- Aarik Danielsen
Traffic moved slow and heavy along the highway between my head and heart on a weekend where America imploded.
Truths content to lodge within the realm of assent traveled south as my eyes labored to keep up with images flooding in from the Twin Cities and across the country. Protestors and mourners publicly processing the grievous deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor let out a soul cry that cannot—and must not—go ignored. Their sustained call for repentance and relief from injustice demanded my attention, and I paid it. The least that I could do.
Saturday night seemed especially heavy. I pried my eyes away from my Twitter feed long enough to walk upstairs. There I found my wife, who is white, sitting on our bed with her laptop open. Attempting to work, she traced a circle instead. Tensing her body to keep it together, her spirit failed her—or perhaps served her—as she convulsed with tears.
She steeled herself and broke, steeled herself and broke, from fear for the black body of our six-year-old son. The knowledge that life buys him maybe another six years before he transforms into a threat in many American eyes was too much to handle.
But our fear is not a lifelong companion; we only came to it five years ago. To hear the testimonies of black Americans, that dread tucks into their bones like marrow.
We eventually achieved something like stasis, and I traveled back down the stairs. With each footfall, I thought of black women. The pain which courses through my wife’s body, which so often stings my soul, is real and significant. No matter how successful our son becomes, how safe he seems, it will linger for the rest of our lives. This fear twines itself with regret at the ways we still benefit from unjust systems and horror at the knowledge that those who will someday dismiss him look just like us.
But our fear is not a lifelong companion; we only came to it five years ago. To hear the testimonies of black Americans, that dread tucks into their bones like marrow. The centuries cannot tally the names of the sons black women bury, the number of threats their own bodies face, the frequency with which the cultural narrative excludes them.
Generation after generation of black women live ordinary, remarkable lives. And yet to the best of my imagination, they demand no beatification from me. Already saints, they lift simple prayers—to fully vest themselves of their God-given rights.
From the bottom of the stairs, I point myself to the couch, to pick up my phone, and dwell in the deluge again. My already tired eyes widen as I take in video of police officers driving into protestors in New York City; demolishing the milk jugs and water canisters used to soothe the tear-gassed skin of Louisville’s marchers; propelling paint rounds at people bearing witness from their porches in Minneapolis.
A scene from Exodus 32 plays, then rewinds and starts over in my head. Moses comes down from the mountain to find God’s people debasing themselves before a golden calf. Vibrating with righteous anger, he melts down the beast, grinds the gold into powder and mixes it with water for the Israelites to drink.
Right then I identify the taste on my own tongue and see what God is up to. When his church is unable or unwilling to name its idols, he seizes the moment. This weekend, he melted down America’s sacred cows and ground them into dust in real-time.
Where we bow to idols of the status quo and white convenience, he pulverizes them for the sake of justice and holy love. Where we worship all law enforcement—a god which sets itself up against respect for good, gracious authority—he looses his refining fire. He will not let the insidious idols of racism and materialism claim his rightful place. He grips the cup instead, making us drink down every drop until flecks of fools’ gold burn within our bellies, leading us to cry out for Jesus’s healing.
Saturday I felt overwhelmed. Sunday, I just felt angry. All day, I committed, then repeated, the error of scrolling through Facebook. There I encountered people I have known most of my life—people I’ve cried in front of and worshiped alongside, people who profess love for my family—as they appraised buildings at a higher value than bodies.
I watched people who never once uttered the name George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery show up to denounce rioters without parsing types of protestors or availing themselves of even a second to imagine generational black pain.
My head pounds from the cognitive dissonance. And still I know my weariness represents one-thousandth of what my black and brown neighbors carry through the world.
Selective outrage destroys all credibility. I can no longer take seriously the people in my life who choose to spend their one voice decrying damage to brick-and-mortar while staying silent on the devastation of body and soul. The realities they mute speak louder than those they amplify.
Now it’s Monday, and I sit in shock and wonder, allowing my heart and mind to access my worst fear: the unjust killing of my child. Would these friends and relatives cloak themselves in the biblical cover of sackcloth and ashes—or would they work themselves into a state of judgement over how others mourned my boy? That I can’t answer with confidence rips the stitching out of my soul.
My eyes hurt from remaining open. My heart sags within me, weighed down by secondary trauma. My head pounds from the cognitive dissonance. And still I know my weariness represents one-thousandth of what my black and brown neighbors carry through the world.
Before Saturday, I knew these truths but struggled to feel them in my body. I held out some fraction of hope that I might be mistaken. One weekend reveals so much, confirms so much, drives home so much.