DuBois and Cee-Lo: The Fence

Me and my family moved in our apartment complex

A gate with the serial code was put up next

The claim that this community is so drug free

But it don’t look that way to me cause I can see

The young bloods hanging out at the store

24/7 Junkies looking got a hit of the blow

it’s powerful Oh you know what else they tryin to do

Make a curfew especially for me and you

the traces of the new world order

Time is getting shorter if we don’t get prepared

People it’s gone be a slaughter

My mind won’t allow me to not be curious

My folk don’t understand so they don’t take it serious

But every now and then,

I wonder If the gate was put up to keep crime out or to keep our ass in. – Cee-Lo

I think I never before quite realized the place of the Fence in civilization.”- W.E.B. DuBois

The differences between Du Bois’ ideology of fences and gates, retrospectively, is strangely just a means of time and space with Cee-Lo’s perspective in “Soul Therapy.”

Cee-Lo identifies the gate as a mechanism of enslavement or control. Nonetheless, he understands that the gate works the same from both sides: it keeps crime out or keeps our ass in. The gate symbolizes that we are the crime that needs to be held captive so that crime does not get into the greater public. Or, the gate was simply placed there to keep our ass in—locked down.

What Du Bois supposes is that the fence is only for the places that are deemed as valuable. Those space with fences are white Kelly Brown Douglas call cherish spaces. These spaces are places where Black bodies are unwelcome and it is god’s will that white people do whatever it takes to protect those spaces. DuBois notices that the fence is an indictor of privilege. When there is a fence placed in front of the “ugly, one-room, cheerless and dirty” shacks lived in by the poor Black tenants the rent is increased because of the fence.

What DuBois appears to surmise is the objective of the fence changes when you own the land. And not just land, when you own whatever, it makes a difference in driving perspective.

What Does It Mean

We are presently entrenched in a social crucible,

where two simple statements have marked identities: Black Lives Matter (BLM) vs. Make America Great Again (MAGA).

This complicated struggle—

of finding meaning in the midst of death, is becoming overwhelming.

We’re all searching for the perpetual solution to the unimagined question:

What does it mean to be Black in a white, racist society when death is loitering from Covid-19, police, or just everyday life itself?

The success of waking and showering is the goal.

The success of waking is the goal.

Just having a goal is success.

Each journey outside becomes an anxiety laden spy mission

Be safe, wear your mask

I don’t know…I just put my headphones in and listen to Coltrane.

A Love Supreme

Vulnerability During the Pandemic

The older I get the more I realize that vulnerability becomes a necessary part of the arsenal for survival. This pandemic has revealed to many that they are only moments away from life being altered in unimaginable fashions. Therefore, summoning up the courage to go the store for groceries is a herculean task but life threatening to say the least. As one of my colleagues and a friend shared with me during a phone call 3 weeks ago, “Foulks, if I get this virus, I don’t think I will make it.” Those words have echoed in my mind, heart and spirit since that day. And friends, I feel the same way. Knowing my vulnerabilities has given me a freedom. Everyday is a ….

We See You Brother Malcolm

El Hajj Malik El Shabazz

Brother Malcolm, “the Black shining prince”

On those last days, he moved with a particular preciseness.

This Black prophet, re-imagining love.

We see you Brother Malcolm, the fierce warrior for justice.

Those last moments as you apologize to the young sister for raising your voice…

We see you brother Malcolm…

That moment that shaped your life— when the state separated you and your siblings from you mother.

The moment you emphatically uttered, “That if ever the government destroyed a family it destroyed mine.”

calculated evil…

An evil that would lead you from train, to city, to jail and eventually to a nation.

The Nation of Islam…

Asalamalekeim…Walaekeim salaam

We see you brother Malcolm, dancing the lindy-hop

We see you Brother Malcolm picking the lock

We see a youth dispossessed, to become a man passionate about his people

We see you brother Malcolm

I’m reminded of my father urging me not to be like Malcolm

But to don the characteristics of King

See, I remember the story

April 4, 1968 king was killed my father is stationed in Birmingham, AL after being drafted.

He says, “The first white person he saw, he says he knock his motherfucking teeth out his mouth.”

But, yet, he tells me. Be more like Martin than Malcolm.

Ah. I get it.

My father understood Malcolm as well.

See growing up in the south there was a way that one had to “carry themselves.”

My father understood that being Malcolm would get you killed a lot quicker in the south than being Martin.

But, trust me ,when it was needful…one should always channel their inner Malcolm.

Because by any means necessary was a real life mantra.

We see you brother Malcolm.

Do #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black Theologians

It is an affront that Black people would even have to ask whether they “mattered” to those with whom they have an invested interest. The collective notion that one has to request whether #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black theologians beckons at an opaqueness and level of Tupac-ean hypocrisy.[1] Tupac makes a clear distinction about ecclesiological/theological authority in the third verse of Blasphemous.[2] Tupac writes:

The preacher want me buried, why? Cause I know he a liar

Have you ever seen a crackhead, that’s eternal fire

Why you got these kids’ minds thinking that they evil?

While the preacher being freaky you say “honor God’s people”

Should we cry when the Pope die? My request

We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X.[3]

 

This is the rebellious stance of a woke generation. This assertion of Albert Camus’s essays of revolt constitute a means to be engaged in the process and impetus of rebellion; it is the “awareness” – being woke or awakened to the moment.[4] Tupac critiques the theological powers of the Black church with claims of negligence and malfeasance coupled with trickery of young minds. Furthermore, he is re-adjusting the theological lens through which he (and, maybe others) will envision a just God. Tupac is connecting the freakiness of the pastor with the honorability of God: if the pastor is crooked then God must also be captured within the same crookedness for allowing such a person to function. Ultimately, Tupac’s final critique, “We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X,” belies the false piety of the theological/ ecclesial powers residing in the preachers/pastors and the Black theologian. Tupac identified how “papal authority undergirds the exploitation of colonized people, and he contrasts this colonial authority with Malcolm X’s authority, one who fought for the liberation of marginalized peoples.”[5]

What Tupac, other musicians and young activist express through their art and actions is a call to “report and reflect.”[6] It is the urgency of the moment that announces “so precisely the nature of the society, and of [the artist or theologian] in that society, that other [people] will be moved by the exactness of [their] rendering…”[7] These young Black activist are making Black theologians answer the call to re-imagine their theological ethic: to consider the need of those on the outer margin of the margins – Black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, criminals and the poor. It is the rethinking of how to make theology an existential practice that is usable for the everyday believer and not a theological sword fight in the academy between scholars.

#BlackLivesMatter: The Hip Hop Aesthetic  

The voice of Hip Hop is gradually “becoming” a viable stream of conscious that is beginning to register in the minds of Black theologians. The consequence of Hip Hop’s ontic swag, cautions many Black theologians to completely solidify it as an authoritative or persuasive voice within the church. I would claim that Hip Hop “is” the voice of the unheard with the same epistemological intensity that the riot “is” the voice of the unheard. I am deploying “is” as more of a locative term rather than a descriptive term. My attempt is to use it as a way of describing time, context and location in contrast with metaphorical usage. Thus “is” is more indicative of how King’s words were appropriated in the sixties; I am asserting that Hip Hop fuels this generation with the same fierceness. Therefore, Tupac clearly articulates, “I am not saying I will rule the world but I am going to spark the brain that will change the world.”[8] Kendrick Lamar is the product of that spark and his song becomes the soundtrack for the movement, We Gon Be Alright.[9]

Hip Hop captures the sensibilities of the #BlackLivesMatter movement through a poetic aesthetic – authenticating itself as a soundtrack for life. But, Hip Hop not only stands as a musical accompaniment to/for the movement; Hip Hop embodies an ontological metaphor of how many young activist enter into the convening space of protest. Their claiming of identity and ability to, genuinely, synthesize with a diverse group is a Hip Hop aesthetic.[10] In Faith and Ferguson, Leah Gunning Francis pens a memoir of what it resembles to engage, theologically, with such a group.[11] She makes the claim: “this was not an ideological movement, but a process in which bodies were taking to the streets to be seen and heard in the quest for justice.” [12] This is #BlackLivesMatter operating within a Hip Hop aesthetic that is calling the church to task, existentially. The calling is through active engagement on the streets, and not simply through sermons, prayers and useless words.

Francis recognizes the synergy that is happening amongst these young people and some Black theologians/preachers. There are “God moments.”[13] But, there are moments when the young activist insist on coming into the space with a Hip Hop aesthetic – doing it our way, protesting without prayer. And, this may be a place of contestation for some clergy, who are trapped in a puritanical Christianity: They can only envision assistance one particular way, and all other forms are wrong. This re-adjusting period is the gap or the fissure where one may propose whether #BlackLivesMatter to Black Theologians or is it indeed just a photo opportunity. Because the appearance is such, that one could assume, that if the Black Theologians cannot speak, they become useless. Retrospectively, for the young Black activist this may signal an inauthentic relationship with (their) God, ultimately, questioning their overall commitment and more importantly, their theology.[14]

Conclusion

Does #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black Theologians? That is a personal question that each Black theologian and preacher/pastor must answer for themselves. What I have presented in the few pages here was not an answer but more of a complication of the question. This is a process often employed by James Baldwin throughout his speeches. His methodology was to complicate the question, and by doing so, he would – inadvertently, but purposely – answer the question.

I suspect that Francis gets it right in her presentation of Faith and Ferguson: she lets the narrative tell itself. What we find in her work are theologians and pastors who are willing to take a backseat to the young Black activist, who are boots on the ground in Ferguson. They are there for support when needed and soldiering up for the fight at other times. Comprehensively, the end result is:

The fight for justice in this movement is a fight for the freedom to be seen and valued as human beings “just as you are” –not in a prescribed way that renders you acceptable so long as you fit a particular mold, but in an authentic way that makes room for each person to be able to be fully him-or herself.[15]

 

 

[1] I am drawing on the framework of Charles Long’s usage of the “theology of opaqueness.” This thought was introduced to me by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Ph.D. student, Bryson White, during a conversation about Tupac. White acknowledges Tupac as opaque theologian that is addressing the sociopolitical ills of Black bodies trapped in a neocolonial project. Charles Long, Signification: Sign, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion, Davis Group Publishing: 1996., 199-213.

[2] I am intending, purposely, to make the pastor/preacher and the theologian to reside in the same existential setting. Though they may function in a slightly different manner, I am situating them in alignment with each other as a (Black) figure that Tupac would be addressing within the church.

[3]Tupac, Blasphemy [Explicit] (Interscope; 1996)

[4] “Awareness, no matter how confused it may be, develops from every act of rebellion.” Albert Camus, The Rebel, Vintage International: New York, 1956.,14.

[5] This was a point of contention that was made from Bryson White in our discussion about Tupac’s critique of the church.

[6] LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Home, New York: William Morrow, 1996., 251.

[7] Ibid.

[8] I Will Spark The Brain That Will Change The World – Tupac [September 14, 2014]. Youtube Video [September, 2014] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uijBebYpoto

[9] Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly, [Interscope, 2015]

[10] Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson makes this clear in the The Hip Hop Church: “You would think that their various takes on truth would make this kind of postmodern freedom march impossible, but it seems as if in the urban community there is a way to bring people of faith together with people of goodwill around issues of social justice. Hip hop culture has an influence as well as a tolerance that brings disparate people groups together… A more liberal political agenda seems to lead to a relative stance on truth, with high regard for multicultural tolerance.” Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. The Hip Hop Church, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005., 110-111.

[11] Leah Gunning Francis, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community, Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri, 2015.

[12] Ibid., 58.

[13] Ibid., 24.

[14] This is with the theological supposition that theology has the potential to drive practice.

[15] Ibid., 109.