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…

Using a Smile as an Act of Resistance

(Note: Every Tuesday I write a “Tuesday Meditation” and send it to a list of people who have indicated interest in receiving them. Once in a while I write one that I hope and think will be appreciated by a wider audience. This is my offering to you today.)

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            I do not remember where I saw the picture of the young Palestinian man who had lost everything he owned as a result of violence meted against him, his family, and his neighbors. He had also been beaten and to be quite honest, he looked bad. He had to have been angry but in this picture, he was smiling, and a reporter asked him why he was smiling, given all that he and so many Palestinians had lost in their fight for freedom in the West Bank, he said, “My smile is an act of resistance.” 

            I had never thought about smiling in that way. Smiling usually means someone is happy, at peace, glad to be seen and heard, relief, joy…but resistance? 

            I paused and thought about the many times I have been irritated by people claiming to love Jesus yet practicing hatred. In too many reports, I have seen them smile at a reporter who has asked them questions they did not want to answer. I have seen them smile as they lift up the name of “the good Lord,” a lord, it seems, who is OK with their practice of hatred. 

            Could it be that those smiles have been intentionally offered as acts of resistance against a political situation or criticism of what they do to other people in the name of religion?  

            Is a smile that powerful? 

            It is difficult to smile when the machinations of government are working against you, pushing against you at every turn as you fight for dignity and justice. I remember now seeing pictures of young Black people – many of them children – smiling as they were led to police paddy wagons after having been attacked by dogs and firehoses. I don’t recall in the pictures I have seen over the years, seeing anyone being taken away from their posts of protests with frowns or even looks of sadness. No, they have been smiling, resisting evil and the active work to destroy their lives and their spirits, with a smile. 

            The capacity of people to do evil – and then claim a first-person, personal relationship with Jesus – has always troubled me, but I wonder if we, in the fight for justice, have smiled our way through some of our most painful moments? 

            I read the story of a man named Harry Merica, who suffered from muscular dystrophy. When he was a child, his mother would carry him to the school bus stop every day because he couldn’t walk that far. He recalls his family being very poor, so poor that they could not afford to buy many new things, but one thing they were able to purchase for him was paper and pencils.  

            It happened that one day, after he had gotten on the school bus, that one of the boys took one of his new pencils and broke it in half, right in front of Harry. I can imagine the pain he felt; the pencil was the only new thing he had and this kid had taken it upon himself to break it. Harry began to cry, feeling his loss, and the other students on the bus started laughing at him and calling him a crybaby. 

            I wonder what his conversation was with his mother when he got home after school on that day. I imagine that the pain was so raw that even talking about it brought up the tears, but I wonder if his mother taught him how to resist evil. (Resist the devil and he will flee from you! James 4:7) and I wonder if she told him, during that painful and necessary conversation, that nobody could break his smile and that the way to fight evil was to laugh with those who worked intentionally to hurt him and thus, fill his spirit with that which the world did not give and which the world – no matter how racist or sexist or bigoted in general – could not take away. 

            Many people today are angry because of the overt lying that is being done about the election and about the fact that a group of angry white people felt it their “patriotic” duty to storm and damage the capitol building of this country. People are angry that voting rights are being attacked and are angry that neither lawmakers nor the United States Supreme Court is working to protect the right that resulted in so many people being beaten, arrested, and murdered. 

            We fight against powers and principalities which have gone hog-wild in slashing the rights of certain groups of people, and it hurts, in a different way yet strangely, in the same way as did the dogs and the water from firehoses, and the dogs, and the batons that were cracked over so many heads in the 60s.  Their goal was to intimidate those who protested into submission.

            But it didn’t work. In the fights that those who have worked for their rights as human beings have endured, they have never stopped moving toward their goal. They have never stopped resisting the evil that wanted to cut them down and cut them out. 

            Whatever the evil was, they resisted.  

            They bled, they cried, they fought feelings of hopelessness, and they smiled. The smile was an act of resistance, saying, in essence, that “your desire to destroy me is not greater than the God who created and loved me.” 

            Incredible. 

            A candid observation …

This Year I Ignored the Fourth of July

When I was a child, growing up and attending integrated schools, we were taught “America songs.” That’s not what they called them; it is what I have grown to call them.

            We were taught, along with the lesson that police officers were good and our friends, songs including, “I Like It Here,” “America,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” among others. 

            I sang them loudly and with passion, as did my white classmates. I can still remember the words of one of one of my favorites:

I like the United States of America,

I like the way we all live without fear!

I like to vote for my choice, speak my mind, raise my voice

Yes, I like it here!

I like the United States of America,

And I am thankful each day of the year!

For I can do as I please, ‘cause I’m free as the breeze

Yes, I like it here!

            It was a fun song to sing, and comforting, as comforting as was the notion of the police being our friend. As a child, comfort was important. It was reassuring. We needed to feel safe and having police as our friend in a country where we were free provided the greatest comfort of all.

            My level of comfort increased as I learned about the structure of our government. With the three branches of government, we were assured that we would never descend into anarchy (they didn’t use that word, but we understood.) Our system of checks and balances was as protective as were the police. We were safe.

            We didn’t learn, though, that the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, or that the words “we the people” did not, were never intended to, and would never include us as little black children. We didn’t learn about the Middle Passage and the inhumane treatment Africans received in this country on that trip and once they got into this country. We didn’t learn about how slavery destroyed the Black family, or how Black women were raped by white men, while Black men were lynched even on the suggestion that he might have raped a white woman.

            We didn’t learn about how Black people participated in every war, from the Revolutionary War through the Korean War. (The Vietnam War had not yet happened, nor the war in Afghanistan, but we have fought in every war this country has fought.) We didn’t learn about how Black men fought in those wars but were relegated back to their status of being second-class citizens in this country once the war was over, just because they were Black. We didn’t learn how white people resented them wearing their uniforms and how many of them were lynched while in uniform. And we didn’t learn how the Black GIs were denied post-war benefits, like loans for housing, education, and business.

            We just did not know because none of it was taught to us. We were being taught to love a country, though, that did not and would not love us back.

            We learned that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and that made us like him because we regarded him as a “good” white man who treated Black people right, but we didn’t learn that he didn’t free all enslaved people, nor did we learn that he never believed that Black people were equal to white people and that he was a big proponent of sending Black people back to Africa.

            We didn’t learn how white people – many in law enforcement and former military people – participated in state-sanctioned violence against Black people, where Black people were not only lynched but their communities decimated – and in some cases, bombed -by these angry white people.

            We didn’t learn that so many white people were mad because they resented the progress Black people made in spite of legal, paralegal, and illegal measures, laws, and policies put into place.

            There was so much we did not learn. We didn’t learn about how the Greenwood community of Tulsa, OK, was destroyed by yet another group of angry white people, and Juneteenth didn’t exist in our history lessons.

            We, the Black and the white children, were given a whitewashed, sanitized history of these United States. As we grew, we realized how entrenched white supremacy was in this country; we learned from experience how racist people were, including our classmates, who had been taught to hate Black people because of the color of their skin.

            If the truth be told, June 19th, 1865, the day Army Major General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 which said all slaves were free was the true “independence day” for Black people, but it was not a day, nor was it intended to be, when African Americans would be allowed the full rights of American citizenship. 

It is crazy to me that the white senators unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday while they are simultaneously supporting measures to suppress the right of Black people to vote, and yet, that is our reality.

            White violence against Black people – too often if not always participated in by law enforcement officers and members of the military – continued with Black people seldom getting justice in the courts – be they state, federal, or the U.S. Supreme Court. The goal of the white power structure has been to keep Black people “in their place,” and they have sought to attain that goal by any means necessary, with the assistance of the media and the church.

            So, on this Fourth of July holiday, I shuddered when I heard the fireworks starting up. I refused to break out the grill and “celebrate” a holiday which is clearly precious to our white friends, but is a painful reminder that this country about which we were taught as children to sing, has not ever and will not ever extend to Black people – and other minorities – the freedom to be free – in spite of the glorious and powerful words of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Preamble. 

            For Black people, the words to “I Like It Here” are a reminder that we cannot “do as we please ‘cause we’re free as the breeze.” 

White people so often say, “why do you always have to talk about race?” Because, dear friends, race is the card you use when you are working to keep power in the hands of white people. It has always been and it will always be. You use race to sanction and justify the laws, rules, and policies you put in place to reinforce your oppression of us – and of so many other ethnic, racial, and religious groups of people.

In this country, Black people have always been the fly in the American ointment, reminding whites that we are here and that we have power of which they are afraid. When it hits them, they work with a fury to keep us compromised as American citizens.

            “America songs” notwithstanding, we are not even close to being free…to be free.

We Wear the Mask – Still

            As an African American, I find that I often walk around with a lump in my throat because this country does not, has not, and will not regard me or my people as human beings worthy of being treated as the American citizens we are.

            When it comes to race, this nation has no honor.

            The lump isn’t always noticeable; sometimes, it retreats and I can forget for a time that it is there. But no matter how long the lapse, it always comes back.

            I first noticed the lump when I was in college. I was reading about the lynching of Emmett Till, and how the all-white jury acquitted the two white men who had killed him. How could that be, I wondered? How could a court ignore the guilt of two men who had clearly murdered someone?

The lump reappeared from time to time after that, but came back with a fury when I was in seminary and heard the story of one Dred Scott one Sunday I had, of course, heard his name before, and knew a little about his story, but I had never heard about the engagement and involvement of the nation’s highest court. It was in a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright that I heard the words uttered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1857 as he ruled against a Black man, Dred Scott, who sued in order to protect his freedom, gained when his owner took him into a free state. Scott had lived in the free territory of Wisconsin and the free state of Illinois before being taken back to Missouri, where he was again enslaved.

            Scott objected. He knew the law and the law said that once a person was free, he or she was always free. He decided to sue in a lawsuit that made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. After 11 years of litigation in its movement from lower courts to the country’s highest court, the decision was finally at hand. Scott was hopeful.

            But his hope was dashed as Taney ruled against him. Taney wrote that because Scott was Black, he was not a citizen  – and could never be a citizen -and therefore had no right to sue. Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Taney also said that “it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration…” 

            Given all of that, Taney said, it had to be understood that “there were no rights of a Black man that a white man was bound to respect.” 

            What? I was stunned and can still remember being in shock as I heard those words. How could someone who was supposed to be about justice say such a thing? I later wept as I read the words for myself and realized in a new way that not even the courts do not protect us and could be counted on to bring justice to Black people, including the highest court in the land.

            From the day that the lump formed it has risen from time to time, reminding me of the pain I carry about this nation having so little honor when it comes to race. That lump jostled me again today as I heard the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court made that clearly indicate that the justices are not interested in treating Black people as full American citizens with all the rights citizenship includes. The highest court in this land has yet again sanctioned ways to keep Black people disenfranchised. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/01/politics/voting-rights-act-supreme-court-ruling/index.html) (https://www.npr.org/2021/07/01/1004062322/the-supreme-court-guts-a-state-law-requiring-nonprofits-to-name-their-rich-donor.

And again, I wept.

            From the courts to law enforcement to the media, this country has made clear how deeply embedded is the spirit of white supremacy. There are those who are bold with their belief in the inferiority of Black people, and others who remain quiet and do little to nothing as they see the system run roughshod over Black lives and yet declare that they are not racist. The latter group makes little to no effort to investigate and see why there is a Black Lives Matter movement. They refuse to open their eyes and see how the systems of this country have blocked African Americans for literally hundreds of years. Both the vocal and non-vocal racists remain steeped in fear, rage, and insecurity; they are afraid of Black people and afraid that if Black people ever got the opportunity to govern, they would do to white people what white people have done to them. They are full of rage because they believe Black people – who they still do not regard as human beings or citizens – have been “given” too much and are unappreciative, even as white people struggle in ways they do not believe they should be, and they are insecure because reports say that white rule will soon no longer be the case in America.

            It is a difficult thing to keep on pushing for justice when the hard truth of the lack of honor of white people in power repeatedly hits you in the face. Black people get metaphorically slapped over and over, as arrogant critics tell us to get up and to “shut up and dribble,” as the infamous Laura Ingraham once said when NBA great LeBron James spoke out against police brutality.( https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fox-news-host-laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shut-up-and-dribble-so-whats-her-take-on-drew-brees-2020-06-04)

            The evil of white supremacy in this country has never diminished, and at this point, it is more toxic and dangerous than it has been publicly for some time, but make no mistake: it and its toxicity have never been gone. This country still has a plantation mentality, wanting Black people and a whole lot more people whom the white supremacist adherents believe are less than human to “stay in their place.”

            Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote the poem, “We Wear the Mask,” the first line of which says, “We wear the mask that grins and lies; it hides our cheeks and shields our eyes. This debt we pay to human guile…”

            We have been paying that debt for literally hundreds of years, and we still must.

            The stupid lump in my throat is real today; I will work – as we all must – to swallow it back down into its bedroom that is in my soul. But it will rise again.

            A candid observation …