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.

When What Is Broken Cannot Be Fixed

Sometimes, something is so broken that it cannot be fixed; it must be replaced.

Not long ago, I got into my car and tried to start it up. Nothing happened. So, I figured my battery was dead – puzzling to me because it was fairly new – but that’s the only reason I could figure out why it would not start. I called AAA and the tech tested the battery and said it was fine. Something else was wrong.

He tinkered around a bit and finally figured out that the gear shift wasn’t completely locked in the “Park” position. He was able to move it to “Neutral” and the car started. He said something was wrong but that as long as when I was driving it I kept it in “neutral,” even when I parked it, it would be OK.

I was comforted, because I had a lot to do, and one of the things I was doing at that time was driving Uber. I had lost a couple of clients because of the car, but once I found out what was wrong, I was on my way. I picked up a group of college kids on their way to Central America. We talked and laughed and when we got to the airport, I did what I always did: I put the car in “Park.”

As soon as I did it I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t move it to “neutral.” Whatever that AAA tech had done (he had finagled something) I could not do. And so I was there, stuck in the airport. I called AAA and they couldn’t do whatever they had done before. I had to have the car towed.  I had been sitting in that space for two hours waiting for the tow truck, only to be told they could do nothing.

I took the car to a mechanic recommended to me by a friend. I had purchased a new gear shift component since that’s what the first AAA person had said was defective. But when the new part was put into the car, it was still impossible to put the car into gear.

The mechanic was puzzled, and so he asked me to give him some time to explore and see what was going on. Several hours later, he called and said, “The gear shift parts are being held together by zip ties,” he said, “and it looks like one of them got loose.”

Zip ties? This was a 2006 car. I had never had any problems, so this was major, but zip ties? The mechanic said that this problem had probably occurred before and it was decided to “fix” it with zip ties.

The part was not fixable, he said. He replaced the old zip ties with new ones and said I should be OK, but I was rattled. The idea that something so vital for the life and operation of the car was being held together with zip ties was scary. The part was not fixable, and a new part was more expensive than the car was worth, and so I had to get a new car.

Sometimes, things that are broken are not fixable. As this nation grapples with the explosion of rage and anger and hurt and grief that is spilling onto our streets and around the world, I keep hearing people say, “we need to heal.”

Yes, we do, but we cannot heal with the toxic, broken system that is the legacy of America still in place. We have been applying zip ties to issues of human rights and human decency since the inception of this country. The zip ties re-worn; we cannot shift ourselves back into “normalcy.” Our foundation needs to be replaced, and only then when the possibility of the same poisonous, degrading, oppressive behaviors and practices never being thrust before us again can we begin to talk about healing. The wounds doled out by the oppressive system have taken all the band-aids, all of the “zip ties” they can handle, and now the oozing of pain will not stop. The system needs to be “done over” so that the glorious words of freedom and justice and liberty for all can be realized.

Nobody ever wants to start over. It is cheaper to “fix” than it is to “replace,” but when replacement is due, it is due. Fixing will no longer work.

Perhaps someone will understand that this nation and its people are at a crisis point that is going to demand more than conversations and task forces and the changing of offensive African American images on syrup bottles and boxes of rice to images that do not remind everyone of the knee that white supremacist practices have had on the necks of all of us – white as well as black – since the Founders put together the Constitution.

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes said, in a recent interview with Bill Moyers, that white people do not even realize all they are missing by refusing to be in community with African Americans, but he said the question must be asked of them, “Haven’t you had enough? Isn’t 400 years of you sucking the lifeblood out of us enough?”

Hopefully, the answer is yes. Hopefully, we can take the zip ties out of the gut of our nation and work to become a nation where all people are valued.

A candid observation …

(c) Susan K Smith

On “Getting Over” Racism

 There are few things that rankle my spirit like white people saying to and about black people that we should “just get over” slavery.

Their saying that shows a profound ignorance, arrogance, and lack of the capacity and demand to understand what the American white supremacist system has done to so many people and continues to do.

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson had a guest , Canadian author and columnist Mark Steyn – to make the statement. (https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/tucker-carlson-tonight-guest-says-african-americans-need-move-slavery-213605922.html?.tsrc=fauxdal&fbclid=IwAR3f-i3x7-lcPBw7–iTP20-aqkg5QEl_ZcATVn6owsJZIIUzfiy01mnlhY) When I posted the article on my Facebook page complaining that this statement is totally insulting, I got the expected push-back from some who think that Steyn was right and from some who castigated me from taking issue with it.

The question I always ask is “do white people ask the Jews to “get over” the Holocaust?” They do not. What happened to the Jewish people in Germany – and to others whom the Germans believe were unfit to live – should never be forgotten.

Why, then, should what this country did – and continues to do – to not only African Americans but to people of color in general be forgotten? If the truth is told, this country has never dealt with what it has done. The power structure works to keep hidden and diminished the horror of racism which is the child of white supremacy. America has worked hard to communicate the false narrative that it is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” when in truth, this country was never meant to be a place of equal citizenship for all people from the very beginning.

The belief that black people were inferior to white people was built into the DNA of this country and has since prevailed. In his book, The Last Days: A Son’s Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South, author Charles Marsh recalls that the message and ethos of white supremacy was not only politically but religiously supported. His father, a Christian pastor and preacher, would not preach an egalitarian message from his pulpit; he says that his father had “not been convinced by the civil rights brass that God was on their side.” The fact that blacks had no recourse from established institutions – from the church all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – ought to cause many of the “get over it” advocates some calm.

The American eugenics movement was based upon the belief of white Americans that this country was built by white people for white people. American science in the area was so deep and broad that the Germans borrowed from the research and conclusions reached by American scientists and politicians to set up their own system of the genocide of Jews and “other undesirables.”

If the assault on black people had ended, if it hadn’t persisted in areas including housing, education and economic development, not to mention health, perhaps it would be easier for African Americans to move past our lingering pain, but the racist assaults and attacks have not ended. Bryan Stevenson, the founder, and director of the Equal Justice Initiative says that “slavery never ended. It just evolved.”

That statement is cutting in its truth.

The fact that African Americans have made significant gains not because of but in spite of the American political and religious systems says much about our character and tenacity. From being captured in Africa, to surviving the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow, we have prevailed. We have fought racism on every front – and we still have to fight. We are disrespected and accused of whining, when in fact we have adopted the words of the Declaration of Independence and of the Christian Bible and have made them work for us, even as this country has thwarted our efforts at every turn.

America will fall because of its refusal to make restitution for its white supremacist ways. Our race law, our policies and practices are known, studied and are recognized by countries all over the world.  James Q. Whitman, who wrote Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law said that the tyrannical German ruler “regarded the United States as the obvious leader in developing explicitly racist policies of nationality and immigration.”

In the present day, Russia is exploiting America’s racism to manipulate and engineer specific outcomes in our elections. (https://qz.com/1495383/a-racial-history-of-russian-meddling-in-us-politics/)

So, let’s not talk about “getting over” something that we have never fully acknowledged as being as damaging and toxic as it is and has always been. No person, government or institution can heal from a situation unless and until they admit the problem.

America has done none of that.

A candid observation …