The images from the lynching scene in the movie, “Twelve Years A Slave” are seared into my psyche.
The award-winning movie is based on an 1853 memoir and slave narrative written by David Wilson about American Soloman Northup, a black man born free in New York state, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep South.
As Solomon is hanging from the poplar tree, gasping for air, others walk past him-- completing their daily chores.
An incomplete hanging as it were, didn’t result in a quick death, rather, his dying body suspended ever-so-slightly above the earth's surface, suspended and supported by the strength of his toes, eyes slightly bulged, neck stretched to the heavens, mouth open as he prayed for mercy.
As I watched the movie, Solomon disappears in the background, replaced by other humans going about their daily lives – running errands, working, and doing chores. The walking dead seemed not to notice the dying.
This cinematic clip resonates because despite our emotional response to the progress we believe has taken place within our nation, the collective we, continue to walk past the “hanging thing” swinging from the tree, while admiring the tree. We pity the circumstances that resulted in this harsh punishment, yet never questioning our own role in the execution.
How might you ask? We walk past our unhoused neighbors, countrymen and children living on filthy street corners – carrying on with our chores, errands and shopping. We sit idle as unfettered gun violence kills our children, while worshiping the guns. We pity the impoverished, the incarcerated and continue to allow an unjust, justice system to flourish, yet never questioning our role in electing political leaders than enact laws that carry out the execution.
So, we avoid the hanging “thing” and go back to working, vacationing, shopping, and isolating. We insulate in our own little communities – never daring to cut the rope to free the human thing from this unmerciful system we have co-created.
We remain enslaved.
Navigating Courage Principle #2: Be In Community/Interconnectedness
Until we begin to see our own humanity and the interconnection to the “hanging things” of this world, we become the monstrous “things” suspended and trapped– holding the rope that will one day be used against us. Ubuntu– I am because you are.