The Power To Make A Change: Angels of Agency

December 20th of last year, the Netherlands issued an apology for its part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Could that signal the beginning of the end of a discriminatory system established many centuries ago, or is it simply a blip on the screen in a world of chaos? According to ocf Berkeley’s slavery history collection entitled “The African Burial Ground, “In 1619, a Dutch ship, the White Lion, captured 20 enslaved Africans in a battle with a Spanish ship. They landed at Jamestown, Virginia for repairs from the battle. For food and supplies, the Dutch traded the enslaved Africans to the Colonials as indentured servants.” This arguably marked the beginnings of slavery in colonial America. 

The candle burns at both ends. The old saying places us between a rock and a hard place. The mythical Scylla and Charybdis moment in which no outcome looks promising. In other words, the Dutch were at war with the Spanish, so they had to attack that ship and take their slaves. They needed food and supplies, so the Dutch had no choice but to trade the slaves at Jamestown. Refusing to accept the slaves was not an option for the people of Jamestown who were deficient of workers. However, people have agency. Contingency says that there is always a better option. Dr. Jemar Tisby’s book, “The Color of Compromise,” goes to great lengths to make this point in his historical examination of racism in America.

Race had to be constructed, but it could be deconstructed.
History has contingency. People have agency. We can have different choices that lead to equality.

Jemar Tisby, Color of Compromise.

“APA Dictionary of Psychology agencyn. the state of being active, usually in the service of a goal, or of having the power and capability to produce an effect or exert influence.”

Fast forward to 2023, and we have a snapshot of America today. Some 404 years later, after a bloodstained civil war, The White League sponsored and nearly successful violent insurrection against the State of Louisiana, The Tulsa Massacre, “The Red Summer of 1919,” Jim Crow, civil unrest to civil rights, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and the January 6th insurrection, What has really changed?

That is where agency must assume control. We are not destined to descend into the rabbit hole of fate once again; we can change the trajectory.

“The Arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards Justice.” MLK

But if we take hold of moments like the Netherlands’ acknowledgment and not let it fall into the abyss, exert some pressure on that Arc, and make it bend a little bit faster, Justice will arrive that much sooner.

Scripture reminds us that we have agency, as in the story of the four leprous men. 

“It happened that four lepers were sitting just outside the city gate. They said to one another, “What are we doing sitting here at death’s door? If we enter the famine-struck city we’ll die; if we stay here we’ll die. So let’s take our chances in the camp of Aram and throw ourselves on their mercy. If they receive us we’ll live, if they kill us we’ll die. We’ve got nothing to lose.”

So after the sun went down they got up and went to the camp of Aram. When they got to the edge of the camp, surprise! Not a man in the camp! The Master had made the army of Aram hear the sound of horses and a mighty army on the march. They told one another, “The king of Israel hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to attack us! Panicked, they ran for their lives through the darkness, abandoning tents, horses, donkeys—the whole camp just as it was—running for dear life.”

2 Kings 7:4-8 (MSG)

In the story of the four leprous men, agency literally summoned the better angels into action.  

We too, can summon those better angels through difference-makers who employ agency to combat the adversity of systemic racism. There are many agents of change in our society, let’s call them Angels (messengers) of Agency. One of those Angels is the aforementioned, Jemar Tisby, who is leading the way with The Witness, Pass the Mic, The A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation, his encouraging and thought provoking antiracism talks. Beth Howard founded Rednecks for Black Lives. Her predominantly white group works to bridge parallels between people of Appalachia, southerners, working class, poor whites, and marginalized BIPOC communities to fight systemic racism. Latasha Morrison is the founder of an organization called Be the Bridge, that features inspiration, relationship, and anti-racism training (Five Bridges). Angels of Agency describe Three-Fifths Magazine’s diverse community of contributors who invoke thoughtful conversation involving societal reckoning, racial equity, historical perspective, and spiritual insight as a collective “Voice of Clarity”

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

James Baldwin 

Next month you will hear much more in the Three-Fifths Magazine’s Second Anniversary Issue.

By Kevin Robinson Founder/Editor, Publisher of Three-Fifths Magazine

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