What The Slave Ship Would Be Today

Like most Americans, I woke up this morning and learned about the terrorist attack in New Zealand before I had a chance to brush my teeth and make a pot of coffee. I read the headline with a vague sense of sadness, but with an overwhelming tide of shame for not being surprised...for not being alarmed. What kind of world is that? When even before our coffee, and even before we have searched for our socks and shoes, we can read a headline of violence and human loss and struggle to find our compassion...

Because it is not new. 

I put my phone aside and sent my children off to school. I even lay down for a little bit and fell asleep once again. I forgot about the news and the pain and the men and women heartbroken on the other side of the world. I got up and started by Humanities papers, choosing the topic with the most appalling title: Slave Ship, painted by J.M.W. Turner.

The image filled my screen and I blinked. It took me a moment to even spot the slave ship in the painting. Instead, my eyes followed a path of destruction, forcing me to see the dark hands sticking out of the waves...hands shackled and tied with rope. Seagulls were descending upon the dead and dying...and my stomach turned. The headline about the carnage in New Zealand came rushing back to my memory.

I walked away from the screen and poured a cup of the blackest coffee I could manage. I was going to need it.

"Relevance of Work in Our Modern Age"

That's what I needed to think about and write on. It might seem silly, but all of a sudden, I was imagining what Turner would paint today in-lieu of a slave ship. What path would he walk us through and force us to see today? What pain and horror at the hands of unbridled power and authority would he map out?

What has the Slave Ship become today?

In the reds and golds of a violent sky, would he paint a white terrorist in the background of his canvas? Would he take the time to walk us through the dead Muslim bodies in their house of worship, their hands no longer lifted for help, but lifeless on the tile floor? Would Turner paint church clergy in the background of his canvas, fading from view as they clutched their Holy Bibles like shields...leaving a wake of LGBQT youth dead...some by their own hands...victims of deep depression and a sense of shame that stole their identities and self-value from their hearts? Or would Turner paint the hallways of our schools, littered with wounded and dead teenagers; elementary halls with dead kindergartners in the arms of their murdered teachers? Maybe he would even be so bold to paint the president of our nation standing in the far distance at a podium, a path of hate in his wake and American values turned muddy with hate? Turner could paint ICE agents walking away, leaving broken families behind them...separation and the loss of all hope.

I didn't write any of that. I don't want to assume what Turner would paint in 2019. I don't want to pretend his sympathies for the enslaved would carry over to the oppressed and growing violence of today. But it's what I saw. It's what I would paint...

It's what has become true in our "Modern Age"....