Hope for a Unity that Leads to Healing: Black Faith and the Nation after 2020

By: Rosetta E. Ross

November 20, 2020

Black Faith and National Healing after the 2020 Election

The assertion by former Ohio governor John Kasich, a Republican, that “the Democrats have to make it clear to the far left that they almost cost [Biden] the election” challenges what many see as the moral center of the Democratic Party in the United States. Progressives’ work played a huge role in the Biden victory, as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) noted in a tweet: “Anyone saying this after immigrant organizers delivered AZ, Black grassroots flipped Georgia, MI going blue w reality-bending 94% Detroit margin + @RashidaTalib running up the margins in her district & Trump publicly challenging @IlhanMN in MN and losing isn’t a serious person.”

The assertion that the “far left almost cost [Biden] the election” is not serious, on one hand, because in terms of interest convergence among Democratic Party factions, it cannot be serious to suggest that any group of the coalition that helped elect Joe Biden should alienate any others in that coalition whose work also helped ensure a Biden-Harris victory. On the other hand, Governor Kasich and like-minded people appear to be serious in calling for sanctioning the “far left” for having the audacity to clearly identify values to which they are committed and for which they actively, visibly advocate. 

Since many progressives are in fact Democrats, the “otherizing” frame of Kasich’s assertion could be read to imply that “the [i.e., white or wealthy] Democrats have to make it clear to the far left [i.e., people of color and other marginalized groups] that they [were too visible during] this election.” Similar to the calls for an impossible, immediate healing, the question, at least in part, is about whether the United States is a nation in which egalitarian values reign or exclusionary values reign. The desire to diminish, muzzle, or silence voices within the Democratic Party that call and work for a more inclusive nation is related to the imploration that the Biden administration help the country heal from divisions “nurtured” (not brought on) by the Trump administration. Both silencing progressives and a contrived “healing” would require perpetuating the American cultural language of “concealment and invisibility,” to quote the late Charles Long in Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion.

Similar to the calls for an impossible, immediate healing, the question, at least in part, is about whether the United States is a nation in which egalitarian values reign or exclusionary values reign.

Deepening democracy in the United States always derives from the hopes of and work by people seen as too far left of the center whenever they sought to break open the circle boundary or build the tent large enough to include all people who make up the nation. The imperfect social and political advances in the United States—limited recognition of Indigenous peoples, the putative end of chattel enslavement, access to the franchise for women, recognition of the humanity of LGBTQ people, qualified attention to immigrant life and labor, and other democracy-deepening changes—have all resulted from so-called “far left” groups laying bare the untruth that democracy can exist while persons are legally and morally scripted as subordinate, and then denied full access to social goods, burdens, and privileges. Additionally, as the “far left” continues to point out, the recognition that some progress has been made does not diminish the urgent need to continually address the persistent intractable view that a little access, a little recognition, a little attention is sufficient. 

Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Defund the Police are among movements some label as too “far left,” thus needing to be excised from the nation’s and the Democratic Party’s platform because the cost of the democracy for which these movements advocate is too much to pay. Both the BLM movement and Defund the Police advocacy emerged from the insufficiency of “a little access” in addressing the life and death realities Black people still have to face in this country. They both show a continuing need to reveal truths that haunt American democracy. 

One truth is that there is not a single era of U.S. history when the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution held full and potent meaning for all people in our nation. While race has been a singular factor evincing this truth for Black people, class, education, sexual and gender identities, religion, ethnicity, ability, and other factors intersect with and have bearing on the extent to which all people have access to “equal protection of the laws.” It is significant to note how Defund the Police advocacy (which some see as political kryptonite) relates directly to the idea of “equal protection of the laws.” Defund the Police is a statement of hope that the exorbitant and ever-increasing share of resources that pay for the nation’s police forces can and will be redeployed to address municipal services that truly make our communities better and safer, including providing resources for smart public safety. Defunding the Police is a hope that we can overcome the idea rooted in the very creation of policing: that the police should, on behalf of some persons in the United States, sanction the “others.” Embedded in our laws, social norms, perspectives, and policing is the view that we are and should remain a nation of insiders and outsiders. There can be no real national healing without facing and overcoming this simple truth, and that—like the vision embedded in Defund the Police advocacy—will take time. 

Because it does not begin with facing that truth, the insistence that Joe Biden’s (and Kamala Harris’) agenda should immediately focus on national healing isn’t serious. There was no “healed” United States before the election, before the Trump presidency, before or during the Obama era, or ever. What is different now is not that we were broken apart by the last four years. This moment is different because President Trump’s behavior, rhetoric, and public policy has called for and unleashed the most base antipathy toward freedom and democracy for everyone. Though sometimes suppressed long-standing antipathy is one of the clearest signs that we are broken.

There was no “healed” United States before the election, before the Trump presidency, before or during the Obama era, or ever.

Our brokenness as a nation is evidenced in the near-genocidal decimation of Indigenous peoples; the enslavement and perpetual dehumanization of African Americans; in the internment of Japanese Americans; in the still active calls for silence and invisibility of LGBTQ people; in the morally corrupt and criminal treatment of people coming from other countries who want only to improve their lives; and more. Let us hope that the Biden administration will make headway in unifying the nation (“unity: the quality or state of not being multiple: oneness”), which must precede healing. Healing (“to make free from injury or disease: to make sound or whole”) is conceptually different and requires hope and commitment to something that can in time, overcome our predilection to always be at the advantage in insider-outsider logics. 

Faith traditions of every sort encourage hope that we can overcome these logics. These traditions challenge us to think of ourselves working with others pursuing that hope. Our faith traditions promote contributing to the well-being of all our communities. They affirm relationships with others through family, through ritual, through cooperation. The best version of Black faith—the version that has not succumbed to the insider-outsider and transactional logics, the version that gave the enslaved woman a vision of her children experiencing a time beyond rape, separation, and desperation—the best version of Black faith nurtured and sustained hope through vision, truth, and work to deepen our democracy and to strengthen our collective ability to consider as a common interest seeking a good quality of life for everyone.

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