I Support Black On Black Violence

I support black on black violence! I’m not talking about the World Star Hip Hop videos that get millions of views each month; I mean succinct, logical arguments made by any black person that systematically dismantle truncated and racially insensitive narratives parroted by another black person at the expense of our community. When black people act on behalf of white supremacy they need to be shown the error of their ways and given a chance to make amends; however, if that doesn’t work, they should be intellectually dragged throughout social media and the blogosphere as a sign of what happens to those who knowingly denigrate blackness in favor of their own socioeconomic advancement.

Every ethnic group has some internal criteria they use to create artificial hierarchies. The black community has used skin pigmentation, hair texture, and even eye color as the basis for these distinctions. The psychological effects of generational white supremacist indoctrination are so powerful that they still cause some of us to denigrate our own genetic code. The lie of white supremacy governs American society in implicit and explicit ways, but it also lives in the minds of too many black people. This cruel fact allows white supremacy to show up in places where white people are absent, and fuels the need some blacks feel to measure their intellect and success against white standards. This is a sickness many won’t be cured of. Too often the desire to be viewed as different causes fissures between individuals and community. The lies told about black people can harm members of other races, but they cripple the black people who believe them.

I understand wanting to rise above the negative stereotypes and imagery associated with black life. It’s stressful carrying around psychological baggage someone else packed for you. I’ve lived and worked in predominantly white environments the majority of my life. The temptation to succumb to the trap of white acceptance is as real as the air we breathe. No one’s ever overtly asked me to distance myself from the black community, but I’ve been in situations where the opportunity to slide into the “different than the others” category has been extended. These opportunities take the form of water cooler discussions about racial hot topics and/or other existential questions about blackness in America. You may consciously or unconsciously be asked to center white feelings about race at a time of black suffering. Almost 5 years after the death of Trayvon Martin our community should be united in saying Black Lives Matter, but too many professional blacks have retreated to the political and economic safe space called All Lives Matter.

All of the educational, political, and economic distinctions black people have created to distinguish ourselves from our community are imaginary. They have gravitas in our heads and maybe among our contemporaries, but they purchase very little in a society that stigmatizes black skin of any hue. Here’s a quick question: who had a higher net worth Walter Scott or Terrence Crutcher? It doesn’t matter because both are dead. Denigrating blackness in exchange for white acceptance isn’t a viable solution to America’s race problem. Denial can’t insulate you from racial profiling and discrimination. No level of self-aggrandizement can make someone who’s never accepted you accept you. Racism functions with or without black consent.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an Uncle Tom as: a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals). This term is almost exclusively used to describe the 5-7% of blacks who identify as Conservative or Republican, but the reality is: Progressives, Democrats, and non-political blacks are just as invested in the fruits of white approval. Dr. Michael Parenti once said, "a journalist who writes for a publication can write what they want, as long as what they write pleases their editor." This is analogous to the way a lot of black people conduct themselves in predominantly white spaces. We talk about freedom, but too many of our people aren't free enough to speak out against systems that disproportionately affect our community. If you willfully engage in the denial of racism or remain silent when a black voice is needed you should look inside yourself and ask what you are putting ahead of your ancestry and progeny.

My goal isn't to deflect or silence meaningful criticism of our community. I’ve intentionally avoided personally attacking my colleagues who willfully engage in this one-sided violence against poor and less educated blacks. The black community loses when our intellectuals and pseudointellectuals act like mixtape rappers. I don’t want anyone physically harmed for their beliefs; likewise, I don’t want people building and maintaining platforms on the back of black suffering. You can’t love people you constantly distance yourself from. As a community, we should welcome a variety of economic and political ideas into the conversation, but not if those ideas are focused on obfuscating the realities black people face. One sure fire way to avoid being labeled an “Uncle Tom” is to support black people in public: especially when It’s not the politically expedient thing to do.

Yes, The Statues Are Racist Symbols

Photo Courtesy of Allison Wrabel
If you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia and were able to enjoy Mother's Day without having to engage in a serious dialog about the white supremacists, Alt-Right Fascists, Neo-Nazis, and the Klan carrying torches in Charlottesville then you were the beneficiary of a gift many people of color didn't receive. The torch lighting ceremony happened the same day the president who emboldened many them gave the commencement address at Liberty University- less than 100 miles away. People think I'm talking about a historical period when I tell them I live in the heart of the Confederacy, but since the murder of the AME Emmanuel 9, and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house, there's been a pronounced increase in Confederate flag regalia and white aggression. This weekend in Virginia was indicative of the advantageous societal predisposition white skin affords. Some people miss the point in discussions about privilege because they think there's a big tangible purchase they haven't received, but too often they ignore, or take for granted, the daily subtleties afforded to them.

I was hesitant to write another article about xenophobia (disguised as economic nationalism) and the racial hostilities perpetrated in the name of God by southern "Christians", but events like these deserve a full throated dissent. What happened less than 100 miles from my house in a city I've given talks in was active racism in our streets. This wasn't a peaceful rally. This was a gathering designed to instill fear. This was hate in our streets and there's no moral equivalence to any of the protest movements we've seen over the last few years. It's not racist when Black people protest because our unarmed brothers and sisters are being murdered by the police. It's not racist when people of color want their children to be treated fairly by law enforcement. It's not racist when people of color demand full access to all of the things citizenship purchases in America, but it is racist when avowed white supremacists gather to talk eugenics while chanting, "All White Lives Matter". The fact that people of color have to keep delineating between what is and what isn't racist is a testament to how invested some of our fellow citizens are in remaining willfully ignorant about race in America.

Being Black in the Blue Ridge Mountains means that I’m often the only Black man in a grocery store, restaurant, or public event. When you're Black in a community like this there's no hiding from race. There’s no amount of denial that can change the reality you find yourself in: you can't escape it. The Stars and Bars, Confederate statues, and the almost weekly Civil War reenactments are daily reminders of America’s dark ages. People of color are asked to make snap judgments about the intentions of people who have admiration for symbols synonymous with Black oppression. This is the equivalence of asking the Jewish community to pick out the good guy with a Swastika tattoo, yet this is how the heritage/hate argument functions when reduced to its simplest terms. Tearing down Confederate statues is a meaningless gesture if we leave the system of white supremacy in place they commemorate.

There are some white people who think of themselves as "good" because they don't engage in overt racism, but what they fail to realize is that willfully ignoring racism is tacit approval of racist behavior. Donald Trump was able to mobilize and activate white supremacists because there wasn't enough tangible outrage at the words he was using. The right tolerated the racist climate his campaign created because they needed the votes; this same quest for power has caused factions inside the progressive left to believe they can find common ground with avowed white supremacists. This could become the new normal because conservatives don't want to alienate a key portion of their constituency, and the left is too busy trying to court them. In the meantime people of color are forced to deal with increasing racial aggressions.

Who's Really Woke?

Every few weeks I get invited to join a pro black Facebook group. These groups tend to be populated with passionate brothers and sisters who use the larger platform to share their perspectives on the continued effects of colonialism, structural racism, and patriarchy on the black community. The best groups I’ve seen have been saturated with positive messages that hinge on unity, economic empowerment, and black pride. At their best, these groups are a source of daily affirmations for people in the struggle. One negative many of these groups have in common is their almost universal disdain for the black church. There are large blocks of the “new” conscious community who don’t view Christians as allies in the fight for social justice. Divisions inside Christian, Islamic, Afrocentric, and secular black movements aren’t new; there’s never been a time when these groups posited the same solutions to our shared problems, but the complete disregard for the Civil Rights accomplishments made by the black church is disrespectful. The conscious community prides itself on being woke, but in the words of Lil Duval, “Some of y’all need a nap.”

I always advise young Christian activists to accept the fact that they share struggles with people who view their religion as truncated at best, or a fundamental part of the black community’s underlying problems at worst. When Christians are confronted by nonbelievers skeptical of our commitment to fighting systemic racism we have to listen to their critiques and take them seriously. This doesn’t mean you spend all of your time and energy defending the church or explaining your personal journey of faith, but you should engage your allies’ conceptions and likely misconceptions about both. How you answer the inevitable “slave master’s religion question” and how you talk about “Prosperity Gospel” can be the difference between deconstructing the image of the church versus involuntarily taking part in its destruction.

The church has always been judged by the actions of its most visible representatives. When television cameras where pointed at the likes of Dr. King, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and Reverend Wyatt T. Walker the perception of the church was different. These men weren’t perfect and their accomplishments didn’t negate the transgressions committed by the church during the height of their ministries, but their witness helped shape the way a generation of people viewed the church. Social media has enabled those trying to destroy the black church to reduce it to easily shareable memes about Creflo Dollar, the deceased Bishop Eddie Long, and the black pastors who supported Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter how “woke” or active Christians with small platforms are their efforts are invisible to those who view the church through the lens of social media. The silence from mega church pastors about issues important to the black community plays into the myth of a dead church. The fact that one has to do a Google search to find a statement, tweet, or sermon from some of the biggest names in Prosperity Gospel about police brutality or the resurgence of white nationalism is telling. The black church, like the black community, is indicted as a whole for the actions of the minority.

Many of the same people fighting against police racial profiling of black people don’t see the hypocrisy associated with their religious profiling of black people. The anti-Christian sentiment inside the conscious community is more complicated than social media posts and public positions taken by prominent church figures. The black community isn’t monolithic. We share similar struggles, but we don’t share similar thought processes and beliefs. Too often we seek validation in ourselves, and our beliefs, through in-group out-group distinctions that elevate one segment of our community above another. Too many Christians are judgmental and condemning of people who don’t share their beliefs, and too many in the conscious community are condescending and intolerant towards Christians. Instead of us unifying behind the commonality of our struggles we created an artificial hierarchy that doesn’t have any impact on the societal structures we’re fighting. Institutional racism doesn’t care who’s woke and who isn’t. The criminal justice system doesn’t care if you’re a Christian or an atheist. We’re in this together and we need to act like it. As an ordained member of the clergy I admit that there are churches in need of some serious reform, but isn’t it easier to clean a house than build one? The conscious community talks about building institutions and strengthening our communities, but wouldn’t this be easier with a healthy church in place?

We are the freest generation of African-Americans to live in this country, and much of that freedom was paid for by men and women who believed in Jesus. I’ve studied theology and philosophy for over a decade. I understand some of the Ontological arguments for and against the existence of a higher being better than most of the people making them, but I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument for why it’s necessary to diminish the religious beliefs of Christians. Many of the same people who were introduced to Nat Turner through Birth of a Nation are hell bent on destroying the institution that woke him up. I shudder when I think about how many people in the conscious community who didn’t know the name Denmark Vesey before Dylan Roof murdered nine innocent Christians in his church. The theologian Howard Thurman said, “By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.” Thurman was deeply affected by the dehumanizing evil of racism and was acutely aware of how much damage the institution of slavery did to Christianity, yet he was able to connect to the emancipatory message abolitionists pastors and believers found in the teachings of Jesus. Revolutionary Christians have always rejected the notion that slavery was ordained by God.  Believers in the 21st century should attempt to redeem Christianity from the profane uses of the gospel in our time. The legacy of the black church is worth protecting from attacks both foreign and domestic.