The Project of Re-hearing N.W.A.’s “F—- the Police” as Lament

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

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has awakened elements of resistance in some youth and adults in the black community. The constant fight for injustice upon the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland and many more has stressed the importance of resistance, of naming the issues and calling for socio-political accountability and reform. These widely scrutinized deaths, and subsequent testimonies of black parents about the imperative they feel to inform their children about what they need to know to survive in America.[1] This rising national awareness is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement, when young black students took to the street in forms of protest. Then, as now, their aim was to draw attention to the maltreatment of the black body in the hands of a racist American judicial system. During the Civil Rights Movement, Professor Michelle Alexander suggests that over twenty thousand people were arrested for protesting.[2] Now, in current days, “BLM is the new model for civil rights,” states Khalil Gibran Muhammad. [3] He quotes historian Andy Seal that BLM is a “…rearest of rear-guard positions one can imagine, petitioning for the right not to die prematurely, a mark of retreat from the larger hopes and assertive agendas.”[4] This BLM protest is an outcry for help in the midst of a society that institutionalizes its marginalization of black citizens. Thus, Black Lives Matter becomes a tautology that emphasizes the value of the devalued black body as do the words of N.W.A.’s Fuck the Police.

N.W.A.’s Fuck The Police may be easily dismissed for it is the work of a group inner-city teenagers. Their song, this Hip Hop lament, can be ignored as misguided epitaphs and excuses to commit crime, but upon further review, a look at the treatment these young men endured, at the hands of mis-trained policemen, their words become screams for help.  The words of N.W.A.’s Ice Cube in Fuck the Police levy the fiercest critiques aimed upon cops. Ice Cube raps,

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground/

A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown/

And not the other color so police think/They have the authority to kill a minority

Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one/

For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun

To be beating on, and thrown in jail/

We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager/

With a little bit of gold and a pager

Searching my car, looking for the product/

Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics

You’d rather see, me in the pen/

Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o [5]

Superficially, these words appear to affirm the killing of police officers as a justifiable act. But, read closely it is a lament for help. Professor Cornel West explains that the world of Hip Hop has emerged from a place of rage against the injustices of black bodies. He further articulates that Hip Hop originated with a “fierce disgust with the hypocrisies of adult culture-disgust with the selfishness, capitalistic callousness, and xenophobia of the culture of adults, both within the hood and the society at large.”[6] This rebel music became the backdrop for Black Rage against police brutality. N.W.A. sparked an outcry, rallying black youth in the hoods of America. N.W.A. spoke about the injustice that was being displayed on the faces and backs of black people in the policing of the cities of America. In Open Mike, Michael Eric Dyson argues that this “agitprop anthem” denotes a recognizable reality because it raises the “language of rebellion against political tyranny and police force.”[7] Dyson also declared,

There’s also solidarity in fighting the distortion of human identity under oppression, as the poor the world over fight against their bodies being trapped, contained, and demoralized by social structures and governmental practices.[8]

Thus, the creative instinct, fueled and directed by Black Rage made N.W.A’s work foci of resistance contemporary. What West and Dyson articulate as academic critics of the culture of Hip Hop, KRS-One, an icon in Hip Hop, vocalizes as a one who is embedded in the culture: “The real lives of those that are affected by injustice, lawlessness, and corruption created…Hiphop as a way out of oppression.”[9] Fuck The Police became the song of protest and a timely lament for black youth.

The movie Straight Outta Compton, shows the members of N.W.A. taking a break from a recording session.[10] While standing outside of the studio, they are accosted by the police for no apparent reason. After the group members are harassed and humiliated, the manager of the group Jerry Heller, an older white man, comes out and demands that the police allow the men to get off of the ground. Demeaned and treated inhumanely, the young men are allowed to get off the ground and stand up but only after a few more degrading comments from a Black “cop.” Upon re-entering back into the studio, you find the young men frustrated with their treatment. Reflecting upon the harassment they just received, they come up with the song, Fuck the Police. In response to their Black Rage, they creatively lament in a song. Ice Cube’s verse set off a montage of lyrical critiques which exposed and lamented a system that defrauded black men of their dignity.

Dyson quotes John Singleton, who reflected, “Most white people don’t know what it is like to be stopped for a traffic ticket violation and worry more about getting beat up or shot than paying the ticket.”[11] Singleton is indicating that while whites are sheltered from this on-going black reality, the song exposes the experience. This daily vulnerably of blacks was the reality that Ice Cube was referencing in his lyrics. It would be easy to dismiss it as vulgar music that makes excuses for crime but that would be an unfair assumption. Theologian Daniel Hodge is clear that “Hip Hop requires a basic theological worldview of the profane.”[12]  He goes further by denoting, “Theologians and church heroes assert that God meets us first in death and despair –the hell of life. Only those who enter the “s—-”(to borrow from Martin Luther) can encounter the God of Jesus.”[13] Hodge’s analysis indicates that N.W.A.’s Fuck The Police was not the outcry for the murdering of a police officer: it was a Black Rage lament, searching for assistance in a community of resistance. Professor Robert C. Dykstra proposes that to “lament is to protest some circumstance perceived as especially shaming…,” and that lament breaches favorable decorum, and fluctuates between “one’s tenderness and rage.”[14] I suggest that Ice Cube has experienced such a shaming trauma that his lament brands itself in the terms shared by Dykstra. Ice Cube understands that his skin color is the very reason that he is in this predicament: he was just standing outside on the sidewalk with his partners. His brown skin drew police attention to his friends and himself. This “attention” which automatically gave police the “authority to kill a minority.”[15] This lament of Black Rage by N.W.A informs society of the life of the black body as a body constantly traumatized in encounters with those sworn to protect American citizens. Perhaps the vulgarity distracts, but the message is pertinent to the violent acts that are being thrust upon black bodies. Dyson agrees with the message of Fuck the Police, but challenges them “to develop an ethical perspective on the drug gangs that duplicate police violence in black-on-black violence.” [16] What Dyson indicates is a restructured form of genocide that finds ease in the senseless murders of black bodies. His challenge is that a means be found to alter this acceptable practice that has been made an institutionalized practice for people of color.

 

[1] This is a product of numerous conversation that I have had with black parents about their fear of their black children being killed by police.

[2] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press,2010.,37.

[3] Khalil Gibran Muhammed. “The revolution will be live-tweeted: why #BlackLivesMatter is the new model for civil rights”, The Guardian, December 1, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/01/black-lives-matter-civil-rights-movement-ferguson (accessed March 25, 2016)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fuck The Police, N.W.A.

[6] Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialisms, New York: Penguin Group, 2004.,179

[7] Michael Eric Dyson. Open Mike, New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003., 268. Agitprop anthem is a term that Dyson uses to display that the song was a propaganda tool that was deployed by N.W.A to get people to view the police in other ways other than serving the community.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cornel West quotes this from KRS- One Ruminations. Ibid.,174. KRS- One (Kris Parker) is known as the Teacha of Hip Hop. He was one of the original members of the legendary group BDP (Boogie Down Productions). He has lectured at Princeton, Harvard and many other universities throughout the United States.

[10] Straight Outta Compton was the biopic film detailing the lives of NWA’s rise to success.

[11] Quoted in Michael Eric Dyson, The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, New York: Basic Civitas, 2004.,342.

[12] Daniel Hodge, The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology, Illinois: Intervarsity Press Books, 2010, 23. Hodge argues that God can and does show up in the most unusual and interesting places. He writes, Hip Hop Theology is…a study of the Godhead in the urban context, with a goal of better understanding God’s rich and complex love for everyone (not just those who look and talk “nice”) and the revelation of God through the liberation of the oppressed from the oppressor.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Part of Ice Cube’s lyrics.

[16] Ibid., Dyson, Reader, 407.

 

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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.

 

The Appointed Need to Learn

It has been three weeks since I started my PhD. program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. In those three weeks I have read about 7 or 8 books, a plethora of essays and had more meaningful conversations than you can imagine. It has given me a new appreciation for those with PhD’s, to say the least. But, one of the books that I am re-reading is The Souls of Black Folk. There is a section in the chapter entitled Of the Black Belt that resonated stridently with me. Du Bois is sitting on the porch after a long hot drive with his routine interlocutor of sorts, and asks whether or not they ever owned land. The “neat matronly preacher’s wife, plump, yellow and intelligent” as Du Bois describes, starts to share that the only land that have is the house. She details how they were cheated out of the land they purchased by the white racist establishment. The husband, then, responds by calling the same man who stole their land a “regular cheater.” He continues to tell how he worked for the man for 37 days and he promised to pay, but reneged on the wages. This started a cycle of events that led to him losing his mule, corn and furniture. Du Bois responds, “Furniture…but furniture is exempted from seizure by law.” The husbands response is what prompted by tensions: “Well he took it just the same…”
I sit daily in a restricted place of privilege where access to education is afforded to me. I can read, write and engage others, as we struggle to identify the systems plotting to destroy our growth. It is a serious endeavor to be a part of a community that recognizes the existential reality that what we are doing here matters. We are not just here to dazzle people with our new words and phrases, but our souls are embedded in the pages of assignment. We search for excellence as an ode to the elders who paved the way. Education is our Black Rage –our creative response to the trauma that has been rendered lawlessly upon our blessed souls.
So, we accept this appointment to learn, with honor, dignity and revolutionary vigor, in order that we may find the necessary words to address to the atrocities when black and brown folks have been cheated. Because we can’t afford too many more, “Well he took it just the same…”

My Black Rage Sensibility

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

Albert Pero classifies blackness or the black experience as “a certain dark joy” that “celebrates the triumph of human beings over a social order which would degrade.” [1] This very same “dark joy” fuels my own Black Rage. My reaction of a lifelong struggle to be recognized; my Black Rage sensibility governs every facet of my life. I search daily to find sectors of safety.  My Black Rage sensibility carries the weight of waking up as the face of America’s perceived problem and waking up as a Christian with the “absurdity of a people who claimed to be Christian” but live in proverbial contradiction.[2]  When the black body is assumed as a prescribed conclusion of criminality and ungodliness, the quiet assent of racism profoundly sanctions the annihilation of the black body and safety is a major concern at all times. For others and myself, Black Rage, ultimately, becomes a strategic defense mechanism against human fears that have been weaponized by the media. In response, anyone who loves the black body becomes anti-American, which is merely, anti-white. This reaction results in further marginalization efforts and consent to remove the presence of black bodies.

Being a student at a Lutheran seminary and simultaneously being a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America prompts me to consider Black Rage in a context that is not filled visibly with black bodies. The constant need to reaffirm my blackness perpetually lives in the front of my mind. In this context, I did not have the ease of familiarity, but rather the brisk interplay of racism that goes undetected. I heard the quarantined compliments of how intelligent I am, and the over the top appreciation for my articulation, that are part of the complex-simplicity that monopolized many conversations. Black Rage cannot be expressed in my life without the awareness that the Black body was infiltrating a sacred space of the church, an official place that some may have seen as off limits; a place where fear of difference and diversity appear as negative quantifiers. I was becoming a candidate for Lutheran orders, in a denomination least integrated in the South and in the Midwest.

The impression of Black fear is not one that is placed in Black bodies, but a fear that it thrust upon Black bodies. This constant Black fear that in some fashion or form, Black bodies will enter into this designated white spaces. This is the fear of the “undesirable strangers” or “unloved strangers,” who enter into places their privilege has not been availed to them.[3] This ill-informed identifier, instantly places Black bodies in danger. James Baldwin’s use of the “unloved stranger” illuminates the hatred that is levied on the backs of Black bodies in America.[4] He believes that all Blacks experience this “paradoxical adjustment” where we must come to grips with the unalienable fact that we are dark, dangerous and unloved strangers –simply niggers.[5] For Blacks, this is not a personal identifier, but denotes his perception of what he believes white people perceive, when Black people enter into sacred white spaces. As these “undesirable strangers,” Blacks are brutalized at the hands of the very people who are charged to protect and serve citizens. Joy DeGruy explains that the impact of extreme racial systems have left a mark on the minds of Blacks as well as whites. She denotes that these racist power structures have constrained the life of Black folks with little “time to catch our collective breath.”[6] Categorically, an intrusion of the “undesirable stranger” in the sacred white space alerts fear both in the stranger and the entered communal space, that “makes for a dangerous situation because white people are compelled, by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders.” [7] Black fear is the direct result of a societal racial lens that equates Black with crime. Khalil Gibran Muhammed accentuates this point:

For white Americans of every ideological stripe—from radical southern racists to northern progressives—African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment, and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.[8]

Kelly Brown Douglas equates this criminalization of Blacks with a heighten sense of awareness that for the American whites, the Black body does not have the “presumption of innocence” that is afforded to whites. [9] Black fear is a learned and manufactured emotion that serves as another example of the numerous ways that the Black body is continually is danger.

 

[1] Albert Pero. “Black, Lutheran, and American,” Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African and African-American Theologians, Edited by Alberto Pero and Ambrose Moyo, Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1988, 161.

[2] Otis Moss III, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 2015.,23.

[3] See footnote 161

[4] Ibid., Baldwin, Notes of Native Son,42-43.

[5] Ibid.,42.

[6] Ibid., DeGruy , 107-108.

[7]In a previous paper, Reflective Thoughts On Kelly Brown Douglas’ “Stand Your Ground,” I go into more detail about this subject.  Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, New York: Orbis Books, 2015.

[8] Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.,4.

[9] Ibid., 86.

 

James Baldwin’s Black Rage in “The Fire Next Time”

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

Throughout his writings, Baldwin wrestles with the essence of Black Rage: a rage that engulfs the life of black people, trapped in an endless cycle of injustice, pressing to survive the vicious trials of life. Baldwin’s statement “to be a Negro in this country and relatively conscious, is to be in rage all the time” serves as a defining epitaph for Black Rage.[1] Pamela Lightsey notes that Baldwin’s explication of Black Rage was not limited to erroneous slander, deemed as an “irrational outburst.”[2] His explication was a “passionate response to the evil of racism imposed” upon the black community.[3]  Baldwin’s “blackness” can be understood as an intertwining of how Black Rage influenced Baldwin’s relationship with God and humanity.[4]

 James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is a transcending essay that captures in paralyzing clarity, the experience of a young black man navigating the racist terrain of America. Exploring black people’s fear, pain and rage in mesmerizing detail, Baldwin, relocates the reader into a foreign reality –the world of the Negro in America, past and present. Baldwin challenges white Americans with a first-hand perspective of black males in the ghetto and, simultaneously, celebrates the Black community. His quest was to find out what made Black males so attentive to the Nation of Islam.[5] While writing this essay, he discovered the topic was richer and deeper than he first imagined. He never turned it into the editor of the Jewish magazine, who had hired him to write the story.

The book starts with a compelling and thought provoking letter to his nephew, My Dungeon Shook, which gives poignant instruction to his nephew on how to negotiate through the streets of Harlem, as a Black male, in the midst of a people who present a false Christianity.[6] The penetrating critiques of America opined in almost every sentence phrased with preciseness and rage present a pedagogical protest for his nephew. Baldwin’s overarching theme resonates in his words to his nephew, “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.”[7] Baldwin is very intentional about highlighting the texture and color of his nephew’s skin while giving him a preview of his temperament. [8] His nephew’s socially- constructed black body and political identity will serve as a stark indicator that his nephew “is” in danger. He cannot misplace his self-awareness in the white world, yet he cannot misplace his own true dignity. Baldwin’s insistence that his nephew identify with his blackness is utmost.  Theologian John Perkinson forms this experience as a radical rethinking of the black body. Purposely, he places all white bodies in the thralls of the lived history (a mythic fantasy) of white supremacy. He intentionally demarcates whiteness as a “structure of violence and a significance of injustice.”[9] Perkinson asserts that “the black body as a ‘possibility of theophany’ would place the white body as “a question of exorcism.”[10] He implies that the white body stands in need of divine healing or exorcism in order to be delivered from its own racism. In this assessment, the black body personifies God. Thus, confronting white people with a specificity of color and creed. The black body confronts white people with their sin before God.  For Baldwin, his own father’s lack of awareness of the black body politic, pushed him into wanting to be “so holy,” because Godliness provided a false invitation into whiteness.[11] Making holiness synonymous with whiteness was the fallacy Baldwin dismisses, while wrestling through life in the black experience. Ultimately, the commingling of whiteness with godly normatives would be Baldwin’s wrestling partners the rest of his life.

The Black Rage that Baldwin demonstrates to his nephew is one soaked in love with a governing sense of black pride, a pride that is timelessly connected to the black community. Baldwin’s unique perspective is guided by a strong principle of love.  A love that he describes:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth. [12]

 

Baldwin may appear to link his father’s false sense of Christianity with a pseudo-pursuit of holiness. However, looking deeply, his understanding and pursuit of love is profoundly Christian. Professor Clarence Hardy supposes that Baldwin’s idea of love is the result of self-examination. Hardy posits that Baldwin’s self-awareness caused love to flourish and this love becomes “the principal site of transformation and the self-actualization.”[13] Could this self-affirming love be similar to the Christian process of discernment? Baldwin is clear with his nephew that his mere presence is a salvific happening; his life –a hope, which love must prevail. Baldwin admonishes,

There is no reason for you to be like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you.  The really terrible thing…is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For those innocent people have no other hope.[14]

The assertion that hope, reconciliation, and love rest in the hands of the black community is a radical statement of purpose and identity. In Baldwin’s perspective, humanity is equipped with the responsibility for their own soul’s salvation. He states that humanity is responsible, “to expand and transform God’s nature.” [15] Baldwin is unapologetic about this particular affirming of the necessity of black people acting as the redeeming factor in the lives of whites. The impact of oppressed people’s presence and their being creates favorable opportunities for the oppressors to change. Baldwin is transparent with his nephew about the cruel treatment that he will endure but exudes a reconciliatory posture.[16] Though Baldwin does not proclaim that this is an authentic Christian value, his childish hope for/in humanity compels him to reluctantly trust in a governing love.

The message that Baldwin is trying to convey to his nephew is ultimately woven in throngs of suffering. Baldwin’s interest in suffering is connected to a belief that through such an act one would/could “discover what they really lived by,” indicating that “suffering holds purpose even if God does not.”[17] Baldwin is constructing an intricate theology of a redemptive suffering that, hopefully, forces the oppressors to change. In his critique of Anthony Pinn’s Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology, Dwight Hopkins suggest that redemptive suffering can never be positive or fruitful for African-Americans.[18] Hopkins furthermore confirms that redemptive suffering, directly or indirectly, “implies God sanctions suffering, relieving the oppressors from accountability…”[19] In the closing words to his nephew, Baldwin says, “…then we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.”[20] Through Baldwin’s Black Rage, his interpretive lens perceives God differently than his father. God is an active presence, but only in the sense that humanity (in this case his nephew) can convey that presence. The “so holy” aspect of divinity that is sought by Baldwin’s father is not the same “so holy” that Baldwin is conveying to his nephew. The Black Rage that ignites Baldwin is displayed as he tries to “write” the wrongs that may have the probability of killing his nephew. Baldwin’s Black Rage has activated a new sense of God that relocates suffering as a godly imperative.

[1] James Baldwin, “The Negro Role in American Culture,” Negro Digest, March 1962.

[2]Pamela Lightsey, Our Lives Matter, Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2015.,56.

[3] Ibid.

[4] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, First Vintage International: New York, 1962 The capitalization of G or lack thereof, is intentional throughout the paper. The thought is to try to convey the difference of expression in a god that is expressed in Baldwin’s concept versus a Christian example of God. The writer has tried to make the differences noticeable through the paper.

[5] The Nation of Islam was a Black Nationalist group that followed the teaching of Elijah Muhammad. The influence that Elijah Muhammed garnered from 1950 to the late 1960’s was unprecedented in the black community. Drawing from an early predecessor, he highlighted a separatist agenda that called for blacks to be given parts of America to live apart from whites.

[6] Ibid., Baldwin, Fire, 3-10.

[7].Ibid.,4.

[8] Ibid.,3.

[9] John Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity, New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2004.,150.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Baldwin accuses his father of trying to be “so holy” not as an attempt to be like God but as an alarming attempt to be white. Though his skin is dark like Baldwin and his nephew, Baldwin’s father is trying to escape the reality of being black in America. Baldwin is making a concerted effort to address this experience to his nephew. Ibid.,4. This person Baldwin references was Baldwin’s adoptive father. But, he lived his life trying to find the approval of his stepfather. Baldwin was born after his mother, Emma Berdis Jones left his biological father because of his drug abuse. Emma Jones, who never would tell her son the identity of his father. James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem Hospital. In James’s third year, his mother married the Reverend David Baldwin, a Pentecost preacher, who legally adopted James, and moved the family to Harlem.

[12] Ibid., Baldwin, Fire, 95.

[13] Clarence Hardy III, James Baldwin’s God: sex, hope and crisis in black holiness culture, Knoxville: Tennessee Press, 2003.,49

[14] Ibid.,8. This may be “innocent privilege” that Bruggemann asserts in his assessment of Coates. (See footnote 33)

[15] James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket, New York: St. Martin’s Marek,1985.,441. Clarence Hardy uses this exact quote to highlight the same frame of thought. Ibid.,Hardy.,13.

[16] Though Baldwin seeks such grand reconciliation he is not advocating for a complete surrendering or overhaul to whiteness. Baldwin poses a very stringent question: “Do I really want to be integrated in to a burning house?” Ibid., Baldwin, Fire,94. What he is proposing is that black folks consider whether it is feasible to be productive in an environment that does not even consider one’s self to be human.  He is trying to convey this message to his nephew in a wise manner, while getting his point across with assuredness. Baldwin is also trying to get his nephew to embrace his blackness unconditionally, yet safely. This is a strange dynamic that has to be worked out through the entirety of Baldwin’s writings. It is seen as Baldwin writes to his nephew. It is also visible in many other works as well. Baldwin presents a high, functional level of love. What is deemed the “Negro problem” is not moved by love but by white people’s resentment of being judged by those who they see on a lower status. Ibid., 95. Baldwin is walking a very slim, but necessary, tightrope with his nephew. On one hand he is insisting that he becomes a savior for white people by virtue of his social presence, but on the other he is making sure that he does not lose his identity with the black experience.

[17] Ibid., Hardy,48.

[18] Dwight Hopkins, “Reviewed Work: Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology. by Anthony B. Pinn.” Review by: Dwight N. Hopkins. African American Review, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 514-516, Indiana State University. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3042581

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., Baldwin Fire, 10