Former President Jimmy Carter and founder of the New Baptist Covenant has long accepted the call to the ministry of reconciliation and sees the spike in race- related incidents as a call to serve this generation. Seeing race as apart of the attacks on the Obama presidency and the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate having “tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism,” Carter does not mince words but instead issues a challenge and a call for Baptists to come together. To read the full article, click here.
President Barack Obama has called for “soul searching” but I wonder what are we in search of? What are we looking for that might challenge us to do what is right, just and fair in the eyes of the Law? What do we need that would allow us to look into the eyes of another human being and see ourselves? What are we missing when six officers act in concert to deny the pleas of twenty- five year old Freddie Gray for medical attention and ultimately to save his life? What have we lost when we find it easier to set buildings on fire than to set up meetings with community leaders and government officials?
I know that we’re looking for more than one thing, that this will not be a one- stop conversation. I am sure that we will not find it with the change of government administrations or with the implementation of committees, councils and town hall meetings. No, each of us must do the work. I am certain that we are not looking for one person, one answer, one guilty verdict… or six. No, the search will involve us all and a serious look at the ways in which we have collaborated with a community that judges based on the social coloring of skin, that cares not for the human soul, the life force that she and he represents.
I only ask that we not delay the process, that we not make excuses or judgments that might prevent us from looking for as long as it takes, that we remove the red tape and let down our guard. I ask that we not hide what needs to be healed, that we do the hard work and not take the easy way out via denial and apathy, anger and resentment, self – segregation and white flight. I beg us not to give up on the search for the goodness that lies in the depths of us, that we not just scratch the surface and pretend that a discovery has been made. Instead, I pray that we might dig deeper so that families don’t have to lower their sons and daughters six feet deeper than they should be, that we might have a better life above ground that is truer and richer life after the death of Freddie Gray.
God, have mercy on us as we search our souls. Amen.
My day began at 5:15 a.m. though I set my alarm for 6 a.m. My attire had been preselected, my bag packed (which is to be interpreted purse) and I had visited the salon for an evening hair appointment the night before. There was no reason for me to be awake but, I was. I was excited and the feeling was reminiscent of that felt on the first day of a new school year. I’m sure that you are familiar with it, when you can’t wait for everyone to see your new school clothes. I was preparing to go to the White House for the second time this month and I have yet to locate the rationale for my being among those chosen to meet with senior staff of the Obama Administration for the “White House African American Clergy Forum: Pastors and the White House Partnering for the Common Good.” The only thing that I was confident of was my clothing. At least, I would look good.
Unbeknownst to me, the visit would reveal many unexpected lessons, some of which I have no words to explain right now. We were greeted by Paul Monteiro, who leads White House religious outreach and Joshua DuBois, leader of the President’s faith-based initiatives. We heard from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Attorney General Eric Holder, who talked briefly about the Department of Justice’s independent investigation of the murder of Trayvon Martin, Lisa Jackson, the nation’s top environmental official and a host of others representing various federal agencies. After lunch, we were greeted by Heather Foster, the White House African American Outreach Director and Kevin Lewis, the African American Communications Director. Then, we were invited to attend various breakout sessions on health care, education, fatherhood, jobs and economic development, reentry and disconnected youth.
We returned to the South Court Auditorium hoping that the President would be there to speak to us. Instead, Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President, stood up to the podium and gave closing remarks as scheduled. He joked with us that he didn’t know how to close his presentation, having said all that he needed to say. Some persons suggested that within the Christian experience as practiced by African Americans that this is filled with music so we began to sing “We’ve Come This Far By Faith” which led to another song and another. Well, we might as well pray must have been the sentiment because Rev. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia stood behind the podium and asked us to join hands in prayer. Chaplain Barry Black had been seated earlier and so it seemed only fitting that after a song and a word of prayer that a sermon be delivered. Enter Chaplain Barry Black. The Word of the Lord came from his mouth without effort. Afterwards, he took his seat while many of those gathered were now raised from theirs. We came for a White House briefing and ended up having a worship service, transforming the South Court Auditorium into a sanctuary.
“The President of the United States, President Barack Obama.” Yes, President Obama did speak to us and it is a moment that I will never forget. He chided DuBois for having him speak after Chaplain Black. He thanked us for our prayers, asked that they continue and shared about his personal prayer life. He talked about the importance of education and the results of his administration these past three years. Afterwards, he shook hands. Yes, he shook my hand. I joked with attendees that I would never wash my hand again. “I don’t know how I’m going to get home because I can’t use this hand to drive,” I continued. And then he was gone.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this you might be asking? Why did you tell me all of this? Because all of the persons who spoke to us today were well- educated, highly qualified and hold very senior positions within our nation’s government. And almost all of them would be considered socially colored black. Stereotypes lose their voice in their presence and prejudice its foothold. The expectation that they are going to think, behave or sound like all the other socially colored black people is irrational, useless even. The rules of race simply don’t apply. I learned that there are some places where it is possible for one to have to lower their racial expectation and for this, I am grateful.
Standing in my bathroom, looking into the mirror as if before millions of viewers and holding a hair brush in my hand, sometimes I want to say, “Good morning. I am Starlette McNeill. This week in race news…” At least for me, it seems that this is how many of our conversations should begin as we are merely reporting the incidents of the day, telling the stories of the serial social or legal crimes of race. And it’s always happening, always apart of some grand racial conspiracy, always pointing back to a historical arrangement between us and them.
“Be sure to check your movie ticket to ensure that they gave you the right one. They are trying to ensure that Red Tails does not do well in the theaters.” Arizona governor Jan Brewer puts her hand in President Obama’s face on an airplane tarmac, saying that she felt “threatened” while maintaining that the President is “thin-skinned”, implying that he was unable to handle her criticism. Race’s interpretation according to several Facebook users: Susan Smith. Brewer was simply blaming a social defined “black” man for her poor behavior. However, President Obama, when asked about the incident, commented that is was being “blown out of proportion” and “I think it’s always good publicity for a Republican if they’re in an argument with me. But this was really not a big deal.” For him, the one on the tarmac whose face Brewer’s finger was in, it was about politics not race. Still, there are those who would argue that she wouldn’t have done if he were “white.” But, according to race, isn’t he both? First Lady Michelle Obama says to CBS’s Gayle King that she is tired of the angry black woman stereotype after the release of Jodi Kantor’s book The Obamas depicts her involvement with the White House staff as contentious. Mrs. Obama says, “And that’s why I don’t read these books. … It’s a game, in so many ways, that doesn’t fit. Who can write about what I feel? What third person can tell me what I feel?” For Mrs. Obama, it’s a game and she is simply tired of playing it.
“Just after the break, we will be back with a story from Lilburn, Georgia where the students at Camp Creek Elementary School play what they call ‘the slave game.‘ It is the second incident of its kind. Parents in Norcross, Georgia weeks back were upset after word problems using the language of slavery and more disturbingly, beatings were given to students.” If I simply reported for race, it would be one endless news cycle of hate, ignorance, nationalistic pride and unconsciousness. I shudder to think of the commercials that would follow.
And these stories may reflect our reality but it is the reality that we have created. They are truths about our society. But, race does not determine or influence God’s reality or truth and herein lies the difference. Race is not divine and neither is its ability or reach. Unlike the truth of God and the truth that we can experience through His Son, Jesus Christ, the reality and social truths of race are not liberating but binding. Stereotypes and prejudices are binding truths. The social coloring of our skin is a binding truth. Neo-segregation (i.e. gentrification) is a binding truth.
It is a racial contract. “Sign your life over to race here and here.” This is why we say things like “Black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people don’t do that.” “We don’t marry them.” “We can’t live there.” It is contractual language. It is what we have agreed upon, having made a deal with race.
Race scripts our lives: “We don’t say that.” “We don’t talk like that.” “We don’t sound like that.” We can only say what race tells us to say, when and how race tells us to say it.
I ripped up that contract a long time ago. How can they call themselves black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige if they haven’t been told that they are? How can they believe in race if they have not heard about it? And how can they hear about race unless we tell them? We don’t need more reporters of race; we need more interpreters sent from God. Who are you reporting live for?
Many persons celebrated the Labor Day weekend with backyard barbecues, Labor Day shopping, evening concerts and… hair appointments. This coming weekend, I will serve as one of the guest speakers for Sharon Bible Fellowship’s women’s retreat and we will be traveling to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to share in the theme “Fit for the Master’s Use” (II Timothy 2.21). I will be delivering a poem on Friday night and teaching two sessions on Saturday so I did not want to include hair on my list of things to do while away. And though, I had planned to write and even had a title in mind for Monday’s post, let’s just say that an eventful day at a hair braiding salon did not allow for it. I’ll skip the irritating examples of the fact that my time is not as precious to others as it is to me. Just note that all I did was smell barbecue yesterday. But, I digress.
With the world becoming more technologically connected, the time that I have to spend with myself seems to be reduced each day as the demands of social media are everpresent. One is expected to be seemingly omnipresent and always speaking through one if not all of the various outlets– daily. While it is good to be informed, such a barrage of information does not allow one to respond to each and every email, tweet, text and Facebook update. Just the thought of it all is exhausting. We simply cannot act upon all of the information that we receive. Whether sorting, deleting or replying, all are answers that are being asked of us on a daily basis.
And so it is with race. Race is constantly sending us messages, updating its status in the lives of others, posting on the walls of our worlds. Race wants us to know that it is here and it wants a response. While waiting in the airport for my plane to arrive, I was informed of President Obama’s choice of Rockwell’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” a depiction of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school. When I arrived at home, I was asked if I had read the ESPN story that asked, “What if Michael Vick were white?” I went out to dinner with my husband at a restaurant in our neighborhood only to find on the menu, the option to order “Buckwheat’s Fried Chicken.” The latter prompted an immediate delete; this establishment will not receive my business. All of these are messages from race that are asking for a response. So, here it is.
There will be hurdles. But, I’m not in the business of jumping them. I like to kick them over, drag them off the track even because that’s not the race that I was trained for. I am called to live a race-less life and so my response to all of race’s messages is not to ignore them but simply to decline the invitation to become a friend of race, to remove its posts from the wall of my world and to not retweet its messages. I have but one message and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this race that I am called to run and race has nothing to do with it.