Blood is weird.
Anidjar thinks blood exists everywhere and he’s not wrong. Blood functions within Christianity rather oddly. This function is summarized nicely by the line, “Oh, how precious is the flow/that makes me white as snow/no other fount I know/nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this line, about the ironic ability of red blood to make white (or is it white blood making white?). Even that phrase, “makes me white as snow,” seems odd. Making white, odd. In American history blood and sin tie together in intimate ways that reflect a strange back and forth between blackness as privation and salvation as life in whiteness.
I think my hesitance with this hymn stems from the fact that it bears a similar line of argument to that of Samuel Cartwright’s abhorrent argument regarding the blood of African Americans. His argument goes as so:
It is the red, vital blood, sent to the brain, that liberates their [African Americans] mind when under the white man’s control; and it is the want of a sufficiency of red, vital blood that chains their mind to ignorance and barbarism, when in freedom.
Earlier Cartwright states that the blood of a person of color is darker than that of a white person. And if Anidjar is correct in states that “Blood must become a category of historical analysis,”(44 of Blood) then the logic of Cartwright and the hymn go hand in hand and a brief look at the function of blood seems apt.
Without the white washing blood of Jesus one is unable to be “saved” which really only means, in American Christianity, being more white. “Christian master, enter the dark cabin of thy servant [read: slave], and with the lamp of truth in thy hand, light up his yet darker soul with the knowledge of him, whom to know is life eternal…” (A.T. Holmes, “The Duties of Christian Masters”). The gospel no longer stands as an end, but a means to extract labor, to civilize. The ultimate goal of the message of Jesus seems to be: blackness is the privation of the saving blood of Jesus that makes white as snow the “still darker soul” through enslavement’s catalyzing effect on blood flow.
My friend Melanie has written much more beautifully, and holistically, along a similar vein of thought here.