On the banks of the Tallahatchie…

This reflection was written during my fellowship year in Mississippi–2007

I stood on the banks of the Tallahatchie River today and I wept.  I wept for hearing the story of a fourteen-year-old boy Emmett Till—an African American boy who was killed in 1955.  He was brutally murdered and thrown in the river with an industrial fan tied around his neck.  To think that hate could kill a boy—a black boy—for whistling at a woman—a white woman.   I stood on the banks of the river and experienced the blood of this boy crying out from the land.  It was as if his blood was thumping like a drum and joined with his blood was the blood of a people—my people-the Native Americans of this land.  Those that I was gathered with joined together in prayer and I recognized I was experiencing a connection to my own people through lamenting the death of a fourteen year old African American boy.

My life has not been an easy life, but it would not be because I was oppressed for the color of my skin or the heritage of my people.  I was raised with the privilege afforded white people—people that looked like me and in fact, that would be the place where I feel my feet standing most firmly—in privilege.  My people though are many—they are Native American, they are Scottish, they are English, and they are like my last name “Shrader” German.  What does it mean that in my veins I have the blood of a people that have been oppressed and a people who oppressed?  What does this mean?  This question beat like a drum in my head as I stood on the banks of the Tallahatchie River lamenting the death of a fourteen-year-old boy and it beats in my head like a drum still today.

My mother’s people are mostly of the Lumbee tribe of Indians in North Carolina.  As a child, I learned the story of the Lumbee watching outdoor dramas, going to Pow Wow’s, and listening to stories told by my family and people in the community.  Now that I am an adult, I realized that this heritage is a place I visited, but not a place I lived.  To be connected to oppression on a visit is not the same as living in it and so I have felt a disconnect for not having the right color skin, the right costume, or the zip code that places me in the land with the people, so then who am I?  Who am I, when I know that in my veins runs the blood of these people?  For a long time I thought this question was just for me, but now I believe it is a question for every one who claims themselves to be Christian…”Who are we?”

I wonder looking back on that day as I stood on the bank of the Tallahatchie River whether it was my blood pounding like a drum in my ears or the Holy Spirit rattling me into my true identity.  I cannot live at home in the land of plenty, knowing that there are those in my family tree who live a life so different than me.  I can not get used to a life that others could never dream of.  So, the answer to what it means to have running in my veins the blood of people who have been oppressed and those who oppress is that anyone who calls themselves Christian must stand with me.  Jesus calls us to acknowledge every part of our family tree and for those who live on my land, it means that we have to hear the blood beating in our head like a drum calling forth from us a life lived into our true identity.  We must live and work for the day when “ALL” are free from the division that lives inside and outside of me.

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1 Comment

  1. Rachel Cowling

     /  April 30, 2015

    Michelle, we do not know one another. I am not on FB, but read my husbands sometimes. Your comments are always thoughtful, full of the energy and ability to express yourself that you seem to have in abundance. The above article is wonderful. You have tried to put yourself in the place of oppressed people to understand some of how their life must be. Many people refuse to see what you can see and hear. Continue to share those feelings as you go about God’s work for you.
    I, too, have a word press blog. I am not as polished a writer as you. You paint pictures with words while I only express myself through words. If you ever want to, you can look at my blog by going to rachelstimes.word press.com. I have two new articles ready to go, but have not posted them as yet. I like to put pictures with mine and will post as soon as I have appropriate pictures.

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