Since the end of the cold war in 1991, America’s Black communities have suffered incalculable economic and social damage. Through four administrations, Republicans and Democrats, seemingly incapable of agreeing on anything else, have agreed on war as the defining characteristic of American life. Each Party has abdicated its constitutional duty by driving us into endless undeclared wars. Presently, there are nine, few of which the President of the United States can identify on any map with which he is familiar. The staggering costs of these wars exceed $10 trillion—or 50% of our national debt. These imperial disasters have starved our communities, black and white, of the very capacity to survive, robbing them of infrastructure of survival--our schools, hospitals, roads, transportation systems, clean water, and sanitation systems.
And now, it is clear as never before, that our undeclared wars have cost us our will and capacity to prepare for and respond to the violent changes in our climate and environment. Mother nature does not discriminate based on race or economic status. Napa, Puerto Rico, Houston and the Gulf Coast prove the point. But it is the poor, the isolated the marginalized urban and rural, Black and white, communities that suffer the most from our unreadiness and unwillingness to prepare for the environmental catastrophes now upon us. This is a direct result of the waste of our resources abroad in the exercise of immoral war: unconstitutional wars that kill and maim our most sacrificial young people.
Black leadership, particularly our politicians, has remained largely silent about America’s imperial hubris and our Black participation in it. And, It is perhaps that participation, as the apologists and advocates of unconstitutional war that has silenced us. But the Black patriots of the Revolution, of the Civil War, and of World Wars I and II did not join our military to subjugate other people. They did so to preserve and to honor our communities. Our politicians and our secular and religious leaders have forgotten that legacy. But Oberlin, on this corner Mt. Zion corner of Vernon Johns, Howard Thurman and Gardner Taylor, can remind them as few others can, that the pride of the uniform does not extinguish the immorality and illegality of the act.
The moral clarity and bravery that caused Martin Luther King Jr. to proclaim 52 years ago, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” has now eluded us. If the Black communities of the United States are to survive the climatic threats now impossible to ignore we must reclaim that most important legacy, visible in the humanity of that monument to Dr. King two blocks away.
Dr. King’s charge from the pulpit of the Riverside Church was no mere description of our lawlessness, it is a continuing call to action to all Americans to live and demand rule of law and in so doing vindicate the moral and civic unity Americans imagined for themselves in 1787.
Comments at Mt Zion Oberlin, Ohio October 20, 2017
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