the distribution of resources (like housing, education, healthcare, employment, and recreation), and, with impunity, to any interrogation of success that accrues with the benefits therefrom. As Bryan Massingale writes, “the only reason for racism’s persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it.”[12]

This harvest is unruly in its violence and denial of its source in America’s original sin. Its soil is rotten; its stench no longer tolerable nor disguisable; its evil intent unveiled. The Earth itself cries out with the blood of the slain. The soil tells us it is past time to reject the harvest of violence and to sow seeds of peace and love and care and opportunity and justice for all, starting with renouncing racism, moving together then toward reconciliation and reparation.

Following the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement campaigns and in defense of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference position on nonviolence, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”[13] And Congressman John Lewis of the US House of Representatives for Georgia (1987-2020), writing in his final days echoing the words of his (and our) mentor Dr. King—opined, “each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something … each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and a world at peace with itself. Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”[14]

The prophets arise to sow the fields of our hearts with good seed by getting into this kind of good trouble. May we be some of those good prophets in the fields of our Good and Gracious God, sowing the seeds of love for a harvest of mercy, compassion, and good troubling work for justice. The time is past due to admit that lies sow hate and foment violence, to see how our sisters and brothers are hurting as a result, and to engage in the labor that will dismantle systemic institutionalized racism, uninterrogated privilege, and any residue of unrepentant guilt: “we won’t be silent anymore.”[15]

The powers of white privilege will try mightily “to bury us,”[16] but they forget that we are the seeds to be sown for a harvest of justice.

[1] NPR, CodeSwitch, “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” (May 31, 2020),

[2] Pope Francis, Angelus Reflection on Matthew 13:24-43 (July 19, 2020),

[3] See Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016).

[4] “The Times will start using uppercase “Black” to describe people and cultures of African origin, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.” Dean Baquet and Phil Corbett, “Uppercasing ‘Black’,” New York Times (June 30, 2020),; see also Nancy Coleman, “Why We’re Capitalizing Black,” New York Times (July 5, 2020),

[5] Bryan Stevenson, “Forward,” in Wallis, America’s Original Sin, xiv.

[6] Jamal Greene, “The Thirteenth Amendment and the Constitutional Imagination,” Matters of Debate (December 6, 2016), Interactive Constitution (Philadelphia: National Constitution Center, 2020),, accessed July 17, 2020; see also Jamal Greene, “Thirteenth Amendment Optimism,” Columbia Law Review 112 (2012): 1733-1768,

[7] NPR Staff, “Remembering A Civil Rights Swim-in: ‘It was a Milestone’,” Morning Edition (June 13, 2014),; see also Stuart Korfhage, “Woman in famous St. Augustine swimming pool acid photo dies at 73,” The St. Augustine Record (July 28, 2020),; and Claudia S. Slate, “Florida Room: Battle for St. Augustine 1964,” Florida Historical Society 84.4 (2006): 541-568.

[8] Aniko Bodroghkozy, “How the Images of John Lewis being beaten during ‘Bloody Sunday’ went viral,” The Conversation (July 23, 2020),; see also Alston Fitts, “Bloody Sunday,” Encyclopedia of Alabama (December 2, 2008; updated April 28, 2017),

[9] New Yorker, “Kadir Nelson’s ‘Say their Names’,” Cover Story (June 14, 2020),

[10] Casey Cep, “‘Do You Think You’re Not Involved?’ The Racial Reckoning of ‘Blood at the Root’,” New Yorker (June 11, 2020),

[11] See Andre Perry, “Slavery still shapes all of our lives, yet students aren’t taught its history: Glossing over America’s original sin means we can never overcome it,” The Hechinger Report (August 10, 2019),; see also The Hechinger Report: Covering Innovation & Inequality in Education, resources on “Race and Equity,”, accessed July 18, 2020.

[12] Bryan N. Massingale, “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We can do about It,” National Catholic Reporter (June 1, 2020),

[13] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” Ebony 21.12 (October, 1966): 27-34, at 30; re-published in Clayborne Carson, ed., The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013), ch. 15.

[14] John Lewis, “Together, You can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” New York Times (July 30, 2020),

[15] Yara Allen, “Somebody’s Hurting my Brother” (2016), See also Poor People’s Campaign, “A Moral Policy Agenda to Heal America: The Poor People’s Jubilee Platform,” Jubilee Platform (2020),

[16] I offer this final play on Mexico’s Zapatista movement slogan, “They tried to bury us, but they forgot we are seeds” [“Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les ovido que somos semillas”], adapted from a 1978 couplet by Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos, as fitting to the metaphor and to the all-too-many-too-real burials of People of Color in the United States. See An Xiao, “On the Origins of ‘They Tried to Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds’,” Hyperallergic (July 3, 2018),