You’re not race-less yet?

UnknownStill signing up and showing up for the role of colored people, black, brown, red, yellow, white and otherwise?  Well, here are a few words of wisdom from two of my favorite writers to get you to choose differently and to say something more about who you are as a human being.  Because race is just a word albeit systematized, politicized, capitalized on.

But there are many other words that can be said about us and our neighbor.  We need only seek them out and speak them out loud.  A new tongue is required along with a taste for full freedom and authentic being. It’s a stretch to get our mouths around words like racelessness and aracial; however, it is well worth it.  For if we are to build another world, it will require new words that equip new structures on which to construct our shared humanity.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that James Baldwin is a must in this conversion experience.  This master- teacher, healer and word- therapist says,

“If you’re treated a certain way, you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real, they’re real for you– whether they’re real or not.”

“From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.”

“What you say about anybody else reveals you.”

“It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers. That’s the bottom line.”

“The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”

“What one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, without knowing that this is the result of it, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.”

Zora Neale Hurston is another deliverer from this death of individuality.  She says,

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

“Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less.”

“For various reasons, the average, struggling, non-morbid Negro is the best-kept secret in America. His revelation to the public is the thing needed to do away with that feeling of difference which inspires fear, and which ever expresses itself in dislike.”

“At certain times, I have no race.  I am me.  I belong to no race or time.”

Are you race-less yet?  If not, say these words again… and again until they become your own.

 

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.

Race cannot save you

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It’s not in the Bible, not a part of the creation narrative in Genesis, not stuck in between the serpent’s teeth or on the tip of its tongue.  This is not the devil’s work but ours.   We must take full credit.  It’s not even historical fiction but a modern day lie.

Not B.C. but way A.D.

Race didn’t come with Adam and Eve’s knowledge of good and evil or the Ten Commandments Moses receives in Exodus.  It was not a tree or on one in the Garden of Eden.  Race, its categories and prejudicial policies for human behavior and interaction weren’t etched in stone by the Divine finger.  Its stereotypes were not packed in one of the bags of the Israelites, who were on their way to the Promised Land.  Search them all.  Race is not there.

Race was never a law, Levitical or otherwise.  There is no saying, “We are as guilty as skin.”  It wasn’t joined with the priesthood, used in the selection of God’s chosen people, their prophets or kings.  Their physical appearance was not apart of the criteria.  The social colorings of skin didn’t make the list.  No skin- sins here.

There were no race wars or hierarchies or systems at work.  Race was not in their vocabulary.  It was not how they saw themselves or others, including their enemies.  They saw color but not as we did; they did not attribute such power to flesh and certainly didn’t believe that they could rule persons based on the color of it.

Race wasn’t the inspiration for anything in the Bible.  It wasn’t a muse and is not listed on the extended worship track also known as the Psalms.  They did not worship a colored God, beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white.  Race had nothing to do with the Israelites’ relationship with God.

It wasn’t apart of the prophets’ pronouncements and judgments.  Through “forty and two generations,” race is not passed down.  It begat nothing in the Old Testament or the new one.  Jesus spends no time talking about his physical appearance– because it makes no difference though we create images to our liking.

Don’t believe me?  Take noted biblical scholar Cain Hope Felder’s word for it.  He writes in Race, Racism and the Biblical Narratives:

In antiquity, we do not have any elaborate definitions of or theories about race. … Ancient authors of biblical text did not have color conscious (awareness of certain physiological differences). … In fact, the Bible contains no narratives in which the original intent was to negate the full humanity of black people or view blacks in an unfavorable way. Such negative attitudes about black people and persons of direct African descent are entirely post- biblical.”  He cites Dr. Cornel West, American philosopher, political activist and public theologian who writes, “The very category of ‘race’—denoting primarily skin color—was first employed as a means of classifying human bodies by Francois Bernier, a French physician, in 1684.  The first authoritative racial division of humankind is found in the influential Natural System (1735) of the preeminent naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.”[1]

It’s not in the kingdom/ kin- dom of God.  It didn’t slip past Peter or scale the pearly gates. Race won’t make it in.  Race cannot save you.

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[1]Cain Hope Felder, Race, Racism, and the Biblical Narratives, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 2.

Felder is citing Dr. Cornel West’s book Prophetic Fragments,(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 100.

Ta- Nehisi Coates responds to Mitch McConnell on reparations

“It’s not a good idea.”  Asked where he stood on reparations in response to an upcoming hearing, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, said, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.”  When asked by a reporter about reparations for the descendants of African slaves, he said, “We tried.”  A civil war, civil rights legislation and the election of the nation’s first African American president, Mr. Barack Obama, that should make us about even, right?  First forty acres and to this was added a mule, but then none of that happened.

Restitution for the brutalities suffered and the benefits of their free and forced labor has never been made.  No amount of time will change that.

Author Ta- Nehisi Coates was at that hearing and had this to say:

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.