• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Reflections On Genuflections

July 2020

Before whom, I ask, should one bow and “take a knee”? In whose grand and towering presence, in whose Brobdingnagian esteem, should one proceed to fold himself in two and meekly genuflect?

I ask in earnest, and in desperate hope of a response, so as not to be caught indecorously and with jaw agape among the standing, the erect, the sacrilegious. I must know whether or not there is such a figure of whose existence I might be made better aware. Is there not one beneath whose chilly grandeur, a giant beneath whose mountainous gaze, the taking of a knee—as submissive and diminutive a posture as is known to the bipedal preference of man—might be appropriately assumed?

An immediate and unobjectionable answer, I think—regardless of the mosque, the church, or the pious synagogue to which you belong—would be that there is such a being, and that his name is, as you might’ve guessed, God. Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Lord—call Him what you will; God is the one figure atop whom no other being rests. He is the unmovable mover, the chief exemplar before whom, in reverence and awe, one might gladly kneel. He’ll do so without the hint of a blush, the reddening of a cheek by which the pious soul is forever colored.

Even to the committed secularist, to whom that trio of religions’ shared deity hasn’t much to say, this would be an uncontroversial proposition to hold. God is the figure to whom you might acceptably kneel. Whomever in your religious conception that faceless deity may be, you’d not excite among your neighbors much criticism for humbling yourself in his real or imagined presence.

Is there, outside the Lord, no other figure before whom you might knee? There are others, but they are few. One is a spouse—be it a husband or wife. The former can bow to the latter, the latter to the former; they are partners between whom the humble grace of the act is shared. It is a mutually accepted, reciprocated, and encouraged exchange. He or she, depending on the circumstance, might be well deserving of a knee. In such a case, it’s less a matter of inferiority, than it is of sincerity and reverence. It’s not a sign of debasement, but one of humble devotion, not a lessening of one, but a strengthening of all. One kneels as though to speak out an ineffable expression of his love—a feeling ultimately communicated not by the flap of his lips, but by the pulse of his heart. No other sound quite approximates the gesture, and that will serve as the finest replacement for words.

In but a few scenarios, to whose peculiarity we’ll now make our turn, there may be a third party before whom one might reasonably kneel. That would be the person to whom, in a display of inhumanity or foul and dirty action, one has done a severe injury, upon whom one has thrust a grave moral disservice. Having attempted, in one fiendish way or another, to reduce one’s fellow person to a status unequal to that of a man, one must ready himself similarly to be reduced. It is the consequence of having done ill. Not quite lex taliones, the retributive justice that asks for an eye, an eye, kneeling before one’s victim is a symbol of contrition and an acknowledgement of his guilt. It is a sign of humility, though not in the aforementioned, marital or holy way. It carries with it neither supplication nor devotion, but ineffaceable guilt. It is as difficult a maneuver as they come but, when executed well, it’s an invitation to forgiveness, to atonement, and to the greater wellness of all.

This third reason for kneeling, for the acknowledgement of sin and the expiation of guilt, is of chief relevance today. Those participating in this act, for which the above reason is the underlying motivation, have been growing in numbers, seeming to attract to their cause scores of newly-awakened congregants. It’s been used by Whites to demonstrate to Blacks the seriousness of their unease, and the religious fervor of which they’ll avail themselves to relieve it. In videos that I’ve watched, filled with scenes at which I’ve cringed, crowds of White people, variously aged, are to be seen kneeling before crowds of Blacks. In thinking about what’s going through each sides’ heads, beclouded, as they are, by this plague-ridden summer of unrest, I’m made to feel quite unsettled.

What about the Black community’s response to its experience of seeing White people kneeling?What of the magnanimity of that people, the broad-souled deportment of that formerly oppressed and abused race, that historically-wronged class to whom, in a groveling display of moral confusion and “Insta-ready” penance, so many of our White countrymen are now bowing? Where is the wide girth and endless latitude of the Black man’s soul, the depth and bottomless anchor against whose weight the Black woman’s empathy can’t be moved? What of their combined forgiving and indomitable spirit, that justly-celebrated highness of character with which, through the puissant words of their greatest of writers to whom, with devotion, I repeatedly return, to the genial interactions between colleagues and friends of which, in my own day, I’ve been the lucky participant, I’ve come to be so familiar?

A resilient and proud people, by whom an equally resilient and proud country was built, are we to assume that they’ve become in our decadent age so feeble-hearted, so insecure and shameless, that they’ll suffer the nauseating display of a mass of genuflecting Whites? Are we to conclude that this is a scene by whose display of “virtue” they’ll be made to feel—what? Somehow better? Are they to feel all of a sudden superior to those who are, if only for the moment, stooping their bodies so uncomfortably low? Is the moral authority of which, at least outwardly, the Whites have dispossessed themselves to be claimed by them?

Stolid and unflappable, graceful and direct, do our Black compatriots really want to weary their eyes with the pathetic sight of scores of their White friends and neighbors—a guilt-ridden people between whom, so far as one can imagine, little overt racial animosity actually still exists—kneeling in their presence, praying for their forgiveness, and pouring upon their shoelaces bedewed, weightless tears? Is it their desire to have their time wasted, listening, as they do, to some hopeless white liberal’s renunciation of his divine right of skin?

These oddly American autos-da-fé, these weird and well-scripted public confessions, are events upon which, like them, I’ve gazed, and, also like them, through which I’ve suffered. Their messages are somewhat consistent; they’re embarrassed by their birth, contemptuous of their parentage. They are ostentatiously self-deprecating, histrionically self-loathing, and, at least outwardly, completely unhappy with themselves. That of which they might wish themselves to be dispossessed, their skin and the heritage by which it’s attended, can never be let go. What, then, will come of their rhetorical effacement of their epidermis, the windy and wordy surrender of the integument in which they’re enclosed? What will be left of said liberals after the metamorphosis of their being, after the abandonment of their selves and their all-important skins?

Will our Black friends, our valued fellow Americans and colleagues, abide without cringing as they watch the overly-dramatic production of this scene? Will they persist without laughing, will they wait with quiet repose, as said mawkish Caucasian proceeds to wash their perfectly hygienic black and brown feet with the salty, inadequate lather of his Crocodilian tears?

I would hope not, but I’ve been disappointed more times than a few. The Black community should want nothing of the sort. It’s not a group of people, diverse as any other, in need of vapid displays of penitence without commitments to change. Black Americans, at least those with whom I’m friendly, and those with whom I speak, want nothing less than the sight of White Americans, positioned as worms, crawling around and atop their feet. This is no correction to an ancient imbalance of power. This is no path along which, in future endeavors, we can jointly and equally tread. This is not a sight by which we’ll be edified and lifted still higher. It is as damaging to the recipient as it is to the supplicant—a recognition to which Black and White ought to get wise.

Which leads me to my next question: What about the response of those aforementioned White people? What about those faces, more numerous as a percentage than the rest of the lot, who, as if reflexively compelled to fall to the earth, now find themselves kneeling? What about these people who, with selfie-sticks ready and cameras aroused, prostrate themselves and signal to the sky the unfailing status of their virtue? What about that light-hued, though darkly-brooding race, that troubled people to which, as a consequence of the accident of my birth, and a deficiency of melanin in my skin, I meekly claim “membership”. It’s a group of whose antics I’ll never partake, to whose sentiments I’ll long stand athwart, but what, from my distant perspective, am I finally to make of them still?

While these White people, a crowd amongst whom, despite the distant similarity of our European appearance and Western mien, I feel no rush of consanguinity, debase themselves before the grandeur of their “Black betters”, they exclaim that they, and they alone, are the one’s responsible for saving the entirety of that afflicted race. No other people, certainly not the Black neighbors by whom they’re surrounded, can be trusted with the responsibility of so daunting a task. They alone can handle this, and no one else. What haughtiness! What conceit! What arrant condescension! What indecency, smugness, and misbegotten pride! What lack of faith in their Black brothers and sisters before whom they genuflect and weep! What over-estimation of their soteriological power! What fatuous sense of moral superiority off of which they won’t release their white-knuckled grip!

They kneel like sinners, hoping to make themselves saviors. They genuflect like friars while thinking themselves saints. They want, more than anything, to play this role for the Black race—as that of a pope among a mass of plebeians, from whose exclusive holiness, a treasury of merit will soon flow. They want to be the deus ex machina, the descending deity covered in white, by which this twisting plot will be settled and our future progress restored. The moral vacuum left by their forebears, the unscrupulosity of which they’ve made themselves the inheritors, is their own to fill. They’ll do so, and become the heroes of their own story. As they do, they’ll retain, implicitly, the superiority of their angelic, self-flagellating race.

These are my reflections of genuflections. Make of them what you will.

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