We hunted you down
like animals in the forest
bound you in chains
and loaded you into ships
like so much freight.
During the long dark voyages
from below deck
we heard your cries of anguish and pain
as murmurs, strange sounds in foreign tongues.
We sold you at auction
making fortunes in the marketplace.
We bred you like livestock and trained you
to the arduous and dangerous tasks
of building fortunes for ourselves
and our descendants.
We deprived you of your culture
and languages but continued
hearing the murmurs
in the secret meetings around campfires in the night
strange sounds in foreign tongues.
You worked and toiled for generations
while we talked in pious tones
of liberty and freedom from the bondage
of our British overlords
still hearing your murmurs, strange sounds in foreign tongues.
We banned your religions and traditions.
We civilized you and saved you from the wrath of our God
and forced you to sit in our meetinghouses
apart from our families whom you toiled to serve.
In exchange for your myths and sacred truths
we gave you St. Paul:
“Slaves obey your masters”
Your freedom came,
not as a declaration of your humanity
or recognition of your personhood,
or as the fruits of the tireless work of our enlightened few.
We released you from chattel slavery
as a military tactic to undermine the economy
of your rebellious overlords.
No sooner had we changed the law of the land
to make room for you at the table
that we found new forms of slavery
to keep “you in your place”
Jim Crow visited you in the night
shrouded in white
by the light of burning crosses.
As you huddled in fear,
again we heard your murmurs,
this time in a language we should have understood.
At last, you quoted our scriptures back to us
and found strength and comfort in our God and our Jesus.
Still we turned a deaf ear
to your humanity and dignity.
We grudgingly offered you a “separate but equal” place
in the country that you labored to build.
All the while we took steps to ensure that your place
would always be separate but never equal.
We took comfort in our rationale
that you just weren’t ready for full citizenship
you couldn’t cope with the complexities of urban life
you were essentially and fundamentally different
and need our continued guidance and direction.
(read: our oppression and exploitation)
You labored on, and on,
finding your dignity and strength
in the truth we refused to hear.
This time your murmurs rang out loud and clear
We shall over come…
And that day came and went
and we pointed to Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays
and Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan
and Tiger Woods and an African-American President
with an African Name.
We declared a post-racial America had finally arrived
and we continued to stop and frisk your young men on the streets
and lock them up and throw away the key
and hunt them down so we could stand our ground
and choke them to death in police custody
and shoot them down
and break their backs
and shoot them down
and turn a deaf ear
to the murmurs that have haunted us down the years
the murmurs that we cannot silence by declaring
“All lives matter”