The Day Before Thanksgiving, 2021

            It is the day before Thanksgiving, and Black people, not only in the United States but all over the world, are holding a vigil, praying for justice in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

            Arbery is the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was followed, harassed, and shot to death by three white men who decided they didn’t like it that he was running in a predominantly white neighborhood in 2020.

            The jury deciding their fate is made up of 11 white people, and one Black. (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/11/07/ahmaud-arbery-trial-jury-what-we-know/6269841001/)

            And this trial is happening in Georgia.

            In a trial that ended last week, Black people were not surprised that Kyle Rittenhouse, the young white teen who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin because he heard about protests going on in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers was completely exonerated. From the outset of that trial, as the judge ruled that the two men who were killed – white men, mind you – could not be called victims, Black people knew we were on the battlefield on injustice once again. The judge seemed unimpressed and was unmoved by the fact that Rittenhouse had traveled to this city, with his gun, and according to reports was the aggressor of the two men he killed. They had guns, but they did not attempt to shoot Rittenhouse. It was Rittenhouse who opened fire and then walked through the streets carrying his AR-47, unbothered by police.

            He said he was defending himself. That is always the go-to defense. All a white person has to say is “I was in fear for my life” and he/she generally gets off. In this case, it wasn’t Black people who were posing a threat, but white sympathizers, and that fact apparently gave the court justification for Rittenhouse’ actions. From what reports I read, one of the victims used a skateboard to try to knock the gun out of Rittenhouse’s hand as he aimed it at them.

            It seems that the now-dead were trying to defend and protect themselves.

            But we knew. We knew from the spirit of that trial. We knew because of the rancidly racist spirit of this country that Rittenhouse would get off.  He was released and is being hailed as a hero. The former president called him a “nice young man,” and several Republican members of Congress are supposedly considering him a good candidate to be a congressional intern.

            As we awaited that verdict, we exhaled. We swallowed the all-too-familiar lump in our throats that comes every time a Black person is shot and killed and the justice system – supported by a community of white people – does not care. Rittenhouse’s victims were white, but they were on the wrong side of the racial divide.

            But here we are, not a full week later, waiting to see what this jury will do. In spite of a brilliant case argued by the prosecution, the attorneys for the three white men have played the race card unashamedly. They have gone so far as to claim that their clients have been intimidated by the presence of Black pastors sitting in the courtroom in support of Arbery’s family. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/11/us/ahmaud-arbery-trial-defense-attorney-black-pastors/index.html)

            The message is clear: the attorneys for the white men who killed the unarmed Black man are the victims. It is a message that will resonate with a huge swath of the white community.

            When we as Black people have yet another one of these cases floating around, the years of internalized trauma caused both by racialized violence and a lack of justice take their toll. The stress is almost unbearable, as is the pre-verdict anxiety. We pray- certainly we pray because that is all we have been able to do as we challenge the systemic injustice of this country which is a part of “who we are” in spite of people saying that the history of our racial rot and the stench from it is not who we are. We pray, but we wonder about the presence of God. We, like Gideon about whom we read in the Hebrew scriptures, wonder where God is and to the statement that some will offer that “God is good,” we lean toward asking God to clarify what God’s “goodness” looks like for Black people.

            Meanwhile, we learn that for many whites, God is not about justice for all people, but is concerned about justice for people in power. God, and God’s son Jesus, are “strongmen,” and as such have little time for the whimpering of people against whom power wields its power. Many believe that “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. Jesus came to take over.” ( Jeff Sharlet. The Family) Therefore, their Jesus approved of the attempt to take down the government, and Jesus is in support of a justice system which protects the rights of the wealthy and powerful and does all he can to keep them there.

            So it is against powers and principalities which do not care one iota about the injustice that we wrestle with as we wait for this verdict. Those who feast on their belief in their right to take down Black people and who do so with impunity because they know the chances of them being held accountable are slim to none are waiting for an acquittal so they can wave their Confederate flags honoring another white supremacist victory. They do not care that a Black mother is grieving, that a Black community is sitting on edge, and that Black children are understanding – again – that being Black in America makes one a hated and easy target.

            So yes, on this day before Thanksgiving, we are holding vigil. We are muttering prayers and softly humming hymns that bring some relief from the stress of being Black in this country. According to Sharlet, the so-called Christians who lift up the name of Jesus do so as an acknowledgement of Jesus being one of the first “strongmen” in this country. They believe he was a capitalist and that he sought to push capitalism as the principle we ought all to follow. Their Jesus, or what Sharlet calls “the American Jesus,” is not concerned with the cries of people who have never known justice, fairness, or full rights as American citizens. 

            This Jesus is no more concerned about justice for Ahmaud Arbery than were the pilgrims who landed here in the 1600s and decided that it was their godly duty to take out Indigenous Americans, who were here long before white people stepped out of their ships.

            We hold vigil, and we pray. It is what we have had to do – and have to do, still, in order to survive in a country that is content to use us but remains totally uninterested in treating us as human beings who desire justice like any white person.

            A candid observation…

Will Racism in this Country Ever be Gone?

Someone asked me recently if racism will ever be gone from this country.

After pausing, I said, “I doubt it.”

I have watched the venom called racism bubble up and spill over into every aspect of our lives over the past four years. It was always there; its bubbling up just indicated that there had been enough holes made in the veneer of respectability and tolerance for the venom to spill out.

It has been awful and will get even worse. Those who have lived in their own quiet halls and hells stuffed with their resentment of Black people have come out. Some are calling for civil war. One teacher said to her class that if it weren’t for the U.S. Constitution, Black students would be her “field slaves. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-teacher-accused-telling-black-students-they-could-be-n1281164). White parents see nothing wrong with their children calling Black children “nigger,” and worry instead that if their children are taught too much Black history, it will teach them to hate their white skin. (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2021/5/18/22441106/critical-race-theory-teaching-about-racism). They put their complaints within the arguments against teaching children Critical Race Theory – which is a course taught in college – saying that they don’t want anything taught that makes white people look bad; it is divisive, they say. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/).

Meanwhile, we who are Black continue to struggle against oppressive practices and policies that have always been a barrier for us to enjoy full American citizenship.

It is difficult to accept or even to listen to these complaints; it is infuriating to hear white parents talk about how they don’t want even the story of Ruby Bridges, who integrated the William Frantz Elementary School in 1959 and was made to sit in a classroom by herself for a year – just because she was Black, or to read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that he wrote during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

They don’t want their children to learn about how “law enforcement” lynched Black people just because they could; they don’t want their children to learn how Black people built this country; they don’t want their children to learn how Black men who fought in this country’s wars were ineligible for many of the veteran benefits afforded to white men – just because they were Black.

They have concocted a god who supports white supremacy, a god who will not condemn them for what their race has done. Many of their preachers uphold the belief that white supremacy is of god and from god, and some argued during the 60s that to fight for the civil (and human) rights of Black people was to put their own salvation in jeopardy.

Despite using the name “Christian” in their goings-on, the truth is nothing that many of these people practice and ascribe to is in alignment with what Jesus the Christ taught. Jesus’ strength, or a big part of it, was his capacity to include and embrace all people. His message was that God wanted community, not chaos, and that all people were worthy of being in community. Racism and the support of white supremacy – which includes not only racism but sexism as well – was not a part of his message, not a part of the “Good News,” so when I hear rabid racists declare that they are Christian, my very soul recoils. The late Rev. CT Vivian said it best, “You cannot be a racist and be a Christian.”

Using the name of God to rubber-stamp hatred and bigotry, and to effect policies that are so detrimental to so many people, is offensive to me. It feels like a violation of the commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Using the name of Jesus to justify racial hatred is like spreading a deadly rumor.

What I see is a group of people who are disgruntled with their own privilege; though they bristle when it is mentioned that they have privilege, the truth is that they feel like their privilege has been affected and compromised by too many Black people “getting too much.” Instead of hearts filled with the type of agape love preached by the Christ, their hearts seem to be filled with this resentment, which feeds their hatred for and paranoia about the progress that Black people have made in spite of everything that has put in place to prevent it. Their belief in their superiority has kept them afloat even when they have internally known that that claim is bogus; what they have always been able to do is fall back on their go-to “blessed assurance,” “at least I’m not Black.”

Jesus the Christ says to love those who persecute you. And forgive them. Those lessons have probably kept Black people alive in spite of the heinous treatment they/we have endured because the people who hate us have had access to friendly and biased courts, police departments, and policies. They have had – and have used – weapons of mass social destruction. Black people have held on and remained on the battlefield because the lessons of love and forgiveness work; they replace feelings of hatred with the spirit of God that the world did not give and which the world cannot take away.

But this fight is exhausting. White people want a civil war; I would guess that many want Black people – and all of the immigrants of color whom they do not like – to be put “in their place” and thus, “Make America great again.” We as Black people move and live knowing that there is no entity that protects us – not the police, not the lawmakers (who are actually lawbreakers), and certainly not the courts. We move and love knowing that the only peg on which to hang our hope is the belief that Jesus the Christ hears us and will continue to strengthen us. Our refusal to run and crumble will only feed the rabid anger and resentment of white people, whose privilege is not enough to make them whole.

Belief in their supremacy because of their race has damaged their spirits, but they are not willing to admit it and therefore, will not be healed. A problem cannot be fixed unless and until it is acknowledged, and our white brothers and sisters are unwilling to do neither.

Racism in this country will not end, then, because that unwillingness to admit the problems is blocking the healing. The whole world knows about America’s illness and has used it to get into our lives and interfere with our government. It is happening now.

And it will not end well.

A candid observation …

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.

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 …