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.

Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions, relationships just do not work out. The two parties involved cannot see eye to eye on at least one issue important to them both; sometimes, there are more. The two try to “talk it out,” but they remain entrenched in their own positions. Continue reading “Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing”