No, America Doesn’t Need White Identity Movements

Trichardspenerhere’s a part of me that wants to have sympathy for white people who claim to want to celebrate their European heritage. Now that they are a diminishing demographic, and will soon be one among many groups in the U.S., and not the hegemony they have been in the past, why shouldn’t they, too, celebrate their culture and identity, as do blacks and other people of color?

Being a persecuted and targeted minority group for the centuries that black people have been on these shores, has given rise to groups that are defensive in nature, like the NAACP and Urban League; to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), that sprung up in response to white institutions of higher education being hostile or legally segregated, and mentorship groups such as National Association of Black Journalist, to which I have belonged.

So, until recently, I was feeling that constant talk about “white privilege,” etc., was overdone. What harm was there in whites celebrating their European identity, and why shouldn’t whites have such things as white studies, without being accused of being racist? Must we continue to view whites as the privileged majority even as their demographic share is shrinking?

Then came the election of Donald J. Trump.

According the New York Times, Peter Brimelow, the founder of Vdare.com, an anti-immigration website, asked the audience at the recent Alt-Right gathering in Washington, why, if Hispanics had the National Council of La Raza and Jews had the Anti-Defamation League, whites were reluctant to organize for their rights.

Why not, indeed.

Unfortunately, it seems that the whites, such as those affiliated with Richard B. Spencer’s National Policy Institute, do not feel it is enough to have an affinity group. The white “identitarians” must also despise, denigrate and discriminate against others in order to affirm their existence, it seems.

For example, Richard B. Spencer, a leader of the so-called “Alt Right” whom I have only just become familiar with, says he wants a white ethno-state. That state, he affirms, should be the United States. He has claimed that this country was built by and for Europeans. “.. America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer told his audience at its recent conference, according to The New York Times. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” he affirmed.

He and others like him, completely dismiss the fact that this land was not uninhabited when the “undocumented” Europeans arrived. Shortly thereafter, as early as the 1600s, bondspeople were brought to these shores from Africa and Europe to Jamestown, Virginia; and there quickly emerged a system of slave-holding of African peoples.

The first Africans were brought from places like the central African nation of Cameroon, and my family, and many other black families, can trace our origins to those very early unwilling immigrants.

The Southern economy was built on the backs of generations of enslaved Africans. Spencer likes to dismiss the importance of this, telling Roland Martin’s Newsone that whites easily could have invented another method for cotton picking, so that black labor was incidental.

But we know that’s not what happened. Had slave labor not been essential to the economy of the U.S., the practice would have withered died under its own obsolescence.

It did not.

Due to the practice of white overseers and “masters” taking concubines from among the enslaved women, African Americans are, on average, 17 percent European, with some blacks being upwards of 50 percent European (think Corey Booker and Vanessa Williams).

Add to this the smaller percentage of African Americans who have Native blood running through their veins. Some of this admixture may have occurred early in the nation’s history, when there was an attempt to enslave Native Americans, as well as Africans.

So, for Richard B. Spencer, and others on the so-called “Alt-right” to make believe that the United States has always been a European country, is historically inaccurate, and in short, specious.

The culture, including the cuisine, the vernacular, the music, the sports, the scientific inventions, and scholarship, has arisen from an amalgam of people who call themselves Americans. One could hardly imagine an America without Southern cooking (soul food), jazz music, basketball, football, and fast as lightening track stars and other athletes.

But Africans didn’t only contribute to the “soft” culture of the U.S. Recently a movie was made about the black women, including one dubbed “the human computer,” that checked the computer calculations that enabled this country to soar to the moon.

The black scientist Dr. Charles Drew invented a method for extracting plasma from blood that paved the way for safe blood transfusions.

No need to list all of the ways Africans, Latinos and Native Americans have contributed to this country by means of the arts, culture, cuisine, popular vernacular and scholarship.

Truth be told, America wouldn’t be America with its Chinatowns, Preservation Hall bands, Cajun cooking, Harlem, Hip Hop and Rap, Facebook and other technologies, were it to only consist of non-Jewish whites.

Had American been a totally European nation, it wouldn’t have its swag. It wouldn’t be the country that immigrants and refugees dream of coming to.

So, I am afraid that it would be too dangerous for white identity movements to take hold without a firm resistance. Spencer has said that if African Americans and others he deems undesirable do not leave the country voluntarily, they will be removed by bloody force. That is his “dream,” he says.

Unfortunately, there is a strain in European culture and tradition that feels it must be supreme; must dominate, must vanquish.

That, Richard B. Spencer, cannot happen.

This article was originally published in my Huffington Post blog:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/no-richard-spencer-america-is-not-yours_us_583c9c2be4b04e28cf5b8a5a?

 

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Breaking the Code

Obama cool black manPoor President Obama, he just can’t catch a break. Looking strained and weary, he had to interrupt his Martha’s Vineyard vacation and return to Washington because the world seemed aflame with problems both at home and abroad.

His entire second term has been characterized by Congressional gridlock and immigration woes. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took shots at his foreign policy in the media, and he’s been criticized by African Americans for not attending to problems in the inner-city, the type of which boiled over recently in Ferguson, MO.

It’s not that the president doesn’t try. Before African-American audiences, he will assume an air of familiarity that some have found patronizing. About Republicans planning a lawsuit against him, he says they should stop “hatin’ all the time.” Before his last election, he told members of the Congressional Black Caucus (reportedly switching to a preacher’s cadence) to take off their “bedroom slippers and start marching.” He even recently complimented his White House pastry chef by saying his pies were so delicious, “I don’t know what he does – whether he puts crack in them.”

What?

That was my reaction until I realized that yet again, our president was “code-switching.” Saying something has crack in it is like saying it’s crazy good. (With two teens in the house, Obama has a ready resource for the latest slang.)

In a recent piece in The Daily Beast, columnist John McWhorter argued that such relatability was requisite for the presidency today, noting that George W. Bush was often criticized for his Texan swagger.

Many groups code-switch. Italians, Jews, Puerto-Ricans, Mexicans. We all have “in-group lingo;” something that lets us feel we’re members of the inner circle.

I remember when my then-16 year old nephew, Christian, came back from vacation in California, sounding as if he’d grown up on the mean streets East Palo Alto, despite having been born and schooled (and often on the high-honor roll) in rural upstate New York. Now 24, he said, “I think code-switching is necessary to smoothly transverse through different groups. Growing up out there I did not learn what we typically consider ‘urban code.’ Coming to California was my first introduction, and I definitely wanted to speak the code at first just to fit in. I mean, I have regularly spoken in urban code for the last 8 years. But at the same time, I realized what my grandmother meant when she said that people perceive you a certain way when you look and speak a certain way. So around sophomore year of college, I realized it could be beneficial to be able to do both at any time.”

In a TED talk, spoken word poet Jamila Lyiscott riffed easily between urban, Caribbean and standard English, telling her audience she was “tri-lingual.”

Black ministers are often masters of the code-switch. My pastor, the Rev. Arnold Byrd III, a young African-American minister, can easily go from standard English on his job in sales with a major cable company, to language designed to connect with the congregation in his predominantly black church on Sundays. He says he follows the example of Jesus, who used things his listeners could understand – fishing and farming – to explain the Kingdom of Heaven. “Peter was a businessman; he owned his own fishing business. So when Jesus told Peter, ‘I will make you a fisher of men,’ Peter understood where he was coming from because he uses something Peter could relate to.”

With the news dominated again by the killing of a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, even in the comments section of Christianity Today, we see that black and white Christians seemingly talk a different language. One can see how, if people only hung around with others who shared their views, both on and off-line, deadly misunderstandings could occur when we confront one another in real life.

This shouldn’t be so.

My pastor says that Mark 12:30-31, the famous scripture that tells us to love God with our heart soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves, is crucial. “In everything about me I am going to show God I love him, which means his ways trump my beliefs, my thoughts or how I perceive a thing,” he told me.

As Paul writes in Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Ephesians 2:13-18 RSV)

As believers we should be masters of the ultimate “code-switch.” After all, we not only are citizens of various nations, but we are citizens of heaven. We should be conversant not only in the language dictated by our differing cultures, but in the language given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

A version of this story originally appeared in Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics column in August 2014: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2014/august/code-switching-for-kingdom.html

 

 

This Time, It’s Personal: Reflections on the Charleston Shootings

Black&White CharlestonIn the last several weeks, we have seen two extremes unfolding in the saga of race relations in America.  On the one hand, was the amusing, but at the same time sad and puzzling story of Rachel Dolezal, who, apparently empathized with African Americans so much, that she slowly began to take on the identity of a black woman. However, her story was forced off the front pages by yet another signal event in this country’s bedeviled relationship with race.

This time, the script was more familiar. A young disenfranchised white male who apparently had been spending his time prowling the Internet’s racist sites and imbibing raw, unfiltered racism, decided that it was his duty to incite a racial war. Forget the fact that in the more than four centuries since the introduction of African slaves, there has never been a war between the black and white races on our shores. A large part of that has been because of the resilience and the faith of African Americans.

The church has long been considered the most important institution in the black community. Writing for The Root, Peniel E. Joseph, founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, said:

“The black church’s radical humanism harbored a fierce resistance to slavery, a love of freedom, and a thirst for citizenship and equality that made it a hotbed of internal debates, discussions and controversies over the best course for black liberation in America… After slavery, the strength of the black church made it a target of racist vigilantes, with white supremacists turning a religious symbol, the cross, into a burning icon of racial terror.”

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is the country’s oldest black Protestant denomination and remains one of its most prominent. An outgrowth of a civic group called the Free African Society, Methodist evangelist Richard Allen founded the first AME church in 1794. When his segregated congregation in Philadelphia went as far as pulling black parishioners from their knees when praying, Allen knew it was time to establish safe, secure places where people of African descent could freely worship.

AME churches thrived in the Northeast and Midwest, but also eventually stretched below the Mason Dixon line. At one time, the dream was to remove African Americans from the US and to take them to established black homelands in Liberia and Haiti, but those plans eventually were foiled. (The denomination does now have branches in Liberia, Sierre Leone, and South Africa.)

My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all grew up in the pews of the AME church. I come from a long line of AME ministers, and although my parents were non-observant, the imprint of my father’s AME past was passed on to him and his three siblings. Raised in a strict home as PKs, pastor’s kids, they were expected to achieve and serve. I see the influence of their AME upbringing in their striving for excellence, concern for social justice, and passion for education.

I saw glimpses of that ambition and commitment to service in the victim’s obituaries as well: distinguished graduates of historically black colleges, active in community organizations, faithful ministers of Emanuel AME Church.

I recall hearing stories from my relatives about NAACP meetings held in the church basement and the traveling civil rights leaders who visited. My grandfather, a presiding elder overseeing AME churches in Baltimore, ended his career at Washington DC’s Turner AME Church. Decades later, the congregation still remembers his legacy with a bio on their website:

“The Reverend Clarence Clyde Ferguson … was a spiritual and dynamic leader with foresight, wisdom and great pastoral ability. Under his leadership, Turner continued to grow and to develop rapidly. A parsonage, located at 509 P Street, N. W. was purchased. The church grew from a mission to a station charge. Reverend Ferguson served until his death in 1946.”

I think about how the late pastor of Mother Emanuel, Clementa Pinckney, will be remembered. Sadly, he too served until his death—at just 41.

But after months and years of declaring #BlackLivesMatter, why has this event been the one to stir more white Americans as well as blacks and their progressive allies?

Understandably, the Charleston shooting hits especially close to home, symbolically and emotionally, for African Americans like me.

Many African Americans, even those raised in the North, have ties to South Carolina. More than half of black Americans have ancestors who came as slaves through the state’s coastal ports including Charleston, according to historians.

Within my family, there are black Fergusons in South Carolina to this day. (Our branch migrated to North Carolina; my father was born in Wilmington. I grew up in New York, where my parents, Southern transplants, met and married.)

Even more significant, though, is Mother Emanuel itself. A historic black church, it represents both a force against American slavery and oppression and a beacon signifying the rights of African Americans to worship freely.

When I heard that Pinckney and the others were killed in their church basement, I immediately flashed back to my own memories of Wednesday night Bible studies, of being excited to welcome any new face who came.The young white man who visited Emanuel AME apparently considered it his duty to incite a racial war. We know, however, that our battle ultimately is spiritual, not physical. We know that the enemy comes to rob, kill, and destroy, but that Jesus came to bring life and life to the full.

I watched grieving in both black and white communities on CNN in the aftermath. Commentators marveled at the joy in the worship service, attended by both South Carolina’s black and white communities. I saw the mutual comforting and the tears. I heard the church bells that rolled across the historic city of Charleston in mourning for nine lives lost.

It brought to mind this Scripture: “Do not repay evil for evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17, 21)

This time, the killing of black Americans going about their daily business, I suspect, became personal for white believers. Instead of a thug, they saw a pastor; instead of unfamiliar, possibly suspect blacks, they saw brothers and sisters in the Lord gathering for Bible study.

I pray they can remember how that feels—to assume the “other” to be one of them—next time an injustice occurs. That instinct can be a first step to bridging a divide, to loving their neighbor, to begin healing racial wounds.

My prayer is that brothers and sisters in Christ, be they white, black, brown, or any other color, would put down our differences at the foot of the cross. For as South Carolinians of every stripe demonstrated in the last several days, and as we sing in our churches: “He is our peace; He has broken down every wall.”

(A version of this article originally appeared in the Her.menuetics blog on Christianity Today)

The Ray Rice Redemption

Ray Rice jpgOkay, now that every media outlet, blogger and commentator has piled on to Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, can we all take a deep, deep breath for a minute and consider some other sides of this troubling case?

The facts as we know them are this: After a night of heavy drinking, star-running-back Rice got into a verbal and physical altercation with his then-fiancé, now wife, Janay Palmer Rice. He sat down with his bosses and powers-that-be at the NFL and told his side of the story. The NFL likely knew exactly what happened; either through direct viewing of the whole videotape or by extrapolating from the portion that was initially released showing Rice dragging the unconscious Janay from an elevator. Rice and his team and the NFL came to an agreement about the punishment and consequences. Rice would be suspended for two games and he and Janay were to go through some kind of anger-management/marital counseling. Some were dismayed that he had only merited a two-game suspension, but things had moved on.

Next thing we know, a fuller version of the elevator surveillance video is disseminated by the gossip site TMZ, and all @#!% breaks out.

Yes, it was disturbing to watch a young, muscular man essentially knock out a much smaller, weaker woman with one punch. But really, what was in that full-length tape that we did not already know?

And now, once again, a young black man has been held up as the poster boy for some form of societal dysfunction. His name is even used as the hook for the website of the national Domestic Violence Hotline in a headline, which asks, “Have you been affected by the recent news concerning Ray Rice and the NFL?”

It recently came to light that Rice has attributed his (and Janay’s) bad behavior to a night of heavy drinking, and has said that they have since renounced hard liquor and have turned back to their faith. Their church, and no doubt many other people, are standing by, praying for them and counseling them.

The problem I have with the whole scenario is this: One’s word is one’s bond. If Rice, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens had come to an agreement as to his punishment, and Rice was compliant, it is very “unsportsmanlike” for the league and owners to renege on the understood agreement. It’s as if someone served their jail time based on eye-witness testimony, and only later, after a videotape is discovered with visual evidence of the same crime, the person is sent back to jail to serve even more time.

The result of the latest iterations in the case, in addition to shaming the Rice family and, as Janay wrote, making their lives a nightmare, is that the interruption of his livelihood will no doubt have a very ill effect on the family’s future. Whether one is making millions in the NFL or doing the 9 – 5 grind, we all depend on, and value, our livelihoods. They not only allow us to pay our bills, but many times our work is tied up in of our self-respect and self-definition. Losing our livelihood can create almost unbearable stress.

However, the most important part of this story, to me, is the strident moralizing in the face of a contrite perpetrator, whose victim has apparently forgiven him.

Since Rice has apologized to all concerned, taken his punishment, renounced the things that contributed to his and his wife’s behavior (alcohol) and returned and recommitted to his church, why must we, as a society, be less forgiving than God Himself?

Don’t get me wrong. Violence against women or any other person is completely unacceptable. It is a serious national problem, affecting 1.6 million women annually and costing the nation $5.8 billion in aftercare, including more than $4 billion in medical costs. I am fully in support of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and have worn purple to signify it.

However, Christians believe that God will receive us upon repentance (turning away from) our sin “as if it never happened.” Our culture celebrates and condones all types of behavior once frowned upon (MTV Music Awards, anyone?) but becomes strangely moralizing when addressing a select subset of sins.

When someone repents of their behavior and pledges to improve, and is forgiven by those whom he has hurt, why can’t we extend grace to that person?

Had Ray Rice violated his agreement and been violent to his wife or someone else again, then sure, bring it on. Fire him from his team; suspend him permanently from the NFL, whatever.

But it serves neither his family, his team, his fans nor anybody else, when he is punished again for a crime he had already been punished for and expressed regret for.

Can’t we allow Ray Rice to be a poster boy for redemption instead?

This article was originally published in Onfaith. http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/09/18/ray-rice-domestic-violence-rage-nfl-redemption/34147

What Bitstrips Taught Me About Colorism

beyonceSeveral months ago, like everyone else, I started seeing cartoon avatars from Bitstrips show up in my Facebook news feed. Like countless other Facebook users, I had fun piecing together my avatar from a number of choices available and posting a few cartoons.

It was all good passing fun, except for one thing. When I looked at some of my friends’ and family’s Bitstrips, I noticed a disturbing trend. Many people of color created avatars with much lighter skin than they actually have.

Light-skinned blacks became indistinguishable from white. Brown-skinned people were suddenly light tan; and dark-skinned people inevitably made themselves light brown, and in one case even white!

It got me to thinking about how this issue of colorism plagues us still. In the last few years, the topic has been revived by such documentaries as Dark Girls, and by celebrities like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, who have created controversy by seemingly morphing into white women before our eyes.

Allure magazine recently ran an article on the popularity and dangers of the practice of skin bleaching, and my sister told me that West Africans even have a term for it: Fanta face and Coca-Cola body. (Fanta is an orange-colored soda, and the effect of whitening often leaves brown skin with an orange cast.)

As Yasmin Alibhai-brown wrote in a very cogent piece in the Daily Mail, “Too many black and Asian children grow up understanding the sad ‘truth’ that to have dark skin is to be somehow inferior,” and dated the desire for light skin in India to before the time of the Raj.

For black Americans, it’s an old story. Dark-skinned female slaves brought from Africa were used as sex toys by white slave owners and overseers. A new caste arose: the mulatto. Because these mixed-blood people had hair, skin and features closer to that of the master, many, both white and black, viewed their looks as more desirable. Black sororities and social clubs instituted “paper bag” tests: i.e., you had to be no darker than a brown paper bag to gain entrance. Some mixed people passed for white by day in order to achieve the economic benefits of whiteness, while reverting to their own race when at home. “One Drop,” the mesmerizing story of New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard, who in his later years passed for white, had parents who did just that.

I find it perplexing that in almost every culture, light is considered desirable, and black despicable. White is pure; black is evil. Why does this mindset stretch across the globe in cultures that until recently had no significant contact with one another? After pondering the issue, I decided that likely it is a vestige of agricultural societies, where the well-to-do were able to avoid toiling in fields and darkening their skin, whereas the peasants were dark or swarthy from the sun. Therefore, light skin became equated with wealth, ease and class, and dark skin with poverty and peasantry.

I grew up in a family that disdained colorism. Or so I deduce, because I was completely unaware of it until my teens, when my family returned to the U.S. after my father’s diplomatic posting in East Africa. I was fascinated and surprised by the talk of “good” hair, light skin, and that the hip popular clique were mainly light-skinned and wavy-haired. My fair skinned, wavy-haired boyfriend with a monster curly Afro, would dissect his family’s lineage with excruciating detail. I later attended Howard University with a green-eyed young man who came from a family infamous for having intermarried with relatives to avoid the “curse” of dark skin.

That is why the Bitstrips avatars, Beyoncé, et al, and the extreme prevalence of nose jobs on beautiful black female actresses, has been such a disappointment to me.

I admit that once upon a time, many, many, years ago, I would probably have gone under the knife to refine my round, negroid nose if I had the money. But now that I am older, I view my nose as a badge of honor. Even if I had the time, money and vanity, I would no more alter what God gave me than to change my first name.

I feel that it’s almost a rebellious act to be proud of my nose. That’s a sad commentary during a time when we have seen our first Black commander-in-chief, and when a black man has just joined the ranks of chairmen at Microsoft.

I say, it’s time to bring back James Brown’s anthem: “Say it loud; I’m black and I’m proud.” As we witness the dawn of the brown, black and yellow century, let’s throw off the old bondage that taught us that if you’re white, you’re all right. Let’s embrace our African, Asian, Arab, Latina beauty … if not for ourselves, then at least for our children and our children’s children.

There’s speculation that women in Hollywood feel they must alter their looks in order to “cross over” and to become mainstream, and therefore rich and powerful. To paraphrase scripture: But what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, if he or she loses his or her soul?

Homeless in New York

canstockphoto13554845

“Oh, no,” I groaned, as I exited Union Station on my way to my sister’s home in DC.

We were going to our middle-school reunion that weekend, and I was full of anticipation about seeing friends we’d been out-of-touch with for years. But now a tall, thin, intoxicated man – who obviously was homeless – was checking me out.

As I got directions to the bus from a college-age couple sitting nearby, the gentleman, perfumed with alcohol, ambled over to me. “I’ll help you ma’am,” he’d said, displaying a toothless smile. Still handsome, in a worn sort of way, his muscular frame was covered with a moss-green tank top and jeans.

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“Let me walk you to the bus stop.”

“No thanks, I. am. all. set.”

“Why don’t you wanna talk to me?” he asked plaintively.

“Goodnight.”

I quickened my pace. Later that evening, I’d laughed about the toothless Lothario with my sister.

Now, on the bus headed home, to my animals, my fiancé, my work, all was well in my world. I was to catch a 5:45 p.m. connecting bus from New York City to Albany, and then my fiancé, Morgan, was to pick me up at the station.

But as the bus lumbered through Lincoln Tunnel, it sideswiped a car, delaying our arrival.

A quick call to the bus company, and I was informed that that I had missed the last bus to Albany that night. Morgan and I decided that I would tough it out at the bus station. I wasn’t overly daunted – as an adolescent, I would take transcontinental flights to and from boarding school, necessitating overnights in international airports.

Lugging my baggage to the nearest McDonald’s, I settled down with my book and a sandwich. As the clock crept toward midnight, however, I began to feel drowsy. Despite how it might look, and with some trepidation about my nearby laptop and handbag, I lay my head on my open book and took a nap.

At 2 a.m., I made 12-block trek to the bus stop. Passing Times Square, I noticed dark bodies bundled in layers of clothing slumped over the filigreed café tables at a piazza, their possessions heaped at their feet. This was obviously a choice place to sleep for the homeless. Although police cars cruised, and officers surveyed the area on foot, nobody seemed to notice the slumbering bodies.

At the outdoor bus stop, I eased myself down on the pavement, and began to read my devotional, the smell of stale urine drifting up from the sidewalk. Every minute stretched to an eternity. The hour from 2 a.m. to 3 seemed like three hours rolled into one.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Pushing my bags together, and draping my leg over my purse so I would wake up if anyone tried to snatch it, I dozed to the sound of the homeless woman across the street crying out plaintively to passersby. I slept two solid hours. When I awoke, my clothing was rumpled and smeared with dirt, my breath stale, my hair mussed.

I realized with a start that I had just shared an experience of “homelessness” with the men and women at the café tables – and with my wine-soaked Lothario.

True, I had looked at the huddled figures and felt more compassion than I ever had before. As I had passed their quiet frames, I had thought: These people are someone’s children, someone’s siblings, someone’s aunt, uncle, cousin. They are homeless, most likely, due to persistent mental illness and /or substance abuse. They’ve exhausted options with friends and family and have fallen through the safety net.

The reasons for my new awareness could be traced back to an experience three years earlier. I had battled a bout of major depression, and had been in and out of the hospital three times during one year. I had taken months of sick leave from work; fallen behind on my bills.

What if I hadn’t had A-rated health insurance that paid the nearly $150,000 for my hospitalizations? What if I had not had a dedicated circle of friends and family who had prevailed upon me to seek help in the first place? What if instead of being a homeowner in good standing, I had been a renter and lost my home?

My worst nightmare had been that I would end up like one of the people I had seen tonight. I would often lie in bed thinking, What if I never can go back to work? What if my house is foreclosed on? What if I exhaust the sympathy of friends and family?

What if I end up homeless?

My favorite poet, Jane Kenyon, described her experience of being in the city for a conference, and seeing the homeless people “bedded down for the night under rags.” *

At the Cloisters I indulged in piety
while gazing at a painted lindenwood Pieta
… but when a man stepped close
under the tasseled awning of the hotel,
asking for “a quarter for someone
down on his luck,” I quickly turned my back …

 “Do you love me?” said Christ to his disciple.
“Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

“Lord, what can I do?” I whispered inwardly.  And I seemed to hear him respond in my heart:

Pray for the homeless; they are not invisible to me. They are beloved of my Father, and I shed my blood for them. Give to homeless ministries – not everyone has the will or compassion to work with these people of mine, but everyone can contribute to those whom I have called to do so. And if you have the opportunity, share the forgiveness, healing and freedom you have found in me. For there may seem to be a huge gap between these least of these my brethren and you, but indeed, your righteousness is as filthy rags before me. And when you walk by those people bedded down for the night on the streets, do not forget that they were once loved by someone.

In the Bible, “home” is where our Father will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). We will be reunited with loved ones and sit down for a heavenly feast (Isaiah 25:6-9). We will be welcome, we will be loved.

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 84:3:

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow builds

 a nest for herself, where she may have her young,

a place near your altar, Oh God…”

How tender it is to know that our Father provides a home for even the birds of the air.

A friend who has experienced homelessness observed that when homeless believers, like the Biblical Lazarus, are taken to heaven, never again will they have to worry about paying the rent or getting eviction notices.  Their home will be provided for the price of love.

Here on earth, home is where we can finally exhale after a time away. It’s where we can put our feet up, let our hair down and be completely, most truly ourselves. It is our sanctuary from work and stress. It is the expression of our interests and our tastes. It is the repository of our dreams.

I was so tired when I got home, that after a long bubble bath, I fell into a deep and heavy sleep that lasted through the early evening and all night.

I was so tired, I didn’t even let my dog in when I heard him scratching at the door.

In the morning, when I finally opened the door, Neptune wagged his tail, his wet nose brushing against my hand.

He was home. And I was too.

*Back from the City, © Jane Kenyon, 1986

Have Black People Lost Their Vision?

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What do a celebrity chef, a second-degree murder trial and a Supreme Court decision have in common?

Answer: They demonstrate that when it comes to race, the U.S. is far from “color-blind.” Concerning the Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin controversies, there remains a disconnect between blacks and whites. As white fans flooded Facebook clamoring for Deen’s redemption, many blacks remain unconvinced of her contrition.

And most blacks I know are hoping for a guilty verdict in the Martin case, while in the general population, perhaps not so much.

It seems as if the president’s election, far from ushering in the new post-racial U.S., has instead been a lightening rod that has illuminated the underbelly of race relations in this country.

While some believe that we have achieved an equitable society (as the Supreme Court apparently did when striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act), many blacks, especially black men subjected to indignities every day, are well aware there’s still a way to go.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, the Times ran a story detailing the slide backwards of black professionals. One commentator, a white hiring manager, accused African Americans of having a “victim” mentality and being hobbled by slavery’s legacy. He wrote that he much preferred to hire “hard working” and “bright” West African immigrants who do not carry the same baggage.

Commentators went back and forth about blame, some maintaining blacks should just “get over it.”

Meanwhile, a mini-dust storm erupted in the black press over what was considered a “scolding” on the part of the president and first lady when they addressed graduating classes at predominantly black colleges in May.

Commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic and contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote a blog post chastising the first couple for talking down to, and disrespecting the black graduates. He wrote that the Obamas assume a familiarity with, and seem to feel comfortable criticizing black audiences, in a way they do not with other constituent groups.

This got me to thinking. We do, in fact, need to have a conversation about race: and about the violence, drugs and hyper-sexuality in our communities; the epidemic of fatherlessness; and the limited dreams that cause generations to languish in the projects. And let’s not forget the abysmal state of black matrimony. But we also need to correctly diagnose the problems.

War on Families?
It has been said that African Americans are the most uncoupled people on the planet. Yet at the turn of the century, more than 90 percent of black adults were married, according to Alikah Butler, author of a book on the topic. Today nearly 70 percent of black women are single, and many at the higher socio-economic levels go childless as well for lack of a suitable mate.

According to Butler, one of the barriers that work against black marriage is the fact that 900,000 black males between the ages of 18 and 60 are incarcerated on any given day. (see The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander). Although most are out of jail in two to three years, those are the prime years to get established, get a job and get married.

Historically, the breakdown of the black family was exacerbated by the well-meaning War on Poverty of the 1960s, that rewarded households headed by women.

Identity in Christ
Joshua DuBois, in a fascinating cover story in Newsweek recently addressed some of the unique challenges of black males. Although I agree that retraining programs and education help, I think the heart of the issue is nothing less than the loss of  identity grounded in a belief and hope in the God who loves us beyond measure.

During slavery, faith in God sustained a subjugated people who sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down Moses” as they labored in the fields belonging to others. Those songs are said to have a secret subtext – pointing to an earthly escape from slavery to the promised land of Canada; but I believe the longing for a celestial home in those spirituals was very sincere. Life was short, hard and brutal, with very little to look forward to on earth.

Subsequently, the black church has been a bulwark against the storms of discrimination and racial hatred for centuries.

We often forget how recent this history is. The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated last year. My grandparents were born little more than 40 years after slavery ended.

New life and true life comes from one place, and that is in the “Father of lights in whom there is no shadow or variation of change (James 1:17).”

Until we, as black people, “look to the hills from whence our help comes (Psalm 121:1)” and rekindle our first love, we will be left with travesties such as Kanye West singing “I am a God.”

As a black woman engaged to a black man who bears many of the scars resulting from racism, I have seen firsthand how the gospel of Christ has transformed his life and sustained our healthy relationship.

I believe that the president and first lady were addressing blacks as “family,” in the same way your favorite aunty will tell you your slip is hanging or you’ve got lipstick on your teeth.  They were casting a vision for young people, and I say good for them! For “without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).”

A version of this story was originally published in Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/july/what-post-racial-america.html