I don’t want to learn about the Confederacy

2 08 2010

Normally I’m not this bold but we were early for a wedding. So the passenger in my car took the picture after I did a very illegal U-turn to get a much desired picture of this strange sign.

I call it strange because I don’t know what to do with it.

As a person with dark skin it should automatically offend me.

And it started to.

But then I paused. And thought.  Then I wasn’t so sure if I was offended.

But I was confused, not only because this sign was present in Brodnax, VA, in my home state, where I know African-Americans live, but because I’m Nigerian.

And in all honesty, a Nigerian DOES NOT have the same history as a African-American in America. Our histories are quite different. But sometimes as a second generation immigrant (or 1.5 generation immigrant as a friend so cleverly pointed out), I don’t think I have the right to be a certain kind of offended.

I have the right to be angry on behalf of my brothers and sisters whose history tells a dark tale of greed, hate and Christian intentions, but I myself have no right to fully feel the pain that they feel.

Because I literally can’t. I can ask my grandmother what town she was from and what our people did, and are good at. I can go home to the continent of Africa and know that this is where I came from.

Many of my brothers and sisters can’t do that, let alone have to deal with the fact that missing identity, forced lack of memory and the legacy that is African Americanism, is a painful one and one not asked for.

Sure I’m grafted into “being” African-American based on my accent and look, but that only lasts a moment. People hear my name and know that I am different. Even if I wanted to be African-American in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, I can’t.

And I shouldn’t try to. I wouldn’t be me if I did.

So back to this billboard. Am I offended? I think so. But I’m not selfishly offended. In other words I’m not offended because it’s the black thing to do. Its presence may hurt others, therefore it offends me.

And I’m sorry for the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives for the livelihood of slavery. They lost their lives for a terrible cause.

I’m sorry that they have passed but I’m not sure I would celebrate the cause of their death.

Perhaps this isn’t patriotic, but perhaps it is.

Death is easy for no one. But that doesn’t mean that every death is a good one.

This flag, this billboard, this African death at the mercy of white Southern pride is a prime example for me. One dying on behalf of the “right” to continue remembrance of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual death of tens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of people is not something to celebrate. It is something to mourn over, slowly and painstakingly.

So no thanks “Sons of Confederate Veterans”. I don’t want to learn more about the flag. If it’s a painful reminder of hate to others, then I’m not sure I’m interested in taking time to learn about those who adamantly defended it. Let alone loan them my honor.

This issue is exactly the tension different cultures trying to exist in one country face. One can’t be proud without offending another. Self-pride is nearly impossible. Because one is lifted up at the downfall of another.

So I guess the solution is humility.

What that looks like all around is for each us to pray about and decide in community, especially in a community that isn’t carbon copy “me’s” but a community of people who don’t look like, sound different from, talk different from, and believe different things are important than us.

Jesus looked for those He wasn’t supposed to be with and named them and their hearts ideal candidates for the Kingdom of God. I have a feeling God’s kingdom won’t care about the North or the South, black or white. I think God’s Kingdom will care about peace, and love, and stuff that self-pride won’t permit.

The real question is are we willing to look to others for the truth about ourselves? Are we willing to forfeit “who’s right” for “what’s right” in God’s sight?

God willing, we are willing. But that requires honesty.

And less billboards.

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6 responses

17 08 2010
Brandy

Tomi,

Absolutely! I agree with everything you said, stream of consciousness and all 🙂

I think I was thinking that the language of discipleship does the things that you are referring to–it differentiates itself categorically from being an onlooker or spectator. And with that, I saw in the disciple mentality precisely the idea of becoming as opposed to having it all figured out or simply as claiming participation.

I suppose there is simply a need for tightness in categorization–a need to qualify it so that many of us white folks would not be able to call ourselves disciples while we really function as spectators.

But in short, absolutely! Being claimed and claiming is terribly hard work, but it is work that at least I want to do, with a great deal of fear and trembling.

18 08 2010
tomioredein

Well said! These categories are so fluid too so it’d be arrogant of me to place myself in one category and call it a day or even to assume that if I am in the disciple category to assume that I shouldn’t witness and learn anything from the other “categories” that are present.

There is tons to learn. I hope to learn whatever I can from you as you sift through your journey on identity!

Thanks for engaging this topic. You’re making me push deeper!

– Tomi

18 08 2010
Brandy

Ditto! 🙂

3 08 2010
Brandy

Tomi, Thanks for this post. As a white woman, I resonate with your sentiment in a totally different way.

Perhaps a word that could be used instead of solidarity might be discipleship? I was talking with some dear friends the other day (about half of them people of color) and one of the other white women said something that was revolutionary to me. She described the painful experiences people of color go through as something akin to the wounds Christ beared, and went on to describe herself as hoping to be something like a disciple–learning from and following (perhaps as opposed to “in solidarity with”), and messing up a hell of a lot (like Peter!).

I found this analogy incredibly helpful…. Just thought I would throw it out there, but most importantly, to say thanks for your blog, and for your wise words.

14 08 2010
tomioredein

Hey Brandy,

I have to agree with you but then challenge something you put forth.

I agree with you that the disciple model can be a very helpful analogy that fits quite well with where I’m coming from. I can identify as a disciple because I am watching, I am witnessing courageous acts of holiness and resilience from my African American brothers and sisters.

The only place I would challenge this analogy is being able to identify with the one bearing the pain, the scars, the trauma of daily crucifixion because of skin color. I think it’d be easier for me to do so because I am an American African. I partake in a portion of the persecution, but nowhere near all of it. But I get some, because, I am made up of the same stuff as my brothers and sisters if you will. Our skin looks the same. The Jewish persecution in this case would be akin to skin-color persecution.

I think a Caucasian person chooses their affiliation with this pain. In a way, it is escapable; it is a persecution they can choose to enter into. I’m not saying that I can’t choose to do the same and claim Nigerian-asylum, because I can. But it’s not as easy. We’re black. We’re different types of black, but we’re still black in the American South.

If I can borrow some language and ideas from Dr. Jennings, the Caucasian is the Gentile who has a choice whether they want to join this movement or not. But if they do, they must understand that their binding to African Americans does not have an opt-out clause. The flesh is bound because the love within them chose to experience suffering and hardship with them. It is a shared agony.

This is something the disciples learned and did well, they suffered too. They did not take their time with Jesus as a learning experience alone, but as a sacrifice. They saw Jesus’ end and continued preaching the Gospel knowing full well that it could and would happen to them.

Sorry, I’m just going stream of consciousness right now, but I think it’s important to establish being a disciple, becoming a disciple and being an onlooker, for those are different places in the process of becoming community to African Americans in the South. I’m still learning where I exactly fit in that, but I know that their fight is my fight. African Americans are family. I can criticize and call things out African Americans do (especially in the church) because early on they claimed me and vice versa. And being claimed and claiming is hard and painful work. So I think it’s crucial to figure out where we are in the fluid current of being with Jesus or with our African American brothers and sisters. Some days I feel like a disciple in the thick of the greatness the black church can witness to and in the thick of the mess they produce. Many times I feel like I’m becoming a disciple, on the outside but slowly experiencing myself into the interior of their world, not the outskirts, but the center. Other times I stand at a distance curious and observant and am content doing that.

If I may be honest, I feel that many Caucasians would call themselves disciples when they are more-so onlookers, curious but not willing to enter into the existence of another people. They count a few hours a week with urban ministry as digging in, but then go to parties, get-togethers, movies, dinners whatever with people just like them. In other words nothing in the interior of their lives has changed. When you penetrate the interior of one group, there’s no other response than to be completely changed yourself (not you specifically, but you know what I mean).

Sorry for this extra long response. I’ve been meaning to get back to you for a little while now and have just now found the time and words to do so. I hope you’re doing well and please continue to challenge and ask questions because they make me go deeper in order to respond honestly.

Sincerely,
Tomi

2 08 2010
Justin White

Tomi,
Wow. Your honesty is amazing, and I thank you for your honesty in this post. You know you amaze me, and I am very thankful that we were classmates, friends, and will forever be brother and sister in Christ.
Justin

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