Two Brothers Talking: A Running Dialog on the Incarnation and being Black Part 2

Life as a black man in (a)merica is a strange predicament wedged between misery and sublime while being rushed by transcendence. The addition of a loving God would appear to deconstruct the misery that ultimately leads to a different life. Unfortunately, that is not always the cause for many black people trekking through this life in the Western world. On a bigger picture it can be assumed that God is not that fond of black people (men or women) due in part by the mass levels of oppression. We have endured years of unfairness, injustice and pure racism just for us to be seen as human. That in itself would make anybody question the intentions of a loving God.

The incarnation, Walter says in his response, means that “God will do something about the suffering.” It appears that what God did about the suffering was allow more suffering. There is not this overwhelming sensation of triumph that has overtaken the black community that signifies everything is alright –we will be alright but there is no overwhelming sensation that alerts us to the phenomenon. James Baldwin articulates, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If he cannot do this, it is time we get rid of him.” Although this reply is harsh there is some level of contemplation that can be rendered upon this statement.

The continual suffering of a group of people does not equate to love in most places. The systemic displacement of black and brown people, not to mention the Indians, has made life difficult to negotiate in america. When you have become numb to ignorance instead of vigilante, then acceptance looms as an apparent answer. This is where many black Christians live. They live on the edge of sheer apathy with comedic hope for change. They will succumb to mistreatment by standing on a faith that change is around the corner. Well, all of that is good but there also needs to be a voice that addresses the wrong and provides a plan for change. But, God must be actively present in the midst of the chaos. Now, I digress and admit that God may very well be actively present in the midst but my understanding is lacking to comprehend what is actual going on. That is my hope and but the appearance of this mayhem in the lives of black folks makes me wonder at times.   

The dialog continues…

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Reflective Thoughts about Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground

There is a rage, that brings a serious critique to bear, while, simultaneously, providing indiscernible places of healing.[1] This is a distinctive place that is not entered into with brevity or lackadaisically, but serves as a breeding ground for internal change. This rage or anger is not some misguided excuse to lose control, but a lamented response to injustice, which presses one to action and answers. In her quest to find answers, Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground, presses truth in the face of readers, with the intention of finding answers to the continual killing of unarmed black bodies.[2] This truth is represented in three particular spaces: black rage, black fear, and black faith.

Douglas’ Black rage is visible throughout the book, but most noticeable in the mood from whence she writes in her work. Once again, it is not a rage that causes her to lash out in violence, but one that causes her to think critically about the death of those blessed with black bodies. Her black rage is visible in her constant references to her young black son. She writes, “Why is it becoming increasingly acceptable to kill unarmed black children, I wondered? Why are they so easily perceived as a threat? How are we to keep our black children safe? As a mother of a black male child, I find these to be urgent questions.”[3] With compassion and diligence, she writes with the hope of finding some sort of clarity for the death of the young black bodies. This Black rage is a real presence, with real consequences, which she understands, vividly, because her son could be the next victim of such a travesty. Her press is to find theological answers and raise hard questions to a terrorism that the “underside of modernity” appears to be facing and the modern church ignores.[4]

The notion of black fear is not one that is placed in black bodies, but a fear that it thrust upon black bodies. This constant fear that in some fashion or form black bodies will enter into designated white spaces, these “undesirable strangers” or “unloved strangers,” who enter into places that their privilege has not availed to them.[5] This ill-informed identifier instantly places black bodies in danger. This intrusion of the sacred white space alerts fear that “makes for a dangerous situation because white people are compelled, by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders.”[6] The blinding that is represented in black fear is the direct result of a racial lens that symbolizes black with crime. Brown Douglas equates this with a heighten sense of awareness that the black body does not have the “presumption of innocence” that is afforded to whites.[7] The black fear is a manufactured emotion that serves as another example of the numerous ways that the black body is continually is danger.

Black faith has been the pedestal of triumph which the black body was able to lean upon for strength. “Born in the crucible of slavery,” black faith galvanized the people in the long fight for liberation.[8] It was this black faith that enabled an oppressed people to redefine an image of God that resemble freedom instead of enslavement.[9] Black faith gave black people the opportunity to wrestle with illegitimate presentations of God with the hope of finding power in a free God. Freedom is a power within the black faith that is found in the freedom of God and is stronger than any other human power that seeks to destroy the black body. [10]  Black faith allows for transcendence, an opportunity to get past the pain –“the contradictions of black living.”[11]

Black rage, black fear and black faith make up the three emotive adventures that I traveled through as I read, Stand Your Ground. Some may find it problematic that I specified, each thought with a black identifier. The identifier provides an intentional marker that highlights the racial component that is so prevalent in America. There is an ownership of the term that must be located in black spaces to counteract the negativity. Paulo Freire, Audre Lorde and Kelly Brown Douglas all explore the need to break away from the oppressors.[12] The ownerships of rage, fear and faith represent change; Brown Douglas for me represents change. She makes it alright to stand against the system and demand that change be in the forefront of the agenda. She makes ownership available in spaces that have been deemed inaccessible. No longer can rage, fear and faith be disassociated from the black experience as if it is unattainable, unnecessary, and unwelcomed. We have made strides to freedom, but there are still more steps that need to be taken to make the black body a fully invested citizen.

 

[1] Rage and anger can be changed, intermittedly, but should be used to draw the same conclusion.

 

[2] Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, New York: Orbis Books, 2015.

 

[3] Ibid.,ix.

 

[4] J. Cameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.,379.

[5] Joy DeGruy explains that the impact of extreme racial systems have left a mark of the minds of blacks as well as whites. She denotes that these racist power structures have made the life of black folks with little “time to catch our collective breath.” As these undesirable strangers, blacks are brutalized at the hands of the very people that were/are charged to protect and serve. Joy DeGruy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Portland, OR: Joy DeGruy Publications, 2005., 107-108.   James Baldwin’s use of the “unloved stranger” unearths the hatred that is levied on the backs of black bodies in America. He believes that all blacks have this “paradoxical adjustment” where we must come to grips with the unalienable fact that we are dark, dangerous and unloved strangers –simply niggers. Now, this is not a personal identifier but his perception of what he believes white people perceive when black people enter into sacred white spaces. James Baldwin, Notes of Native Son, Boston: Beacon Press, 1955., 42-43.

 

[6] Ibid., Brown Douglas.

 

[7] Ibid., 86.

[8] Ibid., 138.

[9] Ibid., 151. Brown Douglas wrestles with a God concept that is emblematic of an enslaved African. In her description, a God of such a stature had no power or authority to offer freedom to enslaved African people.  That God would be the very image that the slave master has depicted from the beginning, so the conscious African could not possible assert freedom with God while simultaneously believing that enslavement was a viable avenue in the image of God. I contend that the slave master’s god was not the same as the enslaved Africans’ God.

[10] Ibid., 155.

[11] Ibid., 172.

[12] Ibid., 155; Ibid., Sister Outsider,123. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum,1973.

James Baldwin speaks about Racism and the church

I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not; I know that we have a Christian church which is white and a Christian church which is black.  I know as Malcolm X once put it: “the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.  That says a great deal to me about a Christian nation.”  It means that I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

Excerpt from Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare by James Cone

Malcolm X is the best medicine against genocide. He showed us by example and prophetic preaching that one does not have to stay in the mud. We can wake up; we can stand up; and we can take that long walk toward freedom. Freedom is first and foremost an inner recognition of self-respect, a knowledge that one was not put on this earth to be a nobody. Using drugs and killing each other are the worst forms of nobodyness. Our forefathers fought against great odds (slavery, lynching, and segregation), but they did not self-destruct. Some died fighting, and others, inspired by their example, kept moving toward the promised land of freedom, singing ‘we ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.’ African-Americans can do the same today. We can fight for our dignity and self-respect. To be proud to be black does not mean being against white people, unless whites are against respecting the humanity of blacks. Malcolm was not against whites; he was for blacks and against their exploitation.