“When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, I felt - you might call it the lament of a white father. I knew and the whole country knew that my son Luke — six-foot-tall baseball athlete, going to college next year — had been walking and doing the same thing, same time that Trayvon was doing in Sanford, Fla., everyone knows he would've come back. But Trayvon didn't come back, and so it was a parable. Jesus talked about parables. They teach us things. Michael Brown — Ferguson — was a parable. Charleston was a parable. The parable about where we are as a nation — we have to see our original sin and how it still lingers in our criminal justice system.”
america's original sin
Rev. Jim Wallis leads the Christian social justice group Sojourners. He is known for merging faith with public life, urging candidates for office to discuss moral issues in a way that transcends ideological divisions. Michel Martin talks with Wallis about his book America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
On Wednesday, June 17, a young believer in white supremacy invaded the sacred sanctuary of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. There he murdered nine black Christians who were gathered together for their weekly Wednesday night prayer meeting. The killer had been welcomed by the African Methodist Episcopal church members to join them in prayer when he walked in, and he sat with them for more than an hour before he pulled out his gun and shot them dead at the prayer table. They were targeted and killed because they were black.
It is painfully true that in our time, in this year, in the United States, there is still no safe space for black people in America — even in their own churches. Racism is America’s original sin. It expresses itself explicitly and overtly in what we horribly saw last week in a black church, but racism continues on, implicitly and covertly, in American institutions and culture.
The most controversial sentence I ever wrote, considering the response to it, was not about abortion, marriage equality, the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, elections, or anything to do with national or church politics. It was a statement about the founding of the United States of America. Here’s the sentence:
"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."
The comments were overwhelming, with many calling the statement outrageous and some calling it courageous. But it was neither. The sentence was simply a historical statement of the facts. It was the first sentence of a Sojourners magazine cover article, published 26 years ago titled “America’s Original Sin: The Legacy of White Racism.”
An extraordinary new film called 12 Years a Slave has just come out, and Sojourners hosted the premiere for the faith community on Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. Rev. Otis Moss III was on the panel afterward that reflected on the film. Dr. Moss is not only a dynamic pastor and preacher in Chicago, but he is also a teacher of cinematography who put this compelling story about Solomon Northup — a freeman from New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery — into the historical context of all the American films ever done on slavery. 12 Years is the most accurate and best produced drama of slavery ever done, says Moss.
In her New York Times review, “ The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias,” Manohla Dargis says, 12 Years a Slave “isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States — but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” Instead of the Hollywood portrayal of beautiful plantations, benevolent masters, and simple happy slaves, it shows the utterly brutal violence of a systematic attempt to dehumanize an entire race of people — for economic greed. It reveals how morally outrageous the slave system was, and it is very hard to watch.