The Season of Dis-ease

Since the election of the new president, I have heard more than a few people say that they do not feel safe. People of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community have all said something to the effect of “I don’t know anymore, when I look at people, who is with me and who hates me.”

I feel them. I have felt the same way.

Not long ago, I was in a doctor’s office just to drop off a form. I went to the front desk and said why I was there and the receptionist, without really looking up, said, “You’ll have to sign in.”

OK. All right. There were about six names ahead of me. For the life of me I could not understand why I should have to sign in, but I did. I was irritated because I had somewhere else to go and had thought I would just be able to whisk into and out of this office.

After a half-hour wait, the receptionist called my name. Yes, by this time I was ticked off, but was relieved that I could finally just drop off the form. But another woman said, “you’ll have to sign in” as she looked at me.

Totally irritated now, I said – and my irritation came through my voice – “I already signed in” and someone else in the area, feeling the tension, verified that I had in fact signed in. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes at me and said, grudgingly, “oh, all right.”

This happened after the presidential election. I had heard of increasing incidents of racial hatred in schools and in businesses and saw a truck slowly moving in my neighborhood sporting a Confederate flag. It had all made me uneasy. I thought white Americans were pretty much moving away from racism.

But what I’d seen and heard since the election did not verify my beliefs, and raised in me, I admit, some concern and anticipation of what to expect from people who were happy with who was now in the White House.

They were glad; they had a guy in place who would “make America great again,” which meant, in my mind, that he would make America unabashedly embrace her white supremacist world view.

The fact that I have heard so many different people say the same thing boggles my mind. At a recent direct action rally, a man of Hispanic descent said the same thing. I have heard Muslims, little black and brown children, members of the LGBTQ community all say the same thing – and I have read stories where even the little children, little white children, have picked up the language of division and hate and are spewing it to their classmates.

Nothing, when it comes to race relations and tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and egalitarianism and pluralism has changed. In spite of her boast of being the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” America is still a foundation ally racist country which espouses and supports hatred toward people of color and people of different religions.

It is very disheartening, but true.

I don’t know if that woman in the doctor’s office that day rolled her eyes at me because I sounded irritated or if because she felt her whiteness gave her the right to do so. I know I raged inside because of my now heightened distrust of the fundamental American spirit when it comes to people of color.

None of us feel safe …here. Radical Islamic terrorism are the battle-cry words of those in power, but for us who are black, brown, members of marginalized groups, Muslim…for us, “radical American Christian terrorism and hatred” are far more real to us. I and many like me are in a state of dis-ease, the same dis-ease that people of color have felt for literally hundreds of years.

Little has changed, in spite of our hope that it would.

A candid observation.

Floating Like a Butterfly

“The Greatest” went home yesterday.

Muhammad Ali went to a spiritual space not dominated and controlled by one particular religion, sex, ethnicity, or cult, but to a space open to all people, a space which is not only a community but, as Dr. King said we must work to create globally, a neighborhood.

Ali, truly “The Greatest,” understood what so few people understand, and sadly, so few religious people understand, and that is, that all people count.

He made himself count to a world and to an American society which thought nothing of stashing people like him to the back rooms of second class-ness, to be pulled out when needed or wanted. He rejected and spit out what he called his “slave name,” Cassius Clay, and took a name he wanted. He rejected Christianity, which has done way too little to thwart the evil called white supremacy, and became a member of the Nation of Islam.

He let the world, and the powers that run this world, that at the end of the day, it wasn’t their world to decide who was worthy of respect and who was not. He shouted out loud that he was “The Greatest,” and he made the world deal with it.

He refused to go to the Vietnam War, pointing out the hypocrisy of a Christian nation that thought nothing of sending hundreds of thousands of men (only men at that time) to the front lines of a foreign country to kill innocent people. There was no need to be there on any level, and Ali knew that, but even if the United States decided that there was a reason, he was free to reject that reason and the nation’s desire to use him to further what he considered be immoral gain.

So, the black man who changed his name and rejected America’s dominant religion, planted his feet and said, in essence, “I ain’t going.”  He said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong!” The power structure was aghast; how dare this black man defy them? They had a political and social temper tantrum; they convicted him of draft evasion, fined him $10,000, stripped him of his heavyweight title and banned him from boxing for three years.

He did not care. He was willing to go to prison for his principles, which were both moral and religious. His Muslim religion prohibited him from engaging in that war, he said, and was going to choose the will of God over the will of man. Period.

He was “the greatest.”

It is ironic that Ali died the week the remake of ROOTS was shown, the story of how one particular African American family came to be in this country…but the center of the story was one Kunta Kinte …who, like Ali, refused to be subsumed by a culture which wanted only to control him. Kunta Kinte was told by his father and the elders of his village that his name was his spirit and his shield. Kinte Kinte held onto his name in spite of being beaten nearly to death by an overseer who demanded that Kinte say the name, own the name, that white people had given him. He did not …and he never did. Even when those around him called him “Toby,” in his spirit, he was clear…and that clarity gave him strength. His name was Kunta Kinte, and nobody was ever going to take that away from him. Though he was brutally oppressed by the system of chattel slavery, he never descended to a pit of despair. Holding onto his name gave him the strength to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” as Muhammad Ali said, staying ahead and on top of white supremacy. He had chains around his wrists and feet at different times, but this mind and spirit here were never  chained.

Muhammad Ali, the African American Muslim, rejected his slave name, took on a name that he wanted, and never looked back. He taught Muslim principles – the same principles by which he lived – to his children and to people who looked up to him. He continued to look for deeper meaning in his spiritual life. He never let go of his strong tie and relationship with Allah and he just kept boxing the racism that he hated so much.

Ali was deeply rooted in his faith, and it kept him grounded in spite of the storms of his life, including his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. When GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Ali, flying like a butterfly, said, ““Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

He said, in that same statement, ““I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world…  True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.” (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/dec/09/muhammad-ali-responds-to-trumps-muslim-ban-plan)

Now the world, so much of which  has denigrated and castigated Muslims, wants to give homage to this man, which he richly deserves, but the homage is tainted by a veil of religious bigotry which has caused so many to suffer unnecessarily.

Would that Ali’s life and death, and his words and actions, would be used to wipe out the racism and bigotry that is swallowing this nation and this world.

Only those who have the courage to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” will be able transcend the spiritual illnesses of this world, which Ali refused to let knock him out.

A candid observation.

What is an American…Christian, Really?

I am stunned by the rhetoric being spouted against Muslims here in America.

I am stunned that major GOP candidates are leading the pack and I am stunned that American …Christians …are buying into it all.

What is an American Christian, really? I grew up thinking, having been taught, that Americans were the best; we had the best morals, the best values, the best ideas, the best government. I grew up believing, erroneously, it turns out, that America’s very founding documents touted the belief that “all men were created equal.”

I grew up completely immersed in the statement made by our Statue of Liberty, and her words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” I thought it was glorious to have such representations of human rights in my country.

I coupled that with the version of Christianity I was taught: that Jesus was love, that Jesus reached out to “the least of these” and rejected nobody. I cherished this religion which seemed to embrace the notion of a loving God, who was, in the end, non-judgmental, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

So, my world, my created, fantasy world, was shaken once I began to read about the discrimination, hatred and violence carried out in this country by …American Christians. Where was the belief in the Constitution? What about the words spoken by Jesus in the Bible? It began to seem to be all a sham. White American Christians, too many of them, were too ready to either practice racial hatred against blacks and Jews and whomever else was to be targeted at a given time, and the notion of “all men being created equal,” I read, meant only white men. I read that the ships on which white people brought Africans to the Americas had religious names, including Brotherhood, Integrity, Gift of God, Liberty, and Jesus. (From There is a River, by Vincent Harding, p. 3)

It seemed that even whites who thought such thinking was against Christian principles as stated by Jesus were reluctant to say anything, and so they remained quiet. Racial hatred was OK; God, they suggested, was a white man who wanted America to be a “white man’s country.” Therefore there was no problem, no disconnect, between the way white American Christians treated people of color.

So, the Islamophobic rhetoric we are hearing today ought not be disturbing. American Christians, led in the GOP bid for the presidential nomination, are accepting and embracing the horrid words and suggestions being offered by Presbyterian Donald Trump and Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson, who says he loves the Bible.

Which Bible?

Because of what happened in Paris, Trump, the Presbyterian is suggesting actions that are reminiscent of Nazi Germany, South Africa …and Palestine. Separate people; brand some as bad, inhuman, unworthy of respect. Do it to protect others.

It is a heinous thought and scary. How many people, innocent people, will suffer from civilized, non-violent terrorism, which is all that Trump is suggesting? This feels like a sort of McCarthyism, all over again. And the supporters of Trump, Carson, Rubio, Christie and Cruz are on board.

When Barack Obama was elected, people said America was “post-racial,” but that was far from being true, and the fact that this anti Islamic rhetoric is rising by the day is evidence of it.

Did God make a mistake? Did God mean for the world to be just white people?  I don’t believe that, but it seems that a vast number of American Christians, white American Christians, believe that. They find no disconnect at all between discriminating against and oppressing people of color, and the dictates set forth by the American Constitution and the Holy Bible.

So, someone tell me. What is an American …Christian, really?  It’s time to stop wading in idealism, and look at our country and its touted religion squarely in the face. Because it seems that what I was taught about both democracy and Christianity …are sorely mistaken.

A candid observation …