Category Archives: Race

Don’t touch my hair

I’ve had to say this in church, at a so- called multicultural, we are the example of inclusion and God’s kingdom come to earth one.  “Don’t touch my hair.”  After compliments, hands uninvited reached forward to finger my tresses.  “It’s so soft,” she said.  Her response revealing much and undoing more of a potential relationship than she could ever imagine.  Her ten digits reached forward and created a boundary.

She would never get that close to me again.  We would never see eye- to- eye.  Because she was inspecting me now, examining my hair as if it was completely strange and foreign and intriguing.  It’s not.

It’s just hair, same as hers though a different texture.  And it is hair seen for four hundred years in America.  So, why the surprise, the intrigue?  It is no mystery.  And why does she still not feel the need to ask, “May I touch your hair?”

Because her tilted head is bewildering to me.   She doesn’t really see me as a human being.  Because in America, there is a history of inspecting African bodies during American slavery on auction blocks.  Because her touch in this way triggers that ancestral, deep in my bone, drilled into my head memory.  “Don’t touch my hair.”

It is a necessary declaration, a reminder of the change in my position, that sadly needs to be stated again and again.  It is a portion of my Emancipation Proclamation.  My body belongs to me.  I am and will remain free.  These attempts to touch my hair are more than finger pricks but little deaths, small entanglements, bondages, links fo chains.

It is habits like this one that have yet to be unlearned by so- called white people who are not really free of their strange desire to oppress, to lay claim to other human bodies.  Some are able to hide it in their speech, but the body memory of oppression and dominance lives on.  It is acted upon when they reach out without thought for repercussion to touch hair that doesn’t belong to them, to violate personal boundary.   It is not merely a bad habit but the strange character of whiteness.

And this would not have come to mind if not for the pictures of Executive Director Sally Hazelgrove of Crusher’s Club touching the hair of two African American young men.   It is made worse because the organization is funded by the National Football League, which has recently come under fire for its partnership with Shawn Carter as persons believe it circumvents the social justice work of Colin Kaepernick.  With school scissors in hand, she is cutting off their hair, their locs.   Hazelgrove shared the pictures online and one was captioned, “And another Crusher let me cut his dreads off! It’s symbolic of change and their desire for a better life!”

The pictures have since been deleted but when asked by The Washington Post about cutting the men’s hair off, she responded, “I did not think about the ramifications.”  And therein lies the problem.   African American hair has long been viewed as problematic, difficult and unattractive– by European Americans.  In fact, it is only a problem because these beauty inspectors say so.  The natural hair that grows out of African American heads has been used to determine academic performance, gainful employment and other social success rates, which is why so many women chemically straighten their hair or wear wigs.  Still, the leader of an organization that serves African American youth, picked up a pair of scissors and touched a nerve.

Hazelgrove shouldn’t have touched his hair because it implies that she defines beauty, that her kind of beauty determines a “better life,” that this “better life” is based on appearance, that his mere appearance is troubling and starts on top of his head, that goodness and beauty go hand in hand.  The scissors in her hand represent a total disconnect from African American culture, its heritage and the history of defiance against socially colored white hands.  That’s what she is touching.  Hair and habits are not synonymous.

That’s why race is all wrong– because it would have you and I to believe that hair, threadlike strands growing from our head and face, arms and their pits, legs and toes, hair that we pluck from our noses– determines who we are.  Seriously?  My hair doesn’t speak for me and if you touch it, you will never really or truly or fully hear from me.  So don’t touch my hair.

The history of our days


On this day in 1955, a fourteen year old African American boy named Emmett Till from Chicago, Illinois was killed in Money, Mississippi.  I know his story by heart; it was the first one I learned on domestic terrorism and mob lynching when I began my personal study of African American history.   He went to visit relatives, a kind of summer vacation and was accused of whistling at a socially colored white woman.  Sexual harassment, rape, whistling at a so- called white woman are all the same for these domestic terrorists and all common themes in the murder of African American men.

Emmett’s death spoke to the historical and hysterical fear of cross- cultural relationships despite the common knowledge of the rape of African and later African American women by their European American oppressors, the “tainting of the pure white race” and the myth of inherent inferiority for those socially colored black.  The two were never to meet, mingle or mix.  Death was not considered a high price but the necessary cost of admission to race and its capitalist superiority complex.  It was deemed necessary to maintain these pseudo- distinctions and color- coded divisions.

Emmett– not his murderers– had crossed the line for whistling at her.

It was a common charge, included with those recorded by the Equal Justice Initiative like “not allowing a (socially colored) white person to beat him up” as was the case of Jim Eastman in Brunswick, Tennessee in 1887, for “refusing to abandon their land to (socially colored) white people” William Stephens and Jefferson Cole are lynched in Delta County, Texas in 1895, “for complaining about the recent lynching of her husband, Haynes Turner, Mary Turner was lynched with her unborn child at Folson Bridge at the Brooklyn- Lowndes County line in Georgia in 1918.”  Thousands of lynchings, perhaps Emmett’s murderers didn’t think that his would matter.  But, they were wrong.  Emmett’s heinous death would change the trajectory of a nation.

Persons said his name and realized that their lives mattered, that if persons could beat and lynch and shoot and tie a child’s body to a cotton gin fan and throw him into the river and not be found guilty of a crime against our shared humanity, then justice was not blind but looking the other way.  It inspired the Civil Rights Movement and a man named Martin Luther King, Jr., who on this same day in 1963 received the Nobel Peace Prize.  He had a dream: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  But the nightmare of race continues and his children aren’t getting any younger.

Race and racialized identities continue to inspire the lynching of African American men, women and children in police- states for suspected crimes like selling cigarettes for which Eric Garner was choked to death, for listening to loud music as was the case for Jordan Davis or simply walking back to his father’s home from a convenience store like Trayvon Martin.  From chants of “I am somebody” to “Black Lives Matter,” we are living the history of our days.  We are stuck in the past, never to see a brighter day or the light at the end of our tunnel vision because we human beings refuse to stick together.

It should have never happened to Emmett Till but when it did, it should have never happened again.  The struggle to share our humanity continues.  What will you do to change the present on this day?

Questioning our multiple supremacies

Katharine Gerbner writes in Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World that before there was the ideology of white supremacy, there existed what she calls “Protestant Supremacy.”  Gerbner writes about Anglicanism in Barbados what was also true in America, “The Anglican Church in Barbados was exclusive, the domain of slave owners and government officials. … The planter elite believed that their status as Protestants was inseparable from their identity as free Englishmen.  Like their counterparts in England, they purchased pews, memorialized themselves within church walls, and used the church as a place for both punishment and politics. … Unlike the parish churches in England, however, the Anglican Church in Barbados was restricted.  It separated masters from their enslaved ‘heathen’ laborers and marked Anglo- Barbarians as both English and free.  The association between Protestantism and freedom was so strong that most slave owners came to dismiss the idea that their slaves were eligible for conversion.”

How this kind of Christian identity functions and furthers the social oppression and cultural dislocation of people around the world can be considered if you want.  It is not a choice that one simply comes to.  There are no formal directions; it is not something that one simply arrives at.  Instead, you either see it or you don’t.

It is a question for the conscious Christian, those who are aware of the ghastly and grim differences between the Jesus of the New Testament and the practice of Christianity in America in its racialized, hyper-politicized and militarized form.   It is the quest for the dissatisfied with what has been and those who are simply not interested in the cultural projections of what will be.  It’s not trendy or fashion- forward.  It won’t be captured in polls or represented by a politician.  Because it is other- worldly.

It is the work of those who are interested in a faith tested to ensure that it is not self- centered or self- serving.  Because Christianity does not really work for us but it works against us and our tendencies.  If it is easy and causes no complications, no consternation, produces no ramifications that go against social norms, if it does not make obvious the competitions of our flesh, then we are doing it wrong– or not at all.  Faith in Christ leads to crucifixion: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24-26).

Clearly, I am having my doubts about the expressions of Christianity on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. and those I view at their multi- sight locations at various times.  Because if Christianity is serving our purpose or that of society, if there is any word in front of it that aims to define it, describe it, validate it– as if Christ’s life, ministry, death and resurrection are insufficient– if Christ is primarily used to doing something for you other than the work of salvation, if there is a narrative that seeks to explain God’s plan for the world other than that of Christ, if is not the means and the end, then this is not faith in Christ.

Instead, we are merely Christianizing our belief system, divinizing our top of the pile, king and queen of the hill position in the world,  making pseudo- sovereign decisions about bodies temporary and created before and outside of any system.  This is not apart of one’s identity in Christ.  Instead, it is human, carnal and ungodly.  Because there is no supremacy but God’s in this world or any other– created or imagined.  And if there is some other, color- coded, black, white or otherwise, well then, I have questions.

Because there cannot exist multiple supremacies.

1619

 

“About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. … He brought not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes, w[hich] the Governo[r] and Cape Merchant bought for victuall[s].”

| John Rolfe

Four hundred years ago this month, the first Africans were brought to what is now America’s shores and we are still feeling the ripple affects of their bodies stolen, bodies chained, bodies renamed.  So, we can’t say their names.

“20 and odd Negroes.”

I write to count them among us.  1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…12…13…14…15…16… 17…18…19…20.  These bodies count.  Add them to the body count.  America likes to pile on and today, persons continue the debate about stock piling weapons as a right.  Mass murderers, Americans are the king of the hill.

I write to acknowledge their presence because we are them.  We are what we have done to them.  In the same boat, we sink or swim, float or fall to the bottom, never to rise to the full expression of our human being.  If we cannot see them and frankly every human being as our sister and brother, then we are the real other.

Because they are what is foundational to America– bodies capitalized on, cultures undone, histories shunned, lands seized upon in the name of religion and then race.  But, it was and is always about power.  The others are just nicknames.  The Africans enslaved and those indigenous to what is now the United States of America know the country’s real name.  They know who America really is, which is why their voices were discounted and drowned out right from the start.

Their mouths were covered and their continued silence is evidence of the worst coverup.  Yes, they shout but have these persons really spoken up?  Because we don’t really want to know the cost of this so- called American identity.  We don’t want to know what it truly means to be an American.  How many names have been changed, cultures sacrificed, languages lost, allegiances sworn to America, forsaking all others.

Assimilation in America is assassination.  Who we were, could be, would be and should have the right to be falls to the bottom if we are to rise to the top.  Citizenship in America is the death of self.  No matter how many of your family members came together, whatever your number, we are no more and no less than those “20 and odd Negroes.”  No country of origin, only a color and human beings don’t find that odd.

What year is it?

Here’s a thought and a prayer

I went to bed thinking about the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  There was talk of a racist manifesto and the murderer writing about the “invasion of Hispanics.”  El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told reporters, “(It has) a nexus to potential hate crime.”  #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism was trending on Twitter.  This morning, #TrumpsTerrorists has replaced it.  Not surprisingly, persons are linking the 250th mass shooting in America to Trump’s racist rhetoric and the racists chants that followed from the crowd at a North Carolina rally.

The investigation is only beginning.  We don’t even know the names of his victims.  In fact, we know more about the gun he used.  And of course, there are “thoughts and prayers” being offered to the victims and their families.  This word combination has become problematic for many, representing inaction and more of the same from political leaders regarding gun laws.  All talk and no action.

Before persons were finished formulating their responses, finishing up their interviews on local and national news outlets regarding the shooting in El Paso, I wake up to news of yet another in Dayton, Ohio.  It is mass shooting number 251 in 216 days.  We are killing more than days we are living.  And these murders are not the only thing that is on the rise.  Time magazine wrote that white supremacist attacks are increasing in March of this year after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand where at least 50 people were murdered.

White supremacy.  George Frederickson wrote in his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, “White supremacy refers to the attitudes, ideologies and policies associated with the rise of blatant forms of white or European dominance over ‘nonwhite’ populations.  In other words, it involves making the invidious distinctions of a socially crucial kind that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on physical characteristics and ancestry. … It suggests systematic and self- conscious efforts to make race or color a qualification for membership in the civil community ” (Frederickson, xi).  Let me stop here and give you a few thoughts.

Ian Haney Lopez writes in White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race in an introduction titled “Notes on Whiteness, “Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant and ultimately social. … Whiteness (is) a complex, falsely homogenizing term” (Haney Lopez, xxi).  He writes later in a chapter titled “White Lines,” “Appearances and origins are not White or non- White in any natural or pre- social way.  Rather, White is a figure of speech, a social convention read from looks.  As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, ‘Who has seen a black or red person, a white, yellow or brown?  These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality'” (Haney Lopez, 12).

David Roediger writes in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, “White labor does not just receive and resist racist ideas but embraces, adopts, and at times, murderously acts upon those ideas.  The problem is not just that the white working class is at critical junctures manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white” (Roediger, 12).

Nell Painter writes in The History of White People, “Were there ‘whites’ in antiquity? … No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of ‘white’ people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning” (Painter, 1).

James Baldwin pointedly says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”   He also said this in The Price of a Ticket in 1985, “The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself.”

Whatever is true and liberating, whatever is authentic and facilitates our wholeness, whatever makes peace and increases our fellowship, whatever keeps the lies of whiteness and race away, let us think on these things.  And then let us pray like Frederick Douglass who said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Keep it moving.  Amen.