Black Rage as a Lament

(This is part of a larger work entitled, “Perspectives of a Black Rage Sensibility: (Reshaping) God Through Spaces of Blackness”)

Lament is a genre, a type of prayer which cast before others the sorrows and grief that accompanies life’s tragic narrative. The anger I have assessed to be Black Rage mutates into constant fires of resistance, a simmered concentrated rage revealed themselves in words of “irrepressible definitions of humanness.”[1] Lament shapes the words of people who are vehemently seeking answers to questions of injustice. Such lament gives voice to the words of people redefining their stolen humanness and dignity. Black Rage enacts as a lament; it gives voice to rebellion, signifying that there is something redeemable in oneself, worth preserving.[2]Initially, lament serves as a reaction to society’s dysfunction. Lament cries out against that dysfunction reaching an unacceptable level. Lament calls attention to injustice becoming intolerable and forcing the need for change to be imminent.[3] Black Rage as explored herein; is the voice of the oppressed who are lamenting with shattered hope that justice is near.[4] The lament in Black Rage expresses the “painful process of this translation” of anger that assists the community with its identification of those who are allies and those who are enemies. [5]  Lament shapes the language of suffering, projecting itself into new forms of expression. Patrick Miller quotes Eliane Scarry’s The Body in Pain,

To witness the moment when pain causes a reversion to the pre-language of cries and groans is to witness the destruction of language; but conversely, to be present when a person moves up out of the pre-language and projects the facts of sentience into speech is almost to have been permitted to be present at the birth of language itself.[6]

Black Rage has given rise to forming of such new language to name the Black experiences to God, to neighbor, and to society. Black Rage forges language to give voice to the voiceless and manifests itself in various forms of writing, art, and acts of resistance and revolution in America.

As a lament, Black Rage renders unto God a multivalent cry that Black bodies are valuable; that God is “able” and wills to redeem and care for Black people is the center of the lament having impact. God, as a divine father/mother becomes a real factor of hope, when the black body stands socially and politically in constant danger and is constantly dehumanized. In his essay, To Feel Like a Motherless Child, Peter Paris expresses this as a social reality for the African.[7] He maintains that as descendants of Africans and the installation of the African Village motif, we cultivate the heritage of being a family oriented people. Thus, to be considered “a motherless child” is a foreign assumption and a “radical alienation that destroys both persons and community.” [8] The resistance of Black Rage lament to being considered a motherless child assists black people /communities in affirming that through lamenting before God they will call on the God who attends to the needs of the oppress. Such Black Rage lament signifies that God deems the black body as significant. Cone writes, “Because religion defined the [somebodiness] of their being, the black slaves could retain a sense of the dignity of their person even though they were treated as things.”[9] Black Rage as a lament articulates the recognition that because God values black lives, there are unresolved, issues of justice: Black Rage. Lament is essential to voicing and naming those issues of justice. Old Testament Scholar, Walter Bruggeman argues, “A community that negates lament soon concludes that hard issues of justice are improper to pose at the throne…”[10]  This becomes the radical alienation that Paris espouses to the African community. When the throne is just a place where celebration is projected then the needs of those suffering are reduced to irrelevant complaints. When Black Rage is received as a complaint, once again, the value of the black body is lost and God is “placed at risk.”[11] The risk does not endanger the God who is. But that risk is that the world, the church, will continue to conceptualize God as a God of prejudice. This risk places God at the top of a social hierarchy socio-political power structures that causes the black body to be marginalized and objectified.

 

[1] Patrick D. Miller, “Heaven Prisoner’s: “The Lament as Christian Prayer.” Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square, edited by Sally A. Brown and Patrick Miller, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.,15.

[2] Camus addresses this by asking the question, “ Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving? Albert Camus, The Rebel, New York: Vintage Books, 1985.,16.

[3] Walter Brueggemann. “The Costly Loss of Lament.” In The Psalms: The Life of Faith, edited by Patrick D. Miller. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.,105.

[4] This hope is dismissive; it is more figurative than existential. It is a hope that one speaks about but never really believes will manifest –similar to true equality in America.

[5] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984.,127.

[6] Ibid., Miller , The Lament, 17.

[7] Ibid, Paris, Lament, 112.

[8] Ibid.

[9] James Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues, New York: Orbis, 1972.,16.

[10] Ibid., Bruggeman,107.

[11] Ibid.,107.

 

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