What does it mean to be an (a)merican? It appears that to be an (a)merican, one has to identify with a culture plagued with greed, that infects the lives of all people. It is hard to talk about race without seeing the influence of greed. An (a)merica’s greed makes it hard for real conversations about race to be effective. As Walter denotes in Part 1 ,we know there is a problem but it is greed and selfishness that hinders progress. Honestly, it would call for a relinquishing of power in many forms for reconciliation to “stick.” Racism is too complex of an institution and I am not sure if we have mastered the language of reconciliation well enough to provide a solid solution.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about racism. The inventiveness and genius of the system of racism is ever unfolding. It mutates and redevelops itself as people become more cognizant of its terror. Racism is one of the most complicated terrains I have ever had to navigate through in my life. It hurts and it frustrates in sacred places that society refuses to allow grief. Racism redefines love while reproducing hate. It dismantles any notion of reconciliation because it refuses to admit that there was a separation in the first place.
Racism has become so embedded in the fabric and essence of (a)merica that it now functions as patriotism.
Thus, objection to racist behavior makes one anti-(a)merican and a terrorist. The lived perception is that black people should consider it a privilege to be in (a)merica and willing to endure racism because of this privilege. It would make the presumption that the privilege of being in (a)merica outweighs any racism projected at black, brown and red people.
The beautiful ugly of racism is so manipulative that it fails to adjust its transformative lens, even when it encounters God. This produces a hermeneutic of oppression that discerns racism as media hype with blatant disregard for the “other.” This type of understanding of God soothes the soul of the racist rather than unhinging the lies that have prevailed in a colorblind and passive (a)merica.
A Christian that fails to interpret and oppose racism, in a society, can never be trusted to effectively transmit the Gospel to all.
Drew Hart writes in Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church views Racism,
“Dominant groups are always in danger of thinking that their perspective is synonymous with God’s perspective.”
This failure to critique and question one’s personal thinking stifles the opportunity to be sensitive to the needs of the other. In such a space, racism is acknowledged as adiaphora that is only significant to the black church as an illegitimate excuse to hate whiteness. Racism is a nonessential issue that brings division. Interestingly, in such spaces, racism appears to be the only thing that can be changed, transformed or resolved without any form of deliberation.
It is this type of privilege that embodies racism: this privilege to ignore the trauma that has become the aftermath. Racism provides the dominant culture with free passes to criticize without be criticized. It “thrives of colorblindness, while simultaneously engaging in highly racialized practices,” writes Drew Hart.
My good friend Martin Quick posed a question to me:
I know God does not get glory in racism from Christians, but…how do we respond to racism in a way in which God gets the glory?
I am not sure how to answer that question properly. The privilege that comes with racism presses the black, brown, and red people in (a)merica to be the ones that sacrifice the most. We are being asked to fix a broken system that will allow the people in power, to stay in power, but in some minimal space we obtain some level of equality. That is not justice but lunacy being ambushed by absurdity. I am left exploring that question but he answers with a quote from Dr. Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango:
Sometimes the call to and celebration of unity frightens me. I would rather have justice but maybe one leads to the other but I do not know…
We still wrestle…
Premature talks of reconciliation is a hustle. Indeed, the notion that we can have racial reconciliation before we have justice is illusory. Yes, we can worship and work together, get married, develop friendships, live in the same neighborhoods, love each other individually, and come together to address issues of police brutality, racism and injustice (and we should)—but none of that is RECONCILIATION at a macro level. Genuine reconciliation is IMPOSSIBLE as long as white supremacy is on the throne. As long as black and brown bodies are denigrated and marginalized economically, socially, and politically there can be no reconciliation except of the cheap, self-centered kind. Folks who want to rush to reconciliation do so because they are uncomfortable feeling, seeing and witnessing the anger of the oppressed. They must quiet that righteous rage and quickly assure oppressed people that everything is going to be alright because such anger and vivid examples of injustice threaten their tidy, neat Americanized ideology and expose it as a FRAUD. We must come to grips with the fact that the way America is organized is a sham and that much of our theology aids and abets it. Reconciliation that preserves the privilege of whites is no reconciliation at all.
My name is Walter Strawther and I am a married, 46-year-old, African American male. I am the father of two beautiful daughters. I was born and raised in the church. My daddy serves as a deacon at St. Peter’s Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Greenville, SC. We have always lived near the church and my daddy has been the deacon to open the church each Sunday. As a result, we were there each Sunday. The FBH denomination has been and still is one of the most conservative of the Christian denominations. We were once told not to wear any jewelry other than a watch and a wedding band. Women were not allowed to wear pants or serve in leadership positions, let alone pastor a church. Sundays were for resting and visiting after being in church for most of the day. I was taught that homosexuality is sin and that all who practice it are going to Hell. It is difficult to get away from your upbringing. It is difficult, even when you have evidence and experiences to the contrary, to incorporate a new way of thinking into your psyche. This is true of individuals and of organizations.
As I attended Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, I came into contact with people and teachings that challenged my upbringing and what I learned coming up in the FBH church. Some of the challenges to my upbringing were easier for me to accept than others. Homosexuality as a way of being instead of as a choice was and still is one of the most challenging concepts to my understanding of Christianity. I’ve experienced powerful preaching and exemplary examples of love expressed through people who are openly homosexual. These experiences challenge my notion of who God is and who God can use and I am reminded that I am not God. I am reminded that God is so distinctively other from me and any other human being that it is ridiculous to think that we can say definitely how God sees a group of people.
My views on homosexuality and the LGBTQIA community have changed over the last couple of years. Just as the FBH church eventually came around to ordaining women and relaxing some of the more restrictive rules based on a legalistic reading of scripture, I have come to understand that I am in no position to do anything other than what Jesus asked of Peter. Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative, Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus does not call us to place restrictions on each other. Jesus does not give any of us the power to determine who is in and who is out. Jesus does not command us to play gatekeeper by developing rules and regulations that we ourselves can’t even keep. Jesus simply asks each one of us, “Do you love me?” If we love Jesus, then our views on the other will change. If we love Jesus, then the death of any person will cause us to grieve. If we love Jesus, our hearts cease to be hearts of stone that accept this sort of violence against any group of people and will becomes hearts of flesh that seek to end suffering and pain in whatever form presented. If we love Jesus, we recognize that we too are sheep in need of feeding and as such we have no authority to label or condemn.
The church is going through an identity crisis. This is nothing new. Throughout the history of the church beginning with the New Testament church in Acts we see a constant struggle over what it means to be the church. This realization is a cause for celebration and a cause for sadness. We can celebrate because we know that the church has survived previous bouts with identity crisis. Indeed, it has often been the case that after a severe crisis the church has flourished and made the greatest impact on society only to sink back into a time of struggle. On the other hand, we are saddened to think that crisis seems to be the essential ingredient to get us to consider Jesus’ question of love. We are further saddened when brothers and sisters who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior deny the love of God to those suffering and being killed. The church is going through an identity crisis but the resolution of this crisis is found in returning to our love for Christ so that we might love each other.
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.