The hashtags keep multiplying: #Ferguson, #EricGarner, #CrimingWhileWhite, #ICantBreathe. The list has no real beginning and there’s no end in sight to media presentations of social pathology – rape, murder, war or our immanent destruction of the earth. It’s depressing and real, although imbalanced. For every step forward, must we take 4 steps back? How can we gain and maintain ground in our struggle to become more humane people?
Alicia Keyes’ new song is a powerful reminder of many who have given their lives for the advancement of love. Paul Alexander Wolf, half a world away, reminds us that civil rights has always meant rights for all people. Our political legacy holds both the best and the cruelest of our intentions. My friend Licia Berry writes about being broken open, something we experience both personally and culturally.
The proliferation of inflammatory “news programs” spewing racially charged misinformation has never been so successful, with recent November ratings for Fox News far surpassing its rivals. Hate speech is fear mongering. White America is losing all the ground it gained during the industrial revolution and a series of highly profitable wars, a real bummer for the lower 99%. Judgement Day may become very unappealing for Christians who aren’t taken up in the Rapture. Post apocalyptic fantasy is big money at the box office, yet another sign of the decline of Western civilization.
How do we avoid creating a world held captive by the exquisite corpse of our unexpressed guilt and shame? Perhaps we can start by looking at where we came from. If we can face that truth, it might give us the platform we need to move beyond our fear of immigrants, people of color and the many other excuses we cling to for denying our shared humanity.
Pictured here is a sample map of the genomic composition of someone’s ancestry. It’s similar to the maps my family and I have from the DNA tests we ordered from 23andMe. My own chart is largely Northern European, but my primary MtDNA (mother’s) genome is from a very early Neolithic migration from India/Anatolia into Southeastern Europe. These were farmers, bringing agriculture and livestock to the hunter-gatherers who had survived centuries of glaciation in caves. Interbreeding with small populations of Neanderthals, these cave dwellers also included other early Homo Sapiens populations like the now extinct Heidelbergensis and the Denisovans.
Modern homo sapiens sapiens can be traced back to an original pair of humans we fondly call Adam and Eve, in Africa, roughly 150,000 – 100,000 years ago. The map to the right shows broad patterns of migration out of Africa, everyone’s original homeland. Human beings are travelers, we are immigrants who have explored our world for hundreds of thousands of years. Migration is the human condition, it was then and it is now. Trying to stop the flow of humanity as we continue to seek shelter: #WeCantBreathe. It might be a good idea to come to some kind of peace before we seriously consider colonizing Mars, which is fast becoming more science than fiction. As one who grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, I appreciated the diversity of life forms in those stories and hope we will meet teachers who will help us outgrow our barbaric reliance on war and violence. A girl can dream.
Time will tell whether we can love the Earth enough not to destroy her. Aside from a common history of love and war we must acknowledge that once homo sapiens were all dark skinned. It’s the Neanderthal influence that gave Europeans their light hair and eyes. We also received genes that boosted our immune systems and helped us survive the cold. Over time, as more people settled in cooler environments, our skin and hair paled as an adaptation to lower UV levels. But our common heritage is both African and dark brown.
Before I took this trip back in time and opened the horizon of my imagination to pre-history, I felt burdened by the violence, the racism and the lack of charity we show one another. Passing laws that prohibit the feeding of the poor, that malign migrants or other races while proclaiming Christian righteousness? We are so afraid that the centuries of colonial domination will turn against us, so afraid to look an American Indian person in the eye and realize we have committed genocide, decimating the native population by 97% in our heedless conquest of the New World. Afraid to stand before a black person and acknowledge the undeniable and ongoing history of violence and racism American European immigrants have perpetuated. The more we hate ourselves, the easier it is to hate each other. There is another choice. We can choose love, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King states so passionately below. How to make amends? Time to find out.