The killing of Michael Brown was a tragedy; and depending on the circumstances, which time will prayerfully make irrefutably clear, it was a national tragedy. Yet, even in light of that, I’m glad that the issue of race has returned to the forefront of the American psyche.
The shooting and subsequent looting and protests have proven the biggest race-related flare up since the advent of social media. So, for the first time, we’re able to dialog with one another all over the world without depending on–dare I say it–worthless politicians who would let America burn if it would get them reelected, or even on the news media, who’s too soon on to the next big story to instigate lasting change.
So, I’m posting this message in the hopes of provoking dialog–both here, as well as on your blogs and in your social spaces. If we want change, we, the everyman, are going to have to take the reins of society and make it happen.
But how? How can we find the common ground that is required in order to have productive discourse? The simple fact is that we often speak different languages. Whites speak the language of aristocrats who have (often unknowingly) ridden the wave of privilege all their lives. And that wave, to them, is the way the world works. On the other end of the spectrum, Black and Brown people speak the language of the oppressed. We have (very knowingly) ridden the wave of discrimination, economic depression, poor schools, high unemployment, and other social ills. Our experiences have convinced us that the world works in a very different way.
So when we come to the table called “Racial Harmony,” we wonder why it always sounds so horrible. It’s because we can call the table “Harmony” all we want to, but everyone is singing in a different key. And we get so tired of hearing that horrible noise, that we return to our own circles, to our own worlds where the music of life is much more familiar.
But I have a warning for all of my “music”-loving fans. Your orchestra is going to be disrupted very soon if you don’t turn down your radio and listen to other people’s songs. What I mean to say is that if we don’t return to the table and find a way to deal with our racial disfunction in areal, unapologetically direct way, this whole thing called America is going to blow up in our faces. Our Pax Americana is going to go up in smoke–the smoke of unrest that will stretch from coast to coast.
Unless your head is in the sand, you see the handwriting on the wall, and it speaks of a society that has grown fed up. We must fix this now, or we are (and will deserve to be) doomed.
In order for our discourse to be successful, though, we have to come to the table with an understanding, appreciation, and respect for the other party. Neither party can be perceived as the enemy, and neither party the dictator of terms. There are difficult truths that both sides must be willing to swallow.
To My White Brothers and Sisters
This is where you have, regrettably, missed the mark time and time again. You have to understand that in discussions on racial harmony, you are not our moral equal… When you’re done gasping and clutching your pearls, take a deep breath and keep reading… In a perfect world, you would be “equals”, but the fact that this conversation needs to happen at all proves that this is not a perfect world.
Think of marriages. When people cheat on their spouses, it’s insensitive of the cheaters to demand that their spouses just move on. It’s unreasonable to expect the wronged parties to meet them halfway, especially when the cheating happened more than once. The cheaters’ crimes against their spouses requires that they provide to their spouses extra leeway… sensitivity… patience… room to be angry… room to be frustrated… room to be emotionally overwhelmed and even unreasonable at times.
There is no moral equivalency when the cheater seeks reconciliation. The same must be acknowledged when the oppressor sits down with the oppressed. There has to be an uneven amount of give on the side of White people because even today, you sit in the seat of the privileged, whether you asked for it or not.
Yes, I recognize that you didn’t personally “cheat” on Black people. You didn’t enslave our ancestors. But here’s a fact that cannot be escaped. Your race did. So, while you can easily let the past be the past, can you see how that’s not so easy a thing for people who are still suffering the effects of that past? You don’t have the right to tell us to move on, not untilyour grandparents and great-grandparents are hit with water hoses, chased by dogs, beaten beyond recognition, and arrested on trumped up charges as a matter of course.
Rather than determining what needs to happen in order for us to move forward as a country, White people have (as a cheating spouse would) a moral obligation to find out from the oppressed, “What is it that you need? What is your “ask” (as Iyanla Vanzant puts it)? Where are you emotionally, mentally, psychologically?”
You cannot expect the oppressed to meet you on your terms. In a perfect world, we could meet in the middle of the road, and walk off into a perfect future together, arm in arm. But, that is not reality. If you want change, you have to meet us where we are because you are a representative of the position of the oppressor. As bad as that sounds, it’s a fact.
Now understand, meeting us where we are isn’t going to be an easy thing to do because the people you’re trying to build a future with are not in an “easy” place. We haven’t been all our lives. You have to see that. You have to acknowledge that. We have to feel you respecting that–not just hear the words, but feel your sincerity. And it’s your job to convince us that you are sincere. We moved past “the benefit of the doubt” about 50 years ago. You have to prove it. Again, this is just real talk.
This can all be summed up in a simple phrase. You must take ownership of the part that White America played in oppressing Black people–in creating systems and institutions that, even today, benefit White people above everyone else (especially Blacks). And again, requiring ownership isn’t unreasonable. The same exact ideas surround a cheating spouse’s attempt at reconciliation.
“But you act like Black people are these eternal victims and they have no responsibility in this process.” Not so fast. It’s not the right of the cheater to attack the one cheated on with such an accusation. You have to sit there and accept your responsibility, and trust that the mediator will work the other party through theirs. But you can’t antagonize the other party just because you don’t like the price you have to pay because of your part in this–or because of the part you culturally represent.
And on that note…
To My Black Brothers and Sisters
You did not ask to be slaves. You did not ask to be beaten, to have your families torn apart, to have your identities replaced. But it happened anyway. You didn’t ask to be intimidated at the polls, thrown in jail, or required to settle for separate accommodations. But it happened anyway. Sadly, there are things that people in life will throw your way that are beyond your control. If you sit back and wait on them to make things right, you will sit there watching and waiting, and you will never move forward for you.
White people have a serious responsibility in this effort to reach racial harmony. But I believe that ours is even greater. As hard as it may be for the cheating spouse to give, give, give in order to make amends, it’s even harder for the one cheated on to find worth again, to find identity again, to come to a place of true forgiveness, and to be able to move on. But it has to be done, not just for the sake of reconciliation, but for the sake of our own peace.
Our experiences in America have wreaked havoc on the very fabric of the Black community; and yes, White America is to blame. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t, too. They flooded our streets with cocaine. But we snorted and injected it. They flooded our streets with guns, but we’re the ones who shot each other. One of the things that bugs me the most is when people, Black and White, act as though Black people can do no wrong, and that everything is the White man’s fault. So, call me an Uncle Tom or an Oreo if you will, but we still have to take ownership and responsibility for our role in this mess that stands before us.
We may have been victimized, but we are not victims. Beneath all the layers of thuggery, broken families, poor education, and economic oppression, there still lies a radiant core of strength that has preserved our people through the very depths of hell itself for generations. It keep our great-great-great grandparents through slavery. It kept their children and grandchildren through Jim Crow and Separate But Equal. And it’s even survived today’s challenges. We have to search our souls and get back to that core of strength. We have to pull it out from under all the layers of garbage that have kept it hidden these last few decades. We have to shine again!
And don’t get me wrong. There have been spots of great radiance bursting forth from Black America; but we’re so much better than spots. We’re better than here and there successes. We’re better than a few noteworthy names and shocking statistics-survivors. We’re descended from kings and queens! While Europe was still living in stick-made huts and still struggling to learn the finer points of agriculture, we built empires. But let’s be real. We haven’t lived up to that legacy.
So, we can’t approach discourse with White people as though we have clean hands. We can’t act like the problems in the Black community are entirely the fault of White America. We’re not saints. And if we want to leave our children a better America, and a better Black community, we have to start by admitting that–not just in private conversations with each other, but even in conversations with White America. So, get ready to break the longstanding Black social convention and air our dirty laundry.
I said before that White people can’t approach racial discourse as though there’s a moral equivalency between our two communities. But having said that, we can’t approach it with the attitude that they’re going to have to give, give, give, and that we don’t have to do anything. We’ve got to put our work in, too.
We’ve got to admit that we don’t have a monopoly on hating racism. Many people in White America abhor discrimination and inequality. Many of them gave their lives fighting not only to restore the American Union, but also to end slavery. They stood on the lines with us as we faced down police, water canons, and dogs. They had their asses beat during the Freedom Rides campaign, along with Blacks. Some of their families were torn apart because they were “nigger-lovers.” So, it does their sacrifice great disservice to act like all White people think they’re better than us, and to make them pay indiscriminately for the crimes of others. Yes, their collective culture does have a price to pay. But no, many White people are not our enemies. And the only way we will fix America is to stand together with them… as equals.
“But doesn’t that contradict what you just said to White people about their not being our moral equals?” Yes and no. But I’m not talking to White people right now. I’m talking tous. Their message is that they have to acknowledge the wrongs Blacks suffered at the hands of White society. But on the other hand, we have to acknowledge that all of them are not guilty. It’s a different message for a different audience, the hope of which is to move both sides closer to common ground.
We also have to let go of this idea that the past cannot be undone. It cannot change, but I’ll be damned if it can’t be undone. Black America is not destined to the rocky shoals of sub-par existence. We are not destined to live in areas with poorly performing schools. We are not destined to have to fear encounters with the police. We are not destined to be punished more harshly for crimes than our White counterparts. None of this has to continue forever; but in order for healing to take place, we are going to have to start letting go of some things.
When we consider a spouse who was cheated on, the first priority in seeking healing is not reconciliation. The first priority is restoration–restoration of that person’s own self-image, self-worth, and identity. We had those things corrupted during slavery and Jim Crow. Even today, it hasn’t been fully restored. But part of the reason is that we haven’t been healed yet; and while this in no way mitigates the damage done by White America, if we want better lives, we have to forgive and heal for us. If we were to take racial reconciliation out of the equation, we’d still need to make healing a priority, just for our sakes.
We also need to take care that we approach dialog with level heads. It would be completely unreasonable to expect us to not be emotional as we bear our wounds and broach difficult issues. But there’s a difference between making an emotional point, and making a rational point emotionally. We can’t be so caught up in our feelings that we refuse to be reasonable and pragmatic. It would be like a spouse telling their cheating spouse that they are going to have to go without sex for 10 years in order to make amends. That’s an emotional demand, and it’s neither reasonable nor rational. American society has wasted too much time. We can’t afford to spend more time wallowing, and letting our (very understandable) emotions get in the way of productive dialog.
We’re All In This Together
So, the truth is, we all bear responsibility for how things are. None of us have clean hands. We all have a lot of work to do. But the good news is that there’s absolutely nothing preventing us from fixing this mess. It’s a matter of choice.
We must have the courage to say, “I’m willing to put in the work. I’m willing to have the hard discussions. I’m willing to acknowledge my own personal contributions to the current state of things. I’m willing to acknowledge the contributions of my community to the current state of things.”
We must also hold those in our own communities accountable. Everybody’s not going to participate in this discussion. Some people don’t care about life beyond their small little world. But that doesn’t mean that they get a free pass. We have to be our brothers’ keeper and push them toward being better human beings.
I know that this wasn’t an exhaustive examination of how best to engage in this much-needed dialog. I don’t think any such thing exists. But hopefully, it’s at least a starting point–something we can all reflect on in the hopes of steering our course toward a better future. And I know that that future is out there. It just needs people who are courageous enough to press toward it. Will you press with me?
* This article was originally published at Third Day Faith.
ROMELL WEEKLY pastors The Sanctuary, an affirming congregation in Saint Louis, Missouri, and has written three life-changing books about homosexuality and the Bible: Homosexianity, The Rebuttal, and his latest book, Homosexuality and the Death of the Church — all available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle format. He is the founder of The Center For Affirming Theology and also blogs at Third Day Faith.
by Pastor Romell D. Weekly
by Pastor Romell D. Weekly
In these two faith-affirming books, Pastor Weekly uncovers the biblical witness about sexual orientation and gender identity that will bring peace to your soul, and equip you to effectively minister to members of the LGBT community from a spirit of love and truth.