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 …

What White Supremacy Has Stolen

I am afraid that the belief in and the practice of white supremacy has stolen the honor of far too many people.

            I am a student of history, and so have read – with horror – the things that so many white people have done in history to Black people. I have read how white preachers taught the people who sat in their pews that God ordained and sanctioned slavery, and I have read how, when there was to be a lynching, some of those same pastors would let their people out of Sunday service early, so as not to miss the event. In his book White Too Long, Robert P. Jones noted that when there was to be a lynching, “…many worshippers streamed straight from church to the train station, hoping to participate in the much-anticipated lynching…The conductor would cry out, “All aboard for the lynching.”

            Last week was the first time many people – Black and white – had heard about the Tulsa Massacre, but the sad fact is that white people have too often in history decimated entire towns of Black people, and have gotten away with it, choosing to “forget it” once it has been done. It is significant that the only bombs that have been dropped in America have been those dropped on Black homes and churches and businesses – by white people. White people dropped turpentine bombs and or set the homes of Black people on fire in East St. Louis, Ill, in Wilmington, NC, and very recently, in Philadelphia, PA. It was and is normal behavior for those who value their whiteness above all else.

            I have read how people who say and who said while they were yet alive that they believed in Jesus  and thus in Christianity believed that they were on the right theological side of the question of racism. They had no fear of going to hell for what they did to Black people because they did not believe that Blacks were truly human.

            In history, most of the most vile and vicious acts of violence have come when white people have decided that Black people wanting to vote or being given the right to vote was against the cause of white dominance. There has never been “equal justice under the law” for Black people. In fact, white lawmakers, jurists, judges, and law enforcement officers have participated historically in these attacks on Black people. 

            They have not worried about Black people being run from their homes, about Black husbands and wives being separated, about Black children torn from the arms and homes of their parents. They have not cared about Black people being charged with crimes that many times everyone knew they had not committed.

            They have not cared about making policies that have kept Black people enslaved by poverty; they have not cared that little Black children have had to try to make it in schools which were poorly heated in the winter and which had no air conditioning in the summer.

            They have not cared. White supremacy did something to their capacity to care and to their ability to be honorable human beings.

            As we watch white people now distance themselves from the January 6 insurrection, it is nothing less than what they have always done. They have always backed away from, tried to hide, and ultimately, blame Black people for the things they have done. They already know that Black Lives Matter had nothing to do with January 6, and some of them, at least, know that Antifa is not an organized group of people. They know that the acts of terrorism have come from them -as they have always come from a group of people who seemingly have nothing but their whiteness to give them a reason to wake up in the morning.

            They have no honor. These who make racist policies, who are working to keep Black and Brown people from voting, who are fighting to protect the Second Amendment while working to destroy the First Amendment – have no honor. They would rather claim whiteness than honor. They would rather worship racist ideologues than a God who demands that we treat each other as the human beings that God created. In fact, many of them argue that Black people, and maybe Brown people as well, are not humans at all. Saying that relieves them of needing to feel bad or guilty for what they do to kill hopes and dreams and the dignity of people who are just as American as are they.

            They wanted and .needed Black people for their labor. They want people for their labor now, as well, but they want the labor at the expense of making a way for those who labor to live decent lives, to provide for their children, and to live without worrying that they will be shot and killed by those who do it just because they can. 

            They have no honor. White supremacy stole it, like life sometimes steals the sense of worth or self-esteem from too many people. Those without honor will continue to smirk as they continue to destroy people, dreams, and lives. They will continue to practice domestic terrorism and get away with it, just because, as white people, they can do it and get away with it. 

            A candid observation.

The Cost of Denying What You See

             The political climate in this country has many people angry, confused, and anxious. Even as the impeachment proceedings are going on in the Senate (I cannot call it a “trial” because it is so fraught with issues) there is no comfort that there will be a civilized end to the turmoil that has been the signature of this country for the past three years. Tribalism has become a live, virulent creature that seemingly will not be tamed or quieted.

I have been silent for weeks because I have not known what to say. What I see is the systematic unraveling of our country’s government as we have known it. I see values like honesty, regard for the law and for the Constitution, and political civility giving way to bold lies and sense of arrogance that dares anyone to try to stop what is happening. I see attacks on the press, manipulation of the concept of religious freedom to support one group of religious people at the expense of all others, and a disregard for this country’s allies.

I see the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, showing and using his considerable political acumen, in all of its ruthlessness.  I see one group of politicians trying to show the country and the world what is happening to America’s democracy, and another group of politicians saying that what we are seeing and hearing is not, in fact, the truth or real.

It is daunting and exhausting to watch.

But what is bothering me most is that people are denying what appears to be the truth; they refuse to listen to or look at voices and/or documents that support accusations that are being made. And I see simultaneously others who do see what is going on and who are gnawing on their fingernails as the process of dismantling this democracy is happening right before our eyes.

Denial of a problem does not make it go away. We, as human beings, are good at denying. Wives and husbands who get all of the warning signals that their spouse is cheating deny what they see. Parents who sense that their child is in trouble, perhaps doing drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or hanging out with the wrong people, deny what they see, sense, and feel. Neighborhoods deny that there the trouble that plagues other places could ever come to their streets until a horrific tragedy happens. People deny that there is police brutality until one of their loved ones becomes a victim. Parents deny that their son or daughter is gay until that child comes out; they have “known” all along, but preferred to live in denial.

Denial doesn’t work. Truth always comes up and out, and usually at the most inopportune times.

We in this country have lived in denial for a long time, pretending like our foundation is not racist and pretending that we believe in democracy. In fact, a broad swath of Americans has never believed that people of color are “equal” or deserving of full American citizenship. In the 19th century, white people in the North denied that they were racist until they were faced with scores of black people migrating North, looking for work and dignity. Being against the institution of slavery was one thing; granting black people full citizenship and saying that they were equal with whites was quite another. We still live in denial about our innate racism, but it is part of the foundation of this country. Some analysts say that what we are seeing is the move to “make America white again.” The push-back against allowing people of color to img_0231enter this country or stay in this country is part of the fear of white people no longer being the majority population in this country by the year 2044. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/us/white-americans-minority-population.html) White men are intent on staying in power by any means necessary, but many of us are in denial that their practices and policies are rooted in the belief in the need to preserve white supremacy.

It is exhausting to watch, and troubling as well, because it seems that the progression of forcing regression to an earlier America where there was less tolerance of all people, in spite of our claim of American exceptionalism is on a fast train speeding down a hill. Nobody wants to admit it or talk about it. Nobody wants to say out loud that the voter suppression tactics that are being put into place are racist in their intent, designed to keep black and brown people out of the polling booths. And yet, what we are seeing is the result of having denied since our inception that white supremacy is America’s cancer. And it is eating us alive in the present day, even as we pretend we do not see what is going on.

Audre Lorde, an African American essayist, who described herself as a “black lesbian, warrior, mother, and poet” wrote the words, “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you.” The silence that so many people are living in and trying to maintain, the silence that keeps voices of truth from being heard, is not going to save America. Silence is denial, and denial is only a temporary stop-gap to the problems around us. Sooner or later, the truth will push through like an angry geyser, spraying the area around it with drops of truth.

The geyser of denial is bubbling beneath us, even as this president and administration continue their work to stay in power. I’m not quite sure what this country will look like once it bursts through our carefully cultivated ground of denial, but I am fairly certain that the “carnage” will be significant.

A candid observation.