I can’t breathe. I can’t swim. I can’t walk on the sidewalk at night or down the street during the day. I can’t play outside with a toy gun or inside where they are sold, I can’t listen to music too loud and now, I can’t even pray. When did being black become the number one risk factor for violent death?
In the wake of the murder of 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, SC by a neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist, I wonder where it’s safe to be black anymore. Not outside of a convenience store selling loose cigarettes. Not at the swimming pool. Not on the sidewalk or the street in your own neighborhood. Not at a park or inside a Wal-Mart. Not at a gas station in your own car. And not at church for bible study.
The stipulations for being black in America require a study guide; one that is updated daily. According to society I must run fast, jump high, sing pretty, put my hands up, put my hands behind my back, sit down but never sit-in, stand up but never for what I believe in, lay down but never in protest, die but don’t die –in, and be quiet – all at the same time. The qualifications are so many that we’re not even sure who is black anymore, so much so that the most talked about black person leading up to the AME shooting, isn’t black at all.
It begs the question: What effect has racism and specifically, white supremacy, had on black identity? It’s difficult to maintain a positive identity when every aspect of your blackness is pathologized. Even as we refer to Dylann Roof and his violent assault on black lives that mattered, we immediately attribute his actions to his mental stability or lack thereof. Had he been Arab or Muslim? – Terrorist; Latino? – A drug dealing, illegal alien; Hired gun? Some of you saw the movie American Sniper – They called him a Hero; and Black? – Most assuredly a thug bred in a culture of violence.
When a white person commits a crime they are given the benefit of doubt and taken first to a hospital before being taken to jail like we saw last week in Virginia when a white man made death threats to black churchgoers just one day after another white man had killed 9 black churchgoers in SC; the authorities took him to a hospital for 72hr mental evaluation and no charges were brought against him.
In this country, when a white person commits a crime they are given the benefit of doubt and taken to Burger King before they are taken to jail as we witnessed in Charleston when the killer declared he was hungry after being apprehended by authorities. I suppose he’d worked up an appetite after slaughtering 9 innocent people the night before. This is America.
And in America if you are black and committed NO crime other than being black, the chances of you making it to jail in one piece are diminished as we saw in the Freddie Gray case where he suffered a severed spine in route to jail. No hospital, no lunch, just death.
These are the effects of racism. Racism is what white supremacy looks like out loud. Racism is not a mental illness; Dylann Roof is not insane – just good ole-fashioned confederate racist nurtured in a lifetime of white supremacy teachings. Those teachings have spread through societies like an infectious disease. White supremacy is a virus that has infected the black identity.
Viruses generally originate from a host which can infect a completely new host species, spreading the virus throughout diverse populations. The virus no longer needs its original host to thrive as it continues to evolve and mutate to manipulate resistance and defense mechanisms against it. Eventually it kills everything it infects until either an antibody is retrieved from the original host, the infected host develops a natural resistance, or an antibody is synthetically manufactured. White supremacy is like a virus, and the host is generations of white, Jim Crow, freedom obstructionists of the confederacy, and it has infected the black identity.
In one of the worst weeks in recent memory for people of color, we saw white supremacy (aka white privilege) that was so strong it afforded one woman the choice to be black; white supremacy in the form of racism that killed 9 innocent black people, and white supremacy in the form of internalized oppression in the Dominican Republic. The latter is the best example of how white supremacy has spread through the black diaspora like a virus, infecting black identity far downstream of its original host. Here we have black people – on the same island, deporting other black people – to the same island, for being too black. And it’s void of your traditional white, Jim Crow southerner host; yet this ethnic cleansing has white supremacy written all over it. Because white supremacy is a deeply seeded sickness that has spread, evolved, and mutated throughout history and it has infected black identity.
On last Sunday, Father’s Day, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III preached with his father the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr. on the subject “Prophetic Grief” in response to the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Prophetic Grief. And in their sermon they preached about the historical trauma suffered by blacks at the hands of white supremacy, and that our grieving must not be pathetic – angry, resentful, vengeful grief; or sympathetic even – where you just hurl disconnected empathy across the room to the suffering; but prophetic grief – where we actually stand in the other’s pain as if it were our own. Prophetic grief. The Rev. Dr. Moss Jr. closed by saying that healing must accompany prophetic grief.
It’s in that same vein that I want to preach for a few more moments on the subject: Prophetic relief: 3 ways to treat white supremacy and save black identity. White supremacy is a virus that has infected the black identity; a virus that infiltrated black faith almost 2 weeks ago; A virus that has attempted to separate black love. And we need relief. Our modern day prophets have taught us how to grieve, and now we need prophetic relief. Miracle medicine. Anti-hate antibodies. Prophetic relief.
Now, I’m not a prophet. And I’d push back on being called a healer even, though some might say otherwise given my vocation. But I’m not your guy. Oh but I know who is! I know a guy! A prophetic healer! He treats viruses. Brings life back to the lifeless. Relieves years of hemorrhaging. Prophetic relief! I know a guy. I know a woman too. Not a prophet. Not a healer. But a believer. Verse 25 of our gospel reads:
25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
What can a prophetic healer and a suffering believer teach us about prophetic relief of the infection of white supremacy in black identity?
- We’ve got to be honest with ourselves and each other. Verse 33 says, “she fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” We’ve got to come clean and tell the truth. (Talk about the effects of slavery, suffering, colorism, black forgiveness and white guilt, existing pains in the black experience). The truth will set us free.
- We’ve got to keep the faith. In verse 34 Jesus says to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Talk about the history of Emanual AME church and the attack as an attack on Black Faith). Peace and healing comes to us when we stay faithed-up.
- Sometimes we’ve got to interrupt the regularly scheduled program to usurp power. We can’t wait on others to empower us, we have to take it even when it’s inconvenient. The gospel begins by saying in verse 22 that “one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
(Talk about the juxtaposition of Jairus and the unnamed woman, who was impure and unclean and had suffered at the hands of physicians. Talk about how Jesus didn’t offer healing she “stole” it.)
The U.S. constitution was written over 2 centuries ago. If you recall slavery was written into the original constitution and was later ratified with the abolition of slavery. Slavery wasn’t the only thing against us in that piece of paper. We’ve been operating in a system that was never designed to work for people of color! And yet we press on… Earlier I gave 3 ways to treat an infection. One of those ways was the body building a natural resistance against infection. We’ve got to build our own resistance against this infectious disease that is white supremacy. But we can’t do that without strengthening our union under the banners of justice and equity.
We must continue to seek small yet significant victories like the removal of the Confederate flag where yesterday we saw activist Bree Newsome, in a Joan of Arc moment, climb the flag pole at the SC state capitol and snatch down the confederate flag “in the name of Jesus.” However we must remember in the process, not to ignore the atrocities carried out under the wave of the American flag (poverty, HIV, Mass incarceration, illiteracy, etc.).
We have an obligation to our children and children’s children to continue to protest streets named after Confederate generals so that these hurtful symbols don’t linger to subliminally infect black identity, remembering in the process however, that black lives are lost every day along every street in every ghetto in America named after Martin Luther King Jr.
#blacklivesmatter must not be just a moment in time, but a movement in history, remembering in the process however, that black lives cannot survive or thrive when divorced from black love; we cannot expect the rest of the world to value our very existence when we don’t first love ourselves and each other.
Racism and the black identity crisis are co-infections of white supremacy and they must cease to co-exist; our lives depend on it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to contemplate where it’s still safe to pray anymore, but I remember the words Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Don’t worry about anything instead pray about everything.” And so I will not stop praying. Nor will I stop being unapologetically black because I’m the son of a mighty god who doesn’t mind being interrupted by the nameless regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. I will pray, I will be black in public, we shall overcome and that my brother’s and sister’s in Christ is prophetic relief. Amen.