In the introduction, Robinson writes: "Solutions to our racial problems are possible, but only if our society can be brought to face up to the massive crime of slavery and all that it has wrought." (7)
More pointedly to the argument I have been making for some time (largely, thanks to Robinson): "Lamentably, there will always be poverty. But African Americans are overrepresented in that economic class for one reason and one reason only: American slavery and the vicious climate that followed it." (8-9)
Chapter One opens beautifully, poetically, tragically, and controversially:
I was born in 1941, but my black soul is much older than that. Its earliest incarnations occured eons ago on another continent somewhere in the mists of prehistory. Thus, there are two selves: one born a mere fifty-eight years ago; the other, immortal, who has lost sight of the trail of his long story. I am this new self and an ancient self. I need both to be whole. Yet there is a war within, and I feel a great wanting of the spirit.The immortal self - the son of the shining but distant African ages - tells the embattled, beleaguered, damaged self, the modern self, what he needs to remember of his ancient traditions. But the modern self simply cannot remember and thus cannot believe... Maliciously shorn of his natural identity for so long, he can too easily get lost in another's.
Reading this for the first time, maybe in 2002, I was faced with one of the most foundational choices to how I would see myself and the world from then on: I could defend myself, distance myself from the "debt" identified by Robinson, and live self-justified. OR, I could own it; plead guilt for my ignorance, my complicity and my heritage; grieve over it; and finally, seek to move forward in personal, spiritual, and societal reparation.
Eight years later, I still don't know what ownership and repentance should look like, but as with homophobia, misogyny and bourgeois economics, I am seeking to reject self-preservation and open my life to redemption. I trust the Holy Spirit to continue illuminating the truth of "the least of these," those Christ tirelessly loved and shared himself with.
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."