Category Archives: Race and Culture

Asking for a generation

What could the Church in North America do if it put its hands together across cultures, if it desegregated its pews and pulpits, if it reflected the changing community outside its doors?  Who would we become and what witness could we offer the world if we chose our baptismal identity in Christ over and against racialized identities, if we adamantly rejected this superficial categorization of flesh?  What would we be saying if we lived within the counter- narrative of belonging in spite of class, gender and cultural lines, if we did not remake Jesus as a politician or political party leader?  Where could the Church in North America’s leadership go if it did not masculinize leadership, if we really believed that God was in control?

These are genuine questions because I don’t understand the color- coded scenarios of our relationships, these skin- incentivized experiences in North America and specifically its Church.  Segregation is illegal.  But churches break this law every Sunday at 11 a.m. and in some places three times on Sunday.

We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, segregated while identifying as the body of Christ.  We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).  We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, claiming to be siblings in Christ and all apart of God’s family.  Then why the continued separation?

Oh, I know.  It’s the worship style.  We like our music this way.  It is about control.  Because Christianity in America has a paternalistic bend with persons who feel the need to oversee the movement of other Christians.  “Don’t clap.  Don’t respond to the preaching.  That’s not what we do here.”

The question of why the Church in North America remains segregated is fully answered by Henry Mitchell in his work Black Church Beginnings, where he offers priceless intel.  The “Black Church” was started under the surveillance of so- called white people.  Their time for worship was managed, no longer than two hours.  Their messengers were predetermined and approved by European American spiritual overseers, as it were, to ensure that the narrative of their conditional belonging in America was not questioned or challenged.  Their churches were funded by these spiritual overseers, another means of control and manipulation.  Dependent upon their financial support, African American people in “leadership” did not stray from the scripted responses of race, which brought the plantation into the Church.

Things haven’t changed.  There remains the mindset that African American bodies need to be controlled, evident in the continued murder of unarmed African American people who are “living while black.”  There is a continued devaluation and judgement of their worship practices, style and length of their spiritual services.  There is also a financial dependency in some denominations for their survival that maintain the roles of American slavery.  In my opinion, the Church in North America has yet to be started.

The colonizers did not seek to bring God’s kingdom near with chattel slavery as its foundation.  Those persons called “founding fathers” gave birth to nothing new but reproduced the slavery of their homeland, though far worse.  And while there are those who would shake their heads in agreement with me, their mouths tells a different story.  They continue to accept the answers that race gives them while what I hear is largely questionable.

The Exonerated Five, the Emanuel Nine, and why we can’t lose count

Ava Marie DuVernay’s documentary “When They See Us” tells the story of four African American boys and one Latino American boy falsely accused and mislabeled “The Central Park 5” after a female European American jogger, Trisha Meili, is viciously attacked and raped in April of 1989.  With contrived confessions but no DNA evidence to link the boys to the crime, they were found guilty and sentenced to between 7 and almost 14 years in prison.  They would later be exonerated when the actual rapist came forward, Matias Reyes (Central Park 1), confessed to the crime, providing details that only the perpetrator would know and had the DNA to match.  Still, those young boys were put into a criminal justice system that forever changed not only their lives but the lives of their family members.  They received no apology and no explanation.  They are owed both and not surprisingly, those who should apologize include Donald Trump, who took out a full page ad in a number of newspapers asking that the death penalty be reinstated and that these children: Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, be executed.

We don’t have time to act surprised.  Lives are at stake and hands that cover our faces in dismay are needed in voting booths, raised in solidarity and clearly visible for all to see, linked together on country roads and city streets that march to the drum major for justice’s beat, folded in intercessory prayer to God.  Because it’s going to take a miracle for change to come.

We’ve got to learn a new tongue because there is a need to rename and reclaim our stories.  We must be our own narrators.  Because we have heard this story of injustice before.  The Exonerated Five, as they are rightly called in an Oprah interview, were not guilty of the awful crime committed that day and deserve a new narrative, which begins with a new name.

We have to start telling their story and in turn, our story differently.  They were and are innocent.  But, they were not the first innocent men proven guilty in an American court of law and they will not be the last.  Kalief Browder, 16, was held at Riker’s Island for three years without a trial.  After his release, he would commit suicide.

There are so many unnamed before him and many more to come after him.  Emmett Till was fourteen years old when he was executed by a mob after being accused of “whistling at a white woman.”  In 1931, the Scottsboro Boys, as they would come to be known, were accused of raping two “white women” on a freight train.  Their ages ranged from 13 to 20 years old.  For fear of lynch mobs, They had to be guarded by the state militia.  Same old story.

Tomorrow, I will visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) museum, where the founder, Bryan Stevenson, set out to tell the African American story from slavery to mass incarceration as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.  The first of its kind, the memorial says the names of thousands of women, men and children who were lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries.  On the website, they keep a calendar of the injustices suffered by African American people.  Today’s post reads “On this day, June 18, 2015,

White Man Arrested for Racial Attack Killing Nine in Charleston Church

Tomorrow night, I will see the movie “Emanuel,” playing in select theaters for two days only and say their names again: Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lee Lance, 70, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, Tywanza Sanders, 26, Daniel L. Simmons, 74, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45 and Myra Thompson, 59.

Like DuVernay and the producers of the movie “Emanuel,” Stephen Curry, Viola Davis, Mariska Hargitay and Mike Wildt, we must not lose track of the truth.  We’ve got to tell their stories, no matter how numerous.  Because maybe we’ll get tired of days marked by injustice and become sickened by the number of lives lost tragically and say, “Enough.”  Because it’s easier to forget and tempting to lose count.

Tongue tied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I proclaim a raceless gospel when there is so much faith in race?  Why do I scribble over words in books that color- code our shared humanity and repeat the appropriate cultural designations aloud?  We are not black but African Americans.  We are not white but European Americans.  We are not yellow but Asian Americans.  We are not red but indigenous people who live in what has been renamed the United States of America.  We are not brown but Latino/a Americans (The racial category also includes Southeast Asian people, North African people and a few other cultural groups).  We are not beige, the color chosen for those who are bi- cultural but we share in the diversity of our humanity and represent what it looks like when cultures come together.  We are love bridges.

Because race will not tell me what I see or who I can see or how I must see others.

Because human beings are not colors, a collection of attributes and physical characteristics.  Because race does not even come close to expressing who we are in the world and in relation to each other.  Because race is not a witness to my human being or yours; it can never testify to seeing us.  I may not be colorblind but I am certain that race is blind.  Race captures what we feel about our flesh and its findings are literally superficial.

Race is not a hypothesis.  It is an uneducated guess about our humanity as its creators had no idea what they were saying or how their words would be used hundreds of years later.  And yet it is informed for the purposes of economic and political advantage.  Persons who use the racial categories to their advantage, use it as a means of oppression, as a leg up and a foot down on those who would attempt to rise above the fray.  Because who is willing to give up their privilege, their head start, to reject the title of whiteness?  Because we are not really taking away whiteness but social benefits, immunities and protections that go ahead of us, clear the way for us.

Because race is about competition and calling persons black slows us down.  Persons who are socially colored black are deemed lazy.  They cannot keep up and yet their ancestors built up this nation.  It doesn’t make sense.  One should cancel out the other and yet, we choose one over the other.  Because it serves us well and serves us best to think of another as less than us.  Because race is about pride, our insecurities and wanting to be so much more than human.  So rather than work hard, we think the worst of others to make ourselves feel better: lazy.

Laziness is a stereotype, a rock in the shoes of those who would attempt to make strides, who would try to cross the color line.  This is why it hurts when they have to “jump higher and run faster” than their counterparts.  Because they don’t have to deal with a word that is meant to trip them up and tie their tongue.  Because it is hard to say anything good about being black, which is why some persons talk white.

This need to be white is a mental transformation, a metamorphosis, a conversion of sorts.  Race has a life of its own, separate and apart from who we are and were meant to be.  Race is another story, a smaller narrative and a diversion.  It is not the way, the truth or the life (John 14.6).

Because the creature- created and run racial identities have no spiritual benefits and no eternal value.   Instead, the sociopolitical and economic construct of race is a kind of currency.  Our belief in race continues the need for this skin trade.  Nearly four hundred years later with the approaching anniversary of the first Africans enslaved and brought to the Virginia shores, we are still in bondage.  Tongue tied to race are most of us and me to the raceless gospel.

Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo is actually a group picture

Associated Press

Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing a racist costume and has apologized.  In his 1984 medical school yearbook, there appears someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another in blackface.  Tonight, persons are calling for his resignation.

While I take issue with his decision to wear either “costume” as the history of pain and suffering that the blackface caricature and the terrorist actions of the Klan have caused African American people goes without question, I also can’t help but wonder, “Who stood beside Northam?  Who stood behind the camera to take the picture?  Who arranged the pictures in the yearbook?  Who proofed the final version and sent it to the printer?  Who published it?  Who signed his yearbook?”

Because racism is  a group effort.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but it  also takes a community to raise a racist.  Racism does not happen without consensus, without support, without the agreement that, in this case, African Americans deserve to be mocked.  Racism, this belief that one cultural group is better than another based on the amount of melanin in their skin, is not something persons just come up with on their own. 

The belief in human races and the supremacy of the so- called white man is not to be lumped in with Santa Claus, unicorns and tooth fairies.  No, this lie has an ugly history.  This blackface caricature and the Klan have been around for a long time.  This is hand me down racism, traditional stereotypes and hatred.  Who taught him this? 

Doesn’t he know that pictures of African American men and women were taken while being tortured and lynched?  That crowds gathered for this spectacle of injustice as they were dismembered and burned alive?  That the images were printed and sold as postcards, that persons shared these pictures like they would a photo with Santa Claus?  That the injustices inflicted upon African American people have been photographed and are now filmed from body cameras and cellphones?  That African American people have been seeing these images for a long time?

Did anyone in his family or in his circle of friends, his teachers or classmates tell him that this was mean- spirited, inappropriate, insensitive or racist?  And if not, why not?  This is the real conspiracy, that is to silence our conscious, to go along with this history of bullying, to put it on, to capture it in a frame, to make it apart of our personal memories.  This picture is apart of what he remembers about his time in medical school.

In 2017, African Americans made up almost 20 percent of the population in Virginia.  Tonight, I wonder how they are left feeling about the leader who is supposed to represent them.  There is no need to look at his heart; the yearbook picture is worth a thousand words and represents hundreds of years of humiliation for African American people.  I wonder why he didn’t see this in 1984 and why we still don’t see it now?

Because racism is not out of the picture.

 

 

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.