The Sign of True Freedom (The Mad Preacher Rants about the Bed Intruder Song and Precious) aka Man in the Mirror aka Stop the Hate

So I tried to write a response to this NPR Article as a comment on someone’s Facebook page. But it got too long. So I will do it here, as I continue to ignore my worship prep work. (I’ll get back to it right after this I promise!)

This article truly makes me sick. Oh wait maybe it’s not the article. I’m doing what I’m about to say black people do all the time, which is blame the media for taking the type of black people who we cannot stand seriously. It’s not the tv station’s fault that Antoine Dodson was was “angry, defiant and flamboyant” as much as it’s not NPR’s fault that 80 years later the “New Negro” is still running around trying to rid the world of the “Old Negro” they don’t want to see. (It’s a Harlem Renaisance reference look it up.)

It’s the Precious debate all over again. Black folks too often blame the media for showing the side of black life that self-hatred and internalized racism tells them shouldn’t be viewed “in public”. “I don’t want to see a black man with a red rag on his head on TV because white people might see him and judge me. And I don’t even wear a rag!” “I don’t want the story of a plus size poor black girl being told because that same white person might judge me.”

I wonder, instead of asking authors and filmmakers and tv stations to censor every black person that doesn’t reach our New Negro standards, if we could begin to say to ourselves all of the people in our community are fully human and fully free and have a right to exist and be seen in spite our our personal (internalized)racist discomfort. I wonder if we could write into stations and not say things like “don’t air Antoine’s story”. I wonder if we could separate our calls for justice from our own internalizes self hatred.

Instead we could write to networks and movie studios and maybe to the NAACP and to ourselves and say something like:

We as African Americans long for true freedom. We long for the freedom that each white citizen has, not to be judged monolithicly (I know it’s not a word but work with me) by the behaviors of any individual white person. We want the freedom that white Americans have to tell their stories and be all of who they are no matter how rich or poor or racist or funny-looking they are, without it reflecting poorly on the whole white race. We as African Americans long for that true freedom. And we think you, tv producer, writer, (blah blah blah) can help by telling all stories from all perspectives for all kinds of black people. In a medium where both Tea Party members and Alex Trebek can exist, I think there is also room for both Antoine Dodson and Dominique Atchison.

Oh and by the way, just in case anyone cares… while we are lost in our embarrassment about Precious’ potential Mammy-dom or Antoine’ red rag… yet another story about a black women being sexually abused and/or assaulted got passed over and ignored… I just thought I’d throw that in there NP(freakin’)R! I know you want to talk about the rag some more… so run and tell that homeboy… homeboy… home homeboy!

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Hippy’s not enough…

So the word “Hippie”/Hippy… has been floating around my world a little too much lately. And while I celebrate all that I am, I am a little unsure about that particular title. Yes I am theoretically a pure bread hippy. I was raised by a very poltically conscious mother. I went to Oberlin. I went to Union Seminary. I left the Baptists for the UCC. I love my Birkenstocks! My hair is natural. I like long flowery dresses and skirts. I use the word “vibe” and “energy” to describe spaces and communities. I use the words “space” and “community” a lot. I sometimes like to walk barefoot in grass. I’ve gone hiking a few times. I think sitting next to water and looking at the sky are great spiritual practices. I’ve lived in Park Slope. I live in Ann Arbor.

But there are a few specific things about claiming this term that does not sit well with me.

1) My ancestors and other black people. For me my hippie-dom is a representation and celebration of my freedom. And isn’t that what the ancestors were fighting for? The freedom of our people? Sometimes the reactions I get make me wonder. I often think about how Maya Angelou said “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” I sometimes think “yeah Maya so am I…” but other times I wonder if I’m actually the nightmare. Black folks too often act as if physical and legal freedom is the only thing we can hope to get in this world. Emotional, spiritual and social freedom is only for white people. I way too often get punished by black people for being too free…

2)White folk. I sometimes think that if the above list of schools and accomplishments and places of residence and blah blah… were pinned to the chest of a 30 year old white woman named Kate… we’d have a whole ‘nother story. Kate would be ordained a hippy and I guess a minister if she wanted to be and that would be it. She would be married to some progressive man who would have taken her last name. And no one would question why she didn’t just settle for the the dude in front of the Popeye’s on 125th. And Kate would have little cute kids who would wear cute political tee-shirts and go to drumming circles every week. And those kids will never have to chose between being “progressive” and being “white”. Kate would would not constantly be questioned about her loyalty to her denomination (even if she had come from the Baptist church). No one would EVER tell the administrator of the church to not collect offering on the Sunday she supply preached, lest Kate take the offering. Kate would never have been asked 3000 times “how did YOU get into Oberlin?” And even if she were on scholarship… no one would ever point-blank ask her questions about how she afforded her college education.

So the point is as much as freedom has led me to all of the hippy spaces and hippy conclusions… there is a white supremacist (yeah I said it) legacy that keeps me from fully engaging and experiencing true “hippy-dom”.

(Yeah I spelled hippy 2 different ways I don’t know which is right… just leave me alone!)

Preference vs Oppression

It’s funny how so many including John Stossel want to boil racial history down to a matter of preference. And while there are some aspects of racial discrimination that could theoretically be seen as a preference, I don’t think that’s what white supremacy and what someone I was speaking to call “cultural imperialism” has ever been about. We seem to forget that it wasn’t about anything even related to preference that led to slavery, segregation and Jim Crow and desperities in health care and the shooting of Sean Bell or any other racialized moment in American history.

But before I go into more detail with those points, I’d like to say this: If you are a so-called “private business owner” who sit on land within the borders of the United States and receive the benefits of tax revenue paid by EVERY citizen and many non-citizens (including the land itself, paved streets and roads people take to get there, the public transportation people take to get there, street lights, the benefits paid to the employees when they retire or are disabled, police, and even the military if it come to that), YOU should and will be held to the standards of the Constitution and Federal Laws including the Constitution and it’s amendments inclusive of the Civil Rights Act. Therefore while you have a right to be privately racist (I don’t recommend it), a business on US soil by nature is not private. Sorry…

Having said that, I really really want to get at this notion that racism is about preference. So first of all no one is EVER going to tell a blond woman or a white man with a beard that they cannot come into a country club or a privately owned business. So a) stop being ridiculous John Stossel! And b) if some lunatic decides that’s what he wants to do, that action will not be the result of hundreds of years of systematic and violent oppression of men with mustaches or blond women and it does not represent the current and future lack of access to the children of those blond men or women with mustaches (lol).

So for the blond and the mustached the moment of preference begins and ends there. But for people of color in America the moment of oppression has lived throughout history and may very well continue to live into the generations to come. And it has and may continue to have strong emotional and psychological (if not physical) ramifications.

An Affirmative Action Baby’s Reflection on the Birthday of Malcolm X

Today would have been Malcolm X’s 85 birthday. I searched YouTube to find some of my favorite clips of Malcolm in his hay day. And unlike many, my favorite Malcolm moments or quotes are not his speeches or quotes from his autobiography or easily swallowed quotes from his post-Mecca days. My favorite moments were the interviews he did with the white media. It was so very clear in all of those interviews how bias these “unbiased” newsmen were. It was clear how much they wanted Malcolm to be something he wasn’t. It was clear that they wanted Malcolm to be an inarticulate brute filled with contradictions and nonsensical ramblings. But he wasn’t that. He met them toe to toe and articulated his point to them using their language and syntax and cultural mannerisms.

And in a white dominated (supremacist if you will) world, there is nothing more frightening than a person of color that make sense, who cannot be dismissed. There’s nothing more frightening than a person of color who has seen the inside of the white world and knows how to communicate in that context and uses that context to communicate dissatisfaction with that world. And for white America that’s what Malcolm was. He was part white, in a way that was visible (light skin, red hair, freckles). He grew up in predominately white schools. Like Obama he knew how to switch out of that “negro dialect”. Yet he was not a “happy negro”.

As a black woman who, with the exception of two years, was educated in majority white prep schools, I resonate with this side of Malcolm. I’ve been thinking about the fact that many of your more “angry” black radicals and radicals of color spent a whole lot of time, specifically their formative years, in a very white cultural context. I often think about the beginning of Soul of Black Folks where WEB DuBois describes his early years as a child in an all white school in New England. This in turn makes me think about the justified anger of those of us who some fool at a conference I went to referred to dismissively as “Affirmative Action Babies”.

I feel that there is a whole generation of us who were the “only-onlies” in our all white schools who have similar radical anger. Yet in this generation we have found no real cultural space in black society and no political place in white society. So we sort of live in the liminal space between the two world communing with each other. We are activist and artist and preachers, who struggle to find space. In a world of the post-Civil Rights, “Dangerous Minds” and “Finding Forester” paradigm of educating children of color, there is no room for anger against the society that “allowed” you to get “out of the streets” and “be somebody”. But we are angry. We feel more isolated and alone than we actually are.

But this is why I, the one that some (maybe even Malcolm) might call a sell out, hold on to that side of Malcolm for hope that there is some truth in my anger and that there is some redemption to be found in this tight-rope walking double conscious journey.

This Sunday’s Sermon

“Can You See ME Now”

Job 42:5 “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

At this point in the scripture Job is facing the end of his very difficult journey. He had been through many dangers toils and snares. He’d faced death of his loved ones, the destruction of his property, illness and a parade of bad advice from well meaning friends. But now he was at the end of that journey and things were about to get better for him.

And in that time he began to reflect on his experiences. And as he did that he said something that I though was very interesting. He said, until now I had only heard of God, and now I am able to see God.

I think that is a powerful statement. In the midst of struggles we can easily lose sight of God. We have no idea where God is in all of it. We experience loss and destruction. Then we turn on the TV and se see loss and destruction. Three major earthquakes, have hit our world in a very short amount of time in Haiti, Japan and now Chile.

And for the most part we don’t know what to do. We give money, we pray but we cannot effect change in the way we’d like. We can’t undo the damage. We cannot bring back those who’ve died. We can’t even afford to go down and help with recovery. So we look to God in prayer. We ask God why. We ask other people why God would allow this much suffering in the world. We start wading in the deep deep waters of Theocracy, if God is good ALL the time, why is there so much pain in the world.

And the sad thing about it is there will be so many people who will jump up and claim that they know, who like Pat Robertson and the cab driver in NY (who found out I was a preacher), will claim that they know where the problem lies. They know who to blame. It’s the blame of the Haitian Revolution. According to the cab driver, it’s the blame of all churches who are leading God’s people astray. And Job faced these sorts of people. If you read Job, you’ll see that there whole chapters devoted to his friends who seek him out in his misery simply to give him advice about God and tell him that his suffering is due to his lack of faith, his lack of knowledge of God and so on and so forth. And in the end, expresses God’s anger towards the friends and it is Job that must offer them a prayer for their salvation.

We spoke last week about the ways in which people attempt to define us as individuals unaware of God’s purpose for our lives. In the same way people try to define God unaware that only God defines God. There are some things that we as humans cannot understand and may never understand about God and the way God moves through the earth. Therefore we must constantly seek God’s face and in prayer ask God what is it that I should be getting from this situation. What is it that you are speaking to humanity through these events? We should never assume and we should never take anyone else’s statements about God as Gospel without seeking out the answers for ourselves.

God knows that we have a tendency to just God with the herd and not check in to see if God is leading the herd. I think that as uncomfortable as the story of Job’s destruction can be to read, there is something that God wants humanity to grasp through the reading of the story in it’s entirety. We can learn something from the wisdom Job is able to receive at the end. As we delve further into the season of lent, and closer to the celebration of the resurrection, we have to hold Job’s reflection in our mind. Let’s work together to not leave our faith up to others. Let seek God’s face, and ask God the tough questions, and practice our faith in a way that, we can begin to not simply hear OF God but we can began to see God and know God. I hear God saying “Can you see me now?” Amen….

At this point in the scripture Job is facing the end of his very difficult journey. He had been “through many dangers toils and snares”. He’s faced death of his loved ones, the destruction of his property, illness and a parade of bad advice from well meaning friends. But now he was at the end of that journey and things were about to get better for him.

And as he did that he said something that I though was very interesting. He said, until now I had only heard of God, and now I am able to see God.

In the midst of struggles we can easily lose sight of God. We experience loss and destruction. Then we turn on the TV and see loss and destruction. Three major earthquakes, have hit our world in a very short amount of time in Haiti, Japan and now Chile.

And for the most part we don’t know what to do. We give money, we pray but we cannot effect change in the way we’d like. We can’t undo the damage. We cannot bring back those who’ve died. We can’t even afford to go down and help with recovery. So we look to God in prayer. We ask God why. We ask other people why God would allow this much suffering in the world. We start wading in the deep deep waters of Theocracy, if God is good ALL the time, why is there so much pain in the world.

And the sad thing about it is there will be so many people who will jump up and claim that they know, who like Pat Robertson and the cab driver in NY (who found out I was a preacher), will claim that they know where the problem lies. They know who to blame. It’s the blame of the Haitian Revolution. According to the cab driver, it’s the blame of all churches who are leading God’s people astray. And Job faced these sorts of people. If you read Job, you’ll see that there whole chapters devoted to his friends who seek him out in his misery simply to give him advice about God and tell him that his suffering is due to his lack of faith, his lack of knowledge of God and so on and so forth. And in the end, expresses God’s anger towards the friends and it is Job that must offer them a prayer for their salvation.

We’ve spoken about the ways in which people attempt to define us as individuals unaware of God’s purpose for our lives. In the same way people try to define God unaware that only God defines God. There are some things that we as humans cannot understand and may never understand about God and the way God moves through the earth. Therefore we must constantly seek God’s face and in prayer ask God what is it that I should be getting from this situation. What is it that you are speaking to humanity through these events? We should never assume and we should never take anyone else’s statements about God as Gospel without seeking out the answers for ourselves.

God knows that we have a tendency to just go with the herd and not check in to see if God is leading the herd. I think that as uncomfortable as the story of Job’s destruction can be to read, there is something that God wants humanity to grasp through the reading of the story in it’s entirety. We can learn something from the wisdom Job is able to receive at the end. As we delve further into the season of lent, and closer to the celebration of the resurrection, we have to hold Job’s reflection in our mind. Let’s work together to not leave our faith up to others. Let seek God’s face, and ask God the tough questions, and practice our faith in a way that, we can begin to not simply hear OF God but we can began to see God and know God. I hear God saying “Can you see me now?” Amen….

In Defense of the Color Purple/Uncertain of TD Jakes

I’m watching “Not Easily Broken”. This is the second TD Jakes movie I’ve seen. I am appreciative of the fact that there is a big time black preacher delving deep into issues of gender and the negativity that exists between black men and black women.

BUT!

I’m a little concerned that he tends to paint an overly simplistic view of the relationship between black women and black men. The tension between black men and black women is acknowledged but the cause and solution is too often boiled down to something to the effect of “those damaged black women need healing”. This may be true. We do need healing. But my question is what about the men in the scenario? The abusive fathers? The bad ex-boyfriends? Where is the discussion of the culture and the systems within the black community that make it ok for black women to face such damaging situations? And more importantly: How can we go so quickly to the solution when we haven’t really fully investigated the problem?

Alice Walker attempted to delved into these questions with her book The Color Purple. She attempted to show a very real history of physical and sexual violence against black women at the hands of not white men but black men. And there was such an unbelievable backlash from the black male community. (There is this dude who always calls me “Lisa” and tries to bate me into an argument by saying “Alice Walker hates black men, right?” Dude! My name is not Lisa and no and go away!) The thing is I don’t think these men (Lisa-dude included) are upset because they are in disbelief about these issues showing up in our history but more because they didn’t want the dirty laundry out there. (Ya can’t wash ’em without putting ’em “out there”). They didn’t want to deal with it in front of “them”. But who cares about them in the face of such devastating violence in our own community? How can we tell “them” not to kill us as we kill ourselves? It’s like my sister said when we were protesting again police brutality and members of the Bloods walked up beside us with protest signs: “They can’t kill you but we can.” We take that position way too often in our community. We do everything to make sure white people aren’t abusing us but we think it’s ok if we abuse each other.

And I think TD Jakes is attempting to look at some of the same issues from a more faith based, less historical perspective. But we can’t move forward without first truly understanding and “unpacking” what happened before. (Sankofa) We’ve yet to do that as a community, really delve into the ways that slavery has so painfully damaged the relationship between black men and black women.

Somehow it has become the burden of the woman to heal and forgive the abuse perpetuated against her by black men. We do need to heal and forgive. But what I need is someone like Jakes to also say that it is also the responsibility of the black man to STOP. Stop abusing women. Stop being so permissive of misogyny in our communities, in the church as much as it is in the streets. And really start talking about gender rolls and strength in ways that don’t strangle your emotional stability. Strength doesn’t have to be so restriction. And talk about faith in a way that has no tolerance for abuse. YES be strong. But be strong enough to talk about those things things that are hard to talk about. Yes pray. But pray for understanding, mutual respect and healing of our whole history and the trauma we face in response to the legacy of slavery.

Michael Jackson: a prophet with no home.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror”
“If you can’t feed the baby, then don’t have the baby”
“Mama always told you be careful who you love. Be careful what you do because the lies become the truth.”
“Blame it on the Boogie”
“Don’t stop till you get enough”

The words of a disturbed prophet without a home… Michael Jackson’s artistry defined the lives of many, especially those of us socially awkward artists. His words and music marked major moments in my life. Thriller came out when I was 3. Ricky, one of the boys my mother babysat would sing Billie Jean saying, “but the chair is not my son.” That was the beginning of a life long use (or misuse) of Michael Jackson sayings.

We sang “Ebony and Ivory” at our performance at our all black day care center’s graduation ceremony. We sang “We Are the World” at my 6th grade graduation from Horace Mann. I remember when my oldest sister Niki was applying for colleges and was trying to get the application postmarked by the deadline. She had to trek all the way down to the Main Office on 34th and we sing to her, “Keep on to the POST OFFICE. Don’t stop to you get enough.”

I remember my sister Gabrie’l setting up our TV in my other Niki’s room and we all got together to watch the premiere of the Thriller video. I was pretty young. My mother had her concerns but I wasn’t scared at all. I watch it now and the threat of dancing zombies brings fear to my heart but at 3 or 4, I was captivated. My friends Michael, Kyle, and Janet (did I really have friends named Michael and Janet? Yes) would have regular Thriller sessions. We’d put the vinyl on our record player. I had a toy guitar and we’d get down and go crazy. Our favorite was “Beat It”.

“Bad” came our right as I was starting 2nd grade. At that point I was one of two black girls in my grade at Horace Mann Barnard Elementary School. I remember the other black girl, Dana Bethune, a descendant of Mary McCloud Bethune, lent me her tape. She really wanted me to hear the newest Michael Jackson songs. I took that tape. I don’t think I gave it back. (Sorry Dana.) This was probably because my sister Gabrie’l took the tape from me to choreograph a dance to “Man in the Mirror”. This is a dance that in many ways defined my sister for me. I will never forget my sister dressed all in white on the stage at Horace Mann doing that powerful dance to that powerful song. I will never forget crying to “She’s Out of My Life” when Gabrie’l left for college when I was only 9 years old.

I remember my mother always saying to me “You need to pull a Michael Jackson.” For her this reflected on how fiercely he’d perform in spite of how painfully shy he was. It told of the odd ability performers, preachers and prophets have to get over social awkwardness long enough to perform, speak or preach powerfully. Michael has often spoke of feeling the most comfortable in stage. He spoke of the music coming from God and the dances being spoken through the music. He spoke of feeling guilty giving himself credit because it was all God working through him. And I know some are screaming “Wacko-Jacko”. But as a person of faith I can’t help to think about one of my favorite Bible verses, Jeremiah 20:9, which says:

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I think sometimes God comes through the human vessel in such a powerful way that it leaves very little room for “normalcy” by human standards. Many of the most powerful artists and ministers and prophets of old are the most socially awkward. And I often thought of Michael Jackson as someone who society and even his family didn’t know how to deal with. We don’t know how to simply be blessed by those who bring divine gifts. Our society seems to need to sell everything. So these people become products. And I’m not sure Michael knew how to be a product. Who does? Like many other un-nurtured geniuses, Michael went crazy. We can’t deny that. But his craziness over the past 10 or so years does not take away the power of what came before. So many life changing moments. So many blessings… thank you Michael. You’ve blessed my life. I will not stop ’til I get enough…