I recently went to the dentist for a deep cleaning appointment which wasn’t fun at all. As soon as I was checked in, a dental hygienist came and took me into another section of the building where I was faced with the reality of being at the dentist.
As to be expected, she explained the procedure to me and that I was going to be numbed to avoid pain. Indeed, I became numb soon after she injected the anesthesia which was good – I cannot imagine going through the process of all of that poking, prodding, and cleaning while still being able to feel it. I would have left promptly save for the assurance that I would feel minimal pain.
While in this state of numbness to my own pain, I began to reflect on other people’s numbness to my existential reality as a black man on the senseless basis of skin color. I began to ask myself series of questions such as:
What numbs people to the suffering of their fellow human being?
What numbs the Church to the message of Christ, and keeps the Church awake and alive to the ideological dogma of the empire?
What numbs the United States to the suffering of people of color?
To examine the first point, my experience has made me to realize a couple of things with respect to numbness. For starters, to be numbed to one thing is to be alive to another thing. In a society whose numbness to loving black people and entire communities of color at large is legendary, such must also have at the core of its existence a white supremacist ideology toward people of color. As a result of the socialization of Americans into numbness, we’ve created a culture and a system that believes that some people’s lives are worthless, and as such can be killed with impunity while white lives are so worthy that they deserve to be protected with the full might of America’s social and economic power structures.
To probe into the second point, due to the numbness of the Church to Christ, it has now been baptized into the agenda of the empire. The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity laid the foundation of the process that cuts the umbilical cord of the Church from Jesus Christ, and ties it directly to the worldly power aka Empire. Prior to this demonic alliance, the Church was getting all its spiritual vitality and nutrients from God and the Church championed the cause of the poor and disenfranchised. Unfortunately, due to the numbness at the heart of the Church, it participated in slavery, colonialism, invented all kinds of doctrines to justify evility and now depends on the empire and its lifeblood (capitalism) for survival, and as such, has often colluded with the system.
Christianity – that was once a formidable force for the salvation of human souls and redemption from social misery, and economic neglect has now become a stumbling block preventing people from entering into the Kingdom of God. This quote offered by Willem Bilderdijk says it well: “Whenever a people is destined to perish in sin, it’s in the church that soul-leprosy begins.”
To unpack the third and final point, I’ve discovered that you can increase the dosage of anesthesia once it starts to wear off. Somewhere in the process of being at the dentist, I regained my sense of pain as I began to feel the uneasiness of the pain, and the hygienist asked me if she could inject me with additional dose.
The same way the dental hygienist increased my numbness, that experience perfectly reflects what has become our current existential reality in America under this mercurial administration. It appears America was numbed and deeply in slumber before the election of then Sen. Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 to United States presidency. Unfortunately his election awakened many white residents to the sting of their existential reality in the face of a browning America, something that heroin alone could not fix.
The candidacy of Donald Trump and his rhetoric to make America Great Again provided another powerful drug that lured voters back into a false sense of security, loading sympathetic voters up on the wonder drug of white nationalism and pride. And it worked. In spite of the gross incompetency of the administration, his base remains fiercely loyal because with every rally he continues to pump out a new doses of anesthesia in order to get voters to ignore their pain, as well as the pain of others.
The thing is we do not have to live this way. While the process of numbing provides temporary relief, it can sometimes be counterproductive for our long-term health and well-being. This is because numbness brings about a temporary loss of humanity. We were created as human beings to be feel both joy and pain and whatever numbs our humanity to either of the two has altered our beings regardless of the benefits such provided. The key word here is temporary. Going to the dentist, I am provided temporary relief for the pain associated with getting my teeth cleaned. After that is done, I no longer need anesthesia. If I continued to spend my life on anesthesia, I definitely would not feel anymore pain, but I would also not be able to enjoy food, I would feel insecure about my speech, and my quality of life would decrease. Such is the case when white Americans insist on being deaf, blind, and numb to the realities of black, indigenous, and other people of color in this country. And when the Church insists on ignoring the plight of the poor and suffering. The well-being of not people of color is compromised, but whites and the Church as well.