Flaming torches are a powerful symbol of racism in this country. For generations, they’ve been used to burn crosses outside the houses of African-American, Jewish and Catholic families and to torch churches and synagogues. During Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan Night Riders carried torches to light the way for the white-masked white men to spread terror throughout African-American communities.
Earlier this month, well-organized and heavily armed young white men carried Tiki torches in their march on Charlottesville, Va. As with their torch-bearing forbearers, their intent was not to illuminate or guide with their Tiki lights, but to intimidate and instill fear. They didn’t succeed, not that night, and not in the days and nights since then.
When Rabbi Neil Amswych, president of the Interfaith Leadership Association, wrote to Santa Fe clergy with Mayor Javier Gonzales’ request to organize a Rally Against Racism, I chose the African-American spiritual, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.” Born in the horror of slavery, the spiritual affirmed that African-Americans would let no one put that light out — not the slave owners, not the overseers, not the Night Riders, not the lynchers, not the Klan.
For a century after the Civil War, “This Little Light of Mine” also affirmed that no thing could put that light out — not the poll tax or voter intimidation, “separate and unequal” schools or a segregated military, unjust housing or employment practices. Not even church bombings or the water cannons and police dogs used against the children, youth and adults marching for civil rights could put out that light.
Most of all, “This Little Light of Mine” affirmed — and continues to affirm — the dignity of every child of God, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, orientation or every other way we divide and discriminate. That’s why we sang the song together at last Monday’s “Rally Against Racism.” It’s why we need to keep singing it — and living it — over and over again in this time.
Tiki torches or the light of God’s love for all people. Individually and as a nation, which will we choose?