"Americans believe in the reality of "race" as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism---the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce and destroy them---inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men [sic]."
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
This week on January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United Nations chose this day, the day the Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland was liberated, to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
As a kid, growing up on the outskirts of Fort Bragg Army Base, my earliest ideas of World War II were formed by the tales of American heroism: America was the liberator, the freedom fighter. America was the country that fought against oppression anddespised the hatred of the Nazi regime. Americans were the good guys.
As I grew older, I learned that these tales were told against the back-drop of the Jim Crow south and Japanese internment camps. After hearing The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talk about the "Two Americas," and diving more deeply into the shadow side of American History, I came to understand that my country had a split personality: the America that espoused the highest of all expectations with regards to freedom versus the America that turned a blind eye to all of its own sins.
Racism and the kind of bigotry that led to the crimes of the Holocaust are alive and well in America. And there is little hope of slaying that beast unless we acknowledge that this is not the "natural order of things;" this is something our systems produce and nourish with every notion of those we would fence out and those we would fence in, those who are deserving and those who are not.
On this day, I pray for all the victims of the Holocaust. I pray for all of those courageous souls who stood up to the Nazi regime, and those who sacrificed themselves to save others. I also pray that International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day that calls us to hear more clearly the siren calls of fear and hatred that would ensnare us here and now. I hope that it is a day that reminds us that the hero story of America is not the only story we must tell. I hope that each of us sees this day and the horrors of Nazi Germany as a reminder to people of faith: our God is not the god of Democracy or the god Patriotism. Our God is the Living One who calls us to life in Christ; a life where all are beloved, and all are free.