Tag Archives: african-american

The Elephant in the Room

Thank you Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis for calling a spade a spade.   In this video clip he comments on the ridiculous blogosphere response of some African American ministers who protested the appearance of TD Jakes in The Elephant Room.  Granted that Rev. Jakes has some controversial theological views (one of which he reaffirmed his reversal while making his appearance), but the amount of vitriol thrown Jakes way by some was ridiculous and quite frankly bordered on sin.  Newsflash to the haters – we all have some theological heresy in our belief system because theology (the study of God) is a human endeavor.   I applaud both James MacDonald to not bowing to the pressure and Bryan for calling people out who needed to be called out.

Looking In On Post-Blackness

Alvin reviewed Toure’s work on Post-Blackness recently. In short, the defining of Black America is no longer bound by traditional Black institutions and voices, the notion of FUBU is now expansive beyond a clothing line – meaning that Black identity is now in the rarified air of being malleable, ambiguous, and now free from the trappings of groupthink.

While I think that might spell some concern for Black churches, it’s probably a good thing as let’s be honest, White churches have been feeling some pressure recently as well — whether that be to be more diverse or more missional, sooner or later, Black churches are going to ask themselves interesting questions about what it means to worship as a church even as the emerging Post-Black generation begins to find they are somewhere between Black and White churches. Hopefully, we’ll get there.

As usual, the gap between here and there is first occupied by those individuals who can point out the absurdity of a static identity. By absurdity, I don’t mean hilarity, but the awkwardness and the lack of self-reflection in the process.

This next YouTube video is from The Oreo Experience where she answers the question, “Why I don’t date Black guys.” The video has garnered almost 300,000 views and over 7,000 comments. As a self-described “total whitey in a black chick’s body” Oreo Experience is a caricature that is more common than ever. The Asian equivalent is a Twinkie. I don’t know what the Latino analog would be. And I know that sometimes the identity is reciprocated from White people, because the endearing terms, “White Chocolate” and “Egg” exist as well. But these terms used to have an edge to them. Now, they’re mostly thought of as sweet, minus the egg.But what do you think? Post-blackness?

And this one is just as interesting, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl [explicit language] by Issa Rae, a YouTube show that is really unique in its portrayal of well, the awkwardness. And that’s the opposite of being Black and proud, right? Or at least that broadens our palette that you could be Black and anything. Here’s a short peek:

#OWS Now in Color!

Occupy Wall Street just got a taste of Colored People Time!

100 days after the movement started, Black churches just announced joining the Occupy Movement, calling it, “Occupy the Dream.” Over “1,000 concerned African American clergy, business owners, entertainers, and professional athletes have signed on to Occupy the Dream, the title of which referring back to MLK’s speech. So, does it take almost 3 months for this to become a priority for Blacks in America? Or do we just like to arrive casually late to the party?

While it’s true that I thought Occupy Wall Street was characterized by a predominantly White crowd, with the lowest poverty rates of any racial demographic, this is a welcome surprise. African American Christians do need to know that economic justice is not a complete justice. You can occupy all you want, but you do have to make sure  not to sell your soul to pay the bills.

So honestly, I’m just a little curious as to why now? Is there are game now? What is the full meaning if OWS begins to have diverse representation in its protesting body? And what does it mean that it’s the black church and not “other” churches? Do you think this will spread?

How Close Is The Past? And What is the Speed From Slave to Free?

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m reading some stuff on Emotionally Health Spirituality that interestingly enough talks about our past as a very present influence on the way we behave and interact in the now. At one point, Scazzero says  a Biblical viewpoint on the notion of family includes three generations, which would mean, a ready understanding of the word “family” would date back to the “mid-1800’s”! It talks about generational curses, addictions, patterns of behavior, etc. And this is great stuff for us to be unpacking for our emotional health and diagnosing why we have a “gut-level” un-examined way of pathological behavior and attitudes in our current relationships. Part of emotionally healthy spirituality is to recognize these patterns of behavior and  unravel some of these knots so that the gospel can fully take root in us. Whereas some couples have been “following Christ” for decades superficially submit their lives to the propositions of salvation and transformation, they don’t do the work of becoming emotionally healthy –that is to live a fully examined life before Christ and thus, do not allow the Spirit to do the deep work of transforming them. Scazzero is quick to say  emotional health and contemplative living are key to the revolutionary faith that Jesus promises.

Agree? Disagree?

If you agree, let’s push this one step further. I’m also reading this book called “Black and Free” by Tom Skinner, and here’s something  I want to juxtapose to the Emotionally Healthy stuff I just referred to above. If you disagree, they don’t necessarily connect, but if you do agree with the above, then this is perhaps helpful in unpacking the lack of health in the larger African American community. Just an insight, not the full solution.

Beginning with chapter 2, entitled “Why Do They Fight?” I’m going to take a few excerpts from Skinner and bring us back to the question, what does emotional healthy stuff have to do with reconciliation? Or as I’ve put in the post title, how close if the past? and what is the speed from slave to free?

What leads to gang warfare? What makes people in Harlem, Watts, the south side of Chicago, the east side of Detroit, the south side of Philadelphia, or the Hill district of Pittsburgh get involved in this kind of thing?  And in particular, people across the world are asking, ‘Why do black people riot?’…And to understand better the frustration and bitterness that fosters gang wars and riots, we have to look beyond the slums themselves. In fact, we need to go back some three hundred years — to when the first slaves were brought to the United States. They were imported from Africa via the West Indies….

Those who did survive were sold on the auction block. The plantation owners and farmers bought black people as easily and disinterestedly as they would buy a draft horse or a milk cow. To the planter, a black person was just another animal to be used on his farm or plantation. They were bred at the whims of their master. Whenever their master felt there was a need for additional slaves, he merely selected a healthy male and healthy female and he head them cohabit until a child was conceived…On and on went the pattern, so that within ten years a slave male could have sired more than hundred sons and daughters, but never really have the privilege of fathering any of them…There was no family life; there was no culture, no discipline set up as far a as home was concerned during all the there hundred years that black people were enslaved in North America….

After the Civil War, President Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation Proclamation, and the slaves were set free. After three hundred years of captivity, the black man was suddenly a free individual. He was told, “Now that you have your freedom, now that you have been emancipated, you must assume responsibility as a human being. You must now become a responsible citizen.”

They turned to this man who was bred like cattle, who perhaps did not even know his children, and asked him to raise his family! Three hundred years separated the black man from life in a family culture. he had never been show or taught what it was to have family responsibility, to be the head of his own home.

Overnight, the black man was told now that he was a free man he must live according to the culture he served and by their standards. Suddenly, he was taught that he must live with one wife and raise and teach his children.

Children who never knew what it was to have a father were suddenly told they must honor, obey and respect their parents.

Skinner goes on to unpack the difficulty of emancipation not in a vacuum, but in the real pressures of the South and as the Black community began to spread out across the country, but just within the context of reading Scazerro and Skinner back to back, I was struck by some of the ramifications this would have on the African American community. When I speak to my more privileged friends, one of the things they are quick to point to is the continuing struggle of the family unit in African American communities to build a healthier system; they cite the high rate of incarceration, and even when not in prison, I have heard more than once that Black men are the weak link in the chain. But when put up against the backdrop of emotional health (which Scazzero would be quick to point out, even our churches don’t give much vocabulary or awareness to), the struggles to be a man who knows how to father and how to be a husband would be extraordinarily daunting. To be emancipated without a narrative of healthy would still be setting one up for failure, no? Or is the past simply the past?

Help Me

I know I’m late to the party, but here are my thoughts on The Help.   For full disclosure you should know that typically movies like this make my skin crawl.  Hollywood has a tired formula of creating movies in which poor, pitiful black folk are “rescued” by good meaning white folk (Blind Side, Radio).  Drives me nuts!  One of the things I loved about Remember the Titans is for once they put the main black character in a position of authority and courageous leadership.

Anyways my wife and daughter both loved the book so their word is good enough for me.   I did see a lot of the tired Hollywood formula, however I did like the display of one authentic truth:  The most effective way to cross racial barriers is life experience.   When people take the time to truly get to know one another as humans it has a powerful effect.   However the other thing that drives me nuts is evangelicals then take this truth and set up an either/or proposition when it comes to race and faith.

Besides viewing race through an idealistic lens they also have tendency to immediately bring it down to the level of individualism, inadvertently giving a pass on societal sins.   The pattern goes something like this:  we can overcome the intentional, debilitating  societal affects of racialization by merely being good buddies or acquaintances.  You can find exhibit A in this blogpost.   In it Natasha Robinson says “The new movie demonstrates that racial reconciliation happens not primarily through speeches and diversity training but through everyday friendships.”

Sistah I hear ya and I am sure you mean well, but no need to set up either or scenarios concerning reconciliation in my opinion.  How about friendships and speeches and diversity trainings, along with other things that actively interrupt racism on both the individual and the institutional level?   After all wasn’t the entire background of The Help about how these women were trapped by their race and gender because of racialization?  That is the context of how the friendships develop.

I am sure they appreciated having some white friends, but the thing that moved them closer to having some options in life besides just being the help was what came out of the friendships, which was Skeeter writing the book and telling their story as an attempt to interrupt the stifling institutional racism of Mississippi.   More Christians need to follow this example, as you’re not truly my friend if you don’t do something to help improve the quality of my life.

What It Means to Be Black

I just read an excerpt from cultural critic and essayist Toure’ s upcoming book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, due out September 13th.   In it he explores the meaning of race for the 21st Century African American.   From the excerpt I think he is entering some treacherous waters as I anticipate he will break some rules of blackness.  In the excerpt I read he already at least broke one, which is “thou shalt always show a united front around white folk.”  He seems to be openly wrestling with the meaning of his racial classification for everyone  to see.  Brave man!

One incident he talks about happened while he was a college student at Emory University.  At 2:30 am he entered into a discussion with some fellow black students concerning always being stuck with cleaning up after a party.  A linebacker sized black man who wasn’t even in the conversation silenced the whole room by shouting angrily “Shut up, Toure’!  You ain’t black!”   He talks about the embarrassment of being charged with being an Uncle Tom and reflects on the racial wrestling that followed.   Good stuff.

As our nation grows more and more racially diverse I think more memoirs like this will surface.  People who are paying attention know that our racial categories are undergoing a redefinition.  My life is radically racially different from my father’s – its not even close.    I remember one day driving around the campus of Miami University on a beautiful summer day with the windows down.  While at a stop light I heard and saw a young white man yell “What’s up niggah!?!”   Be rest assured that if my dad, while growing up in Anniston, Alabama,  had heard this while driving down the street he may have lost his life depending on how he responded.

Not me.  First I recognized the diction – niggah vs. nigger (“niggah” as a term of endearment vs. “nigger” as an insult is a post for another day!)   Looking out the window to see closer who this might be I found out the greeting wasn’t for me at all.  It was one young white dude greeting some other white kids in the car in front of me.  What is the meaning of that?  I have no idea, but I think it is time to explore the implications.

Who Would Win in a One-on-one: Jalen Rose or Grant Hill?

Have you seen the new ESPN documentary about The Fab Five?

First of all, it’s a great film. Remember that, it’s worth watching. It recalls what I would consider the “glory days” of hip-hop (before it became all about the benjamins and rappers actually had something to say) and it also shows how these five young black men serendipitously came together to change the face of college basketball and then some.

But you may not remember any of that because as you’re watching the film, there’s this sequence where a few of the players are reminiscing about their distaste for Duke University. And even though the interviews are in the present talking about a rivalry that goes back close to two decades, the sentiments come off as so raw, the epithets that come spitting out of the players start to snowball. You can already start to hear it get a little personal in this clip here:

And then the clincher is when Jalen Rose and Jimmy King in sequence call Grant Hill an “Uncle Tom” and the B-word. And as I was watching it, my jaw dropped and I remember saying outloud, “Oh snap.” I’m not Black, but I went to a magnet high school, and I know anytime anyone says those words to someone else, you better back up because there’s a fight about to break out.

But the documentary keeps rolling and Michigan re-traces the steps, they lose and it was good. It heightened the sense of antagonism and what was at stake.

Then I sleep on it and next thing you know, Grant Hill responds on a New York Times editorial. And ESPN was on it the next day:

In this back-and-forth, Chris Broussard uses a phrase, where he says this documentary exposes “an identity crisis in the Black community…around the question of what it means to be Black” and I got it. This is all about identity.Who do you represent? Who do you root for? This isn’t just about Dukies or Michigan.

The deconstruction of college basketball in Jalen Rose’s mind is quite sophisticated actually. He sees that Duke is looking for certain players and they’re not coming from the projects, which conveys to him that they are unwilling to look past stereotypes and take certain risks even today. Which is why his critique of Grant Hill as “Uncle Tom” is fascinating because while the media will pit Grant against Jalen, Rose is already implying here that the recruiting system is what differentiates them, not him. He’s naming the power behind the particularity of Grant Hill.

But of course, I don’t think Jalen would explain it that way. Here’s how he does reflect on Duke and his critique isn’t directed at Hill at all, but listen to where it is placed now:

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.