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  • By Stephanose Melaku

Waiting to Inhale

As we are here trying to catch our

breaths from the current Covid-19 crisis, the systemic racism, the acts of injustice by the institutional structures in the US, the disenfranchisement of Black individuals, Black families, and Black communities worldwide, the false characterization of Black people as violent, uneducated and uncivilized, I am struggling to comprehend the actions of the human race.

We are having a hard time breathing as we strain to disentangle from the chains of injustice that has bonded us to the reality, stigma, and health disparities of slavery. We are winded in the struggle to find our positions in the workplace, academia, government, and society as we struggle to survive in the gladiator arena of the fittest in competition with one another. As a collective body, we are no longer breathing, but we are wheezing because the hits keep coming. The pain is still there from the historic strikes and yet we are struck with another blow that has caved the Black chest inward, leaving us gasping for air. I am struggling to comprehend the actions of the human race.

Even now, my eyes bleed with tears as I am straining not to scream or cry outwardly in frustration, not to swing my fists and injure my knuckles - my peaceful composure making contact with the walls that have been hindering our lives, vision and unity. I am struggling to maintain my inner peace. I am holding firm the teachings of Jesus Christ and admire the effective individuals who dealt with injustice using the power and force of nonviolence that resulted from a collection and gathering of people that was so numerous. The consequence of the peaceful resistance had to be responded to with the just actions of God.

We are breathless, constricted from oxygen, witnessing our women’s bodies being subjected to worlds of injustice whilst the unjust are willingly breathless. And our women, with miraculous fortitude and strength, exercise their God given Ruach - their God given breath - to continue breathing under pressure and continue to resuscitate Black children, Black Men, and Black communities. I am struggling to comprehend the actions of humanity.

Nevertheless, it is without a doubt that amidst the trauma, drama, and saga of the Black struggle, God is with us, ever more present in the realities of suffering and our will to endure, survive, and overcome. God’s presence must be seen, witnessed, and exercised in the collective unity of every human who believes in breathing. Every human that breathes must understand that they are active in the acts of humanity whether they are active agents that contribute to injustices or they are mechanical parts that function silently behind the machinery of structural violence and structural injustice. We are seeing the results of the injustice through direct violence, but there is a root, a source, and a foundation to what we are witnessing.

The Structure

The strategically organized blueprinted movements of the systemic network at the source of it all aims to capture our hearts and minds with the direct violence that gives us a body to point the finger to, an action that captures our emotions, and a target that directs us from the true source. No longer can we blame the hired driver of a vehicle for the oil that has been spilled on the floor causing an accident that piles cars on top of cars and creates a traffic jam that stifles the movements towards progression. No longer can we be deceived by what we hear, what we see and what comes out of our mouths causing further division. That takes our gaze off of the cause and root of the issue and places our focus on the pain, the consequences, and the problem that flickers to spark another fire. It has become clear that the issues are based on the structural violence (to borrow the words from

Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda's book "Resisting Structural Evil: Love as an Ecological-Economic Vocation") that fulfills the desires of the few who breathe easy, and have scuba diving equipment handy but are never submerged in the tsunami of issues the poor, hungry and marginalized face daily.

Structural violence is at the core of racism, inequality, systemic injustice, environmental injustice, ecological injustice, and economic injustice. Structural violence is responsible for the absence of religious and spiritual freedom. The Black body cannot breathe because earth is not breathing. And if we cannot breathe, this shortness of breath will be a contagious reality for even the easy breathers. The collective engagement to address structural violence must be a unity of interdisciplinary focuses, community leaders, religious faith groups, spiritual representatives, and the support of the people they represent, all purposed to target the source. This must be accomplished through building faith, intellectual, social, and human capital (in the words of Dr. Sidney Williams from his writing "Fishing Differently"). That is, wisdom so that we can recognize what is causing the restriction of air through the earth’s trachea and stifling the Ruach (God given energy through breath) from exercising our God-given right to breathe.

This Global Dilemma

We live under a system that has covered our eyes and hidden its motives and actions from visual and mental perceptions, thus we have contributed unwillingly and unknowingly to the lifestyle that makes us active participants in perpetuating Black injustice. The latest one being Nigeria, a country that produces oil and suffers numerous amounts of injustice due to the gas that we purchase here in the United States. The land dwellers who live in these regions where oil is pumped suffer in various ways but this suffering has gone to the extreme of murdering the leaders of their resistance and effectively suppressing the active fight against companies like Shell. As the few bodies breathe easy benefiting from the structural violence masquerading as “do gooders” to society offering jobs and bringing gas to move our cars and oil to heat our homes, an alternative reality faces the Nigerians. In so doing, we also contribute to the system that is behind the recent news and trauma Nigeria is experiencing.

Everything is interconnected and nothing is unrelated on earth. This is the reality that we are all facing, and the time has come to face the truth... there is a root to all of it. Haitians have been liberated in a war against slavery but still pay France for their loss of slaves. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and is the most prone to climate crisis—Black people cannot breathe.

Here in America, slaveowners were compensated when slavery stopped, and yet Black people continue to suffer from the effects of slavery. African descendants of slavery have never received reparations—Black people cannot breathe.

In Africa, colonial powers have set up structured institutions contributing to the violence, evil and injustice that keeps Westerners privileged while resources and livelihood is diminished among the indigenous populations—Black people cannot breathe.

The structure is set up and functions nonviolently while quietly reproducing violence through deceptive means. The way to counter this evil is to also have collective action through nonviolence but in truth. We must begin by mobilizing through communal work to target this source by believing in the human right to breathe. I believe in breathing, and if you believe in breathing then let us resolve to help others believe. I can no longer struggle to comprehend human actions, but I must act and be a willing participant in the action towards healing, redemption, and liberation.

Stephanose Melaku is a M.Div. student at Drew University Theological School. He is originally from Ethiopia and grew up in New York.


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