“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”
“…if snow fell, it’d fall black.
please, don’t call us dead,
call us alive someplace better…
do you know what it’s like to live
someplace that loves you back?”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When the King comes, all is supposed to be well – Light has entered the world. Yes, but even the King’s life is endangered by the Powers that Be. Almost before the story can begin, the promised one becomes a refugee, fleeing for his very life.
But what about those children? What about those beautiful, poor, expendable children? Their lives are an acceptable loss — the price to be paid for achieving the security of the state. Two millennia ago, they were awarded a place in the Holy Book. Today they would get a mugshot.
Then and now, beautiful brown and black bodies are sacrificed to the machinations of security, of supremacy. Supremacy that, when fully matured, yields a harvest of strange fruit and puts down roots in the loose soil that covers the graves of the young. When one of these beloved little ones is cast down, we are commanded to speak the words of the Powers: They had it coming. They should have made better decisions. They must have done something.
For some, the something is being born. For some, the something is being dark-skinned. For some, the something is singing when they command your silence. But this is what the Powers demand.
We like to say that lynching is long gone; a sin of our past. But what is it when the state rewards a man with a badge and a gun for ending the life of one of these troublesome ones? When a jury of his peers nods with approval on the spectacle of a child’s homicide at the hands of the state? Every 6 days in America, there is another Emmett Till, another Trayvon, another Tamir. The Powers know that security, that supremacy, has a cost; but of those who pay it, some matter more than others.
When bodies hung from trees, they were victims of a white ethno-state that hated and feared these black and brown souls for their freedom. Today, the fear and the hate remain – but it is baptized by the blessings of a well-ordered society. A society where being a black man will make you 2.5 times more likely than a white man to die at the hands of police.
We are told that state violence is all the result of a few bad apples, but didn’t that King say that we will know a tree by its fruit?
So, the children wait. Someday, somewhere, they will play and they will be free. Someday, they will not need lessons on surviving a broken tail light. Someday they will not worry that their nose, their complexion, will make them a likely suspect.
But not today.
Timothy Paulson lives in Minneapolis with his wife Molly and their 3-year-old daughter. He works full-time teaching and equipping Christians to do the Church’s calling of welcoming and loving Muslims neighbors in Jesus’ name.