How Do the Faithful Oppressed Pray?

            As many people, Black and white, but especially Black, are watching the trial of ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, it is safe to say that many are waiting with bated breath. The instances of white officers getting away with shooting and killing Black people have been too many; even in cases where videos have captured the actions of the accused officers, making many believe that the justice system would have no choice but to arrest, indict, and convict the accused, they have been acquitted or exonerated before even having to go to trial.

            It is not a sure thing that Chauvin will be convicted. If he is not, I was asked, what will happen?

            I don’t know, but I do know that internalized pain eventually erupts; one can only take so many hits to his or her concept of and need for justice before the pus that forms from the untreated wound caused by injustice pushes its way out.

            What, then, or how …do the faithful oppressed pray? What types of prayers are pastors of Black congregations offering to and sharing with their members? Or are they praying about it at all? Are they avoiding the elephant in the room because, frankly, they do not know what to say or how to say it?

            There has been a frustration that many Black pastors, theologians and scholars have grappled with for generations. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist? James Cone tackled the problem of a God whom the Bible says is no respecter of persons, but who has not interceded and stopped white supremacy – which supports the dehumanization and criminalization of Black people. Cone’s answer was the development of Black Liberation Theology. Black people  have wondered where God is and why, if and since God shows no favoritism, hasn’t God stopped the insanity called white supremacy?

            The frustration with God by leaders of oppressed people shows up in the Bible. Moses, pegged by Yahweh to lead the Israelites from Egyptian captivity to freedom, expresses the frustration in Exodus 5:22-23, saying, “Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people. (italics mine.) 

            Many Black faith leaders feel Moses’ frustration. God has, in fact, been manipulated to act as a protector and supporter of white supremacy. Throughout American history, white Christians – in both the North and the South – believed and preached that God was in favor of segregation and against the mixing of the races in any fashion, including education and burial, thus, they preached the rightness not only of segregation but of lynching as well. Many white Christian hailed their God as one who supported and ordained their cultural leanings.

            God looked the other way, it seems, during the violence carried out by whites against Black people during the Civil Rights Movement. In history, God has certainly either looked the other way or refused to see – and stop – the violent desecration and ruination of entire black communities perpetrated by white people who believed Black people did not and should not have the right to vote. “Good Christian” white people resonated with the words of one Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, who said, as he riled up white people to violent insurrection against black people and the government in Wilmington, North Carolina because the whites resented the power of the Black voting bloc and their considerable presence in state government, “Here in the most quiet and conservative of the original 13 states…we are reduced to the pitiful necessity of choosing whether we will live under the domination of Negroes…” (David Zucchino, The Wilmington Lie, p. 147) Whites in Wilmington did, in fact, succeed in murdering hundreds of Black people in that 1898 insurrection, destroyed Black homes, churches, and communities, and were successful in driving Black people out of office – and keeping them out until the early 1970s.

            As the Black residents of Wilmington saw what was going on, the religious leaders urged them to pray, assuring them that God would hear their prayer and stop the murderous rage of their white brothers, but to no avail. The riot and insurrection went on as planned – and in the end, the whites revised the story to read that it was Black people who had instigated the riot and that they had only retaliated to save their lives and the lives of their families.

            There are many accounts of Black people praying against those who oppressed them, but in spite of the prayers, the attacks and the oppression that is a part of an Empire run by white supremacists have continued.

            What, then, do the oppressed pray? How do the faithful oppressed have conversations with God and what is the desired outcome?

            It spite of the prayers of Black and other oppressed people, white supremacy has not disappeared and is not in danger of doing so. Do we pray for the ability to hold on? Do we pray for new vision and new tactics? Do we pray for new leaders? We have done all of that; we have held on and the nonviolent direct action taught by the Rev. James Lawson and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is probably the reason more Black people have not been killed by white supremacists with guns.

            But at the end of the day, what should be the corporate prayer of the faithful oppressed? What should we be praying now, in light of the quest for justice for George Floyd and unprecedented voter suppression laws being created? ? How do faith leaders train their people to handle their hurt, frustration, disappointment and anger over racial oppression that never ceases?

            Surely, there must be an answer and some specific words that can be codified and shared with us all as we wait, with bated breath, to see if a murderous police officer will be punished for what he has done.

Black People Waiting, Again

            As the trial for the accused officer who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd begins today, Black people are again in a metaphorical waiting gallery, where we will watch and hope that justice will be done.

            In our history, we have always been in courtrooms – sometimes on the main floor, sometimes sitting in the back or in the balcony – but we have been there, over and over, waiting for justice to roll down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

            There was the trial of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, where nine Black boys, ages 12-19, were accused of raping two white women. They were tried by a white lawyer – and all but one of them, a 13-year-old, were convicted of rape by an all-white, all-male jury and sentenced to death in spite of there being no evidence to support the rape allegations. (https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/scottsboro-boys)

            Black people waited…

            Then there was the trial of the men accused of lynching 14-year-old Emmett Till. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were accused of the murder of young Till, but despite of clear evidence that they had in fact killed Till, they were acquitted by an all-white jury who deliberated for less than an hour. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-trial-jw-milam-and-roy-bryant/)

            Black people waited…

            There was the trial of Anthony Ray Hinton, who was accused and convicted of murdering two white men, in spite of clear evidence that he could not have committed the murders because he was at work at a warehouse and had clocked in, in addition to being seen by coworkers. The evidence did not matter; he was convicted and spent over 30 years on Death Row. (https://www.al.com/opinion/2015/03/our_view_the_evil_in_the_antho.html)

            Black people waited…

            Black people waited as the case of the officers charged with the murder of Eric Garner went before a grand jury. Garner had been approached by police as he sold loose cigarettes on a New York street and was put into a chokehold as officers worked to arrest him. But Officer Daniel Pantaleo, accused of murder, was let off the hook; the grand jury ruled that the action of Pantaleo was justified and decided not to indict him. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-york-city-officer-eric-garner-s-chokehold-death-won-n1030321)

            Black people waited…

            When George Zimmerman went on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, black people waited. Zimmerman was indicted but the jury found him innocent of any crime. (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/us/george-zimmerman-verdict-trayvon-martin.html)

            Now, Black people are waiting, yet again, to see if an officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds will be convicted of any crime. The attorneys for the officer will work to impugn the character of Floyd – as is a common practice – in their effort to get Derek Chauvin, the accused officer, acquitted. Black people will be waiting and hoping for justice, but there is an undercurrent of doubt and a deep suspicion that the justice system will again prove that its justice is more for white people than for Black.

            As the trial began today in Minneapolis, Black and white people were seen kneeling outside of the courthouse, in a ritual that reflected the belief that only God can make the man who stole a father, husband, brother, and son from his family by kneeling on his neck get the punishment his actions warrant.

            Everyone wants justice when they are wronged, but for some reason the majority culture of this country does not seem to believe or lean toward bringing justice to and for Black people. Our white supremacist system remains stubbornly stuck in its beliefs, one, that Black people are inherently criminal and are therefore deserving of any actions against them given by police, and two, that Black people are not fully human. It is as though they do not comprehend the depth of emotional and spiritual pain Blacks have suffered at the hands of this system. With that mindset, the majority culture indicates that Black people could not possibly need justice.

            So Black people and their allies are again waiting, waiting for the scale of justice to indicate that the crime and not the race of the officer or of the victim is the only thing that matters. The anxiety of people across this nation and indeed the world is palpable. The world is waiting to see justice.

            Hopefully, this time, the anxiety will be relieved by a verdict against the accused that says black lives truly do matter, and that no person, white police officers included, is above the law.

            A candid observation …

What I Really Want to Say

            This political season has caused almost unbearable stress for the country and for some individuals – like me.

            I  am glad the former administration was voted out, but I am angry about the debacle that happened between the election and the inauguration of President Biden. The day Biden’s victory was confirmed, people took to the streets to celebrate, COVID-19 notwithstanding. It reminded me of the munchkins who danced in “The Wizard of Oz” after the Wicked Witch of the West was melted – or something – after Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. 

            How the munchkins celebrated! And so did Americans when the final result of the election was reported.

            But then the foolishness – the evil foolishness- started. The Big Lie. The court cases. The performances by so-called attorneys. The call to martial law. Our dancing of celebration stopped and once again, we – or at least I – found myself wound up, worried, and restless.

            Social media is a good place to vent but I cannot really vent the way I want to. I cussed out loud the day of the insurrection. I cuss when I see and hear how the “justice system” is letting many of those accused and arrested for their part in the insurrection get bailed out. Whenever Mitch McConnell speaks, my stomach turns. If I have cable news on (which is rare and will continue to be so) and the anchors are talking about “the former guy” (thank you, President Biden, for this perfect moniker!) I mute the television.

            On my Twitter feed, there are things that I see which make me want to write out my basest thoughts, like “I hate …” and I fill in the name of the person of whom I am thinking. As I watch Marco Rubio jump from place to place, issue to issue, trying to land, I groan. His recent claim that he is pro-union made my disrespect for him deepen even more. I not only laughed out loud, I cussed a little louder than usual. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/03/marco-rubio-amazon-union-alabama-oped-woke-capital.html) I cringe as I hear Republicans (and now, Gov. Cuomo) use the term “woke,” like they know what it is. They do not. And when I hear Republicans – political and civilian – use the phrase “cancel culture,” I want to sit them down and talk about what it really is to be canceled in this country.

            I watched Nikki Haley jump from lily pad to lily pad, one day supporting the former guy and the next day wanting to be back in his good graces, asking permission to visit him at Mara Lago – to which he said no and I could not swallow my disgust. Where is her dignity? Where is the dignity of any of these sycophants who have made the former guy a god on earth?

(https://www.politico.com/interactives/2021/magazine-nikki-haleys-choice/)

            Then there is Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose antics and arrogance are beyond ludicrous.

            I want to say things like, “the Republicans have no souls” as they continue to spread the Big Lie and other little lies and do absolutely no viable work in Congress, wasting taxpayer dollars by making “Dr. Seuss” books their points of conversation and outrage. I want to say “I hate Mitch McConnell” as he tries to assert the power he did for years, blocking bills that would have helped millions of Americans have easier lives and I cuss in my house as I read reports of how Republicans, none of whom voted for the American Rescue Act of 2021 are now trying to save their political butts by touting the good it will do for their constituents. I want to say that the Republican Party is the party of racists, that it is a party that has no vision except that of stoking, nurturing and incubating the racial fears that so many white people have. I want to say, as I listen to how the former guy really was in cahoots with Russia when it came to trying to manipulate the 2020 election, and I want to say, “I hope you get found out. I hope you get arrested. And I hope you go to jail.” When I hear that the former guy is intent on exacting revenge against Republicans who had the courage to cross him, I want to write what we all know: that if you dig a hole for someone else, you very well may fall into it, and I want to say that exacting revenge is just stupid.

            As I watch the clips of all that happened on January 6, I want to say that those who touted “Blue Lives Matter” were and are hypocrites because their actions clearly showed they don’t care about police officers at all. When I see pictures of the insurrectionists climbing up the exterior of the Capitol Building, when I see the pictures of them breaking windows of the Capitol, I still shake with fury, but when I see them carrying American, Confederate, and Trump flags, claiming to be patriots, I cuss and when I hear that they attacked police officers with American flags, I say things that I will not write here. When I heard Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc) say that he wasn’t afraid of the insurrectionists because he could see that they were patriots who loved their country, but that if the group had been members of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, he would have been worried, I called him a racist and when he denied he was a racist, (of course he did that), I put an adjective in front of “racist.”

            As I watch the Republicans cow-tow to the former guy, I want to say that the Republicans are cowards, with no morals and no ethics – and I want to add that their spinelessness is disgusting.  As I watch and have watched people defy wearing masks as a means of helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, I want to say, “I hope you get the virus, but I hope you don’t go to the hospitals where health care workers have been working their buns off for over a year, trying to keep people alive.”  When some of the former guy’s administration got COVID-19, I wasn’t sorry, and I cannot even describe the fury I felt when I learned that the former guy and his wife got the vaccine in private to protect them from the virus he called a hoax, a barrage of words came out of my mouth. I renewed and reviewed my opinion of him as being weak, dishonest, and hypocritical, and also reviewed my opinion that over 500,000 people have died from COVID 19 because of his lack of leadership. The fact that he sneaked and got his virus before he left office just affirmed my opinion.

            Then there are the actions of the Republicans to suppress the right to vote of Black people, and as I think about that, my cussing increases exponentially. The audacity and the arrogance of these people is astounding. I want to say, “Y’all cannot win unless you cheat.” I want to say, “Y’all have no compassion or capacity to care about anything other than your own fear of Black and brown people having their voices heard and their needs met.” 

            Oh, there’s more, but I don’t want to dump it all on anyone who might read this. But like Fannie Lou Hamer said, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am tired of white supremacy. I am tired of white folks who whine and cry and cheat in order to win elections. I am tired of racists saying they are not racist. I think folks should own their racism so we can stop fooling around with this “American exceptionalism” myth. The only thing America is exceptional at is holding onto and incubating its belief in white supremacy.

            One more thing: everyone knows that if the Democrats are going to help make the crooked places straight, – i.e., get their policies passed – then they have to use the power that they have now. This wrangling by some over not bothering the filibuster is insane. Their indecision makes me cuss out loud. I think they should remember Mitch McConnell, and know that if the tables were turned, he would do whatever he wanted in order to get his agenda passed. It’s what he did while he was majority leader. The Democrats should, as Joe Scarborough once said, “fight like the Republicans.”

            That’s all for today. I feel better. I got some of it out.

            Thank you for reading these candid exclamations.

Black Faith: A “Pythian Madness”

            James Cone, in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, quotes AME Bishop Bishop Daniel Payne who wrote in 1839,

“Sometimes, it seems as though some wild beast had plunged his fangs into my heart, and was squeezing out its life blood. Then I began to question the existence of God and to say, “If he does exist, is he just? If so, why does he suffer one race to oppress the enslave another, to rob them by unrighteous enactments of rights, which they hold most dear and sacred?…Is there no God?”

            Cone writes that W.E.B. DuBois “called black faith a “pythian madness” and “a demonic possession.” In a country where Black people are marginalized and cast aside, many white evangelicals call on their God, which seems quite different from the God on whom Black people have had to call and lean on in order to survive the poisonous fangs of white supremacy.

            This struggle with understanding God’s role and place in helping marginalized people is not new; indeed, Moses questioned God in the same way, challenging God in Exodus 5:22-23:

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”

In spite of that complaint and the pain he was as he wrestled with the “whereness of God,” Moses continued his assignment of leading the Israelites out of captivity, but it was a journey fraught with questions that could not be answered. His faith was, as WEB DuBois would say generations later, a “pythian madness and a demonic possession.”

            Many of us try to pretend that everything is all right when so often, it is not. We cannot see. We cannot hear or even feel “the way” from chaos to peace, from confusion to clarity, from pain to peace. Some of us wail and call out the name of God, but others of us temper our crying to God so that it is a faint whisper. We know the testimonies of others; we have heard them say that when they have looked back, they have seen that God was with them, and so they sip on the memory that brings brief moments of numbing from the pain of not feeling God in their here and now.

            Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who broke from the ranks of the Republican Party to vote for the conviction of the former president, got a letter from his family that said that because he had spoken and acted like he did, he had disappointed his family …and God. The sentence stopped me cold. The God of his family was a God who apparently was all right with the uprising at the Capitol, yes, but was also all right with the white supremacist mind-set and beliefs that were the foundation of that uprising. The God of Kinzinger’s family is, apparently, a God is is not only all right with white supremacy but perhaps created it. 

            It is because of the practice of a religion by some that having faith in this country has a peculiar quality. How can we believe in one who has done “nothing,” as Moses said, “to deliver” the marginalized people in this country? What has been done has been done under pressure and duress, and many who follow the God of Kinzinger’s family would probably say that it would be OK to take away what gains marginalized people have made.

            Cone says that “black people’s struggle with God in white America …left a deep and lasting wound.” Black people have had to “trust and cultivate their own theological imagination,” he says, because the God of the majority of culture did not seem to have the desire to reach out to the marginalized, although God had created them as well.

            Tomorrow begins the season of Lent, a time where we have an opportunity to examine ourselves, including our souls, to see what we must work to get rid of – not just for 40 days but for the rest of our lives – in order to get closer to God. For some of us, that with which we will have to struggle is a troubled faith that is tinged with anger and anxiety because of the toxicity of white supremacy which is ever before us, and which is ever saturating everything that happens in this country.

            We would do well to be honest with God during these 40 days, laying before Her our faith in a way that exposes its tears and shredded seams. We will have to hold onto our faith, in spite of our questions and complaints against it, as did our ancestors, because our faith is the only thing that has kept and will keep us together as we will in a country that refuses to love us, as Doc Rivers said, God notwithstanding.

            Amen and amen.

Breathing Easier but Not Easily

            When the announcement was made that Joe Biden had won the presidency in the November General Election, I literally took what felt like a cleansing breath. For four years, I had internalized a type of stress that was ongoing. Every day there was some new attack, some crazy Twitter message. The goal of the former president seemed to be to undo the government as we knew it. Bit by bit, he and his administration chipped away at institutions that had been mainstays of this government.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/07/black-lives-matters-police-departments-have-long-history-racism/3128167001/            

From the first day of his presidency, there was chaos, from making his press secretary lie about the size of his inauguration crowd (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38707723) to making his first official visit to the CIA. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/trump-visits-cia-day-after-inauguration/580003/) I remember thinking that the visit was weird, but as his presidency moved forward, and he showed continued obeisance and deference to Vladimir Putin, I wondered if there was a nefarious reason that the CIA had been in his crosshairs from the beginning. Was he there because he knew he was going to be compromising America’s security? I wondered about it more as he demanded loyalty from the people around him. While no fan of form Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I found it oddly uncomfortable that he would dismiss an attorney for recusing himself from a situation in which he knew he was compromised and that could have cost him his license to practice law.

            The daily attacks on people who opposed him, the daily attacks on “the Democrats,” the daily name-calling, the doing business by Tweet, …all of that made my spirit uneasy. His tenure as president was like a soap opera; there seemed to be very little progress on work to make the lives of Americans easier, even and especially the people who comprised part of his base, but there was sure to be high drama every single day, and people tuned in to see, to hear, and to react.

            Then came the coronavirus, and his totally inept handling of the crisis. I still cringe when I remember how this president said the virus would “just disappear,” and how he suggested any number of remedies to get rid of it. I cringe when I realize that his administration gagged public health officials, how he discounted, discouraged, and politicized the use of masks, and how he seemed totally unconcerned with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. In the deepest recesses of my soul, I found myself believing that he was using the disease to weed out certain segments of the population. Hearing that Black and brown people were more affected by the disease than whites seemed to be OK with him, a reason, perhaps, to ignore the runaway rate of infection.

            So, when the announcement was made that Biden won the election, I breathed easier. I reacted to and rejoiced with people who took to the streets to celebrate his victory. I believed that the 45th president and his administration would just do what others who have lost the presidency have done: accept the results and allow people like me, who were tired of his ineptness, name-calling, and lying, alone.

            But I was wrong. His attack on the results of the election – which he said during this campaign that the election could only be lost by him if the election was rigged – was breathtaking in its persistence and scope. He had a pattern of attacking elections that did not go his way. In 2016, he made the claim, (https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-election-rigged-2016-10) and he did it in 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9i80SrDc74) He said during the 2016 election that he had only lost the Iowa primary because Ted Cruz had stolen the election and said in 2009 that Obama had only won the election because the voting had been rigged. (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-longstanding-history-calling-elections-rigged-doesnt-results/story?id=74126926)

            That he said it was one thing; that he got millions to agree with him and believe him was quite another. The result was his last-ditch effort to steal (ironic as the mantra of his supporters was “stop the steal) the election from Joe Biden, going so far as to encourage his followers to go to the Capitol and stop the counting of the ballots submitted to the Electoral College. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55640437) (https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech).

            The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, a continuation of violence carried out by his supporters at some state capitals, and the disparity of treatment of these insurrectionists and protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement is why, though I am breathing easier, I am not breathing easily. Trump supporters – which include the rich as well as the poor, the highly educated as well as the uneducated, women as well as men…are angry and are calling their attempts to overthrow governments acts of patriotism. They are not finished and they are not gone. And the fact that many of these supporters are members of law enforcement, and many are ex-military, who operate in a country where they know for the most part that there are two justice systems – one for white people and one for Black- makes my breathing tentative. Where will they go next? Who will they attack? And when?  

            Too much of law enforcement seems to be on the side of those who want to overthrow the government.(https://www.npr.org/2021/01/15/956896923/police-officers-across-nation-face-federal-charges-for-involvement-in-capitol-ri) That is not new; law enforcement has historically participated in – or has ignored – violence against black people,  and of course, the Civil War was fought because white Southerners desired to shut the Union down over the issue of slavery.

            The fact that it is not new, however, is not comforting. These people have been emboldened by the rhetoric of the former president and know that they can claim they are using their First Amendment rights in what they are doing and that they will possibly get away with it, (https://www.courthousenews.com/citing-first-amendment-rights-judge-lifts-iowa-ban-on-protesters/) even as some state legislatures are working to put in place laws that would stem the protests of groups including Black Lives Matter. (https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/rights-protesters/anti-protest-bills-around-country) (https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/11/20/criminalize-protests-civil-rights)

            It is worth noting that these actions do not take into account that the BLM protests and what happened at the Capitol are not the same, though MAGA supporters are making that claim. The BLM movement is an attempt to get convince governments to create policies that will stop the legal extermination of Black people by police; the MAGA protests are about wanting to overthrow governments – local and federal – because they are upset with and want to eliminate a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect.

            So, I breathe easier, but not easily. The angry white people with guns are prowling the country; we do not know who they are, but they are prowling, waiting to attack, and still wanting to destroy the government. They are working to make laws that will make it even more difficult for Black people to vote. They are openly expressing their desire to kill lawmakers who have not been loyal to the former president. We are not in a good place in this country and will not be until we deal with the moral corruption of this nation, a morality which has brought us to the brink of Fascism.

            Until we do that, I will not breathe easily.

            A candid observation …