Brothers In Conversation About Race (Part 10)

The question that still remains concerning race in America is the question of unity. What does it mean to live in unity with those who are not like us? What does it mean for the majority to recognize and accept the issues that are important to the minority? How can the minority who has been oppressed and still feels the remnant of that suffering move past the hurt to embrace unity with the majority? There are no easy answers to these questions but that does not mean we cannot attempt to have conversations that move us toward resolution. The prevailing sentiment is that we are too far gone; that people have dug their heels in and there is no room for negotiation or discussion. The prevailing sentiment is that any compromise will be seen as defeat; any concession of any point concerning what we believe about race/racism will be viewed as losing our principles. None of which is helpful. We have to be able to have discussions. We have to be able to honestly question each other and allow ourselves to be questioned. We have to be able to hear one another with the understanding that no one has all truth and no one is all wrong.

My hope that this is possible comes from my belief in Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. This week’s lection from John 17:1-11, reminds us that Jesus was given authority over all flesh to over eternal life (v. 2). The tricky part is found in the very next verse: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The unity we seek is in knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to know God? People have used their “knowledge” of God to justify many abhorrent behaviors and beliefs. Racism has been justified using scripture. Division has increased as people lay claim to God’s word as their own, refusing to believe that anyone else has knowledge of who God is. Yet, Jesus prays for all who are his followers. He prays that we might be one as he and the Father are one. This does not mean sameness but does mean an intimately close relationship that allows for difference without separation. We have to be willing to come back to the table and discuss our difference knowing that we are united in Christ. We have to swallow our pride and let go of our self-glorification born out of this belief that we fully know God. We have to admit our limited knowledge of God and embrace the knowledge that others have been given by Jesus Christ.

Until we face the problem with honest reflection, we will continue to live in the division and conflict we see in the world today. Until we let go of our need to be glorified, to have the light shine on our thoughts and beliefs, we will continue to fail to glorify God with the unity God intended. I’m ready, let’s talk.

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Brothers in Conversation about race… ( Part 1)

As Americans, we know that we are divided on the issues of race and African American interactions with law enforcement. We even know what it takes to become united in relation to these issues but yet we choose to remain divided. Instead of listening to each other, we choose to throw around labels. Our beliefs become so ingrained in such a small amount of time that any rational conversation seems impossible. As a result, with each new incident of another African American dying at the hands of law enforcement only produces another string of #Blacklivesmatter vs. #Bluelivesmatter war of words. We continue to cover the same ground with repeated phrases; rehashing the same problems without offering any solutions. We know we can’t continue in this course of action because eventually we will simply destroy each other in our division. Yet, another day dawns, another African American dies, and the war of words continues. We all have a perspective based on our experience but that should not prevent us from seeking solutions.

 

Words from Fredrick Robinson

fredrick robinson

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.

Parallel Crossings: Reparations and Reconciliation

It is sensible to declare that the end of reparations is to assist with the efforts of reconciliation. The economic good from such an operation would reinvent the myth of America.[1] A myth previously predicated on a social construct of destruction known as slavery; a myth that used stolen people from Africa to change the landscape of this “extraordinary drama which is America.”[2] Reparations would be a place to start the healing or the change but there must be a clear understanding that it is a “limited remedy.”[3] The idea of reparations is not the summation of reconciliation but a loyal symbol of authentic steps in the right direction.

Many have relegated the simple payment of funds as the answer without asking serious questions about change. The need should be focused more on “righteousness, true social justice and a civilized state of African –Americans in our total quest for freedom than in trying to justify if we are owed something or not.”[4] The question that must be answered is, “can America ever be right for the African-American? Will African –Americans really benefit from the American legal system? Can reparations even be argued fairly in America’s court?[5]” Reparations does appear as the ending solution, but the only way that it becomes a reality is that we first answer such profound questions. The process of answering such questions will ultimately provide an infrastructure for change. Yes the economic issue is serious and needs to be addressed but money without justice is just fashionable poverty.

The mere fact that we must have a dialogue about the necessity of reparations unfolds the issue that we are not civil enough to embark upon reconciliation.[6] When we are able to identify that our neighbor’s pain is just as real as our own pain the process of reconciliation becomes plausible. But if my main objective is to declare that the improvement of the disenfranchised –African-Americans –then the myth of America becomes a reality. James Baldwin denotes this myth:

There is an illusion about America, a myth about America to which we are clinging which has nothing to do with the lives we lead and I don’t believe that anybody in this country who has really thought about it or really almost anybody who has been brought up against it–and almost all of us have one way or another–this collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.[7] (Nobody Knows My Name)

Baldwin suggests that many are consumed with living their own lives so to engage in any form of reparation jeopardizes their particular way of living –change becomes something that speak about but are reluctant to actually participate in the work. This reinforces the notion and the need that the principle of reparations in human affairs requires for those who are wronged and for those who have wronged to participate in the process of reconciliation.[8]

Civility

What is the point of getting a large sum of money in a corrupt society?[9] Reparations are useless if the image of African-Americans is not changed. Joseph Boston writes,

As long as America and its counterparts continue to operate under this most delusional of pathologies they must consistently cast their gaze to the East because it is there that it can fulfill the notions it believes about self –its ideals of freedom, equality, justice, democracy, superior morality, “civilisation” and it is by these virtues that it can position itself as savior. The negro, being many things to America, is by mere presence most troublesome as a symbolic representation of all that America is not, juxtaposed to all that it positions itself to be.[10]

Reparations are just mere drops in the bucket if civility lacks in the everyday interactions with each other.

There is a story line in the movie Fly by Night, where the lead actor who plays this flyboy rapper (King Rich) states he wants to make a lot of money. The other rapper in the group is a Pan-African rapper (I tick) who is about activism. They are having a conversation about obtaining wealth through the making of music. Rich is saying how they need to get money and get paid so they can buy all kinds of material things. I tick responds with, “Yeah, we can get all the money that they ever made and then they (white people) will say you need cat pee to buy food…and they will own all the cats.”

My point is that money becomes useless in an uncivil society that still deems African-Americans as quasi-citizens –American enough to work for us not American enough to see the need to extend reparation.[11]

When the opportunity of growth becomes a victim to a process, those who are not in power suffer. The act of throwing money at an issue disconnected from justice leads to more frustration and failure. Reparations and reconciliation from my perspective are two parallel entities that only connect amongst civil people.

Virtues like justice do not create civilizations, they are product of civilizations. Order is not civilizations, true civilizations create order. When all Americans become truly civilized, real justice will occur and then reparations can be properly discussed. But to assume that the high quality of justice can be expressed by, and within, an uncivilized and selfish society made up of competing races is simply immature. [12]

 

[1] The “myth of America” is a concept that will be explained in further detail.

[2] James Baldwin. Nobody Knows My Name. New York: Vintage Books,1961.,5

[3] Lecky, Robert S., Elliott Wright, and William Stringfellow. “Reparations: Repentance as a Necessity to Reconciliation.” In Black Manifesto; religion, racism, and reparations,, . New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969.,54.

[4] KRS-One. Ruminations. New York: Welcome Rain Publishers,2003.,99

[5] Ibid.,98.

[6] Ibid.,102.

[7] Ibid., Baldwin,153.

[8] Ibid., Lecky and Wright,63.

[9] Ibid., KRS-One,105

[10] This is a taken from Joseph Boston’s blog post called The Dissonance of “Bring Back Our Girls” and African American Pain.

[11] Randall Robinson. The Debt. New York: Plume, 2000.,204

[12] Ibid.,KRS-One,128.

Fruitvale Station: Grace in a Racist System

I watched Fruitvale Station after many months of trying to avoid the truth. This movie moved me to deal with issue of mistrust with the justice system. I mistrust the justice system but have to figure out a way to teach my children (especially my boys) how to conduct themselves in order to be safe even from the police. As a black father, I understand that there are two sets of rules for black boys and white boys. My son can’t hang out with his friends like white boys. My son can’t walk with a crowd of his black friends like white teens have the ability too. If a white person shoots my son it was out of fear for their life but if I shoot a white male then I was intentionally trying to kill him. Truth be told if I shoot a black male I will be placed in jail without any sort of hung jury.

To place this in the context of reconciliation moves me to a familiar place that ends with black folks having to give more to connect with a people group that continues to dehumanize the black community through acts of murder. The deliberate misuse of the anger toward the black body lives of the edges of toleration that the black community has always extended massive levels of grace. We have lost numerous black males to gun violence by black males and if the shooter is found justice is served. In the black community, we have dealt with this for as long as we can remember.

Race continues to be the pretense…

How does reconciliation come to bear in the face of an unjust system? My theology causes me to redress my anger into forgiveness but yet not to forget the atrocities. We have a system that highlights the black on black crime narrative for justice but finds a myriad of ways to excuse others from the murder of black males. The devalued ethos of black males bodies continues to plague a country that has never been fully convinced of the importance of black males people. As I think about the last scene in Fruitvale Station, the night of the Trayvon Martin verdict and now Jordan Davis verdict, I am stuck in a paradoxical dilemma. We love our black boys and we would suggest to you that they have so much to add to our world.

They are losing faith in the system… and quite frankly so am I.

RIP Jordan Davis