“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”…Matthew 20:16
I’ve been thinking about this verse a lot. Reading the verse in context gives reveals a different meaning, but I’ve been thinking about what it means when we upend hierarchies and reverse the order, as in the words of Jesus.
When we apply an intersectional lens, we look at where the lines of hierarchy are in a situation, how they interact, and who is excluded based on them. In some situations, race is the most powerful operating hierarchy, in others gender or sexuality or national origin may be strongly operating. That being said, there are few contexts in which Blackness is placed at the bottom of a power hierarchy.
Sometimes when we talk about oppression, there is a temptation to direct focus towards the psychic wounds of the oppressor, to frame it as as a piece of collateral damage that the hierarchy inflicts on those at the top. This is often used as a piece of deflection, to argue that the hierarchy wounds those at the top just as it wounds those at the top. There is a grain of truth in this—I do believe that it inflicts wounds, just as toxic masculinity inflicts wounds on men and boys and heteronormativity inflicts wounds on straight people. The simple truth is, though—and here is the genius of that verse—that there is no way to bring justice and healing to the wounds of the last (poor, darker, feminine) without healing the wounds of all the others in the process. In other words, if your wounds are caused because you are the tool that administers injustice, you will stop being wounded when you stop administering the injustice.
If there is hope right now, that’s my hope. Black Trans Lives Matter. If you bring Black trans people racial justice, Asian and Latino people will live in a more just world too. If you bring Black trans women gender equality, cis women of all races will live in a more just world. If you bring Black trans women equality for their sexual choices, we all live in a more just world. Centering justice for white gay men can leave others behind. Centering justice for white women can leave others behind. Centering justice for cis straight Black men can leave others behind.
I am not brave, and I am not good. I have done some of this work already: I have accepted that I have been conditioned to be racist, I have been conditioned to premise value—social, cultural, economic—with Blackness at the bottom (what activists are referring to with the shorthand anti-Blackness). I feel tremendously liberated by that, though. Antiracism is a practice, and I don’t get knocked down into paralysis or shame when I discover some new way in which racism acts on my everyday life.
One of the tools that white supremacy uses to perpetuate itself is to control what knowledge is allowed to be known and treated as common knowledge. As heartening as it is to see so many white people (and non-Black people of color, as I am) turning out in wide numbers, particularly in suburban and rural places where there is not much of a tradition of protest, it is also extremely painful to hear white people acknowledging truths which are plain on their face to everyone and yet only now have moved into the category of “truths which are permitted for white people to acknowledge.”
We’ll see if there is a backlash of forgetting. Or of superficial reforms, followed by a pretense that it’s all been resolved. It really does seem like something has been opened that cannot be put back together.
That’s where I’m at, in this moment.
I was browsing Wikipedia for some context about this parable, and I saw a navigation box at the foot of the page with links to each of Jesus’ parables. Somehow until this day, I never thought about the parables as analogous to koans, to other teaching stories in other religious traditions. It’s the old cliché; you have to go away from something to learn what’s been in front of you the whole time.