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“The Cotton Pickers” by Winslow Homer

A Love Letter to Black America

Jul 3 · 8 min read

Dear Black America,

Eight weeks of quarantine. That’s the amount of time I spent in isolation this spring due to the coronavirus. That much time alone changes you. It gives you time to think and to wonder, why is the world the way that it is? It also gives you time to learn something new. In my case, the way I spent those long days and nights forever changed my perspective on the United States, racism, and Black people.

I watched 54 films and documentaries about the Black American experience — everything from “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th,” to “Roots” and “Love and Basketball.”

The quarantine ended, but the process of immersing myself in the Black experience did not. Most recently, I watched “L.A. ‘92,” a documentary about the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising — I live in France and the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd made me want to learn even more about the long, painful history of police brutality against Black people in America.

I watched what happened nearly 30 years ago after the acquittal of the LAPD officers who were filmed beating Rodney King — and I viewed this film through the lens of the arrests of the officers who killed George Floyd. I saw how in 1992, after six days of thousands of people taking to the streets in America’s second-largest city, the then-president, George H.W. Bush made no reference to making right the wrongs done to Black Americans. Instead, he ended his speech with a familiar refrain: “May God bless the United States of America.”

But I wonder, can God really bless America if America doesn’t do right by you?

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George Floyd protests in Miami, Florida on June 6, 2020. Photo by Mike Shaheen / CC BY 2.0

I’m not an American, but I wholeheartedly support the movement to end racism in the United States. When it comes to its extensive history of colonialism and anti-black racism, France has plenty to answer for — ask anyone from Haiti. There is also modern-day racism in France, of course, and French people need to change our hearts and our actions to end it. But what I have seen over the past few weeks is the power of Black Americans to light the fire of truth. Your fight to end racism has the potential to inspire the whole world to recognize the inherent nobility of people of African descent. Because of this, the movement for racial equality and justice in the United States must be supported by the entire world.

Ending racism is no easy task. I am a white man, one who bears the skin color of those who have tirelessly tried everything to make Black people forget who you truly are. And I admit that the more films I watched, the more I felt a deep sense of shame over the abject inhumanity with which you have been treated. My heart bleeds and my soul burns because I have to rethink the way I’ve been taught to see the world — how I’ve been taught to view Black people. I am not the same after learning the truth about the Black American experience, and now that I am learning what I was never taught in school, it’s impossible to behave as if nothing has changed. What I realize is that there has been a deliberate and systematic effort to hide this truth.

Luckily, the efforts of white people to crush your spirits have been in vain. Black Americans are by far, the people whose culture is the backbone of the world. You already know that your culture has been — and continues to be — copied and violated by others who seek to profit from it, all while denying that you are the glorious people who created it from scratch. I’m aware that Black culture isn’t limited to music, but every time I listen to the radio or scroll through the categories on Spotify it reminds me that soul is Black, jazz is Black, rap is Black, gospel is Black, blues is Black, pop is Black, disco is Black, funk is Black, hip-hop is Black, techno is Black, house music is Black…I could spend days writing lists detailing how, in every part of our society, the unfathomable and inexhaustible beauty of Black culture has transcended countries, languages, habits… forever. It’s understood, to me, the world is more Black than white. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

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The King & Carter Jazzing Orchestra in Houston, January 1921. Photo by Robert Runyon/Public Domain

Africa is the cradle of humanity. It’s where the first human heart beat on earth. The beauty of life, scientifically and spiritually, comes from this continent — from Black people. And yet, from what I see, we’re in an upside-down world where white people treat Black people like they’re a liability. We took your land, your food, your children, your wives, your husbands, your gold, your diamonds, your voices, your lives… wait wait wait! Who is labeled as looters? GOD BLESS AMERICA.

For centuries, the blood and sweat of Black people fertilized the soil and spirit of the United States. Your labor and spirit is the foundation on which all these treasures are built.

You are the people with the greatest determination and the greatest courage. Your ancestors, taken away from their roots, uprooted from their families, uprooted from their dreams, uprooted from their land, were forced, against their will, to work as slaves. Your ancestors were enslaved in a country that was not afraid to push the narrative that you were not fully human. There is a bitter irony that America’s founding fathers chose, in all serenity of spirit, to call the United States the sweet name of “land of freedom.” GOD BLESS AMERICA.

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Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Photographer unknown / Public domain

I n every overseas war in United States history, you stood up, a military uniform on your bodies, fear dripping on the cold steel of a rifle in your hands, ready to defend the “honor” of your country. During World War II, you came to France ready to fight and you helped take my country back from the Nazis. But from the moment your Black brothers returned to American soil, your country continued to show you nothing but flagrant racism and disrespect. America took great care to treat Black people in a profoundly unfair manner in relation to its “real heroes” — the white ones. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

While attempting to erase your roots and your culture, white people have deliberately organized society to benefit ourselves. From what I understand (in all humility, and of course I may be wrong), white privilege means white people generally have access to more power and resources than Black people. White people don’t have to worry about a police officer kneeling on our necks for eight minutes and 46 seconds. We live under the real shield of the law, with our civil rights observed and respected. Even if white people grew up unaware of white privilege, it’s impossible to look at the news, to see you protesting, and ignore that it exists. Any sane person cannot stay blind to this. What is also clear to me is that ending racism is not the fight of Black people only.

T o end racism white people need to be willing to abandon our privilege—both individually and system-wide — and replace it with a society that fully benefits everyone. We live without the slightest fear of anything remotely related to justice not being served. We don’t fear for ourselves or our children every day. And so we cannot talk about American values of equality and unity, or living as one human family when we keep ourselves separate from Black people. The racism in our hearts is a spiritual disease that erodes our souls and dims our light. America cannot fully achieve the greatness which might be hers if we do not stamp out racism once and for all.

You are the people armed with the greatest patience because after so many centuries spent with the white man trying to silence you and crush your spirit, YOU ARE STILL HERE. YOU SHOW UP, more BEAUTIFUL, STRONGER, more UNITED than ever. And I wouldn’t dare speak on behalf of your ancestors, but I have a strong belief that these days you are their pride and joy. I am sure you can feel their presence and hear the sound of their feet hitting the ground, echoing in unison with yours as you march through the streets of America calling out for freedom.

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December 2014 Black Lives Matter demonstration in Oakland, California. Photo by Annette Bernhardt / CC BY-SA

I see your fists raised towards the sky, calling on your ancestors and the universe, on the holy spirit, on the celestial divine, which is the only thing greater than us, calling for protection and assistance as you march the streets, proclaiming not vengeance but JUSTICE and EQUALITY. But in my eyes, no human being should need to do this, especially in the country that keeps claiming to be the “land of freedom.” GOD BLESS AMERICA.

When I hear and listen to you, I am full of gratitude that your hearts beat for life and justice. May your voices keep coming together and waking up hearts around the world! Always REMEMBER how strong you are, Always REMEMBER that the message you’re sending over the world is epic. Always REMEMBER you are more numerous than any of your oppressors, so YES! Power is being transferred to the people.

I hope with all my heart that I have not offended or disrespected anyone by writing these few words. I am no one. I have no pretensions and certainly no bad intentions. I know that I still know so little about the Black experience and I am not here to give advice in any way, especially to people who have had centuries to think, reflect, and take action about racism. I simply want to share what is on my heart. I pray that the hearts of millions of white people will be pierced by a sudden, powerful, and authentic awakening. I hope that white people and other races and ethnicities across the world will rally to this necessary and urgent cause of justice. We owe it to Black people.

When it comes to showing patience, solidarity, support, will, and determination — despite everything you have gone through — you are the light that enables the world to see. Your equality and true freedom — That is my wish, this day and every day until it is fulfilled.

It’s clear: None of us are free until you’re free.

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