My Letter to America – Ken Pettigrew

By Ken Pettigrew


Dear America,

I’m exhausted.


It is one of the most common phrases I use in my life. Most often, I am physically tired from a long, demanding day. But these days, like many others who find themselves wondering what it means to be Black in America, exhaustion is a descriptor of a fatigue of the soul. It is a withering away of all that sustains us in the hours and heat of the day. It is the terrorism of a cultural, gendered, and sexual indictment of Black persons and bodies. It is the slow torture of wringing out the last drops of hope found in the Black soul. It is our American murder. It is death. A horror story. A visit from Satan himself. Black in America.

While I am attempting to cling to the hope of a better tomorrow, I am feeling the searing pain of hope slipping away and leaving my hands rope burned. Racism: the thorn in Black flesh. It is the thing that prods and pokes at us, even as we try to do the most good. We say, “But it’s not all white people,” and yet, we find ourselves trampled by unchecked privilege. We get back up and try all over again, but then we hear the voices of those who want peace, but a peace without a cost. We try to avoid conflict, but the battering ram of brutality has come against our gates, and we, standing unarmed and defenseless, are seen as the threat. That and that alone has given us a complex of untested sociological consequence. We have a daily diagnosis of cultural PTSD. We observe our deaths. We watch it happen. We die and we are scarred for life.

I’m exhausted.

It’s tiring to realize that my life is worth nothing more than a flag. It’s tiring to carry around the anxiety of an existential crisis. All I want to do is BE, but my being is a problem for you. You’re uncomfortable with my hair, my skin, my vernacular, my insistence, my voice, my choice. My being.

If I cannot be me, who, then, am I supposed to be?

Surely you don’t expect me to be submissive to the will of your historic and institutionalized privilege? I hope you’re not expecting me to sit quietly? I surely hope you’re not expecting me to give a damn about your discomfort? I really hope you’re not planning to call me angry and tell me to “chill.” We tried chilling, and you KILLED us! And you keep killing us.

We, now, are enemies of the state. Black folks and America are in an unbalanced match of mutually assured destruction. Our hands are tied by 400 years of institutionalized racism, while America just keeps giving us the punches…watching and waiting to see if we will snap back. We’re punched with high infant mortality. We’re punched by the fetishization and exotification of our bodies–the forbidden fruit that white women dare not touch and white men can’t help but want. Punched by the falsification of our humanity. Punched by economic disparity. Punched by religious fundamentalism that sees no value in racial justice because it has been bought by extremist politicians who win by preying on the fears of those with more power than they acknowledge. We’ve been punched for the right to vote, the right to live, and the right to be.

I am exhausted.

I have no patience for white guilt. I have no time for those who wish folks like me would be quiet. I have no fear of the death threats that have found their way into my inbox.

preachingThis one thing I know: I will die before I allow my children to live in this America.

The fight is on.


A Pissed Off Black Preacher in America