The American Delusion
The #PROTESTIMONY of Shawn Casselberry
Poem by Shawn; interview by Micky ScottBey Jones
The American Delusion
(A poem of resistance and remembrance)
The American dream is an illusion
Land of opportunity?
a Trumped up delusion
A legacy of terror we still refuse to see
Land of the free?
Home of the slave and the lynching tree.
Founded on the supremacy of the Anglo race
America manifested a destiny of privilege and disgrace
But this is not our promised land
It was holy native ground stolen by the white man
Until America repents from our original sin
we’re doomed to repeat it again and again
Like Cain, we have skeletons we’re not able to hide
Like the old deceiver Jacob, we’ve stolen and lied
We deny that America’s first domestic terrorists were white
who held onto power as a divine birthright
“Give us your tired, huddled masses longing to be free”
and watch the life get choked out
Eric Garner still can’t breathe
If protest is the language of the unheard
then “Black Lives Matter” is the spoken word
Don’t you know silence is consent?
Democracy doesn’t work without dissent
So speak up for the victims of state sponsored genocide
and the Sandra Blands who didn’t have to die
Say her damn name!
But instead we just pass the blame
portraying injustice as a victimless crime
letting Zimmerman roam free
while Marissa serves time
I guess justice is dumb and mute
as well as blind
“Hands up, don’t shoot!”
Dead bodies on the street still not proof?
How long will justice delay?
For Trayvon, Laquan, Tamir, and Freddie Gray
Politicians pandering, it’s all white noise
Whatcha gonna do to end the deaths of black boys?
Talk is cheap
don’t believe your own chatter
You say, “justice for all”
but you can’t even say “black lives matter!”
“No Justice, No Peace.
No Justice. No Peace.”
You’d say the same if it was your child’s blood on the streets
“16 shots and a cover up”
Rahm the gig’s up
What’s the matter, cops got your tongue?
Just cause McCarthy’s gone doesn’t mean the people won
Power concedes nothing without a fight
We maybe tired but we aren’t in no ways done
The rich are getting richer
the poor are getting prison
The New Jim Crow
is an even crueler rendition
Alexander said the War on Drugs was a War on blacks
That’s what happens when you only police one side of the tracks
So I know why the caged birds sing
Cause the bell of freedom fails to ring
Maybe the dream died alongside Dr.King
When the levees break
we see who gets the tax breaks
we got to get our facts straight
Fact is, there’s cracks in the country’s foundation
we’re no “land of liberty,” we’re a prison nation
Bono said “America is an idea”
but ideas can destroy, kill, and steal
We need a new deal
Where we see anti-blackness deconstructed
cause white supremacy is a weapon of mass destruction
Whites so charged with vitriol they can’t think straight
Just shows, you can remove the flag from the state
but it’s much harder to remove the hate
But we don’t want prophets we want parrots
We got more sticks than we got carrots
We aren’t the United States
we’re the divided states
Once separated by law
now separated by choice
Once denied the right to vote
now silencing the prophetic voice
What would Jesus say about segregation in his congregation?
Maybe Jeremiah was right
God can’t bless this damn-nation.
When will we raise the valleys and
bring down the mountains?
When will communities like Flint no longer drink from colored fountains?
When will we stop pretending all is well
And see “the whole damn system is guilty as hell”?
When will justice roll down like waters
and “justice for all” include all America’s sons and daughters?
Originally posted at ShawnCasselberry.com.
After reading this powerful poem by friend and brother in the struggle Shawn Casselberry, I wanted to share it with the ESA family. I figured I might as well introduce you to Shawn, who serves as the Executive Director of Mission Year, too. So, I got him on the phone for an interview. Here’s a little of what we talked about. Shawn lives with and serves his Chicago neighborhood with his brilliant, creative wife, Jen, and their big, always-excited dog. See his bio after the interview.
Micky: Shawn, is this poem a form of #protestimony for you?
Shawn: Yes. There are a lot of layers to it. I’m trying to get at the idea of moving forward—but so many people want to rush and look at the hope and promise of future shalom. Yet, we have to address this white denial of history. We don’t like to be reminded of the past and how it is related to the now. I wanted to connect the narrative, to wrestle with and connect the history to how we see ourselves now. There is a disconnect with how we see ourselves and what our documents say. We say we are a land of liberty, but we incarcerate more than any other; we say we are a country founded on liberty, but it is a country built on slavery and genocide. We have to wrestle with those realities. It’s a shame that just talking about history is considered a protest. Just telling the truth is a protest now. Because that’s the climate—that’s what I’m wrestling with in this piece.
Micky: How would you want this poem to inspire people?
Shawn: I allude to Jacob as a founding father of our faith—Jacob was a deceiver and manipulator who takes power by deception as his divine birthright. But he was redeemed through wrestling with God and with truth. Our [American] redemption is in wrestling with the truth and with God—seeing the truth instead of just saying I want to be comfortable; I don’t want the truth.
I want to give testimony to the truth—wrestle with each other, with the truth—and face what is actually true. We need the prophetic voice of African American people, and we need to listen to the protest and voice of African American history and listen to the teaching of those prophetic voices. This is part of this beauty we see in Black History Month celebrations—honoring the history of the prophetic voice and remembering that we still need to listen to it now. Today Black Lives Matter functions as a prophetic voice, and we try to silence it like in the Scripture. In this case, the white community is like the mob, the ones silencing the prophets or saying we are for all the things they stand for (equity, justice, love, etc.) but standing in the way of God’s prophetic movement. I’m hoping that people will move, that I will move myself and others to action, to move with God and with the prophetic voices instead of against them.
Micky: What about people who ask about where your theology comes from?
Shawn: I look to the Scripture and find many stories for inspiration. The story of Cain challenges us to think about accountability and how we are treating our siblings. Am I my brother’s keeper? What does that mean? It is a biblical concept that we are our brother’s keeper. If not, we are acting in the spirit of Cain. We are not looking after each other.
Then there are the prophets—for example, Amos. The prophets named injustice. We love to quote Micah 8 and talk about love and justice in generalities, but we don’t like to name what it is going to look like to do that. We seem to love generalities, but Amos and other prophets named the actual specific issues of the time. Like in Amos 5, where we see what God actually wants—a justice for all of society, rolling down….
Jesus named the enemy’s tactics—those things that kill, steal and destroy—and if we are really rolling with Jesus, we have to confront those forces. I believe the truth will set us free but we will not be free as people until we speak the truth. We will not be free while the people I love are not free: people incarcerated harshly and unjustly in prisons, people trapped in poverty, people dying from racialized violence. We are not free, white folks, rich folks—those in denial—we are not free, either, unless the truth sets us free.
Micky: What does it mean to celebrate/wrestle with Black History Month as a white man?
Shawn: Cornel West said Black History Month is not just for Black folks because it’s American history. To recognize Black History is to recognize some of America’s [most important] history. The seeds of liberation for me as a white person are intertwined with that history, with that acknowledgement of Black history throughout time. My liberation is connected with Black liberation. White folks have perpetrated oppression, yes, and mutual liberation is how both the oppressed and oppressor get free.
Micky: Have you always thought this way, or have you had a shift?
Shawn: Moving into a community that is majority African American was a definite shift. I would say I appreciated [Black History Month] before, but moving into the neighborhood took things to another level. I want dignity for my brothers and sisters. I want their whole history explored, lamented, celebrated and told. I love my neighbors. I want to stand with them when their history is being sanitized or taken out of textbooks. They are my family, and I want to be part of the celebration—not take it over but be there in the best way I can. I want to be there in the lament and wrestling with the past, too. Like Paul says, when one of us suffers, we all suffer, so when one of us protests, we all protest. It affects us all and offers redemption to us all.
Shawn Casselberry is a passionate advocate for God’s justice, author of God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation, and Executive Director for Mission Year, a leading national Christian ministry that invites 18- to 29-year-olds to pursue a lifestyle of loving God and loving people in the city. Shawn has a passion for mentoring young adults and mobilizing the church around issues of racial and economic justice. As an ordained minister, Shawn speaks across the country at colleges, churches, and conferences calling people to love God and love their neighbors. Shawn has been married to Jen for 15 years and lives in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. You can follow Shawn on Twitter: @Scasselberry.