In Search of the “Sound of the Genuine”

 The celebration of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King has come and gone, and what is troubling is that so many who are working against everything he stood for had the audacity to give tributes to the man and to his work.

 It was a sham of epic proportions. Even as the possibility of voting rights legislation being passed hangs by a thread, those who have said publicly that allowing it to pass would be a violation of the Constitution praised Dr. King, who wrote in 1965 in aNew York Times article, “Civil Right No. 1: The Right to Vote. “

 The words of these people, coupled with effusive praise of Dr. King given by corporations that are funding Republicans who are supporting the making and passage of voter suppression laws is all the evidence that one needs to understand that there was and is nothing genuine in their words.

 Howard Thurman, inThe Luminous Darkness, wrote about the “sound of the genuine” that we listen for in others. Specifically, he wrote, “There is some region in every man that listens for the sound of the genuine in other men.” When there is no fellowship between persons, however, Thurman says the “sound will not come through and the will to listen to it is not manifest.”

 There is no fellowship between “us” and “them,” teams that have been a part of the American infrastructure since the beginning of this country. There have been times, notes Thurman, when there was a sort of fellowship between Black and white people in the South, but under the terms determined and dictated by whites. As long as Black people stayed in their lane, and understood their place, the two races could communicate. But the fellowship was false because there was no agreed-upon foundation for that relationship. Black people could not offer or ask for what they needed in order to feel validated and affirmed as human beings.

 It seems that we search for the “sound of the genuine” not only in our relationships with people of other races, religions, and ethnicities but often in our relationships with each other. We know when something is amiss in our conversation with another person, someone we purport to know. Our spirits tell us. We become uneasy, and very often, we will back away from those relationships rather than do the work required to create an honest and authentic relationship, where there is, in fact, genuine caring and concern for, and understanding of, the other person.

 Searching for the sound of the genuine is difficult work in any relationship-building, but more so when it comes to the relationships between Blacks and whites in this country. Our relationship broke down hundreds of years ago – based on the acceptance of a faulty belief in white supremacy, causing the white race to believe in its superiority over Black people. The human spirit – that which is in every one of us – rejects that type of denigration, even as it struggles to find its place within it. Whites and Black people have made each other an “it” as opposed to a “thou,” and in so doing, have decreased if not eliminated the possibility for genuine fellowship and thus, a sharing of the “sound of the genuine” in each other. If we juxtapose that against the words of Jesus, who believed in and taught the Great Commandment – that we love our neighbor as ourselves, we find ourselves in a difficult position. The command of Jesus seems as unattainable as it is undesirable. We do not want a relationship with the “its” in our lives. We are content to stay far away and not even think about looking for or expecting the sound of the genuine in them. They have already shown us who they are, and, as Maya Angelou advised us, we have chosen to believe them.

 What do we do, then, when we are spiritually and morally offended by the type of dishonest “honoring” of one who worked until he died for a “beloved community,” including in it even those whom we doubt have the capacity for genuine love within them? We have to step back, away from our raw anger, bitterness, and resentment – which Thurman says becomes a residue in us that becomes “hate.” Some kind of way we have to inhale the spirit of God which says that God is greater than the hypocrisy and hatred and determination to destroy the quest for freedom of Black people and all others who are oppressed in this country. Our relationship with God has to come front and center and move us to understand that within everyone, even those whom we despise, there is a place that is human and not political, and that place can be reached but only when we are committed to the truth that God is greater than any foolish, painful, and destructive “ism” that works to destroy others.

 What words do we whisper when our very souls are cringing with resentment? What do we do when we remember the words of the Great Commandment, or the words of Jesus that we are to love those who persecute us, or worse, love our enemies? Maybe just this: that God is truth. Octavia Butler famously said “All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”

 In search of the sound of the genuine, those of us who have the strength to push forward and work to “touch” the evil that hurts so bad must do it, and in so doing, show the rest of us how to move. It is only God who can water the dried-out spirits that are so dry that their capacity to release their “genuine” parts is badly limited. Maybe we who are able can work to touch those dried-out spirits, first in ourselves and then in those with whom we would rather not, for the sake of building of the Beloved Community here on earth.

 Amen and amen.

The Day Before Thanksgiving, 2021

            It is the day before Thanksgiving, and Black people, not only in the United States but all over the world, are holding a vigil, praying for justice in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

            Arbery is the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was followed, harassed, and shot to death by three white men who decided they didn’t like it that he was running in a predominantly white neighborhood in 2020.

            The jury deciding their fate is made up of 11 white people, and one Black. (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/11/07/ahmaud-arbery-trial-jury-what-we-know/6269841001/)

            And this trial is happening in Georgia.

            In a trial that ended last week, Black people were not surprised that Kyle Rittenhouse, the young white teen who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin because he heard about protests going on in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers was completely exonerated. From the outset of that trial, as the judge ruled that the two men who were killed – white men, mind you – could not be called victims, Black people knew we were on the battlefield on injustice once again. The judge seemed unimpressed and was unmoved by the fact that Rittenhouse had traveled to this city, with his gun, and according to reports was the aggressor of the two men he killed. They had guns, but they did not attempt to shoot Rittenhouse. It was Rittenhouse who opened fire and then walked through the streets carrying his AR-47, unbothered by police.

            He said he was defending himself. That is always the go-to defense. All a white person has to say is “I was in fear for my life” and he/she generally gets off. In this case, it wasn’t Black people who were posing a threat, but white sympathizers, and that fact apparently gave the court justification for Rittenhouse’ actions. From what reports I read, one of the victims used a skateboard to try to knock the gun out of Rittenhouse’s hand as he aimed it at them.

            It seems that the now-dead were trying to defend and protect themselves.

            But we knew. We knew from the spirit of that trial. We knew because of the rancidly racist spirit of this country that Rittenhouse would get off.  He was released and is being hailed as a hero. The former president called him a “nice young man,” and several Republican members of Congress are supposedly considering him a good candidate to be a congressional intern.

            As we awaited that verdict, we exhaled. We swallowed the all-too-familiar lump in our throats that comes every time a Black person is shot and killed and the justice system – supported by a community of white people – does not care. Rittenhouse’s victims were white, but they were on the wrong side of the racial divide.

            But here we are, not a full week later, waiting to see what this jury will do. In spite of a brilliant case argued by the prosecution, the attorneys for the three white men have played the race card unashamedly. They have gone so far as to claim that their clients have been intimidated by the presence of Black pastors sitting in the courtroom in support of Arbery’s family. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/11/us/ahmaud-arbery-trial-defense-attorney-black-pastors/index.html)

            The message is clear: the attorneys for the white men who killed the unarmed Black man are the victims. It is a message that will resonate with a huge swath of the white community.

            When we as Black people have yet another one of these cases floating around, the years of internalized trauma caused both by racialized violence and a lack of justice take their toll. The stress is almost unbearable, as is the pre-verdict anxiety. We pray- certainly we pray because that is all we have been able to do as we challenge the systemic injustice of this country which is a part of “who we are” in spite of people saying that the history of our racial rot and the stench from it is not who we are. We pray, but we wonder about the presence of God. We, like Gideon about whom we read in the Hebrew scriptures, wonder where God is and to the statement that some will offer that “God is good,” we lean toward asking God to clarify what God’s “goodness” looks like for Black people.

            Meanwhile, we learn that for many whites, God is not about justice for all people, but is concerned about justice for people in power. God, and God’s son Jesus, are “strongmen,” and as such have little time for the whimpering of people against whom power wields its power. Many believe that “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. Jesus came to take over.” ( Jeff Sharlet. The Family) Therefore, their Jesus approved of the attempt to take down the government, and Jesus is in support of a justice system which protects the rights of the wealthy and powerful and does all he can to keep them there.

            So it is against powers and principalities which do not care one iota about the injustice that we wrestle with as we wait for this verdict. Those who feast on their belief in their right to take down Black people and who do so with impunity because they know the chances of them being held accountable are slim to none are waiting for an acquittal so they can wave their Confederate flags honoring another white supremacist victory. They do not care that a Black mother is grieving, that a Black community is sitting on edge, and that Black children are understanding – again – that being Black in America makes one a hated and easy target.

            So yes, on this day before Thanksgiving, we are holding vigil. We are muttering prayers and softly humming hymns that bring some relief from the stress of being Black in this country. According to Sharlet, the so-called Christians who lift up the name of Jesus do so as an acknowledgement of Jesus being one of the first “strongmen” in this country. They believe he was a capitalist and that he sought to push capitalism as the principle we ought all to follow. Their Jesus, or what Sharlet calls “the American Jesus,” is not concerned with the cries of people who have never known justice, fairness, or full rights as American citizens. 

            This Jesus is no more concerned about justice for Ahmaud Arbery than were the pilgrims who landed here in the 1600s and decided that it was their godly duty to take out Indigenous Americans, who were here long before white people stepped out of their ships.

            We hold vigil, and we pray. It is what we have had to do – and have to do, still, in order to survive in a country that is content to use us but remains totally uninterested in treating us as human beings who desire justice like any white person.

            A candid observation…

Will Racism in this Country Ever be Gone?

Someone asked me recently if racism will ever be gone from this country.

After pausing, I said, “I doubt it.”

I have watched the venom called racism bubble up and spill over into every aspect of our lives over the past four years. It was always there; its bubbling up just indicated that there had been enough holes made in the veneer of respectability and tolerance for the venom to spill out.

It has been awful and will get even worse. Those who have lived in their own quiet halls and hells stuffed with their resentment of Black people have come out. Some are calling for civil war. One teacher said to her class that if it weren’t for the U.S. Constitution, Black students would be her “field slaves. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-teacher-accused-telling-black-students-they-could-be-n1281164). White parents see nothing wrong with their children calling Black children “nigger,” and worry instead that if their children are taught too much Black history, it will teach them to hate their white skin. (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2021/5/18/22441106/critical-race-theory-teaching-about-racism). They put their complaints within the arguments against teaching children Critical Race Theory – which is a course taught in college – saying that they don’t want anything taught that makes white people look bad; it is divisive, they say. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/).

Meanwhile, we who are Black continue to struggle against oppressive practices and policies that have always been a barrier for us to enjoy full American citizenship.

It is difficult to accept or even to listen to these complaints; it is infuriating to hear white parents talk about how they don’t want even the story of Ruby Bridges, who integrated the William Frantz Elementary School in 1959 and was made to sit in a classroom by herself for a year – just because she was Black, or to read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that he wrote during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

They don’t want their children to learn about how “law enforcement” lynched Black people just because they could; they don’t want their children to learn how Black people built this country; they don’t want their children to learn how Black men who fought in this country’s wars were ineligible for many of the veteran benefits afforded to white men – just because they were Black.

They have concocted a god who supports white supremacy, a god who will not condemn them for what their race has done. Many of their preachers uphold the belief that white supremacy is of god and from god, and some argued during the 60s that to fight for the civil (and human) rights of Black people was to put their own salvation in jeopardy.

Despite using the name “Christian” in their goings-on, the truth is nothing that many of these people practice and ascribe to is in alignment with what Jesus the Christ taught. Jesus’ strength, or a big part of it, was his capacity to include and embrace all people. His message was that God wanted community, not chaos, and that all people were worthy of being in community. Racism and the support of white supremacy – which includes not only racism but sexism as well – was not a part of his message, not a part of the “Good News,” so when I hear rabid racists declare that they are Christian, my very soul recoils. The late Rev. CT Vivian said it best, “You cannot be a racist and be a Christian.”

Using the name of God to rubber-stamp hatred and bigotry, and to effect policies that are so detrimental to so many people, is offensive to me. It feels like a violation of the commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Using the name of Jesus to justify racial hatred is like spreading a deadly rumor.

What I see is a group of people who are disgruntled with their own privilege; though they bristle when it is mentioned that they have privilege, the truth is that they feel like their privilege has been affected and compromised by too many Black people “getting too much.” Instead of hearts filled with the type of agape love preached by the Christ, their hearts seem to be filled with this resentment, which feeds their hatred for and paranoia about the progress that Black people have made in spite of everything that has put in place to prevent it. Their belief in their superiority has kept them afloat even when they have internally known that that claim is bogus; what they have always been able to do is fall back on their go-to “blessed assurance,” “at least I’m not Black.”

Jesus the Christ says to love those who persecute you. And forgive them. Those lessons have probably kept Black people alive in spite of the heinous treatment they/we have endured because the people who hate us have had access to friendly and biased courts, police departments, and policies. They have had – and have used – weapons of mass social destruction. Black people have held on and remained on the battlefield because the lessons of love and forgiveness work; they replace feelings of hatred with the spirit of God that the world did not give and which the world cannot take away.

But this fight is exhausting. White people want a civil war; I would guess that many want Black people – and all of the immigrants of color whom they do not like – to be put “in their place” and thus, “Make America great again.” We as Black people move and live knowing that there is no entity that protects us – not the police, not the lawmakers (who are actually lawbreakers), and certainly not the courts. We move and love knowing that the only peg on which to hang our hope is the belief that Jesus the Christ hears us and will continue to strengthen us. Our refusal to run and crumble will only feed the rabid anger and resentment of white people, whose privilege is not enough to make them whole.

Belief in their supremacy because of their race has damaged their spirits, but they are not willing to admit it and therefore, will not be healed. A problem cannot be fixed unless and until it is acknowledged, and our white brothers and sisters are unwilling to do neither.

Racism in this country will not end, then, because that unwillingness to admit the problems is blocking the healing. The whole world knows about America’s illness and has used it to get into our lives and interfere with our government. It is happening now.

And it will not end well.

A candid observation …

We Who Are Black and Christian

 

We who are Black and Christian wonder why God doesn’t do something, why God won’t stop the hatred and bigotry, why God is allowing politicians to use God’s name to create, manage and perpetuate policies that will push Black people back to the starting line.

            Again.

            We struggle – or at least some of us do. I have had plenty of people remind me that “God is in control,” saying it in such a way that I understand that I’m being told to stop voicing discontent with God during this time.

            But I cannot keep silent, and I cannot stop wondering where God is!!! God wants community, not confusion. God wants us to love each other, not lynch each other, verbally, physically, or politically. Right?

            Why doesn’t God stop people who are using His/Her name to justify their hatred? 

            Are we looking for answers in the wrong way? The wrong place? We as African Americans have been calling on God to help us not only get justice but to keep it, but the same issues, undergirded by the same racism, keep coming up. Neither we, in our fight for justice, nor God have been successful in stamping racism out. 

            The believers in racism and white supremacy say God sanctions and agrees with them, that, in fact, God created the races, intending that they be separated from each other.

            So that means that white people violated the will of God when they went to Africa and brought Africans, against their will, to the white world? And that means that God saw it but God allowed it? So does that mean that God didn’t intend for the races to be separate?

            Although white nationalists say they are Christian, they are not Christian as defined and described in the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is not a bigot. Jesus is not a soldier, looking to conquer other people and nations, by force or otherwise. The Jesus of the Bible insists on building community.

            That Jesus is not the Jesus being claimed by people who kill, maim, lynch, discriminate against, and terrorize Black people. 

            I have had conversations with many Black people – young and old – who are struggling with the lack of a smack-down by God of those who are terrorizing Black people, and they are struggling because they cannot find God in what is going on. They ask if God is a white supremacist? Or, as the late Rev. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist?” Those are not questions you can ask or even have a discussion about in the midst of “the saints.” You will be shot down and chastised for not having faith.

            But the query begs an answer. Black people have held onto God with a fury. If nothing else, God has kept us and “brought us from a mighty long way.” But, say some who are struggling, God has not made it so that the “long way” is not erased by periodic explosions of white rage and resentment. 

            One friend of mine said recently, “I just can’t do it anymore. I just can’t hold onto my hope that God will change the hearts of these people who want nothing more than to keep us in our place by any means necessary. I cannot hold onto my hope that God will produce a harvest of changed hearts in people who have lived all their lives in their whiteness, making life miserable for Black people and not caring about it, or even thinking about it, for that matter.”

            Dante Stewart, a writer, and student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology said that the historic Black Church “didn’t only save our souls. It saved our bodies.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/08/13/future-black-church-dancing-streets/?fbclid=IwAR1J04U9jAXpj4VCH7ysEGgmlLTx3JE3W87Vcka3At6QwvPbBJoNYsibqcM) We found comfort in the physical church from the fellowship and community. If we struggled with God’s action in the public square, we could and did struggle together in community. The problems didn’t seem so insurmountable.

            But with the pandemic having changed everything so radically, we no longer have church like we used to. And so the struggle is different. How we do and must do “church” has to be different, but we must have it. The experience of “church” has saved us even as we have struggled with wondering why God has not stopped the madness. As we have worshipped and shouted and lifted our voices in song, some of us have looked for evidence of divine intervention and even divine interest in what is going on but when we have not seen it, the thread that bound us in community, that helped us screech out the pain of being Black in this country kept us looking up and holding onto hope.

            The power of Jesus the Christ was his ability and intention to love, honor, and respect everyone, including and especially those whom society scorned and shunned. The people committing violent insurrection and passing equally as violent voter suppression laws, the people who are railing against anything and anyone who is not white, heterosexual, wealthy, and male are not calling on the Jesus of the Bible. And we who are Black and Christian, some of us, wonder why God doesn’t …do something.

Just Disobey or Ignore the Laws You Don’t Like. You Always Have.

            So, people are enraged and insulted and feel that their rights are being attacked by proposed or in- practice mask mandates and by the requirement of some buildings and agencies requiring that people who work there wear masks, are vaccinated, and if not vaccinated, agree to be tested according to the company’s requirements.

It’s kind of interesting to watch, because in this country, some groups of people have always ignored and/or disobeyed laws they didn’t like. People angered by rulings of the United States Supreme Court, resulting in laws being passed or kept that they sought to have the high court negate, have just simply ignored the laws for as long as possible. The law that seems to have fostered such resistance in the 20th century was the infamous Brown v. Board Education, which ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. White people against integration decided to just keep their kids at home, and worked to create and build private schools where their children would not have to be tainted by the presence of Black children.

            They ignored the law, delayed the law, disrespected the law and suffered no consequences.

            Likewise, lawmakers – spurred by their constituents – refused to uphold and respect the 13th, 14th, and 15thamendments to the US Constitution. The 13th amendment outlawed slavery “except for the commission of a crime”, so white folks just found a “legal” way to keep them enslaved through the Convict Leasing program. Convict leasing allowed Black people to be systemically criminalized by allowing them to be arrested for “offenses” including being unemployed, not being employed by a white person, or owning or renting a house in a white community. In Mississippi and South Carolina, the first two Southern states to enact Black codes, it was against the law for Black people not to have written verification of their employment. The 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, meant to protect the right of Black men to vote, were consistently ignored, with states abiding by local laws which allowed such things as poll taxes. (https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-codes#section_2)

            When you didn’t like Brown v Board of Education, you built private schools, remember? From the mid- 1950s to 1965, private schools in the South grew like wildfire; by 1958, private school admittance (of white children) was up to 250,000. All this was going on while state governments were passing “laws” to prevent or delay the integration of schools. (https://www.southerneducation.org/publications/historyofprivateschools/) They also worked to figure out how to get public funds for these private schools, which, again, “the law” prohibited.

            So, here we are. There have been no laws passed to make you wear masks or get vaccinated, unless I missed something. I don’t remember there being this kind of outcry when the federal government required in 1968 that all automobile passengers wear seat belts. Did I miss it? I was young when the requirement was put in place, so maybe I didn’t pay attention, but I don’t remember hearing such a pulsating wave of rage over that law.

            What kills me is that these mask/vaccination laws are not being suggested to deprive anyone of their rights but are being pushed as public health practices to save people from disease and illness.  All of your political heroes, including the former president, were vaccinated. So what’s up with you? If you don’t want to wear a mask or be vaccinated, have at it, but don’t put everyone else at risk because you are having a fit over your “rights” being violated. Businesses, hospitals, schools, colleges and universities have a right to set the rules and requirements for their institutions. Remember the cake shop! If you don’t like a law or rule, you can disagree and keep your kids home like folks did after Board v. Board of Education. Schools don’t have to agree to risk serious illnesses of their students and teachers just because you have no regard for their lives. It is interesting that so many of these anti-maskers and vaxxers say they are “pro-life.”

          Pardon me for my opinion but you cannot be “pro-life” while you are actively risking the lives of children who have been born by wanting their schools to bow to your demands.

            Form your own schools and leave the rest of us alone.

            A candid opinion…