Black bodies are more than a hashtag. This, for you and unnamed others, in higher hope.
I’ve been hiding. The past 2 days, I’ve been hiding and peeking around corners and turning off the lights and pretending I’m asleep a lot. When I am with people (especially white people), I’m still hiding– half-hearted smiles and cantaloupe at a barbecue and passing off tears for sweat.
And then I’m in a parking lot with my white-skinned fiancé and his blue eyes are panicked as I’m screaming and sobbing and I choke out a string of sentences that I didn’t even know lived in my brain…
You can’t wait to feel something until you have a black son
People deserve your tears all on their own
We’re real people
I can’t be the only black body in your life
They don’t see us as human
And the last one hung in the air with a stench… You will always be better than me
And I don’t know how it got to this place but in that moment, I realized something:
Telling a white person that you feel less human than them, makes you feel less human than them, for the simple reason that they will never have to say those words for themselves.
Staring at this white stranger face from a small rural town in central PA, I felt, with indescribable depth, a hopelessness. Despite all our talks of God, our mutual interests, our goals, all our love– in this moment we were made of different things in different worlds and there was no thought, no prayer, no word of wisdom that could bridge the chasms in and between us.
A year and a half ago, I wrote a post in response to Ferguson and police brutality. If you’d like to read the post in its entirety, do so here, I think it will be helpful if you plan to read onward. But in it, I call “for not only justice but reconciliation”. I ended with this, “God is for justice, yes. And the entire gospel cries out reconciliation. Why have we compartmentalized two missions of equal gravity? There’s a lot of talk about justice, but justice without reconciliation is a fool’s errand that will lead to more darkness than light. Let’s talk about fear. Let’s talk about tribes. We’ve talked about what we want; now, what are we going to do?”
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, a Facebook frenzy of bitterness, skepticism and pointing fingers, and that felt chasm in the middle of an empty parking lot is why it is time to answer my own question. What are we going to do? Will we leash ourselves to lives of reactionary mourning and relational gaps or will we look down at our own crooked hearts and fix the lie that keeps pulling the trigger?
Rallies, protests, social media advocacy–they have their place and it is a meaningful one in pursuit of justice. But in the long and interpersonal work of reconciliation, we can no longer sit idly next to our neighbor, hopelessly waiting for a judge’s decision to mend our breaking hearts. We can no longer sit idly next to our neighbor, staring at a computer screen of opinions to fix the depravity of our own hearts. We cannot go one more day hiding from our neighbors while black body blood spills out without reason and creeps into the spaces between us. We will not survive on mere justice.
We need the restored humanity of our neighbor. Restored relationships. Freedom from chains of fear and blame. We cannot afford to continue to live out these scared, sad, blaming lives without the pursuit of reconciliation. And for the oppressed, that doesn’t mean we don’t cry, it doesn’t mean we don’t protest; it means our cries and our protests will be heard because we refuse to run away from the ears that need to hear us the most. And for the oppressor/bystander, it doesn’t mean you have the rights to the pain or story of your hurting neighbor. Or that we reconcile so everyone can “feel better”. The chief purpose of pursuing reconciliation cannot be to alleviate white guilt and make blacks “feel better”. Reconciliation in light of Christ means staring at our brother and sister who we’ve been made to believe are less human and seeing them for who they are, image bearers of their creator. It means staring at our brother and sister who we’ve been hiding from, mutually acknowledging the profound and unjust chasm between us, and in the acknowledgment itself, taking one step closer.
The more meaningful time you spend crying, laughing, learning, worshipping with people who are “not of your tribe”, the more time you’ll spend thinking about them, understanding them, trusting them. Seeing them. And I have to believe that truly seeing a person is ultimately what stays a hand from pulling a trigger.
In 2 months, I will marry a white male. We will not survive on mere justice. We need to be reconciled. Reconciled because of who we are, where we came from, what our fathers and their fathers and theirs did. Reconciled because of a country built on systemic racism and oppression.
In 2 weeks, another black person will die at the hands of a cop. Whoever they are, wherever they are, they will not survive on mere justice. Our society–the air we are breathing as a culture– it can be a slow poison and until we learn to address the heart condition of the people around us and the systems that made us this way, black brothers and sisters and the image of God they reflect will continue to be purged from this land.
What does this look like practically? I have, against my better judgement, made a 3 point list, because that has a history of making things seem more feasible. It is admittedly geared toward people who believe Christ is Lord, but I hope will still be helpful for others.
How to Pursue Reconciliation and Still Demand Justice: Power, Lament, and Truth-Telling
If you are white and do not have at least one meaningful relationship with a person of color. Start there.
If we’re gonna start talking reconciliation we have to think about what kind of power each of us possesses–what we are willing to relinquish and what we need to steward to a better end. The power and image that we have can be the biggest barrier between us and the reality of our own sin. This is especially hard in terms of race because our power and image are both tied so closely to our different “tribes”. Cops are a tribe. Blacks are a tribe. And at the end of the day, we have these two tribes–unwilling to engage in each other’s realities because of the profound loyalty written into their very identity. When reconciling us back to himself and each other, Christ gives up all power, influence, and image on the cross. We need faithful cops acknowledging the injustice perpetuated by other cops. We need conservatives proclaiming black lives matter. And we need people with power and authority willing to discredit colleagues who have racial bias that limits their ability to function rationally. White brothers and sisters, if your primary concern when discussing race-related brutality is maintaining an image of integrity for yourself and the place you came from, you don’t just need to relinquish that power but you need to reorient your heart.
This also means better stewardship of power– use it to bridge chasms. This looks like teachers researching curriculum that honors black thinkers/authors and creating space for children to talk about race from an early age. For a tv producer, it might mean refusing to perpetuate black stereotypes and prejudices. For a parent, it might mean admitting to your children that you have failed at connecting with people who don’t look and think like you. If you are a believer, this means praying for God to expose how you view power dynamics in the relationships that you have. Do you think you are better/smarter/more capable? “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3
I think the reason my heart tends to crave justice more than reconciliation is a clever lie I’ve come to believe that reconciliation means everything is alright. In fact, I think reconciliation itself demands justice. It says something needs to be fixed because things are not alright. If you’re a believer, we are not reconciled back to God because we hung around with him and got to know him more. Rather, Christ on a cross fulfilled the demand of justice in order to establish reconciliation. Nothing was alright until he did so. For God, one could not exist without the other. He was not content with justice without reconciling his people back to Him and truth. And we see very clearly that he does not balance justice and reconciliation without lament. I remind myself that Christ on the cross could have been stoic and silent, but instead he gives us a picture of what our lament should look like when things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Father, let this cup pass from me. My god, my god, why have you forsaken me. Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do. This is an emotional God. A God in grieving. God now calls us to be agents of reconciliation in the world around us, and I can’t imagine how we’ve convinced ourselves that we can do so without lamenting fully the darkness of what we’re in. Our reconciliation will only be as deep as our shared lament. If you don’t feel sad, you are too far away. Get close enough to black brothers and sisters to recognize them as real. Close enough to see their tears. To be confused and uncomfortable. Close enough to cry with them and mean it. It may take time. Don’t fake it. Just get closer.
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1-2
This week I was fortunate enough to hear a man named Kyuboem Lee speak to college students on reconciliation. At one point he very simply and softly said, “if we want to see reconciliation we have to tell the truth”. I echo that now. We collectively need to relearn what it means to be truth-tellers or our picture of humanity will continue to disintegrate because of mistrust and biases. Whites need to examine their own thoughts/beliefs/privilege and tell the truth about it. If you grew up in an all white town with your only impression of black people being filtered through tv/media that labels them scary, stupid, or ugly, chances are somewhere deep down you might believe some of that. Tell the truth about it. Be honest with yourself, your family, your friends. Clinging to an image of integrity amplifies distrust when pursuing reconciliation.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, that you may be healed.” James 5:16
Black friends, no matter how it feels or what voices you hear in the back of your head, being vulnerable about your pain/wounds to white people does not give white people more power over you. It’s twisted thinking and I’ve been there. You are not weak for your pain. They are not better than you for not having it. We as black people must tell the truth about who we are and what we feel, not because anyone deserves to hear it but because we deserve to be heard.
“And for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
Here I will confess that the distance between me and my fiancé in that empty parking lot was bigger than any 3 point list. Here I admit that even as I end this I feel less hope than when I started. I cannot imagine a world where unarmed black people are not being killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites. Justice seems far and reconciliation seems further. If not for Christ, I’d still be hiding.
Praying this is helpful. And acknowledging a lack of closure.
But who needs closure in a blog post when black blood hashtags are trending on twitter.
Pray with me. What are we going to do?