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Why Racial Reconciliation Isn’t The Answer to Racial Violence.

Why Racial Reconciliation Isn’t The Answer to Racial Violence. 5040 3360 Corey Leak

Dr. King once said: “Black supremacy is as bad as white supremacy.”* I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe you think the good doctor just rolled over in his grave at the notion that a Black Christian advocate for peace and justice disagrees with that idea, but hear me out.

He made that statement in the wake of a documentary titled: “The Hate That Hate Produced” that aired on CBS in 1959. This documentary, narrated by Mike Wallace, was crafted as an inside look at the Nation of Islam and presented Black civil rights leader and emerging face of the NOI, Malcolm X, as a Black supremacist.*

The doc created fear amongst white liberals, conservatives, and non-muslim civil rights leaders like Dr. King.* THTHP developed a significant buzz and helped shape an idea that still vexes Blacks seeking racial equity and justice to this day. The idea is that Black people and white people in America are equally culpable for the racial divide in America — a patently false sentiment.

Practically speaking, there is no such thing as black supremacy in America. Black people didn’t create an infrastructure of violence and anti-white ideologies, methods, and policies to steal generations of dignity and hope from the European people we enslaved to birth this Nation.

We have not devised and carried out concerted schemes to squash any efforts our formerly enslaved co-habitants have made to build flourishing communities — like the state-sanctioned white supremacists that destroyed Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Ok, in 1921.

Image from Ebony Magazine

Nor did we dream up innovative ways to maintain our power to enslave by rigging the criminal justice system to disadvantage white people and incarcerate them at disproportionate rates. So, no, black supremacy is not now, nor has it ever been a thing in America.

Yet, to hear some white liberals, Christian evangelicals, and some conservative black Christians, America needs both sides (black people and white people) to drop their weapons and forgive each other.

My question to people who proliferate that message is, what harm have Black people done to white people in America? I’m not talking about individual criminal acts. I’m asking when Black people have systematically oppressed white people in America. The correct answer is never.

Unfortunately, when Black people determine to put forth efforts to establish agency over our own stories, feelings, and success, these actions are deemed as acts of black supremacy. People erroneously cite black agency as an example of Black people being guilty of the very racism we have spent years lamenting.

Black pride, black nationalistic musing, hush harbors of black-only spaces for relief from our mental and emotional exhaustion are not hate crimes. Black pastors who intentionally preach black sermons to Black people or Black filmmakers who are actively seeking leading Black actors in their movies aren’t attacking white people and don’t need to ask for their forgiveness.

Black people, since the birth of this Nation, have been in an abusive relationship. That has played itself out in politics, economics, policing, land ownership, the judicial system, and in the recent highly publicized murder of a jogger — Auhmaud Arbery.

When we attempt to cope with our collective racial trauma by taking pride in our appearance, our voices, our music, or our heroes, we are not committing racial violence.

In domestic relationships, it’s wrong to hold the abused partner equally responsible for reconciling with the abuser, especially when that abuser has shown little proof that they will stop abusing.

Since the latest National example of white America’s hatred for black people, I’ve witnessed faith leaders attempting to rally blacks and whites into town hall like discussions about racial reconciliation.

Many of these faith leaders seem reserved to the notion that to fix what’s broken about America is for black people to sit down with their abusers for a fireside chat. Such conversations are not a tried and true tactic for healing because the premise is that both parties share the responsibility of making the other whole.

Both parties don’t need healing. Black people need healing. And we need to hear more than flaccid apologies for the slave holder’s wrongdoings, Bull Connor’s wrongdoings, or the wrongdoings of some modern-day uneducated, outlying group of white vagrants in the woods somewhere.

Image from History.com

White people abuse Black folks in micro ways every day. Many still demand we present data to substantiate our claims of racism, gaslight us about the racist comments our president makes, and reserve the right to micro-aggressions toward us whenever they deem appropriate.

So, these racial reconciliation chats are not safe spaces for us, nor are they productive when they take place from the vantage point of seeking a middle ground between abusers and the abused.

Even the most sincere white people attempting to help fix what they know is a completely broken relationship walk into spaces (virtual or IRL) with some of the same implicit biases that led to Ahmaud Arbery’s lynching and murder.

Perhaps we should try a new measure. What if, instead of seeking reconciliation, which Black folks are under no obligation to strive for, white leaders did work to understand how their privilege and fragility have made talking about reconciling a self-serving attempt at assimilating negros into whiteness.

Black people should have the autonomy to seek reconciliation when or if we are ready. Reconciliation, if possible, can’t be on white people’s terms.

Rather than imagining more symbolic gestures of anti-racism that treat racism as an abstract idea, white folks should seek out Black voices to shape the conversations about racism as well as the policies and practices for better workplaces, churches, schools, and communities.

Black people are victims of the racial divide, not co-conspirators. Until we are willing to embrace the stark reality that white people shoulder the burden of repairing what they broke, there can not be any real healing. On that, the great doctor and I agree. Rest easy, Dr. King.

*The Sword And The Shield by Peniel E. Joseph

Featured image by: Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Protected: Permission to Be (An Open Letter to the People I love the Most – My Family)

Protected: Permission to Be (An Open Letter to the People I love the Most – My Family) 150 150 Corey Leak

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Church in the Wild

Church in the Wild 1024 678 Corey Leak

Last week I was invited to a community event called the Sons of Former Slaves and Sons of Former Slave Owners. One of my 3 flaws is that I sometimes struggle to pay attention to all the details presented to me in print form. I actually thought I was going to a “Sons of Slaves” event, so you can imagine my surprise to walk into the room and see white faces. That was when my mind recalled the image of the promo, and I thought…”Oh, AND Sons of Slave Owners… I should’ve invited some of my white friends”. I left my house for the event thinking I’d be in a room with black intellectuals discussing race issues, and I was intrigued to see how the conversation would go. Once I got there and saw the room filling up with black, brown, and white faces I was very intrigued to see what the conversation would be. I’ve spent the last two years of my life having conversations about race both on social media and IRL, so I had some idea of the things that I’d hear in this room. Typically these conversations have some of the same talking points like: white privilege, systemic oppression, police brutality, and racial bias. I left the house thinking I’d be engaging in stimulating conversation with other black men who understand what it is to be the “other” in America. I walked in the door and expected to engage in familiar dialog of a different sort, but still within my comfort zone. What followed was a dialog unlike any other conversation I’ve ever had about race or anything else for that matter.

There were 17 men in the room and we all sat in chairs arranged in a circle. In the center were several images of current events regarding race that were laying on top of a baby doll. The moderator, Eric Butler, briefly explained the rules of engagement and asked us all to share what values we would want to instill in this baby. We passed around the “talking stick” and each shared the value we thought we would be important for a child growing up in this world should have. After each man spoke, Eric asked us if we all agreed with the value. If everyone said yes, we would move on to the next man. Everything was going smoothly enough. There weren’t any huge disagreements over the values. Then after one of the guys advocated for empathy to be a value for our baby, Eric, wanting to stir the pot and make things interesting, shouted: “NAH F*CK THAT, I DON’T BELIEVE Y’ALL!”

He went on to challenge our collective commitment to empathy in the wake of the Nia Wilson murder here in the Bay Area. Eric shared his feelings about whether or not the non-blacks in the room had the capacity to empathize with black pain. He said: “Y’all aren’t feeling what we are feeling”. It was a valid viewpoint. The proposition that he rolled out for the room to wrestle with was whether people outside of his village could deeply feel the pain, outrage, confusion, or anguish of those in his village. From that tension I asked the non-black men in the room if they ever felt as though they are not allowed to express true empathy because of sentiments like the one Eric expressed. Many of them nodded, and then Aazar, an Afghan gentlemen sitting to my left shared that he thought we might be conflating empathy and sympathy. After Aazar’s comment, we took a journey even deeper into the complexity of understanding what it means to be empathetic across cultural boundaries.

The man who introduced the idea of empathy to the conversation was a black man named Joe. When I met Joe before we sat in the circle together I was a little intimidated. Another of my 3 flaws is that I expect people to be overly friendly when I meet them, and if they’re not, I consider the interaction cold. As an extravert, I tend to greet people with a smile, and I will usually feel a burden to get to know something about them. Joe had no such compulsion. He greeted me with a hello, nice to meet you and moved on. He spoke with a firm voice and had a “don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing” kind of demeanor. Even in the circle where we were all encouraged to share our truth and be willing to challenge one another I felt a little uneasy challenging Joe. After Aazar made his comment, Joe said “I feel insulted almost right now. I feel insulted off what you just said. I’m a very educated man with life and school wise.” Joe went on to explain an understanding and experience with empathy that was absolutely breathtaking.

Joe shared with us that he had spent 35 of his 40 plus years of his life in prison (27 of which were for murder). He told us that after he heard about Nia Wilson being murdered by a white man in what many have proclaimed a hate crime, his first feeling was empathy for the man who killed her. He shared from personal experience that violent behavior is inherited through life experience and trauma, and that people aren’t born violent. He said he didn’t absolve the killer of his sins or his crime because it’s not his place to do so, but that he wanted to understand what happened in his life what would lead him to take the life of a young girl he didn’t know. Talk about empathy. Are you kidding me?!?!? I don’t have the words to accurately explain what I felt in that moment. I may have been a little dismayed while at the same time filled with wonder at what I had just heard. It hadn’t occurred to me that empathy isn’t a biased virtue. I think I may have held the belief that empathy was earned, but empathy, like grace, is a virtue that can be extended to whomever we chose. The idea that something as beautiful as empathy could or would be expressed for a murderer was in conflict with my tidy ideas of who gets to receive God’s gifts of grace or empathy. Consequently, I understood Joe a lot more after his vulnerability with us. In that moment he was no longer a cold stranger I met at a gathering, but he started to feel like my brother or at least someone I would never forget.

There are several other remarkable moments from this gathering that I’ll likely share in future blogs. There were stories of unprecedented forgiveness, unparalleled inter-racial conversations, and camaraderie that made me leave and pronounce this gathering the best church service I’d ever been to. In fact I told Eric that as I was leaving. He said: “My grandmother always told me I’d be a preacher.” I told him, she was right, and he’s fulfilling her prophesy. No one in that room professed what faith they hailed from if any, and there were more than a few profanity laced conversations and speeches. Still, somehow I sensed a Divine presence among us. I didn’t sense it because of my favorite song or a great sermon, but because citizens from the community gathered to break bread and share their lives, beliefs, disagreements, and truths with one another. It certainly felt incredibly uncomfortable at times and maybe even a little wild, but perhaps wild is what the world needs right now.

Is there someone or a group of people you struggle to have empathy for?

How can we create more circles like the one I described above in other communities?

 

 

Imperial Myth

Imperial Myth 550 304 Corey Leak

Thomas Jefferson believed that without the separation of church and state clergy would become unresponsive to the needs of their own people, and that a State sponsored religion would lead to corruption within religion itself. It can be difficult to recognize when religion, or government for that matter, has succomed to corruption. Over time, the words, phrases and ideals that once reminded us of our sacred responsibility to God and one another, undergo a sort of data corruption.  We unwittingly accept flawed ideology because it comes in the form of founding virtues. In America, our Southern border is a glaring example. The ideas that were intended to build a more just society for European immigrants have become the bedrock of injustice toward migrants  seeking asylum at our border.

For a corrupted digital file, there can be a number of different causes both internally and externally. There could be a virus or incompatibility between hardware and software within the device itself or extreme changes in temperature, water, dust, or loss of power from outside of it. Whatever the cause, corruption changes the very nature of its host, and renders that host dangerous to whatever system it’s operating in. Today the dangerous host operating with corrupted data in our Country is unfortunately the American Evangelical Church. In these times of heated debates over the morality of how migrants, immigrants, POC, and women are treated, it seems as though today’s Evangelicals are either silent or worse yet, falling victim to partisan politics rather than human rights. American ideology was never intended to be the standard for justice for Evangelicals.

The Jewish founder of Evangelicalism intended for his disciples to go into all the world and share the good news that God had begun to make the world new again. The essense of evangelism is to deliver a message of freedom, peace, love, and togetherness. That is what his followers wrote about in what we now call the New Testament. They were writing letters and instructions to one another that were intended to spread the news of God’s new world order into a culture that had a flawed concept of justice. They lived in a world among people who had their ideas about justice promulgated to them by an imperial cult called the Roman Empire.

The Roman Emperors permitted freedom of religion to their subjects as long as it didn’t oppose or interfere with their true religion of Emperor worship. The Romans established a long tradition of claiming that their Emperors were gods in the flesh. They would tell stories of the miraculous births of each ruler, and spread propaganda throughout the regions on coins reinforcing the idea of imperial deity. Although there was religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, all religion was subject to the authority of the Emperor, and resisting that authority was to resist the Divine. Emperor worship was so deeply embedded in culture that it was virtually unnoticed. The ruling class instilled rhetoric that the people used to exalt the Emperor as God. Buying and selling took place with coins that reinforced the the Emperor’s deity. Rebels who resisted imperial religious perversion through violence or subversive language, were put on trial and executed publicly to show the power of the divine Emperor and discourage even the slightest rebellion.

That was the world that the Jewish Messiah sent his disciples into as Evangelicals, which meant almost certain death as a criminal and a trader to Rome and God.

If being an Evangelical today was even a caricature of its original intent some thousands of years ago, it would be a step in the right direction. Rather than following the examples and writings of the Evangelicals before us, we have come to accept injustice in the present as long as it’s perpetrated by the Emperor leading the party we identify with. Our Emperor can do no wrong. We side with him against his enemies regardless of whether those enemies are the very people we were instructed by our founder to draw near to and help. In the name of patriotism, we curse our brother or sister and condemn them with labels that reduce their feelings and experiences to political orientations. A person who supports an athlete’s right to protest injustice or believes that foreigners should be treated with dignity regardless of what country they come from or their religion, is labeled a “leftist”. The label is usually proceeded by some demeaning adjective or slur. Somewhere along the way, loving our neighbor and the belief that all men are created equal, became associated with liberal politics. This idea seems to be most prevalent in American Evangelical Christian circles. As strange as it may sound to some, American Nationalism and the Christian faith can be mutually exclusive. It is possible to hold up American ideals and for those ideals to be in direct conflict with the just rule of God that the first Evangelicals were charged with announcing. The first people to evangelize believed that God cared about the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, and the Gentile. They believed that God was characterized by love, mercy, and compassion as well as order and law. They didn’t endorse a belief that a just God couldn’t be merciful or that a merciful God wouldn’t uphold justice. They advocated that God was love and that if human beings learned to love like God, the world would be full of justice.

The driving force of faith is love. It’s love that was the catalyst of the gospel movement, but not simply love for ones own tribe. We were charged to love the other, and that kind of love is messy. It raises complex questions and forces us to look deep within ourselves to see how committed we are to God’s world order. The command to love our neighbors is why the early church fathers struggled with what to do with Gentiles coming into a historically Jewish faith. A large chunk of Paul’s writings are dedicated to the topic of making space for the other. Evangelism is all about making more space for people to come into an authentic community of justice and love. That’s the core of the message and the reason Christianity outlived Roman imperial religious rule. I suspect justice and love will be how authentic Christian faith will outlive American Evangelical political rule as well.

Is America’s greatness or standing as “first” in the world something to be defended at all costs?

Also, I’d like to broaden this conversation beyond what I can reach alone… 

What 3 people can you share this blog with?

Their Shoes

Their Shoes 700 394 Corey Leak

“When I was in school I had to walk 12 miles uphill both ways in the snow.” That saying was supposed to let students fortunate enough to have a ride to school know that we had it easy. If we thought we had it rough, this was a reminder that we actually didn’t. If we were to walk a mile in their shoes (feet in this case), we would adjust our attitude. Those old folks recognized what I’ve come to believe is a profound truth. If we imagine ourselves walking in someone else’s shoes – compassion, not judgment becomes our stance toward the other. 

In the last several weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about what’s been happening at the Mexican border. It’s been refreshing to see the conversation about children being separated from their parents be mostly about how we can help them. People have rallied to aid them by setting up funds to get them legal representation, marching in protest, and appealing to their representatives to help. Many pastors and politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against this policy of taking children from the arms of their parents (this includes pastors who are a part of the President’s Spiritual Advisory Board). It’s been nice to see that there is a “too far” for staunch supporters of this Administration. I’ve yet to see anyone be overtly callous towards migrant families being separated from one another at border, but I have noticed a bit of a disturbing trend.

We all have experience with children fighting, either as a parent breaking up fights or as children ourselves. Inevitably when the fight is broken up and consequence is being handed out, one or both of the guilty kids will say the other one “started it”. It’s a childish thing to say, and it falls to every parent to use that moment to teach their children that “two wrongs don’t make one right”. I’ve noticed that in the midst of people expressing both outrage and good-will, there are others who feel it’s important that we all know who started this practice. There are people staring at images like…

image

who seem to believe that the most important thing to be noted is that the Obama’s and the Clinton’s “started it”. I suppose knowing what political party is to blame is helpful in political conversations. I imagine it even has some relevance to who we should vote for in upcoming elections, but it has zero relevance on what we should be doing right now. We should be careful as a people not to treat human rights issues as partisan issues.

Pause for a moment to imagine how it would feel to flee your home country to seek asylum in a foreign land only to be detained and separated from your small children at the border. How comforting would facts about MS13 and smugglers or understanding whose Administration is responsible for the condition you now find yourself in be? Would you not desperately want someone to show compassion toward you and your little ones? This is the situation for TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED migrants at the Southern border.  Prior to the President signing an executive order today, it was estimated that TWENTY THOUSAND migrant children would’ve  been in the care of the DHHS by August 1st if something would not have changed. The executive order does not reunite parents with their children who were already separated. There is still work to be done, but this was a crisis that human beings responded to with compassion and righteous indignation. Here is a link to join in their efforts. People stood up and demanded something be done, and the outcry of the people lead to action from the President.

image

People with and without religious affiliation tapped into a compassion that is a part of our DNA as human beings. Thousands of years ago ancient writers wrote about the affect religion should have on society.

James, who is considered by many Bible scholars to be the leader of the early church, wrote in his book that “pure religion” is caring for orphans and widows. Jesus, when pressed about the greatest commandment, cited loving our neighbors as we love ourselves from the Torah. As did the Apostle Paul. The ancient holy writings are full of admonishments for human beings to be gracious and compassionate toward foreigners. Believing in a Divine Creator should naturally be followed by compassion for all human beings regardless of their race or country of origin.

I pray that as we continue to wrestle with the extremely complex political and social issues we are facing as a Nation, that we do so with a greater since of our humanity and not our political affiliation. Conversations that center around humanity put the focus on what we have in common and allow us to think through humane responses to the issues in our society. If we can learn to lead with grace and compassion for others, we tend to fall on the same side of most arguments no matter how complex. Something truly spiritual happens when we take a moment and imagine life in “their” shoes.

Whose shoes do you have trouble imagining yourself in?

Have you taken a stance that would be different if you were in “their” shoes?