It has been months since I have made an attempt to write anything. I have wrestled with myself: a lack of things to say or simply fear of critique. It appeared for the first time that I had developed an awareness of the critique. What I had labeled a lack of interesting events was really my unwillingness to be vulnerable. Writing places one’s perspective in a space of judgement where all stand as judge and jury. It is a place where the untamed life restructures itself into a sanctuary of peace –chaos becomes fortified spaces of comfort. I had become too consumed by the hustle of “trying to show I belonged.”
It was a Friday night and I had been driving for more than 15 hours. I had taken my daughter back home and was making my way back to Georgia. I still had 2 hours before I reached home safely but I needed to get some gas and take a stretch break. I walked into the store paid for my gas and went to the restroom. As I washed my hands, I could see how tired I looked, as my eyes were turning red. It was at that moment that a white gentlemen next to me says, “I hope you are almost home my friend.” I replied, “Two more hours.” He stated that he was shutting it down for the night because he was so tired. I told him that I was going to keep moving and as we parted he said, “Get home safe brother!” This may sound like two men having a friendly conversation but the man I was speaking with was wearing a t-shirt with a Confederate Flag.
It was not until I was in my truck, that I realized what was on his shirt. It struck me as odd that he would strike up a conversation wearing such a shirt. As a week has passed since this happen, it has really been on my mind. The importance of symbols and how we display them can be detrimental to relationships of all kinds. This man at most times in my life would have received a different welcome from me than he did that night. My awareness and alertness was not at its usual highness which accounted for my lack of noticing his shirt. But, it allowed me to have a good and pleasant conversation with someone who would have otherwise been ignored.
I still have a problem with people who wear or have Confederate Flags but I also learned not to jump to fast to dismiss a person without knowing them. I still don’t have much respect for those who choose to brand or wear a Confederate Flag but I nonetheless I had a conversation with a man that did. I will never see that man again in my life but for those brief 2 minutes that man gave me enough encouragement to get home after 15 hours on the road. He gave me a pound and told me to perk up and we parted our ways. The hate that fills the mystic and prowess of the Confederate Flag did not fill this man, at least from my perspective, but its presence displayed on his shirt impacted me more than him…
Think about it…
Yesterday, I posted a statement on Facebook that stirred a little bit of conversation. My initial point said,
“Racial reconciliation is an existential lie that pushes the oppressed to enter back into the hell they have been trying to escape.”
Throughout the rest of the day, I had conversations with many brothers and sisters, about my comment. As I pondered, upon the conversations, I started to wrestle with some thoughts about racial reconciliation. It is my sincerest hope that my thoughts will be conveyed with clarity as I attempt to unpack my line of thinking. These are not definitive, well researched thoughts, but somethings that I have been wrestling with:
First, we must understand that racism has worked. Race was never meant to be a tool to build community. The quest to identify someone as the “other” has always been a tactic to say that I am better than you. Dr. Mitzi Smith writes, “Difference is constructed in order to distinguish ourselves from proximate others. Our constructions of the other generally function to subordinate the other to us.” So, when race and the politics of race were implemented they were not done with the hope of building community. It was designed to disempower a group or groups of people that did not meet the pigmentation requirement to be white. Also, the premise of developing the concept of race was to make sure that the group designated as important always remained the important group. That is why it is extremely hard for some white people to grasp the notion that racism is a real trauma in the black, brown and Native American communities. Because, to make the claim that racism is live and active, would then force that white person to have to deal the reality that they have prospered on the backs of others. Their positions and privilege spaces were not always the products of hard work but often time engineered by what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls the “elegance of racism.”
Secondly, racial reconciliation is not an applicable reality. As I said before the concept of race was not developed to build community, it was meant to divide. Once race enters the picture the aspects of relationship start to diminish: No longer am I an African connecting with a European, but a black skinned person interacting with a lighter skinned person. The cultural beauty of our tribe or country is sidelined by color. The cultural aesthetics are secondary to color schemes.
Furthermore, if we are honest, when racial reconciliation is stated it is usually slanted to ascribe that those designated as minorities conform to the characteristics of those who are the majority. Thus, racial reconciliation usually calls for a sacrifice from those who have been the victims of racism.
Thirdly, we must be very clear that we do not confuse the reconciliation of the scripture to mean racial reconciliation. The scriptures make no room for race. They do make room for nations and tribes, but not people based upon the color of their skin. When we make efforts to force racial reconciliation into the reconciliation of the scriptures, we force God to be a racist. God has called us to “put on Christ.” (Romans 13:14) God has not called us to be black or white. We have adopted these labels and most of us live by them wholeheartedly, including me. The reconciliation of the scriptures calls for us be put back into a place where we can receive the blessed favor of God. It is not a space where we come and disrobe our authenticity, so that others feel safe. It is a sacred space where God allows us to be in community with Godself, while being in community with others and color is a non-factor.
Unfortunately, I do not think we can have that type of encounter outside of the love of God. We live in a society that promulgates the racism with ease. The hatred of anything non-white becomes evident just by turning on the television. When the safety of an ape Trumps (pun intended) the safety of a young black child, racism is real. When good Christian folks see nothing wrong with the rhetoric and politics of Donald Trump, racism is real. So for someone to believe that racial reconciliation is feasible is treading on some sticky ground. Spiritually, God makes no room for it and in reality it is just not going to happen.
Just take a look at your local congregation and that should be a good indicator of the importance of this so called racial reconciliation.
Racism is not a faith issue; It is a love issue. The opportunity to push forward in the face of differences becomes imperative as we seek to reveal the goodness of God. Racism robs us of community and sidelines us to minimal interactions. Yes, we will always see color but color does not have to be the determining factor for us to release and accept love from others. My young cousin says vehemently, “Racism is learned.” How man y times have we heard such language? The problem is that if it is learned then is it possible to unlearn it.
Honestly, racism and love mix about as well as oil and water. They can be in the same container but they will never blend. So for a person to say they operate in love but hates a group of people is problematic and at best untrue. Racism automatically places a blinder in front of your eyes…regardless. For many whites, racism is a non-essential but for the majority of blacks it is an everyday reality. Yes, racism is not a faith issue but my faith is surely impacted by racism.
How I see God is deeply impacted by episodes of racism? I may not understand it or may not be able to articulate it but racism is a major participate in our understanding of who God is. James Cone articulates this well in God of the Oppressed, as he shows, that for white people, the impact of racism is not a functional necessity as it is in the life of black people. Because it is such an everyday occurrence, we (black people) must rehearse our responses much the same as one prepares for a play. That may strike some as odd but in my world it is a reality. My father told me what to do when the police stopped me. I told my son what to do if the police stopped him. I told my son what to say when the police stopped him. We rehearsed what to say when those sworn to protect us become the threat or the perceived threat.
It is sad that as Christians we have failed to break through the structure of racism and allotted for our own treehouses in our own backyards –the church. We have exegeted our racism and made it doctrinally permissive. We have made a mockery of the faith and called it denominations.
Thank God that the younger generations have a different perspective of the chaos that we have made of humanity.
I get asked all the time, “Why do you quote James Baldwin so much?” My answer oftentimes, “Why don’t you quote him at all?” Baldwin is the epitome of what art should resemble. His writings are piercing critiques of an (a)merican system that refuses to honor a morality that it proclaims on paper. Baldwin requires that the system do a self-examination, however painful and uncomfortable, he places a mirror before the (a)merican power structure and says, “LOOK!!!”
James Baldwin is a paradox as El Kornegay so aptly states in his book The Queering of Black Theology. G.K. Chesterton describes a paradox as truth standing on its head screaming to get everyone’s attention. Baldwin becomes this paradox not by shameful antics for attention but by mere activation of a love that drives his compassion for humanity. He is driven by this insane love for humanity.( I reference his love as insane because it would appear that the work of getting others to understand humanity and the treatment of humanity is an impossible task.) The hatred that revolves around this country is unfathomable to most and ignored by many unless you are considered a minority. Baldwin’s daunting attempt to reconcile people to truth is what makes people uncomfortable with his art. This sacred beauty that invites us to grapple with injustice and explore a world of diversity. His ability to perichoretically improvise life, gives us a sense of what a true community in God might resemble –the ability to be honest, authentic, in/with love filled with compassion.