The Consistency of Discrimination

Discrimination is a remarkably consistent phenomenon.

In the area of racial discrimination, history shows that blacks were tolerated as long as they stayed “in their place.” Because of the assumed second-class citizenship of African-Americans, whites felt justified in treating them as such, even though many said they “loved” their “nigras.”‘ Nobody, however, wanted an “uppity” Negro; blacks couldn’t hide who they were by virtue of the color of their skin, so they had no choice but to learn how to survive and “stay in their place.”

For gays and lesbians, and indeed people of the LGBT community in general, there has been, again, a feeling that “they” are all right as long as they stay in their place. In the black church, that “place” has historically been in the role of musician – either choir director or accompanist or both. People in these positions might be noticeably gay, but no person in the church would say anything; they were “in their place,” and therefore, tolerable.

But let a member of the LGBT community try to step out of that prescriptive place, and, say, try to work as Director of Christian Education, or perhaps as a Sunday School teacher, deep protest, borne out of deep bias against gays and lesbians, would rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of scriptural righteousness. All of a sudden, “what was right was wrong,” meaning, it was all right for a gay person to be an amazing musician, but it was blasphemous and unconscionable that a person might want to do anything else.

Women in the black church have always had their “place.” Though the majority of membership of most churches tends to be female, the church is still a bastion of male supremacy…and so a woman might be a “deaconess” or she might be relegated to teaching Sunday School or changing the flowers on the altar, but preaching and being a pastor was a no-no. Such a woman had …stepped out of her place.

Older people have their “place.” Employers, too many of them, will look at a person’s age and without even thinking about it, discard him or her as a viable new employee. Old people are OK if they (we!) stay in their place, and their place, apparently, is out of sight, out of mind. Age discrimination is rampant, but we really don’t want to talk about it.

As the comments, commentaries and conversations have escalated since President Obama made his statement in support of gay marriage, I began to think about how successful discrimination depends not only upon the beliefs and determination of another’s status of those who oppress but upon acceptance of that relegation on the part of the oppressed. Discrimination is rather cowardly; it bullies people, but the bullying stops or abates when those being bullied say “enough.”

In the instance of African-Americans and women, the discrimination and relegation to the “back of the bus” has eased up some because people in those groups have pushed back. They have refused to stay “in their place.”  Women and members of the LGBT community, I think, learned much about how to push back against discrimination by watching African-Americans fight for their rights and thus, the feminist and womanist movements changed the lives of women, and the movement for LGBT rights is changing not only the lives of people of that community but also lives of people who have nestled in and taken comfort in their ability to discriminate.

Stepping out of one’s “place”  is risky and painful; power concedes nothing without a struggle and the power that has always been fights against the power that is fighting “to be.” But once someone realizes that the place someone else has relegated to him or her is not all there is and does not have to be permanent if one realizes his or her own worth, in spite of what the common opinion is, the mere urge for a new life and a new reality creates a power that cannot be stopped.

I am guilty of being an idealist; I wish we as humans did not have the capacity to discriminate against each other so easily, but discrimination is not going to end. Perhaps, though, if we understand how consistent are the principles that feed discriminatory behavior, there might be less of it as time goes on, leaving room for people to be who God created them to be, without all the drama.

A candid observation…


Trayvon’s Parents Show Grace Under Fire, Strength of Black Church

Trayvon Martin - Million Hoodies March 2012 020
Trayvon Martin - Million Hoodies March 2012 020 (Photo credit: calvinfleming)

It has been with the utmost grace and dignity that the parents of Trayvon Martin have held up since their son was shot and killed.

They have been resolute yet firm. They have shown compassion toward the family of George Zimmerman and indeed have not shot poisonous darts,verbal or otherwise,  toward the man who has been accused of shooting their son. They have held their anger in check, not wanting, it seems to divert attention from their goal: justice for their son.

Surely they have shown grace under fire.

God…and other parents who have lost children for whatever reason, but especially due to violence – knows their pain. They would have been within their rights, their grieving rights, to rant and rave.

And yet, they have stood, in a protective and protected place.

It has seemed, as I have watched them, that the nation and indeed the world, has been able to see the power of  the Black Church. It has been none other than the Black Church, with its emphasis on the ever-presence of God and its insistence that God demands social justice, which has kept the African-Americans on solid ground and in their right minds throughout their sojourn in America.

The history of black people in America seeking Jesus for their literal salvation on earth is one of the most beautiful and powerful in all American history. Albert J. Raboteau, in his The Invisible Institution, wrote that when a slave was questioned about conditions of slavery, he said, “We endeavor to keep ourselves up as well as we can …what can we do unless we keep up a good heart. If we were to droop, we should die!”

Slaves were pushed to have a special trust in Jesus; there seemed to be none but God and his son Jesus in this strange country which used them but did not respect them.  Writes Raboteau of another slave, “I knew very well, if God was able to deliver me from the corrupt influence of the world and the power of Satan, that he was able to deliver me from this slave-holder. Yet, I was like so many others, I did not see by what method he would secure my deliverance. Still, with childlike simplicity, I trusted him.”

It was this constant teaching blacks received in the Black Church during and after slavery which made the Black Church unique, and which accounts for African-Americans having the strength to push through and, like Trayvon’s parents, demand justice in spite of huge odds.

Of course, there has been some criticism of the Black Church – like, for instance, it urged black people to endure the suffering on this earth and become complacent, believing in a sweet “life after,” and there were not a few African-Americans who absorbed that particular message, but the reason for African-Americans enduring and prospering in this country, in spite of great odds, has been this persistent nudging and reminding by the Black Church to trust God and his son Jesus, no matter how bleak a situation.

Doing so gives on grace under fire.

As I have watched Trayvon’s parents, I have found myself thinking, “They love the Lord…and they are holding onto Jesus by the skins of their teeth.”  Some voice, bigger than the oppressive voices of racism and injustice, has been speaking peace and power and determination into their grieving spirits. I would imagine God speaks like that to anyone who will listen; certainly the parents of other missing or exploited children have heard it, too, and have shown grace under fire as they have waited for positive news.

But in the case of Trayvon Martin, and the history of African-Americans not receiving justice so often in America, I am thinking that the voice of God has to be sharper, clearer, because this history of racism and injustice inspires rage, and not peace. It would have been so easy for Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin to scream out, “racism!” but they never did.

It has been, consistently and quietly, the demand for justice, simple justice for a 17-year-old kid who happened to be their son.

As of this writing, the Washington Post is reporting that George Zimmerman will be arrested. A pastor working with Trayvon’s parents, the Rev. Jamal Bryant, said in a CNN interview that the parents have been praying.

No kidding.

The old people always told me that “prayer changes things.” The author of the Book of James wrote that the “fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous avails much.”  Yes, surely. Like grace under fire. It has been amazing to watch Trayvon’s parents, and has given credence to the power of God, certainly, and the power and strength of the Black Church, specifically.

A candid observation …