Thursday, July 18, 2019

This is a Race War


I was taught not to be ashamed of being a Christian.

I was taught to wave the Christian flag with pride and to lead others to Jesus with passion.

Not anymore.

It’s hard admitting I’m a minister. In the minds of many, I’m the worst type – a Baptist. Although I claim affiliation as an American Baptist, people don’t understand the difference between the people I hang with versus those waving the flag of white supremacy.

That’s the point that makes it hard to admit I’m a Christian. It’s Donald Trump and the Christian who embrace his version of American religion. They sing “God Bless America” with a fervor that propagandizes superiority over everyone else. God made us and grants us massive provision – if you’re white – to authenticate reign over the rest of the world – they suggest. “God Bless America”, and to Hell with everyone else

This is the type of theological hypothesis oozing from the venom of Trump supporters who showed up in Greenville, NC last night They showed up with the oomph of a tent revival to endorse the aspiration to send all critics of White Supremacist Christian perspective “back to where they came from.”

Back where?

Back to wherever people who look and think like you live.

In other words, get your black, brown, female ass out of OUR country.

This is a mugging of theologies affirming “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. red, and yellow, black, and white, they are precious in Her sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

The call to “send her back” repudiates the humanity of anyone who isn’t white.

The relevant questions for folks like me are WTF and what should we say?

It’s the absence of conversations from pastors, prophets and church folks that disturbs me the most. What y’all got to say bout all of this? What names do you give to confront these demons? Yes, demons. Yes, evil incarnate for the purpose of undoing the work of Jesus. Yes, “get behind me Satan.” Yes, all of that and more.

What do you say? Let me help you with that. You begin by calling it what it is. Stop pretending it is something else. Stop the maddening game of speaking language aimed at identifying with these evil people. Call it out. Name it. Scream it. Don’t play games with this evil.

What is it?

This is racism. We have a racist president who uses racist jargon to lure us into a race war. Your president, not mine, is intentionally using racism to pit the Americans who want to make “America Great”, I mean White, “Again” against the people who have fought for centuries to be seen, heard and understood.

In addition to Trump agitating a race war, this is a theological battle. This is a clash to define what it means to be human. Trump is re-establishing a hierarchy of power with white men on top and people of color skirmishing to climb from the bottom

Trump is upholding a theology that assumes white men are created, by God, with more power than white women, black men, black women and all immigrants (and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) from shithole countries. This is manifest destiny on reboot. This time, the expansion of America is not only justifiable, being American is defined as white people called to deport, criticize, attack, lock-up, rape and kill everyone else.

Trumps agenda is the fulfillment of the eugenics movement, a set of beliefs and practices aimed at improving the genetic quality by eliminating other races. This is the theology of white supremacy that electrified Hitler’s Third Reich.

Trump demands getting “woke”.

It’s hard being a Christian when people remain on the sideline with perched lips.

Being “woke” requires a will to fight.

Fight










Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Curse of the Loud Negro



   This is the first of a series of essays aimed at pressing theological questions advancing liberation. These essays reflect the theology of Carl W. Kenney II, curator of this blog and founder of Liberation Station, home of the Underground Church, a new faith community plant in Durham, NC. For more information on Liberation Station email us at: liberationstationnc@gmail.com         




             It started on yesterday during a conversation at Bean Traders, a locally owned coffeehouse in Durham, NC.

            “Racism will never end because it’s a generational curse,” a new friend offered in response to a question from an open-minded white dude who wanted to know “if we can all just get along. I interjected a few thoughts from Derrick Bell’s book Faces from the Bottom of the Well: The Permeance of Racism to refute notions that we will someday soon experience a post-racism society.

            Like Bell, I’m not down with talk from progressives involving the pursuit of enlightenment that will lead to justice for all people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s view regarding advancement toward inclusion via a strategy of black kids and white kids walking together no longer satisfies my urge for an enduring fix.

            That was strike one. Strike two happened later that night during talks involving the formation of a ministry designed for black men.

            “We need to talk to men about the curse. We can’t make progress because we are trapped by a curse,” a potential leader of the ministry offered.

            Check please.

            As grueling as it has been for me to listen to black people talk about being cursed, there are thoughts implicit in these discussions that expose thoughts and actions pertaining to black identity. These nuances affect how black people speak about communal sin and the “curse” as a manifestation of God’s judgement and displeasure of black people. The construction of these thoughts reflects both internal and external theological presuppositions that complicate efforts aimed at achieving authentic wholeness.

            Conceptions of contemporary ideas of the “curse” are contrived from poor interpretations of African religion. The “curse” fits within the cosmology of Vodu, Vodum, Voodoo and other religions of the African diaspora, but notions that relate the “curse” as judgement against an entire race reflect the theology of the antebellum South. In addition, more contemporary views related to the “curse” reflect the theology of White Evangelical Christian formation.

            Philosophies that advance the generational curse of black people are used to promote the goals of White Evangelical theological views aimed at demoralizing efforts to liberate black people from self-hate and subjugation. These theories arouse suspicion of people offering alternative theological claims. The “curse” is the enemy of freedom.

            The Curse of the Loud Negro is the label given the men and women advocating for liberation, justice and peace, versus a gospel that preaches salvation without an accounting for the impact of evil systems.

            The curse follows Assata Shakur’s speech.  It’s the consequence Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, Harry and Harriette Moore, Martin and Malcolm endured for speaking. The “curse” is the perceived punishment for speaking. Speaking resulted in Malcolm X’s father’s death. The generational curse was his own death. Dr. King’s death is followed by his mother’s death. What happens when the perception involves their activism being punished as part of an ongoing generational curse?

The Epistemology of the Generational Curse

Vodum in the American Christian Context

Black people talk a lot about curses. Some of it relates to the influence of Vodum, a traditional African religion which influenced the development of the religion of the slaves. Al Raboteau, in Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South, argues the slaves merged Vodum with Christianity to create a unique expression of their faith. The religion of the slaves reflects the faith of activism and freedom. Vodum uncovers the faith of retribution. Put another way, the Lord gonna check the white man for all he done to us.

The notion of giving and receiving curses is deeply rooted in the faith and culture of the Africa diaspora in Haitian Vodou, Dominican Vudu, Cuban Vodu, Brazilian Vodum, Puerto Rican Vudu and Louisiana Voodoo. Understanding the faith and practice of black people necessitates an examination of African religions and their influence in advancing black religious thought in the Americas. It uncovers the faith of a people who believed in vengeance for the evils of slavery.

Understanding Vodum cosmology is an important step in helping black people understand the distinction between the theology and practice of white versus black Christianity. It is also important to stress how giving and receiving curses isn’t restricted to African religion. Theological suppositions centering around curses used to punish disobedience is taught as a theme among most faith traditions.

Black people should own teachings that affirms Vodum spirits governing the earth in a hierarchy with major deities governing nature and humans to minor spirits that manage trees and rocks. Vodum is a celebration of our relationship with nature, our ancestors and unity. The curse, in Vodum, is used as a response to someone who has wronged you. It’s used to obtain justice. These curses are passed down through the family for generations, but we should be careful in relating messages that support notions of generational curses based exclusively on race.

The usage of terminology defining systemic evil as a generational curse minimizes institutionalized sin. We should be careful with language used to justify actions and suffering prolonged for multiple generations. The curse explains generational poverty, incarceration, health disparities, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. It justifies these maladies as a curse thrust upon black people due to generational sins.

The curse, as understood in Vodum, isn’t a generational curse aimed at punishing a race. We should avoid theology that asserts the curse of a race. It’s a practice aimed at attacking a slaveowner or anyone who causes damage.

The Curse of Ham

The story of Noah’s vilification of his son Ham was used by Southern slave advocates to justify slavery as the punishment for all black people. Ham and his descendants are blamed for a variety of crimes and evil conduct. Ham is framed as a sexual offender, heretic, supporter of demons and blasphemer.

Frederick Dalcho wrote Practical Considerations Founded on the Scriptures Relative to the Slave Population of South-Carolina in 1823. Dalcho argues the Bible proves black people forfeited immortality due to Ham’s sin. "And, perhaps, we shall find," he writes, "that the negroes, the descendants of Ham, lost their freedom through the abominable wickedness of their progenitor…Canaan’s whole race were under the malediction. These people were peculiarly wicked, and obnoxious to the wrath of God."

Robert L. Dabney, a Presbyterian minister, added commentary to the curse on all black people in A Defence of Virginia published in 1867. He called black people ‘wicked, ‘depraved” and “degraded in morals” and argues slavery as God’s "punishment of, and remedy for . . . the peculiar moral degradation of a part of the race.” He argues the disgraceful actions of Ham is a serious transgression that dictated the terms of his, (and his son Canaan) being cursed. Genesis Chapter 9 is interpreted as a prediction of social fatality and retribution for all descendants of Ham and Canaan with a form of punishment that reflects the impact of the sin.

This reading of Genesis 9 honors the life and witness of Noah (white people) while attacking Ham (black slaves). It assumed Ham, as the ancestor of Africans and slaves, lacked honor worthy of defeating the consequences of slavery. Slavery is understood as a generational curse inherited from Ham.

Self-imposed Curses

It’s the next step after the “name it, claim it craze”. After enduring assumptions that black people are cursed because they are black, we now have a theology that asserts the curse is their fault.

You asked for it by speaking it into existence. Your words evoke the power of life and death. This is the new language of the curse.

All of us can gain from critical lessons involving the miracle of old-fashioned positive thinking. Most of us have gained insight after avoiding all of that stinking thinking. Beyond the forming of theologies that blame victims for their pain, what is the merit in conjuring a theology that promotes the damage of self-imposed curses? Even more, what are the consequences related to assuming the presence of a curse based on what a person says? What happens to the life and dreams of those who speak with prophetic urgency the will to overcome institutionalized obstructions?

What happens to loud Negroes who spew negative words to advocate for change? Are they cursed for speaking loudly? If so, can we assume their death, both physically and emotionally, to be a curse rooted in their screaming? If so, thoughts related to assumptions involving being cursed force the proliferation of silence. The curse of the loud Negro fosters a culture of silence.

These notions involving being cursed - as a generational matter, as factors driven by race or a consequence of what a person says – bring to the forefront perceptions of black identity. When theology is used to rationalize human pain, left out is critical space to examine what it means to be made in God’s imagine outside the norms of white normativity. Black people aren’t suffering because of historical communal sin factored by race. Black people aren’t suffering due to a failure to abide by the rules of respectability. Black people are suffering due to institutions created to advance the goals of white supremacy.

We need to say all of that.

The curse isn’t being black. The curse is a derivative of the counter-culture black people create to advance beyond the systems formed to keep them trapped in spaces reserved for black people. Crime is a response to subjugation. Laws are created to maintain control. Ham’s proclivity for sinful behavior, an assertion not found in the text, isn’t the result of his black DNA.

Black people aren’t cursed due to how they dress. Culture is not a reflection of immorality. It’s an expression of communal identity.  Black people aren’t cursed due to what they eat, how they speak or by their music. Black people aren’t cursed because of Hip-Hop music.

Self-imposed curses are presented as what we bring upon ourselves by the words we speak. In this sense, the curse is what black people receive for speaking their truth. One blogger wrote, “we are actually cursing ourselves. When we say “I am no good” or I am useless” or I will never be able to overcome this sin or problem” or” let this misfortune happen to me” we are pronouncing a curse on ourselves..

Only if it were that simple

It may be true that circulating negative messages can produce unhealthy outcomes. When faced with the realty of institutionalized evils, claiming those outcomes as a self-imposed curse shifts the culpability on what people say versus the institutions and practices used to damage the souls of black people.

The Curse of the Loud Negro

Language matters. How we talk about sin and punishment reflects fundamental theological views. It matters when theological messages assert pain as the burden of race or the corollary of an historical family sin. Applying principals of personal salvation (your own “come to Jesus” moment) in the face of theology that continues to hold you hostage for sin beyond your realm of control, deflates and confuses the message of the Gospel. If suffering is a construction of a “root” placed on a long dead family member, or the function of the Biblical curse of all black people, there is the absence of places to apply the message of grace. Even more significant is the forfeiture of a message calling for prophetic utterances aimed at addressing institutionalized evils.

If the naming and embrace of truth as evident in the daily lives of hurting people triggers a traumatic – self-imposed curse – then the witness of the Church is diminished by a theology promising a curse for conjuring negativity. This type of theology leads to a feel-good faith reflective of televangelist who spread the good news with no comfort for those lingering in the madness of their bad news.

The curse of the loud Negro is the silencing of messages that liberates people to move beyond the assumptions of White Evangelical theological views.






Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Recommendation to move Confederate mounument to a black cemetray sounds like satire news.



Can we have a talk involving the most ridiculous recommendation ever?

Given our current national and state political climate, there are numerous bad proposals that come to mind. None of them are as offensive and ill-judged as the one made to place part of the torn down Confederate monument inside the old courthouse and the other part in a black cemetery.

I was convinced it was satire journalism, "MSNBC to air Obama's 2004 Convention Speech during Trump's address to nation", Andy Borowitz’s recent column in the New Yorker. You know it’s not true, but it’s funny and insulting enough to make some think it’s true.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughn’s reporting on the proposals of the committee appointed to determine the fate of the Confederate monument torn down by protestors in 2017, felt like a joke. A terrible joke.  A joke intended to offend black residents. Why would they make such insensitive recommendations?

I wish I could pray and make the truth go away. Can someone snap their fingers and take us back to the day before the committee stood before members of the Board of County Commissioners and City Council. Please, make it go away.

How did this happen?

The recommendation for part of the monument to be placed inside the old courthouse included turning the base into public art. I’m not sure how an artist can legitimately convert a symbol of hate into art. I remember an NPR segment with David Greene, a Scottish business student, that suggested "Much like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder", but anything connected to the Confederacy is just ugly. That’s my unyielding position on that.

It’s safe to conclude the committee has wasted taxpayers time in waiting for a reasonable solution. We hoped those appointed would come back with answers that would appease the hotheads on both sides of Civil War leanings. The debate on Confederate monuments has left numerous people emotionally dead after banter regarding the merits of Southern pride.

These proposals aren’t a compromise. They add venom to the bite. Did the committee think about the rage related to placing the statue of a Confederate soldier in a black cemetery? How is that better than placing the symbol of white supremacy in front of the old courthouse? Both are bad, but how do members of the committee justify placing the statute in a place that honors the dead?

It feels like white supremacy declaring the power to place you there. I’ll pass.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel was quick to wash his hands of all responsibility. He told Baumgartner it’s now up to the county commissioners to decide what to do with the committee’s recommendations. It’s smart to walk away before this blows up in his face. Schewel was down with forming the committee, but now he’s only willing to offer free advice.

My advice is for a more proactive position. What’s wrong with declaring this won’t work in Durham. It was politically expedient to put your foot in the mud, but you pull it out when it gets too dirty. Leaving the commissioners on deck to deal with these laughable recommendations is not the leadership we deserve.

I wish it was satire, but this is the type of news that will have people across the nation laughing at Durham like we’re severely stuck on uplifting ridiculous recommendations.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Can we talk about gentrification without lifting reparations as a solution?



I’ve been watching and listening as local politicians, my hometown newspaper and concerned citizens discuss gentrification. Something is missing. The truth is hard to face.
Communities from coast to coast are talking about gentrification. It’s impact in widening the economic gap makes it virtually impossible for many people to obtain housing. There’s a lot of chatter about equaling the playing field. The exchange involving making things better is just talk devoid of conversations related to how gentrification happened and what it takes to fix this horrific mess.
You can’t talk about gentrification without dialogue involving reparations.
People avoid lifting reparations as a credible solution. When asked about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ A Case for Reparation (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/), Bernie Sanders replied it’s  too hard to pass the approval of lawmakers (https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=bernie+sanders+reparations+for+slavery&view=detail&mid=A34F00E1FC90C5323C3FA34F00E1FC90C5323C3F&FORM=VIRE
 Sanders’s response reflects the general mood of many progressive thinkers. Gentrification is a problem that requires attention, but legislation aimed at addressing the conditions that create gentrification are too hard to consider.
Anything less than solutions reflective of public policies that shape and maintain “ghettos” dismiss the role race plays in fostering housing disparities. They fail to ponder how systemic racism set the stage for public policies that managed the movement of black people. Gentrification, more than being about economic disparity, is about the hostile takeover of areas once designed to house black people.
Gentrification demands real talk regarding how spaces created for black housing is deemed less valuable than where whites live. The terminology of ghetto suggests an intentional decision to cage black people into limited space. Gentrification is about altering the value of black space due to the ejection of black residents.
Gentrification is about the history of redlining, urban renewal and the documented discrimination in granting black soldiers VA loans for housing. It’s about how black people are denied the accumulation of family wealth by virtue of what has, and continues to be, deprived by the application of policies rooted in systemic racism.
Th argument involving reparations is transcendent of talk about paying black folks for their ancestor’s enslavement. Reparations is also about ondoing the wealth gap created by public policies intended to limit the progress of black people while stimulating wealth for white homeowners. Naming the history sways our understanding involving what is required to repair this vicious cycle of oppression.
Reparations is the word many progressives avoid. It’s too hard. It shifts the narrative of a class war. It implants the damage of systemic racism in the middle of a platform that seeks universal health care, free and affordable public education, increasing the minimum wage, raising taxes on the 1% and expanding social security. It forces deep consideration on how gentrification is made possible due to policies that limit the accumulation of black wealth.
Anything short of this discussion places band-aids on a complex issue. We fail in promoting polices executed to create alternative housing for those who need it the most. Gentrification is about an expanding homeless population. Gentrification is about mounting housing cost. All of that is true, but all that fits within the context of a long history of policies that intentionally kept black people poorer than whites.
The solution is reparations, but few people want to talk about that.



































































































































































































































I’ve been watching and listening as local politicians, my hometown newspaper and concerned citizens discuss gentrification. Something is missing. The truth is hard to face.

Communities from coast to coast are talking about gentrification. It’s impact in widening the economic gap makes it virtually impossible for many people to obtain housing. There’s a lot of chatter about equaling the playing field. The exchange involving making things better is just talk devoid of conversations related to how gentrification happened and what it takes to fix this horrific mess.

You can’t talk about gentrification without dialogue involving reparations.

People avoid lifting reparations as a credible solution. When asked about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ A Case for Reparation (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/), Bernie Sanders replied it’s  too hard to pass the approval of lawmakers (https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=bernie+sanders+reparations+for+slavery&view=detail&mid=A34F00E1FC90C5323C3FA34F00E1FC90C5323C3F&FORM=VIRE

 Sanders’s response reflects the general mood of many progressive thinkers. Gentrification is a problem that requires attention, but legislation aimed at addressing the conditions that create gentrification are too hard to consider.

Anything less than solutions reflective of public policies that shape and maintain “ghettos” dismiss the role race plays in fostering housing disparities. They fail to ponder how systemic racism set the stage for public policies that managed the movement of black people. Gentrification, more than being about economic disparity, is about the hostile takeover of areas once designed to house black people.

Gentrification demands real talk regarding how spaces created for black housing is deemed less valuable than where whites live. The terminology of ghetto suggests an intentional decision to cage black people into limited space. Gentrification is about altering the value of black space due to the ejection of black residents.

Gentrification is about the history of redlining, urban renewal and the documented discrimination in granting black soldiers VA loans for housing. It’s about how black people are denied the accumulation of family wealth by virtue of what has, and continues to be, deprived by the application of policies rooted in systemic racism.

Th argument involving reparations is transcendent of talk about paying black folks for their ancestor’s enslavement. Reparations is also about ondoing the wealth gap created by public policies intended to limit the progress of black people while stimulating wealth for white homeowners. Naming the history sways our understanding involving what is required to repair this vicious cycle of oppression.

Reparations is the word many progressives avoid. It’s too hard. It shifts the narrative of a class war. It implants the damage of systemic racism in the middle of a platform that seeks universal health care, free and affordable public education, increasing the minimum wage, raising taxes on the 1% and expanding social security. It forces deep consideration on how gentrification is made possible due to policies that limit the accumulation of black wealth.

Anything short of this discussion places band-aids on a complex issue. We fail in promoting polices executed to create alternative housing for those who need it the most. Gentrification is about an expanding homeless population. Gentrification is about mounting housing cost. All of that is true, but all that fits within the context of a long history of policies that intentionally kept black people poorer than whites.

The solution is reparations, but few people want to talk about that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Soldiers Reunion in Newton, NC is a celebration of the confederacy


Some call it Southern pride. Others call it racism. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, making it difficult to understand the difference.

I began my day in search of the truth. I should have known it would be a bad day.

It started with a cup of coffee at H&W Drug Company, a locally owned business with an old school lunch counter. I paid one dollar for the cup and left the same for the tip. The people lined up next to me updated each other on life in Newton, NC. It was part yes ma’am and a bunch of Southern hospitality that made Newton the perfect place for the people at the counter to live.

My cell phone buzzed, alerting me of a text message.

“Aretha just died.”

We knew it was coming, but it still hurt. I looked at the people at the counter to share the news.

“Aretha just died,” they looked at me in dismay. I repeated. No change.

“Queen of Soul,” I said. They looked at me in a way that said “what?”

They don’t Know Aretha Franklin.

Maybe they don’t listen to black music, I thought as I prepared to leave. I was reminded of my first day in Newton. I ordered breakfast at Callahan’s, a diner on the other side of the town square. I was surrounded by pictures of John Wayne, the godfather of American Western movies.

Wayne’s quote, in the May 1971 issue of Playboy, was stuck in my head in a way that felt like a scene from the movie “Get Out”. 

“With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks,” Wayne said. “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

The pictures felt like a public service announcement - black folks, stay in your proper place, or we’ll meet you on the other side of the O.K Corral when the sun goes down.

It was shortly before 11:00 a.m., and the crowd was gathering for the Solider Reunion parade. That’s what the people in Catawba County, NC call this brand of intimidation. The book “Looking Back, Marching Forward: One Hundred Years of Solider Reunion, published by the Catawba County Historical Association, dates the event to 1889. That’s when Julian S Carr published a resolution in the News and Observer to form the Confederate Veterans’ Association of North Carolina.

In addition to forming the state organization, groups were asked to send delegates to the National United Confederate Veterans convention to be held in 1890. By 1903, the planning of reunions came under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Newton’s version of Southern pride is deeply entrenched in the culture of the Soldiers Reunion. Children walked around the square holding their parent’s hands with Confederate flag stickers on their garments. Trucks with Confederate flags in the back lined up for the parade.

The time before the parade evoked the type of symbols that bruise the souls of black people. I walked through the crowd suspicious that two men wanted to have a conversation regarding why I was there, and it being better for me to go back to where I came from.

The tension was deeper than the pretension that normalized the moment.

“Black Confederate Soliders Salute Thomas Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest,” are the words on a banner at a booth promoting black love for the Confederacy. “It has been estimated that over 65,000 Southern blacks were in the Confederate army ranks. Over 13,000 of these ‘saw the elephant’ also known as engaging the enemy in combat.”

I couldn’t help but think “did slaves have a choice?” I few men, wearing leather jackets with Confederate flags emblems on the back, seemed to dare me to refute the message on the banner. I kept walking knowing the fake news wins, and black lives don’t matter when the crowd is swayed in support of this version of Southern pride.

I stood in the shadow of the 26-foot Confederate monument erected to remind people the war continues.  Everything about the statue felt like a middle finger to the demands of the Union army. In the South, the Confederacy didn’t end with the Civil War. Statues were dedicated commemorating the ongoing quest for white supremacy.

The statute in Newton, NC was dedicated during the 1907 Solider Reunion festivities. The widow of Stonewall Jackson declined an invitation to attend the event, citing poor health. Jack and Warren Christian, the great-great grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, wrote a letter, published in Slate Magazine on August 17, 2017, requesting the removal of Confederate monuments because they consider them racist.

“We have learned about his (Stonewall Jackson) reluctance to fight and his teaching of Sunday School to enslaved peoples in Lexington, Virginia, a potentially criminal activity at the time,” the great-great grandsons wrote. “But we cannot ignore his decision to own slaves, his decision to go to war for the Confederacy, and, ultimately, the fact that he was a white man fighting on the side of white supremacy.”

That’s not how Southerners felt when they dedicated the monument in Newton. Between 15,000 to 20,000 people attended the unveiling of the monument. No one showed up to protest the monument based on how it made black citizens feel. There was a group who protested due to the removal of a tree. The tree mattered more than how black people felt.

Julian S. Carr played an instrumental role in bestowing white supremacy and the rise of the Klu Klux Klan, in North Carolina. He called the murder of 60 blacks during the Wilmington Massacre of 1898 a “grand and glorious event.” Carr celebrated violence and the lynchings of blacks. His popularity in North Carolina was enough to land him a nomination to become vice President of the United States at the 1900 Democratic National Convention.

The Confederate soldiers “saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South,” Carr said during the dedication of Silent Sam, the Civil War Monument on the campus of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, in 1913. “The purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States.”

Carr ended his speech with a story about how "the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States," after which he ended his speech with a personal story about how he "horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds" after the war in the presence of 100 Union soldiers.  

When protestors toppled Silent Sam on August 20, it was perceived, by some, as an attack on Southern pride and heritage. Like the 26-foot high monument in Newton, NC, Silent Sam is a symbol of intimidation. It is a reminder that the attack on black people didn’t end with the Civil War. The Confederacy never died. The Soldiers Reunion reclaims the goals of the men and women who fought to assert the claims of white supremacy.

The signs of Southern heritage and white supremacy merged to form a new collective identity. Absent was the suppression of images that are often assumed to promote racism. They were in full display. It felt like racism has come out from hiding. It felt like hate unencumbered by how it makes black people feel. They didn’t care that I was watching. They seemed to gloat in their ability to wave Confederate flags. It felt like an entire community was spitting in my face.

The parade started at 4:30 p.m.

Confederate soldiers packed the streets. Six men pointed their rifles upward and fired shots in the air. Women dressed like Southern Bells walk ahead of a truck loaded with Confederate flags. The long line of jeeps, trucks and cars hoisting the “Blood Stained Banner”, the national flag of the Confederacy, was more than any black person can take.

The last of the cluster of flags passed where I was standing. I took note of the line of people on both sides of the street. Men, women and children flapped Confederate flags to conjure the spirit of the moment – white power, white supremacy and white solidarity. My disappointment in the celebration paled in comparison in what was missing.

Where is Black Lives Matter? Where are the chants of “no justice, no peace?” Where is the crowd of progressive white people to fight the assumption of hate? Where are local black citizens to protest the mob displaying the symbol of white rage?

“Excuse me sir,” I middle-aged white woman said as she approached. “May I ask you a question. How did that make you feel?”

I hesitated.

‘I don’t know,” I answered. “I have many thoughts.”

“I’m from Newton. I’ve been coming to this event since I was a kid. It has never been this bad. It was too much. It’s too much for me. I just wonder how it made you feel.”

I paused to acknowledge the brewing of tears.

“I’m finding it hard not to cry. I. I…”

“I know,” she touched my shoulder. “I know. Me too.”

There was something about the look on her face. It was too much for her to take. We both fought back the tears. My attempt didn’t last long. It was the thoughts about my ancestors. A part of their fear was captured in that moment. The flags. The cheering crowd and 26-foot statute to celebrate the Confederacy – it was too much to hold without the flooding of tears.

I nodded my head to denote my appreciation. She did the same.

I watched as the parade continued. One by one, face by face, thought by thought, it was too much to limit to a few words. The history was not enough to explain that moment. The pictures of John Wayne on the wall at Callahan’s told part of the story. None of it is enough to explain the rest.

They didn’t know Aretha Franklin. I took a few deep breaths before leaving.

James Baldwin said it long ago. “Nobody knows my name.”


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When being black is not enough to be black

[This is written in celebration of all bi-racial children and like-skinned black people who are told they aren't black enough. This is in celebration for all the people who were told they act white and talk white. ]

How much black is too much?

How much black is not enough?

These are the type of questions that validate the truth of white privilege. White people don’t have to think about being too white, or not being white enough. White is simply white, and there’s not much to add to, or nullify whiteness.

Being black is different. 

Maneuvering between those fine lines can be complicated for black folks in pursuit of excellence; while maintaining street credibility. 

Being labeled not black enough brings a level of shame that is challenging to overcome. There are lines a person should never cross. Like a black man dating a white woman, a black person claiming allegiance to the Republican Party or worshiping on Sunday with a predominately white congregation.

Being too black brings another set of concerns – like being too black to get a real job. Or, another among the list of stereotypes that causes white women to call the police when a black person goes to a pool, attends a barbeque or gets caught for walking, talking and being black. In these cases, being too black is a function of simply being black.

That is all true, but this is about the outlandish pressure placed on black people to prove they have enough blackness to qualify as an acceptable black person. This is about what black people tend to do to each other to eradicate the abundance of “Uncle Tom’s” and “Aunt Sally’s” positioned to pull those crabs back to the bottom of the barrel.

Everywhere you look, black people are there to remind boys and girls about proper dress, proper communication and to punish deviate behavior. As my grandparents would say, how to act proper while in the presence of white people. Those chastisements often left me wondering if being black meant being more like white people.

Overcoming being too black comes with the high cost of not being black enough.

“If you’re black and middle-class…every day you’re [going to get] a lot of crap. You’re going to get angry,” wrote Ellis Cose in “The Rage of the Privileged Class.

The anger comes from the space in the middle – being black in hope of overcoming the obstacles created to hinder black people, juxtaposed against the pain associated with overly rejecting blackness.

This is not a new burden. Frantz Fanon wrote about it in his book “Black Skin, White Mask”. This classic, written in 1952, examines the psychological burden of being black.

“[Educated blacks] Society refuses to consider them genuine Negroes. The Negro is a savage, whereas the student is civilized. "You're us," and if anyone thinks you are a Negro he is mistaken, because you merely look like one.” 

Placed within contemporary context, we uncover multiple layers of labeling related to what it means to be too black or not black enough.

From a black Christian not being black enough due to the embrace of the slave master’s Jesus, to those boys wearing baggy pants never amounting to much due to their inability to adapt to the norms of society – finding a place in the middle is a lifelong quest for success in the face of the need of inclusion.

These are the type of discussion normally held in the context of defining cultural variables. For black people, it’s more about defining what it means to be black. Being too black can potentially influence the path a person takes, and not being black enough has bearing on how a person operates as a representative of blackness among other black people.

A person can’t hide being black. It follows you wherever you go, and it is used in constructing an evaluation of character. Is she too black to fit, or is he not black enough?

The pride that comes with being black should not come with so many restrictions. The hope and prayer of being true to yourself is often entangled in the perceptions of others – both black and white. Freedom comes in owning what it means to imagine new definitions of blackness.

For some, that a place in the middle.

For me, it’s a place with unlimited possibilities.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Black men need love too


[I took this picture three weeks after the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. It's used  here to remember the life and witness of men and women who have died, and the women who lead movements that seek justice. I celebrate these women, and advocate for inclusion of women in spaces controlled by black, male leadership]

This is no pity party.

This is not a deflection.

This is not an attempt to negate the amazing work of black women.

But, can the brothers get some love?

There’s an uncomfortable feeling oozing in my belly. For months, it’s been easy for me to dismiss the angst in my gut to things stirred by my own messy ways. I’m certain part of it is because of wounds I opened from words and actions that facilitated the movement of hands on hips, wagging fingers and talk about “no you didn’t!”

I own my own complicity in making it complicated and unsettling for some to hug it out. Anyone with a tidbit of common sense knows there’s tremendous pain rooted in a long history of silence and indifference, but something unsettling is happening that forces new talk about black men.

My conclusion comes after spending months talking to black men about how they feel. The consensus among many is, well, it’s different now. The evidence of change is not proof that the stuff in the gut is a bad thing. Feeling isolated and attacked is often the consequence of the need for an old school butt whipping to help you get your act together.

Maybe this is what we need.

This is that collective ruthless confrontation that will forever be known for shifting power dynamics. Nope. Women ain’t playing anymore, and anyone who doesn’t know that better ask somebody.
It is true that black men have selfishly clutched power from black women with the type of neglect that battles what white people have done to subjugate black people. Be it in the leadership of the church, other institutions or the abuse and manipulation in relationships – black men deserve this whipping.

This is not about asking black women to back off. This is not a repudiation of the legitimacy of the need for justice and inclusion.

The brothers need some love too.

The truth is, black women have always fought for their men. Their fight for incarcerated men, and brothers unjustly stopped by police, goes back to days long before the end of slavery. They fight on behalf of their sons, and other black boys in the neighborhood, grappling to find a way. This is not a criticism. This is not a plea demanding more.

It’s a reminder. Brothers need love too. Don’t forget us. Please, don’t give up on us.
Why?

Because we need you. We know the burden on your backs. We are aware that we placed some of it there. We failed to listen. We used religion to control your movement. We followed the teachings of the white man’s Jesus to demand your submission. We rejected the teachings of our ancestors and made ourselves into gods with the power to rule without questions.

Still, brothers need love too.

Part of that involves the need for forgiveness. In many cases we don’t deserve your forgiveness. We deserve your rejection. The stiff unwavering hand in our face is a tribute to your strength. Like Celie clutching that knife against Mister’s neck, “everything you think about is gonna crumble.”
We feel the crumbling. We hear it in each word aimed at exposing our coldness. We merit your reproof. You are not wrong.

Black men are hurting.

We can’t fix the mistakes made by our fathers and grandfathers. We’ve read the words of Alice Walker and other great thinkers who are “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. Knowing the truth does not stop the pain. Some of it belongs to us. Some of it is stuff we didn’t create.

They did it, but our male privilege makes us guilty of their mistakes.

Black women, can you see the tears of black men? Has your rage enthused an apathy that we will never overcome? If so, we understand, but know we need you still. We always have, we always will.
Without you, the emptiness remains. Our heart beats slower as our will to survive wanes without you. Our mental health degrades as we seek ways to overcome. Our dreams move beyond deferment into no more than a thought from yesteryears. Our feet move slower and all we see are days fading into an inescapable midnight.

There is no joy without you.

Brothers need love too.

We have no night to request anything from you. The bond in our blood may not be enough to dismiss your fury. The innumerable recollections of venomous words and insulting deeds may be too much to defeat. It may be too late for you to note the poring of our tears. We deserve the loneliness generated by your rejection. We are living in a space wearied by feet planted in confusion. Your incapacity to trust or words leaves us motionless with no hope of conquering what we created.

Still, back men need love too.

There is no love without you.