America’s racist god requires black people’s blood to atone for the sins committed by its followers. This time, the blood shed in sacrifice to this god of white supremacy was Michael Brown’s. Darren Wilson, an agent of that god, was vindicated. For his reward, he is showered with blood money from other followers of the racist god.
No one should be surprised that Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury. Prosecutor Robert McCulloch played the role of Pontius Pilate, washing his and Darren Wilson’s hands of impunity, while the sacrifice, Michael Brown, was deemed worthy of death because in Wilson’s words “he look[ed] like a demon.” Wilson even uses the sacred instrument to complete his sacrifice to the god of American Whiteness: the gun.
For the parents of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, and countless others, the pain of their children’s sacrifice at the hands of the agents of the god of white supremacy in America cannot be healed. We who look upon this madness however, must begin to comprehend the full scope of the underlying issue at hand: America has never simply been land of the free and home of the brave. It is also the home of many who are craven and weak, who cheat the justice system established by their predecessors in order to maintain their power. Blood is the atonement for their sins, and it must be drawn regularly to appease this peculiar but powerful god that is, they believe, the foundation of America.
As an historian of American Religion and African American Religion, I’m often reminded that for those in power, the bodies of the people they fear and subjugate are always deemed dangerous, evil, or demonic. Darren Wilson’s statement that Michael Brown looked “like a demon” is one more layer of that history. The god of white supremacy in America demands that anything that does not conform to a white body must be evil; it must be denigrated or destroyed. Only when white bodies perform “blackness” is blackness deemed to be safe. (See Iggy Azalea, Macklemore and Miley Cyrus for recent examples.) Even when the brown and black body performs “respectability” in this reality of a white supremacist nation, it is valued less than whiteness.
My understanding of the religious dimension of this history came in a chance encounter during a Jacques Derrida lecture at UC Irvine in the spring of 2000. While discussing Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed in America since 1984, Derrida remarked that he was somewhat surprised that the governor in office at the time, now former President George W. Bush, hadn’t commuted her death sentence because she’d become a Christian. Surely, he mused, her conversion to Christianity would count for something with another born again Christian. I raised my hand in the discussion period and suggested that the history of America and the predisposition to particular notions of atonement meant that Jesus’ blood would never be enough to atone for any transgression in a nation obsessed with a punitive Christianity.
If I could have that conversation with Derrida today I would amend my statement slightly. While I still believe that the nation is obsessed with a punitive Christianity, I would add that white supremacy linked to an American theology of atonement means that brown and black bodies will always be sacrificed, whiteness is the standard, and that the thirst for power and blood is never slaked, never ending. White supremacy always demands the shedding of blood to assert its divinity.
So while the streets of Ferguson burn and the governor orders National Guard reinforcements, black people cry out in pain, wondering if there will ever be a reckoning for these sins. I cannot answer that question, but unlike many Americans, I am neither surprised nor hurt by this evil I see. Like Miss Celie in The Color Purple, who curses Mister for subjugating her for years, I believe that those like Darren Wilson who worship at the altar of America’s god of white supremacy will fail. Until you do right by all of the blood you have taken in this nation, everything you do will fail. Believe that.