Category Archives: Symbols of Race

Acceptance

See the source image“Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

| Romans 15.7, NIV

Spawned by reports of the current American president’s remarks on immigration, which included speaking of Haiti and the entire continent of Africa (i.e. some 54 countries and two de facto territories) in terms unbecoming of a human being– much less a president, the national dialogue has returned to an old argument of race theory.  Race says where we are born determines our social value, that persons are inherently worthy or worthless based on their appearance.  It is a simplistic claim: goodness on location.  Acceptance based on appearance, this is as superficially good as it gets.

Incompatible with the unconditional love of God, “who so loved the world” and inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, still persons claim that the kingdom of God is “white” and is a single country- the United States.   Today, there are those who continue to believe that God sees the world through blue eyes.  They honestly think that God has goldilocks and only spends time with those people who are “just right.”  Clearly, they have their stories mixed up, adding in a bit of fairy tale into sacred writ.  It is obviously self- serving since only those socially colored white have the right to live happily ever after.

So proud is whiteness that it claims that God desires it, needs it, that God’s power is determined by it.  God must be white if God is to be accepted as all- powerful.

Made of earth, it has always struck me as odd that some dirt, some flesh, some people are perceived as inherently better.  “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”  Made by the same God, some persons are thought to be created “a little lower than” others.  Not surprisingly, the purpose aligns itself quite neatly with persons who espouse these views and their capitalist goals.  It also matches their will and supports the idea that they are God’s gift to the world.  Thanks but no thanks, Jesus.  What religion is this exactly?

Because the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be racialized. The kingdom of God is not segregated, color- coded, divided up into people groups.  And God is not a Person of color, the trinket of culture, to be accepted if the divine image matches our own.  God is good if God is with us– and not them.  No, God is Spirit and those who worship must worship spiritually and truthfully (John 4.24).  And the truth is, we are not accepted conditionally but gracefully.  “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

Words Matter: Bill Maher’s misidentification with the N- word

“Names have always been a problem for black people in America… our names bespeak the tangles of American culture—miscegenation, issues of property and ownership, the peculiar violence of our past—in the same way our skins do.”

~C.S. Giscombe, Into and Out of Dislocation, 2000

First a noose is found at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and now comedian Bill Maher has decided to use the N- word during an interview on his show “Real Time.”  And yes, I do mean N- word.  I will not give life to a word that has been used to justify the dehumanization and death of countless Africans and African Americans.  Whether capitalized or not, used with an “er” or an “a,” its creator had no intention of making it a collegial or familial descriptor.  The N-  word was and always will be a word connected to the enslavement and ownership (i.e. “my n—“) of African and African American bodies by other human beings, namely European Americans.  It is not a term of endearment but an expression meant to degrade.

Not only does it not culturally locate persons of African descent but it positions persons beneath the dignity and value of other human beings.  It was never meant to be used in relational exchanges between equals.  How it became a part of Maher’s interview and his description of self, I do not understand.

Bill Maher, who has since issued an apology after HBO condemned his use of the word and decided to remove the section containing the slur from re-airings of the show, was interviewing Ben Sasse, a junior U.S. senator from Nebraska.  Here is the troubling exchange:

Sasse: “We’d loved to have you work in the fields with us.”

Maher: “Senator, I’m a house n—.”

Maher quickly adds, “It’s a joke” while waving off the audience and thanking those who applauded.  The problem is, it’s not.  There is nothing funny about the word or correct about his use of it.  Sasse smiles whether comfortably or uncomfortably, I am unsure.

Nevertheless, his expression of free speech costs the hearers who have a long history of being silenced and shamed by the word.  And while Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who can say it, who shouldn’t and why, would suggest that there are those who can use it, I would argue that it be removed from discourse altogether.  It’s no laughing matter and no matter our attempts to reinvent the word, we are not its creators.

The N- word cannot be reborn.  We cannot change its origin and therefore, its intent remains.  Langston Hughes said the word to African Americans was “like a red rag to a bull.”  Consequently, the use of it should not be confused with the waving of a white flag.  We must maintain our disgust for it and with each generation declare it irredeemable—  no matter the embrace from certain genres of music, certain segments of the population or the now comfortable use of it by this progressive comedian.

We have not nor will we ever get that far away from the meaning of the word and for that reason, the use of the word matters.  In 1619, John Rolfe wrote in his diary of the enslaved Africans that were forced to live in North America: “Twenty n—.”  There is no mention of their real names, their place of origin or their gender.  All is sacrificed to the word.

Whether in the house or the field, none of these men and women chose to be there and none of them wanted the name.  Why Bill Maher or anyone else would choose it for themselves is beyond my comprehension.  More than a history lesson is needed here; instead, more conversations on what it means to be human, which should not be confused with being a n—.

 

Taking down statues and taking back history: Symbols that segregate

Image result for jefferson davis statue removed

Recently, there has been a push to remove symbols of America’s racial past, specifically those related to American slavery.  In 2015, the Confederate flag came under scrutiny in North Carolina after the murder of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church by 21 year old Dylann Roof.  Roof wanted to start a race war and the flag seemed to hail a time when African American bodies were legally the enemy, the inhumane, the property of another.  Their death, his aim and that flag reminded many Americans that things had not changed, that we were not as progressive as our politics would have us to believe.

The fight over the flag is proof that some Americans were still on the Confederate side of history, that secession had occurred some place deeper and within the hearts of Americans.  Taking it down was an effort to take back again the truth that Africans and later African Americans were not created as property but as people.  Still, the tug-o-war continues.

And while there are those who would downplay the attack on Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church as an anomaly or the work of some secret hate group that somehow evaded our surveillance for a moment, that would suggest that Roof somehow broke loose from an otherwise harmless group with a morally reprehensible message, that he just got riled up and took it too far, then we are only lying to ourselves.  Furthermore, our ability to take this position is a privileged one as we cannot walk in his victims’ shoes.  They are buried under six feet of earth and less we trample over their graves by dismissing or diminishing the hatred that was expressed in their murders, we might take a few minutes to examine the signposts that led Roof to them.

New Orleans is the latest to remove a symbol of the Confederacy, that is the eleven slave- holding secessionist states of the U.S.  Its members did not want to let go of African American bodies and the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, reminds us of that.  This history is repeated by the presence of his image, told from his perspective.  Towering above us as a kind of giant, he is positioned to look down on us.

It is comparable to empowering the confessions of an oppressor.  For those who have been oppressed, they are not interested in his side of the story for it makes them no less enslaved and no more free.  Besides, they know what he thinks and the last thing they need is a reminder of his power and presence in their lives.

Putting the past behind us is not the goal but putting persons in their rightful place is.  Statues are reserved for champions, heroes, heroines, leaders, martyrs and idols.  Which one do you suspect Davis is?  Because we don’t memorialize villains, right?  Or are we expected to believe that he was a good, slave- holding person?

Still, there are those who want to leave the granite figure and the past as it is.  They conclude that we cannot change history and removing this symbol does nothing.  But, is this true?

Symbols serve as historical markers, representatives of meanings past.  Unlike a picture, these statues are worth more than words but are tied to experiences and ideologies that have cost the dignity, emotional and mental health and very lives of persons not socially colored white.  And when we erect monuments that reference actions we now understand to be offensive at least and inhumane at worst, we reinjure and suggest that the symbol and not our words carry more weight.

And what is hidden or being held in place by these cultural tokens and signposts?  Why do we choose these graven and woven images instead of relationships?  What of these symbols have a hold on us and get in the way of us practicing community?

Why would we pledge allegiance to a Confederate flag over and against our fellow brother or sister?  Why would we allow a statue to speak for us, material that we have molded and sculpted to get in between us?  How can we call ourselves the United States when we have symbols that segregate?

 

Trayvon Martin: Blackness and Halloween Costumes

Trayvon Martin.  Most Americans know his name and the story of his death.  But, now his name is strangely associated with Halloween.  Apparently, some persons think that it is acceptable to dress like a dead child and in blackface, no less.  I cannot even begin to describe the callousness of those who think it good fun to mock the tragic death of another and to suggest that one can represent a socially colored black person by painting their face black.

Rants on social media simply don’t cut it and a law can’t fix this.  Another conference will not make sense of it.  This is a matter for the heart and it is at the core of our humanity.  We must reconcile these truths, these choices to deeply offend.

And I don’t want to hear, “It wasn’t me.”  Or, “This was their poor decision.  We can’t blame everyone.”  No, I do blame all of  us.  What have we done or left unsaid if this is a choice?  What are we really afraid of?  And why does the taking of this child’s life not invoke fear in all of us?

And I don’t want to hear that Halloween has passed, that it’s old news now, that the matter is finished because the Facebook account has been closed and he has changed his profile picture.  This does not mean that the work is finished– because we don’t see it any more.  No.

And don’t let the fact that Trayvon Martin died three years ago imply that what happened to him is in the past.  Clearly, it is not; his life and his death now made present in the form of a costume.

Raven McGill offers words for us to reflect on at a National Poetry Slam.

 

 

After Emmanuel AME Church Murders: No Confederate Flags

477933854-hundreds-of-people-protest-against-the-confederate-flag.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge-1Yesterday, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley did not hide behind the Confederate flag but said it has “no place” on statehouse grounds.  Charleston, South Carolina is being connected to Birmingham, Alabama of 1963.  The nine lives lost while gathering for prayer and Bible study are connected to the deaths of four little girls who came to attend Sunday school at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  And while persons are discussing why 21 year old confessed shooter Dylann Roof came and political verbal shoving matches continue, another connection is being made to the Confederate flag and its tie to American slavery.

Some say that its meaning is complicated while others argue that it is clear cut.  The Confederate States of America, as they would come to be known, seceded from the Union shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s was elected president.  As we all know, he would go on to abolish the enslavement and forced employment of African Americans.  We’ve had hundreds of years dissect and discuss this subject.  Whether it is the original flag or not, the original meaning remains intact.  If it offends some, it offends all.  Consequently, I agree with those who call for its removal, which now includes Governor Nikki Haley. Take down the flag.