Today is the Roman Catholic feast of Saint Augustine, who was an African man with an African mother, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at most of his icons– and of Saint Moses the Strong, whom nobody could whitewash. Most paintings of Augustine make him look like he’s from Scandinavia, but Moses looks Black. Saint Augustine said of money: “The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess superfluity, you possess what belongs to others. God gives the world to the poor as well as to the rich. Redouble your charity.” And as for Saint Moses, he said “It is better for a man to put himself to death rather than his neighbor, and he should not condemn him in anything.”
But I don’t live in a country that worships their God. I wish that I did. I live in the United States, and we honor a different god here.
Today is also the anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was a Black child who was lynched 65 years ago, at age fourteen, by white men who thought he’d grabbed a white lady. That white lady’s name is Carolyn Bryant Donham, and she later admitted she lied, and she is still alive. She’s 86 this year. Till would have been seventy-nine. Till’s murderers died free men.
The name of the town where Emmett Till was murdered was “Money.” Money, Mississippi. It seems an odd name, but then again, every single town in the United States ought to be called “Money.” Money is what we worship here. Money is our god.
It has been ninety-five days since the lynching of George Floyd, who died groaning for mercy while a policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Unlike the lynching of Emmett Till, it was filmed. His crime, allegedly, was trying to pass a bill he might or might not have known was counterfeit. A counterfeit bill is a blasphemy against Money, and blasphemers are publicly tortured to death.
Black people were brought here from the United States in the first place, because of money. They were how we made our money and became the economic power we are today. We stacked them on top of each other like firewood. If they got sick on the voyage, we threw them overboard to drown so we could collect the insurance. We stole their names, their cultures; we sold them at auction for Money. We branded and scourged them, for Money. We raped women and then raped and sold their children, for Money. We worked them to death, for Money. And we were blessed in return with lots of money.
When slavery was abolished, we did everything we could to make sure that that these people couldn’t have any Money. We made sure they had no remuneration for their generations of labor. We made everything they did a crime, either a real crime on the books or just tacitly a crime, and then we punished them as hard as we could because they wouldn’t follow the rules. We told one another that they were violent and untrustworthy, and then we feared them because they were violent and untrustworthy. We refused to sell them houses or loan them money to buy a house somewhere else, and then we called them imprudent for not having invested in any property. And we called them lazy because the neighborhoods they went to live in were shabby. We had Money, and that means we were favored by God for our hard work. They had no Money so they were lazy and needed to be disciplined, by us.
That’s the history of America.
Earlier this week, two human beings were murdered during the protests and the rioting in Wisconsin. They were protesting the maiming of Jacob Blake. I think we were all surprised when Jacob Blake didn’t die after the police shot him seven times in the back; he’s only paralyzed from the waist down. We’re so used to these stories ending in the Black man’s death, or the Black woman’s death, or the Black child’s death. We do know that the police handcuffed him to his hospital bed, even though he had no way of getting out of it thanks to them. Of course, many were quick to come up with reasons for why he deserved to be paralyzed from the waist down. There was a knife in his car. There were warrants. He shouldn’t have turned his back. The police were worried for their safety. But plenty of other people recognized this as an atrocity, and they protested, and some rioted.
A young white man named Kyle Rittenhouse responded to this by having his mother drive him forty miles across state lines to guard businesses that weren’t his, with a rifle he was legally not allowed to carry– the minimum age for open carry is eighteen, and Rittenhouse is seventeen. Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, and was allowed to walk right past the police– the same police force who shot an unarmed Black man in the back because they were afraid.
Thankfully, most of the people I know are horrified at Rittenhouse. But I also see an alarming number of people praising him, because he was defending properties. Riots destroy properties, and he took two lives and left another in the hospital, at least ostensibly in defense of somebody’s property. Somebody’s business. The means that somebody has to make money.
This is America, and money is what we worship. Money is what we value above all else. We are still a nation that praises the taking of lives, in sacrifice to Money. So little has changed.
Every town in America is really called “Money.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.