Thursday, September 28, 2017
Is this the new language of the KKK?
Are the terms of their resistance showing up in ways that hide behind a new version of white sheets?
Is this a new strategy aimed at keeping black people on the short end of the American dream?
These are the type of questions that divide America. Anyone not living under a rock knows something new is brewing in America. It’s easy to blame Donald Trump and his cohorts for expanding a form of nationalism that demands the silence of black people. While the people waving Confederate flags hail the resurgence of their right to celebrate racism, there’s a brewing form of messiness that challenges everything we believe.
What does it all mean?
There are multiple answers to that question. For the most part, the way we query depends on a set of variables. Things like family demographics and political ideology play a part, but, more than anything else, the answer depends on a person’s race.
The consensus among many white people is they’re tired of talking about race. They’re tired of it showing up in conversations about sports. They want to live their life of leisure without witnessing men knelling during the singing of the national anthem. They don’t want their sports talk radio show to be dominated with updates regarding the ongoing drama involving Colin Kaepernick.
They want to move past conversation related to the sins of their long dead ancestors. In other words, get over it.
How that is heard and felt by black people adds to the tension. The response, more than the events, obscures the conversation. It’s a complicated mess that keeps Americans entangled in a web that is hard to escape.
For black people, it feels like the resurgence of the KKK. It’s hard to trust. It’s difficult, no, it’s almost impossible, for black people to understand why white people don’t understand. It’s hard to listen when moving forward demands silence.
American Patriotism as a construction of silence
Exhibit one, the American flag and the National Anthem.
Many white Americans view knelling an unpatriotic act. It’s regarded a slight of the men and women who fight for and die to preserve freedom. No matter America’s history of racism, the ideas reflected in the Constitution, symbolized by the flag and affirmed in the National Anthem, are more important than our past mistakes.
Black people are challenged to overlook history.
This is an example of white privilege at its worst. This is what it means to press an agenda on individuals with a different perspective. It’s offering an assessment related to patriotism that demands allegiance to white Americans understanding of freedom.
Being an American demands silence. You don’t discuss the shooting deaths of unarmed black men and women by law enforcement officers. You don’t cry Black Lives Matter as a statement of the affirmation of black identity. You don’t protest when you have questions involving the judicial system.
You get over it. You trust the system. You do the very thing that has never worked for black people – pretend none of it matters while trusting Americans care about you.
Is this the new strategy of the KKK?
Do you remember the lessons of history?
The purpose of lynching was to make a point to those who contemplated freedom. It happened when slaves attempted to run away. It also happened when black people attempted to vote or protested to obtain the right to vote. It happened when black people sought access to housing, education and employment.
It was used to send a message.
If you step over the line established by white people, you will be punished for crossing that line. Those with the power will attack your ability to work. You will be labeled al Lightening rod – one who brings trouble by virtue of their mere presence. You will be measured by your advocacy of justice rather than your ability.
You become too pro-black to share in the profits afforded those who embrace the white American dream.
This is the point many white Americans miss. They fail to understand the power of economic lynching. It’s used to keep black people silent. Families have suffered massively when mama or daddy attacks racism. It makes it hard for black people to protest. It’s why some stay home. It’s why others compromise.
It’s a question that most black people face at some point in life. What’s more important – fighting for justice or making enough money to pay the bills?
This is at the root of the immense gap between how black and white people view Colin Kaepernick. Black people know the pain of his decision. White people, in some cases, merely see a rich athlete taking a position that attacked their views of America.
Redefining legitimate blackness
This is when it gets tricky. What does it means to be black, and who establishes the terms related to the answer?
The answer to the question reflects the continuing struggle among black people to fit the terms of the American dream. What does legitimate blackness look like? How does it dress? What are the legitimate hairstyles? How does it sound? What positions does it take? How does it vote? Where does it go to school? How much money does it make? How does it make money?
All of that is used to qualify legitimate blackness, but, at the root of it all, is the question is the person white enough, in their approach to life, to be considered worthy of a place within the white American dream? In this sense, the terms of legitimate blackness is managed by the white people who extend black people a place at the table.
This, again, reveals the massive tension black people carry related to the treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The owners of the NFL are making a critical statement regarding how they view legitimate blackness. They are using their power and money to make a statement concerning who and what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Let’s take note of the checklist. One, his hair is too long. Two, he’s not American enough. Three, he stands for the wrong causes. Four, he sits for the wrong reasons. Conclusion, he is the wrong type of black person.
He must be silenced.
Apply economic lynching to make a statement to other players. Do it before they try to run off our plantation.
He’s too black to reap the benefits of the white American dream
Is this the new strategy of the KKK? Probably not, but it sure feels that way when you’re a person still searching for freedom
Let’s talk about that American dream.
Monday, September 25, 2017
Black and white Americans have a different way of understanding and communicating their feelings involving war.
It may be the thing that divides Americans more than anything. White people, to a larger extent, form opinions regarding what it means to be an American based on wars fought to maintain freedom.
Be it the Revolutionary war fought to secure independence, the Civil War fought to prevent the succession of Southern States (among other reasons), two World Wars to protect America’s global agenda or the Vietnam conflict aimed at curtailing the expansion of communism – white Americans view wars as an expression of what it means to be an American.
The American flag symbolizes the lives lost and the will of American’s to stand for democracy. This amplifies a faith rooted in the promises of the Constitution. It’s why their ancestors toiled the journey to come to America. This, in the minds of many, is the home of the brave and free. This is why you stand during the singing of the National Anthem and acknowledge the significance of the red, white and blue.
The anthem and flag conjures memories of family members who lost their lives fighting to secure freedom. Standing affirms the truths they fought to secure. They stand out of respect. They stand to honor the men (no women) who wrote the Constitution and pledged alliance to the flag.
Those ancestors fought the British like David against Goliath. They defeated Hitler and the fascism of Mussolini with a pride that gives reasons to stand and sing. They place hands over their hearts while recounting the lessons learned long ago in elementary school and on Sunday morning at Church.
Many white people love America. The flag and anthem are symbols of a pride deeper than the hypocrisy of America’s history.
Black people struggle to stand. Many do, but it comes with deep consideration involving why it’s acceptable to stand. Standing comes devoid in the type of confidence that white Americans take for granted. White people own America as their home. They know and embrace the promises echoed when they listen to the lyrics. This is their America. This is their flag and Constitution.
Black people make a different pledge. It’s not the truth of the pledge that matters; it’s the hope in the promise that gives them reason to stand. It’s faith in the Constitution and the memory of their ancestors that propels them to sing. It’s not the truth; its devotion to what can be, should be, when their allegiance kndles the promise of the American dream.
Black America’s history with war is different.
The defeat of the British in the Revolutionary war left them enslaved.
The end of the Civil War created a new system of institutionalized hate.
During World War I, 380,000 black men enlisted in the Army; however, they weren’t fighting to protect America’s freedom. They fought to gain respect.
In 1917, Mississippi Senator James K. Vardaman argued that the return of black veterans would lead to disaster in the South. He warned that once “we impress the negro with the fact that he is defending the flag” and “inflate his untutored soul with military airs,” he said “ it was a short step to the conclusion that “his political rights must be respected.”
Black soldiers did not return with the freedom they fought to protect. Black soldiers were denied benefits and disability pay. In what is known as the Red Summer, anti-black riots erupted across the country. After the war, at least thirteen black veterans were lynched. Numerous others survived beatings, shootings, and whippings. Some were attacked for wearing their uniform in public.
Yet, black people continued to pledge alliance to America. During World War II, 1.2 million black men enlisted in the military. In the beginning, they were barred from combat. Their service was reduced to cleaning the toilets of white officers and other service duties. They were only allowed to fight after too many white soldiers died. Although they served their country, they were forbidden from eating in restaurants open to serving German prisoners of war.
When they returned from war, they were attacked on the buses and trains that transported them home. They were denied the benefits of the G.I Bill which would have given them mortgage assistance, college tuition and business loans.
Then there’s the Vietnam conflict
The front-line troops in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were disproportionately black. Many returned home psychologically scarred. They were poorly treated by the Veterans Affairs Department. More than 200,000 left the military with less than honorable discharges.
Some were reprimanded for giving the black power salute. Some were punished for refusing to go on riot patrol duty in the United States after returning from war. Because of poor discharge records, many black soldiers failed to qualify for benefits.
How do you stand for a country that has never stood for you? You do so because of the promise of the American Constitution.
You don’t do so after being forced, punished or shamed into standing.
You take a knee because it’s your right as an American.
You stand because you believe America is still worth standing for, even when everything around you says don’t stand.
But, standing doesn’t mean the same as it does for many white Americans. The flag and the National Anthem don’t mean the same thing. Rather than being symbols of freedom and unity, they represent the duplicity inherent in each word we sing. Yes, even the song points to the massive pretense we claim when we sing.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
The left out verse is a reminder of the intent of those who crafted the Constitution – the death of slaves who attempted to run away.
As much as white Americans yearn for the end of conversations involving our history, you can’t run away from the truth related to divergent perspectives regarding that history.
White people are proud of the flag, the song and the history.
Black people are still fighting to find meaning beyond the words we sing.
My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim's pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!
Not if you are black.
Thus, what’s wrong with knelling while you wait for reasons to stand?
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Where is God in this?
It’s the question I pondered when I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m., trembling because Irma is on the way. The massive hurricane that has already killed 23 people in the Caribbean is approaching Key West with gush winds up to 82 mph. Prayers to limit the devastation will be lifted in churches as the damaging winds and heavy rain moves through Florida.
Where is God in this?
What sermons will be preached as the eleven o’clock hour begins worship in most churches? Will there be mention of what tomorrow represents – 911 – the day the twin towers came tumbling down in the name of American tyranny?
Will preachers blame the trinity of storms – Harvey, Irma and Jose – on God, or will more emphasis be placed on the love and compassion of Jesus as we pray for the storms to go away. Will Irma be used to promote a political agenda, or will Americans come together, again, to demonstrate we have more in common than we think?
Natural disasters have a way of presenting the fallacies of our theological views. We like to keep God in a nicely packed box of conceptions constructed to make us feel better. Faith becomes a roadmap to all things desired, and human struggles are used to illustrate the consequence of disobedience. Church talk, liturgy and theology help undergird the message of American privilege.
Isn’t this the American dream? Blessed are those who abide in God’s will. They will succeed. They shall be protected by God. God removes from their lives the pain of destruction. As for the disobedient, their lives will be damaged by a series of lessons aimed to stir their path. They shall witness death and pain due to their evil ways.
This is the message of American privilege. God rewards America for faithful witness. America totes the flag of freedom for the world to view. America leads the way. This is the bond between American nationalism and a theology girded by the American dream. Americans believe they are more honorable than the rest of the world. We embrace the American witness of faith and privilege for the world to see.
But, where is God in the storm?
Did God do this to teach America a lesson? Some will preach that this morning. This is the discipline of God. This is God’s judgment for electing Donald Trump. This is those chickens coming home to roost. They will preach this is the zeal of God. This is a call for national humility after years of institutionalized hypocrisy.
I’m reminded of the lessons of Thomas Langford, my former professor of Christian Theology at Duke University. He told me to not craft a theology that made God into Atlas, the titan in Greek Mythology responsible for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. He challenged me to structure theology that considers the balance between creation and chaos while offering space for freedom.
This is the challenge of ministry. It’s work that celebrates the beauty and grace of God’s good creation, while conceding the ongoing movement of chaos. This is the balance that defies the simplistic messages of faith. No, not everything is God’s will. All death is not ordered by God to teach a lesson. Some people die for reasons other than disobedience. They simply find themselves caught in the midst of the force of chaos.
It is not God’s will when a child dies by shots fired from a speeding car. Where is the grace in uttering the 23, mostly black and brown people, dead due to hurricane Irma is God’s lesson regarding American sin? Why would they die for what Americans do wrong?
Where is God in the storm?
The honest answer is I don’t know. Maybe there is no answer to the question. Maybe it’s not the time to ask.
I do know where God is within the devastation. It’s the place where God has always been. God remains there to teach lessons about faith, love, compassion and peace. God is with us in the damage to remind us we are not alone.
“God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law,” Jurgen Moltmann, said in his book The Crucified God. “God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”I may not know where God is in the storm, but I do know where God is when the storm appears. God is with us, enduring the madness of the storm, to remind us we are not alone.
Friday, September 8, 2017
What happened to the days of black solidarity? Some will say it never existed. It’s no more than a false narrative about the good ole days when all black folks held hands, sang songs, marched together and fought to overcome racism.
A true reading of history reminds us that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t embraced by the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. In fact, the opposition at the 1961 annual convention in Kansas City, Mo was so intense a fist fight broke out, an elderly man died and King, Ralph Abernathy and Gardner C. Taylor withdrew from the group to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
There has never been a congruous black voice. Not everyone stood behind Marcus Garvey when he challenged black people to love themselves, to develop a black economic infrastructure and to return to Africa. Not everyone shouted “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” or replaced the attire of white corporate America with African apparel. Not everyone embraced their natural hair, sat during the national anthem while marching in defiance.
There is no monolithic black voice. That has never been the case.
But, black people talk a lot about unity. Its part of the declaration made during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Umoja (unity) is the first principal of the week. Black people light the first red candle placed in the kinara while conjuring the promise to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kwanza is the seven day celebration of black people overcoming. It’s a week set aside to teach lessons about unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The seven principles (Nguzo Saba) reflect the best qualities of the “first fruit” festivals celebrated throughout Africa.
It’s a reminder of where black people come from. It’s a call for unity and an embrace of the fruits that emerge when black people refuse to be measured by a Eurocentric agenda. Black people living in America applaud life in their country, but they find strength in their collective journey. That’s where the pride flows and that is the place that brews massive change.
So, back to the initial question - what happened to the days of black solidarity? Or, what happened to the promise regarding what solidarity would stimulate?
Durham, NC is a city built on the back of black pride and solidarity. It was unity that inspired the rise of the Black Wall Street. Unity, combined with a bunch of collective work and responsibility, fueled the imagination of James Edward Shepard to build the National Religious Training School at Chautauqua in 1909. We now know it as North Carolina Central University, the first public liberal arts institution for blacks in the nation.
What happened to the unity that inspired growth for our children? Have blacks become so engulfed in their individual quest in living the American dream that they have forgotten the principles that helped them overcome?
Why are blacks in Durham engaged in massive cannibalism while placing personal agendas above our collective needs? Why can’t black people talk, plan, mobilize and succeed together? Where is that black faith that grounds the black community and keeps them moving?
Why are five black people running for mayor against one white person? I get people being called to public office. I understand being compelled to press what the spirit has inspired from that place beyond human understanding. No one should be denied that right, but where is the unity that moves black people forward –together as a people?
How did this happen?
When did the endorsement of a predominately white political action committee become more important than the collective agenda of the black community? When did the platform of white people, albeit progressives, overrule the veracity of what black people aspire to be – a community in search for unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity while being moved by a common faith?
When did the hope for unity end?
I suppose it’s what happens when we assume we’ve made it to the Promised Land.