Racial Reconciliation is for the ENTIRE body of Christ so I’m Redefining What It Means

12 08 2015

I’m in a place of psychological shift. The way I think is being altered, and I’m happy for it. I hope that as I get older, I get wiser and I learn how to constructively question things I have believed in order to enter into new and truer forms of belief. I don’t want to believe blindly, but I want to build belief based on how I build and live my life.

For me, I believe in racial reconciliation in the church. It is something that entered my mind ten years ago and has never left. It is something that has entered my mission six years ago and has revealed itself as a true demonstration of church.

But I may be a rare being. I am a black woman highly aware of racial, gender, sexual and class dynamics. I spent a portion of my childhood, teens and early twenties in black churches (which I am sure holds its own degrees and rankings of how “black church” I am). But that has been my experience. Have I always fit into said black churches? I would argue that I never have. As a Nigerian, it is hard not to remain an outlier or to become the link back to Africa so many are desperate for they don’t realize they’re limiting what my connection with them could be because of it. So I have always been either outsider or a means to the inside, back to Africa. Neither way have I been particularly useful to or connected to the history of the black church in the United States.

But my story took an odd turn in my mid-twenties. I joined a white church in hopes to be part of the nearly impossible mission of the church to be reconciled to one another. And the area I am most interested in doing so is through race and ethnicity.

Ephesians 2:12-16 is a key text in reconciling work, but many miss its great power. It demonstrates the power of God to bend time – many overlook this and skip to Jew-Gentile relations (we’ll leave that conversation for another post). This movement is too quick if it overlooks what time is doing and meaning for the church.

Eph. 2 talks about the reconciling work that Christ has already done that we are living into in the present – though it has already been done. We are currently trying to live into the past and future in the present. We are thus trying to figure out how to live into the reality Christ has already set before us – we are trying to make what has been will be. Reconciliation is about transcending time, moving beyond the past while requiring it, living into the future all the while not knowing it that well. We need a more complex understanding of racial reconciliation – at the bare minimum to honor how time is working in our conceptualizing of it. But we stick with our simple strategies of what some (mainly white) people have guessed it should be. The emphasis on what time means to reconciliation should place our attention of what the “we” means as well.

We (majority and minority churches alike) often fail to understand how we’ve constrained racial reconciliation to moments of white solution-creating if we think (or buy into the notion, yes, even through rejecting it, that) racial reconciliation means minorities entering into white church spaces. It seems a bit offensive to reduce Christ’s redemptive work to the project of white churches assuaging its guilt of having no intention of not remaining white churches.

So this brings me to my question: If racial reconciliation is not neo-missions or neo-colonial in it being created by, conducted within and made for white churches, what is it? If all churches minority and majority became involved in constructing the articulation of its being (as it constitutes what being church even means), can racial reconciliation look different than what white churches have believed it to be which has forced many minority churches to avoid it? What if racial reconciliation is not based on a relationality of “white to everyone” else, but of “everyone else to everyone else” (Gentile to Gentile)?

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation then be steeped in the social, religious and political? If we follow a religious Lord whose purpose was to exist in a political world and overcome it and a social Lord whose purpose was to exist in a religious world and overcome it and a political Lord whose purpose was to exist in a social world and overcome it – how should we be?

Redefining Racial Reconciliation

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation, in its true form, in its only form declare, “Black Lives Matter”? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches make living wage and economic equality its top agenda? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches have at its forefront the issues of its women – as we are all one body? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches take into account that political, social life and religious institutions can create balance or imbalance between races and ethnicities (in its denominationalism, polities, and practices) – and move to dismantle the oppressive mechanics of this? Racial reconciliation in church should influence voting, social causes, our relationship to wealth and security. Shouldn’t it challenge all of us to our cores? Shouldn’t it be a means of discipleship?

I am advocating that the notion of racial reconciliation be stripped from white churches as their project and be claimed by all churches as church mission and make up. Racial reconciliation should look more like the Civil Rights Movement (which the earliest black advocates and creators of the focus of Racial Reconciliation in churches were pushing for) rather than “Unity Day” at church. Racial reconciliation in church is precisely that force of good that lives primarily outside of liturgy and spills into the street, into the education system, into court rooms, into businesses and political offices. It engages any and everything that affects race – and friends, everything affects race. Thus, I want to submit my own definition of racial reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation is a movement of justice, love and community generated within but not limited to the Christian church seeking to really live into the redemptive work of Christ on social, political, economic, gendered, sexual and ethnic and racial levels (as racial includes notions of marginality). It aims to live into the new creation on earth that the work of Christ has already established, by attending to these areas that need catching up, in tangible ways towards equal and loving relationship with each other. Some could designate it as movement towards the reality of living into the Kingdom of God. In its most basic form, it is the work of beholding others in awe and majesty as the Lord does us.

Thus, to be clear: all churches should be engaging in racial reconciliation or reconciliation in general as it is discipleship. This means that some already are; but they are not the church bodies who claim it in their words. They claim it in their living. May white churches let go of their desire to have the power to name and may the entire body of Christ open its eyes to the parts of its body who have spent their lives learning how to master the art of life abundantly.

If we all don’t have a hand in what racial reconciliation means in the church, we are not the church.

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Theological Mammyism: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of a Tired Black Female Christian Scholar

19 07 2015

Another post I decided to bring back as it explains my voice and my experience

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Theological mammyism[1]

Noun, verb, ontological stance

Definition:

  1. An illness of benevolent oppression or practice. Feigned righteousness. Symptoms include a desire to do the right thing, to be involved in social justice in pre-prescribed ways, the majority’s power of choice in deciding to involve parts (of their choosing) of their life into the lives and realities of others when they find it most convenient and most opportune.
  2. An act of theft. Behaviors, acts, actions and processes by which majority persons’ theological points, positions or standpoints are expected to be made to feel cared for, attended to and affirmed by black persons as original or new – particularly points that originated from black persons that they may or may not acknowledge.
  3. An act of assumed subservience and service. The aura and attitude of those in a position of power expecting black people to present their black theological in a manner that is acceptable to and digestible for them. It may not exceed these persons of power’s comfort levels, but must maintain a quality of service to their egos and fantastic image of themselves as justice-oriented, not exercising power and privilege, or down with minority’s causes. Simply put where being a person in power, a person who is the majority is expected to be theologically catered to, unruffled, affirmed as thoughtful of others while it is primarily aimed to preserved a certain sense of righteous self.

I am mad, no I am angry. Because theological mammyism has not been called out by those in power amongst their own in real, tangible, uncomfortable, willing-to-be-disowned by family and friends ways. Jesus said kinships will not be the same. Why isn’t this taken seriously? Why are kinships of power and influence still intact, often untouched? Where is the kingdom in that?

Power provides itself a safety net, and it’s called their own. When power has the choice to involved itself in minority life but return to its haven of power, of its own people, it is still power, but now it is power thinking it is dressed in robes of righteousness. The risk is calculated.

Many of us don’t have the choice to throw caution to the wind when we step into another’s life. We are totally bare, totally exposed, waiting for those in power to do the same.

I am so tired of it.

It is everywhere. Especially in those who swear they do not exercise it.

I should not write when I am angry or tired, but oftentimes this state of being is when ideas flow out in their actuality and thoughts take on their truest form.

I am tired.

I am tired of colleagues and friends in power expect me to walk around with a satchel of cookies waiting for me to congratulate and applaud them when they do something good towards those deemed the other, good that should not be considered and is not extraordinary, good that should be done by Christians anyway.

I am tired of being a Girl Scout.

Theological mammyism is present in every person of power presenting the powerless’ ideas back to them as if they came up with it. It can be a theological version of “Columbusing.”

But it is something so much more insidious and sneakier and smaller yet powerful than that. It is making the powerless feel uncomfortable, as if they’ve gone too far when they express themselves in full truth, full anger, full rage. It is a mechanism of shutting another down. It likes black feminism/womanism/any expression of black female theological positioning when it is useful for a paper, but it is afraid of black feminism/womanism/any expression of black female theological positioning when it asks to be taken seriously in real life. It is theological power uninhibited that affirms and evangelizes the liberation theology that it can understand, but firmly rejects the facets of it that it cannot fathom because it is hitting a bit too close to them, to their “only sometimes” racist friends, to their bigoted parents and beloved ignorant grandparents who “know no better.”

Theological mammyism needs black persons to let people in power know that their family is excluded from reform – that they get a pass because of the generation they grew up in, the neighborhoods, they were raised in, the fact that they were poor and lived amongst blacks or Latinos so their off-handed comments are okay.

Theological mammyism doesn’t like the black theology that is angry and has a right to be so. It likes the thought-provoking ideas of it, just not its manifestation in real life, in real practice. That is too hard. Theological clashing with real life is too painful for those in power. Never mind many others live in states of perpetual pain.

Theological mammyism is the desire for those in power to be coddled by black persons, to be told that they are right, that they are in, that they “get it,” that they are “cool with us.” It is the ontology and practice of those who seek affirmation with no sign of reformation or no desire for repentance that will actually cost them position, friends, family. It is a position that costs them nothing while it costs the powerless everything. When did theological practice cost nothing or even little?

The sad thing is, no person in power is exempt from it. Everyone in power is implicated within it. Especially, especially, especially those who think, even for a moment, that this post is not for or about them.

The test for a theological mammyist is whether they will run to or run away from a conversation such as this. Only time will tell.

More later when I gather my heart and head and of course, hear your thoughts.

[1] Term coined by Tomi Oredein. It is constantly evolving and being made richer by conversation with colleagues, but remains an original idea still in formation.





Racial Reconciliation Power Check

16 07 2015

So, I also deleted this post for fear of being too controversial. Glad I’m over that…

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Racial Reconciliation Power Check photo

Those invested or involved in racial reconciliation in the church, consider if you recognize the following in yourself. In trying to do reconciliation those in power need to be aware of the following:

1) Excuse-ing: where those in power ex-cuse themselves out of a situation they perceive as too hard, uncomfortable or difficult. Excuses become the language one speaks as permission to leave these situations. But they fail to consider the whole church; they fail to imagine how it is for those with less or no power.

2) Wall-retreating: emotional oppression where the angered, upset, critical, observant minority is perceived as too emotional or mean and thus unhearable and/or one to run away from. The person in power hits a wall, but instead of deciding to pick up a sledgehammer and join their minority brother and sister to knock down that wall, they retreat from it, giving up, or worse yet, decorating the wall while vehemently denying that it is a wall. They instead call it a foundation – a foundation they are proud of because ironically, and horrifically, they helped build it.

3) Selective solidarity: identifying with an oppressed group on some level, but denying their truths on another level, or, bypassing oppressed groups in front of them completely in order to join with others they have fantasized helping full ignorant to the fact that this solidarity operates in a mode of exchange: I, the person in power find myself or secure my morality in helping poor (insert minority here), where (insert minority here) have minimal desire to enter into this contract but see the potential to have some of their needs met, so reluctantly and strategically agree. Survival becomes evident on both ends, the question becomes surviving what?

Racial reconciliation is amazing and nearly impossible because it leaves absolutely no room for bull, no space for lies, and no time for theological mannequins.

Either you do it or you don’t. And to be clear, “doing it” implies actually entering the throes of knowledge alerting you to the fact that everything you thought and much of what you think is reconciliation actually is not.

Racial reconciliation thrusts those in power towards having different teachers, teachers that they cannot pick and teachers who care less about how truth hurts feelings and more about how hurt feelings perpetuate injustice.

Reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It is for all Christians, though – many, unfortunately, who are faint-hearted.

Where might help come from? Jesus, of course. But let’s not also forget that the body of Christ is present in the church – therefore, I encourage those in power to explore the body they are part of. Perhaps they might realize that they are a fingernail instead of eye, a knee cap instead of a arm, an eyelash instead of a torso.

What wonders would body exploration bring? But of course, we must recognize that even “exploration” is such a loaded concept in itself.

 





Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman

18 08 2011

* Warning: These are my initial  thoughts. Things can change after some sleep and time to process, but alas, I  am avoiding both to get down my thoughts now*

 

Being a Student

In  a class I took a few semesters ago, a student was recalling a point he made in his weekly writing assignment about the role of white women and the power they possess in the difficult journey of Harriet Jacobs.

Unfortunately, a few pompous students pounced on his point arguing that the dynamics he saw
did not exist in the narrative. But they did. Because I wrote about it too but never had the courage to speak up in that moment and stand beside him.

Watching “The Help” painfully reminded me of what was there in the narrative of the seemingly helpless white woman that no one truly saw that day.

 

Being a Woman

I don’t think I’ve EVER felt this emotionally or physically queasy after watching a movie, than I did after watching “The Help”. Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is a story about one young white woman’s quest to tell the stories of the black female maids in 1960s Mississippi, or as they are commonly referred to, the help.

Skipping the plot summary and all, I just want to put this out there. The movie’s point is pretty clear: black female voices need to be heard about the injustice and blatant racism they encounter. The subconscious point is also clear: no matter how many victories and feel good moments the movie invites us into, the larger narrative points to the reality that black women are still the help. They still reside in the social constructs and constrictions of being black in arguably the most racist state of the South.

I get this.

What I don’t get is what to do with these feelings.

Ironically enough, white women are painted as the faces of evil in this film. So, from the first moments of the film I found myself asking, “Should I hate white women?” What is even more ironic is that white women are also the heroes and protagonists of the film. So, I had to ask myself, “Should I hate some white women and love the others?” Or perhaps, I should love the white women who don’t belong and end up being the crucified of the bunch. The awkward, educated but socially conscious prophetess. The economic outsider, but innocent innovator.

What do I do with all these white women and the complex psyches they fight through? And what do I do with the warm fuzzy feelings that these white women help paint in a socially horrific movie?

Directly after the movie I found myself telling the brave souls who went to see it with me, “I found myself ready to let go and cry at the touching moments, but then my conscious slapped me awake to the larger reality that no matter how many sappy moments this movie possesses and professes, black people’s lives still suck.” Please forgive my bitter language.

But it’s true. Their life still sucks. Their life still sucks even after they get a portion of the book’s earnings, even when they get a signed copy of the book, and even when something is finally done for them for once. Their life still sucks. They’re still caught in the web of racism, and hate, even after they’ve worked their entire lives to dispel the false rumors that garnered hate in the first place.

Yes, the larger narrative still looms: these women are discerning the best way to live life in hell. And in my opinion, hell is still hell.

Being African

What I do greatly appreciate about this movie is how my perspective has been broadened and challenged. As one who grew up in the cross-hairs of the African perspective and African American church, I’m starting to see why the black church is so important to many of my peers. I thought I knew, but I’m starting to see how much more there is to learn.

As a black person I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the entire movie. But I have a pass. I don’t come from slave descendants. My grand and great grandparents did not deal with what the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of my peers did.

The black church has concrete significance. It was a way to survive hell on earth. It was where God dwelled when Satan loomed in the law, and the people and the churches of the Jim Crow South.

The things I challenge within the black church today like tradition of dress and even some points of theology were not in question. They were clung to. They were life.

I see that now, and hope to continue to see it as I figure out what role the black church plays today.

Being Christian

I love how this movie did a great job portraying the evils of segregation within the principles of Christian people. How outrageous the whole thing is displays the genius of this movie. Yes, Christians believed that their prejudice and hate was genuinely the right thing to do for their well-being and the well-being of their families.

Being a Christian in “The Help”, in a sense, portrayed the nuclear family as the church that needed to be protected, kept holy, kept clean from the influences and “diseases” of “others.” The community became constricted, the Bible a handbook of supremacy and domination, and the church monolithic. And white-washed.

How the white church saw the black church was never really engaged, which I would have loved to see portrayed. I imagine that it would fit comfortably within the narrative: expressing a complicated love and even more subtle disgust and hate.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:16-18)

22 12 2010

Proverbs 3:16-18
16Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.
 
I missed my reflection yesterday due to a combination of factors including limited computer access and laziness (I still had the option to hand-write it if I were super-serious, but since there’s no use crying over spilled milk I’ll move on). Later on today, I get to reflect twice!
 
In verse 16 God’s wisdom holds things in her hands that we do not need but that we desire. Oddly enough when I read this passage, my mind automatically roams to a rap song from the late 1990s that narrated the antithesis of this three-fold blessing. The song was called “Money, Power, Respect.” It named money, power and respect as the trinity of penultimate happiness, love and success. It named these three things as important to be added to a person in order to make it. But this trinity of success is best supported by aggressive action, instinctual defensiveness, and a tough mentality that survives on “I need to get you before you get me.” It thrives on paranoia.
 
And it thrives on paranoia because is it self-attained. It is not given; it is taken. Therefore, it must be defended to the death, guarded from everyone, and it can never be truly enjoyed because it was acquired only to be briefly flaunted and largely guarded.
 
Verse 16 presents a different trinity of success similar to but different than MPR. They are transformed from ordinary desires to spiritual desires. They offer expanded definitions of longevity, wealth and respect. They take on a fuller meaning than immediate comfort and typical demonstrations of success. Long life, riches and honor are advertised as the possessions wisdom so gracefully carries in her hands, offerings of some sort ready to be released in a worship space or at the foot of some altar.
 
But not at our feet. At least that was not what I was expecting. I didn’t expect the offering to be something available to me, but I expect it to be something I would have to hope for, wait for, but most importantly something reserved for the perfect saints. Not me. But it is for me.
 
There’s something holy about the right hand. It is a place of distinction and honor, and it holds long life. It holds longevity, legacy, continuation. Like a prized possession and a treasured gift wisdom’s place of honor lifts up life.
 
The left-hand is important too for it holds two things, riches and honor. It holds wealth and distinction. It holds an abundance of stuff and love and many other things coupled with respect from others, being looked upon and considered highly. It holds things given to us by family and strangers, the earth and by God. It enhances what the right hand holds.  
 
But wisdom not only holds intricate and life-changing details about ourselves, our calls, and our destiny’s. Wisdom paves ways. Verse 17 describes wisdoms ways as pleasant, and her paths as peace, not peaceful, but peace. Ephesians 6 paints this delightful picture of the Gospel as the Gospel of peace that our feet are shod, or covered with. Our feet are covered in the preparation of the Gospel of peace, of the way it has made for myself and for others. Wisdom treads down that same path and we are to follow her. The ways of wisdom are pleasant and the paths of wisdom are Gospel-like. They are peace.
 
Wisdom carries life-changing desires, creates paths towards peace and is a life-source. If we cling to her, her life runs through us and empowers us. If we become rooted in her, we gain life and we gain happiness.
 
Prayer: Lord, we want to be happy. Give us Your wisdom. Lord, we’re desperate for Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.





The Glorious Gospels (The Advent Addition)

13 12 2010

Luke 1:26-45

I’m a member of a small predominantly white Presbyterian church in North Durham where people of African-descent make up approximately one-third of the congregation. I’ll be forthcoming with you, I am in this church, a church unlike any church I have ever been in, because I am interested in seeing something major happen: I want to see racial reconciliation wrestled with and I want it to overpower us leaving us limping but re-named, disabled to do what we used to do, but able to move gingerly and with more care. With younger graduate and college students becoming more and more regular the percentage of African-Americans may very well decrease sharply which can be disheartening, but this potential is not as disheartening as another statistic within my church.

As an American African young woman, I’ve already been limping throughout this difficult ecclesial shifting process. I’ve lost a number of things, all for the sake of walking with the Lord more faithfully. And it hurts severely every single step of the way; and some sort of ecclesial hip-replacement is not an option. I journey on though, because I do not believe I am called to join a young, vibrant African-American church where worship music and preaching style are what I am most accustomed to, or go to a Nigerian church where I could appreciate a few cultural nuances, but I feel called to a church opposite myself. And I believe with my whole heart that right now I am supposed to be a part of it. But many times I literally feel that I can’t be this church, not because if my race, my ethnicity or my gender, but because of my age.

Cultural differences aside as they are an entirely separate conversation, age-difference is unfortunately and currently too big to overcome. The age of Ageism is alive and well in my church and in the church in general today. I see it all over the place– young all black and all white non-denominational churches are springing up as old white and black mainline churches are dying or barely surviving. Young adults go elsewhere to worship; they create the space for worship that consults their age and time because there is no room for their being amongst the heavy older traditions in many mainline churches. Even young mainline churches are a falsity—they seem to be more like a non-denominational body dressed up in mainline clothing, exercising the appearance of tradition but operating differently.

There is an apparent divide that both young and old church see, but neither know how to nor want to suture back together, because frankly, both groups, young and old, don’t need each other. They have their space for and way of worship and the other group has theirs. Everyone is happy, fine, thriving in their own way; there is no need to continue naming a “problem” that many see as the other’s fault anyway. If the other would just do it their way then all would be well. There is no need for correction or inclusion; division rules the day!

And I do not understand why. I see a problem, a huge problem– the body of Christ, the church, has missed something vastly commented on throughout scripture; we have completely missed how scripture guides and addresses age-discrepancy. We have mastered ignoring the potential for solution. It is problematic not only that both groups do not care for the other enough to sit down and realize church together, but also that they must create pseudo-churches to live church guilt-free “having it their way” projecting their desires onto how the church is supposed to function.

Something is amiss, and a joyous moment of connect between two Jewish women carrying children shows us this in a gentle way.  

Elizabeth and Mary, relatives old and young are both pregnant, Elizabeth two-thirds of the way further along than Mary is too old to have a child. Mary, a young teenager engaged to be married is too unmarried to have a child. Both women are excited because they have the honor of visits from Gabriel to relay a message that the children they carry will do great things: one will point to the other who is making a way for the world to be saved.

But they are both different ages and both bearers for future and important ministries. And they don’t ignore the other to brag that their child will be better than the other’s. No, they both rejoice that the other has a minister within them and they gloat not only over their own pregnancies but the life inside the other woman. They are giggly and excited because the other is also bringing something into this world that the world needs to be saved.

Mary doesn’t gloat that as the young mother-to-be she bears the “best baby” and that the older Elizabeth’s contribution isn’t important; Elizabeth doesn’t gloat that since she will be a mother first that her experience cancels out the voice of the younger Mary. Both babies are prophetic witnesses to the loving and saving power of God. One isn’t God but baptizes God. Both live sacrificial lives that ultimately lead to their grotesque demises. But both mothers, old and young rejoice with each other.

Luke 1:39-45 says it all.

The ministry of the eldest leaps with joy when the younger comes bearing a ministry too. What is most awesome is that the older gets the Holy Spirit in the presence of the younger mother. Her baby gives the greeting, paves the way for the ministry of the younger and she catches the Holy Spirit. She is overcome by a Spirit of joy and wisdom and power. The eldest does not receive the Spirit because of the younger per se, but because she is happy to be with the younger, to see the younger, to welcome the younger into her home and into her spirit, she feels within in her joy for the younger’s ministry. Their ministries connect in that moment bound by the wondrous power of the Holy Spirit; and it overtook Elizabeth (Mary has her own moment later, see Luke 1:46-55). The Holy Spirit repeats Gabrielle’s words through Elizabeth. The older blesses the younger, she doesn’t discourage. The younger is blessed because she accepted God’s will for the ministry that would be birthed through her.  The older encouraged the younger. The older was humbled by the presence of the younger because she had something special in her.
 
And Mary sings directly after this overwhelmed by her joy and the joy of her older relative Elizabeth. This moment doesn’t become a moment of comparing ministerial efficacy but a moment to praise God. John praises. Elizabeth praises. Mary praises. The Son of God, God in the flesh, is coming.

 

The ministry of the old doesn’t scold or judge the young, the ministry of the young doesn’t ignore or gloat in the face of the older claiming to carry something better. But both praise God. Both honor one another. Mary first greets Elizabeth, then Elizabeth overwhelmed with joy and God’s Spirit, blesses Mary. Ironically in giving this blessing, Elizabeth wears the prophetic cloak that her son will soon enough wear. Her role is just as important as her son’s role.
 
The women, the ministries complement one another. They don’t compete. They don’t call each other irrelevant or to blame the other for the state of the church, but they come together, love the other’s presence, and worship God together, still in their own voices, but together. At the end of the day, all the glory went to God, not the bodies who carried the ministries, but to the Creator of the bodies, the Creator of the church, to Jesus the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit dwelled within them and they allowed Her to move them towards words of praise and song. Old and young disintegrated into praise and worship. And reconciliation reached its peak.
 
Prayer: Holy Spirit bring blessings to our lips for the other and a song to our heart for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.




White Rappers and Theology: Racial Reconciliation?

19 10 2010

Top 10 Rappers of the 21st Century

 

White Rappers

Or rather, white rapper.

BET (Black Entertainment Television) just released its list of the top 10 rappers of the 21st century. Excited to see if rappers like Andre 3000, Nas, and Jay-Z were on the list, I was disappointed when I did not them on the list to even be considered for the honor. The newcomer, Drake and even decent rappers like Jadakiss made the list, but the greats who had been rapping since the 1980s and 1990s and well into the 2000s did not.

I was confused.

What actually confused me most was not just the list, but the number one rapper of the 21st century: Eminem. I was shocked because, like so many other Caucasians, his being white gave him that spot.

Now before I get a bunch of hateful responses, let me qualify my reasoning. It is pretty obvious that Eminem is lyrically one of the best rappers today. He is clever, poignant, and even utters some of the violently honest lyrics we’d love to hurl at our bosses, enemies, significant others etc. He is definitely a voice for the people. Record sales can tell you that.

But what record sales can also tell you is that his support is mainly from the white community. In fact, all the rappers of the lists’ support are mainly from the white community. It’s been a trend for a while now: Caucasian people love and therefore are the main consumers of black rap and hip-hop music.

Eminem’s sales, though, are much more precisely because he is Caucasian. Who wouldn’t get excited to see “one of their own” making amazing strides in an industry where their race is hardly represented? That sounds pretty familiar for the black community.

Caucasians aren’t supposed to be dominating rap and hip hop but Eminem clearly is. He is the best; and the best denotes prestige, power and control in that area of entertainment, sports, business or whatever.

The black community cannot get upset at the overwhelming Caucasian support because we do it too. We cheer on Omarosa on The Apprentice, the Williams sisters in tennis, Tiger Woods in golf (or at least some of us used to). We cheer on the black person in that unconventional vocation where they stick out like a sore thumb because we want to be (or at least our token representatives to be) the best at something that we are not supposed to be good at.

But what if being the best minority isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be. What if being the best also denotes communal ownership of that token, that representative. Something evil even, since possession of a title, reinforces superior ability over and against another.

What if minority tokenism violates something sacred, like the space to be individual and unique and not have to rely on a “chosen one” to defeat the forces of the majority?

What if?

Theology

I wonder about our competitive nature and need to have a representative in order to make a splash or be the best. It’s as if we can’t be happy if another group is doing better than “us.” This silent competition redraws the “us”/”them” binary. It recreates division where the unity is supposed to be in the craft. In a strange way it creates race dynamics. It hurts feelings when a white person is dominating a black enterprise. It turns heads. Despite whether he deserves the title or not (and I understand that both sides can be argued), Eminem is a white man at the top of an industry that is culturally a black one.

It begs the question of ownership. And worship.

What do we worship? What we own? What believe is ours? What we know belongs to us?

Honestly, when I pose this question I’m asking myself. I’m asking myself can hardship’s transformation into rap lyrics belong solely to black people. Do the streets just belong to one demographic? Is transfiguring one’s pain into a catalyst for success a black thing? Not necessarily.

Sure I have named potential sins: tokenism, domination, competition, but perhaps the biggest sin of all is this false right of ownership. Maybe Eminem is legitimate. Maybe he’s the best not because he raps about material things all the time but about the painfully true abjections in life. Maybe he’s the best because of white consumerism, but maybe he’s the best because lyrically he does something that a lot of us are afraid to do: he speaks the truth about himself and others. He doesn’t focus on “hating” but hates himself and others when they do wrong and loves himself and other when they are wronged. He loves enough to be angry.

Sitting on this list after a few days shows me that I have racialized rap. I rejected the list solely because Eminem is white. I have fallen prey to the same practices that spurned hate the mess that we’re still wading through today.

I have sinned because I rejected Eminem’s act of confession. I don’t know everything about him. He may be very disturbed or he may not be, but that doesn’t change the fact that his message is in the music and in his skin.

Petty lying doesn’t quite work for Eminem. He has to speak straight from the heart even if it’s too violent or disturbing for some of us. Maybe he’s alerting us to the fact that we lie to feel safe in a disturbing world. Maybe he’s at the top of the list because of the social commentary laced within his lyrics. Or maybe not.

All I know is that Jesus hated petty lying. He hated falsity for the sake of keeping something the same and untouched. No, he wanted the truth to be the norm. His words touched not only ears but hearts. Jesus made people angry and changed the social situation, or at least how people thought about it. And it worked.

Let’s be clear: I’m not calling Eminem, Jesus. He is a figure of sorts, not a salvific one, but a figure nonetheless.

What I am saying is that after harshly judging Eminem on this list, I believe he deserves to be on this list precisely because he is a different rapper with a slightly different message. Sure socially conscious rappers are out there and have been out there for a number of years. But in the 21st century Eminem is arguable doing a pretty good job of being a white male talking about the social issues that we don’t even want to talk about too in-depth (like domestic violence for example).

So I retract the hate behind the first part of this blog entry. I still do believe that whiteness has propelled his record sales. Like I said earlier, white people buy hip-hop and rap albums. His race definitely has played a role in his sales.

But, I can say that Eminem is deserving of being in the list of the top ten rappers of the 21st century. His message/lyrics alone say something. He is speaking out honestly and it’s not always about his women, cars, and house or people who want his women, cars, and house. He is speaking for some people who didn’t really have a voice until he came on the scene and started confessing for them, their issues to the world.  He speaks for a white lower-class and white middle class (even the white upper-class) concerning their social and cultural issues. He speaks through lyrical confession.

Confession is healing. I wonder if Eminem is bridge-building. I wonder if his presence is saying “Hey black world, white people exist and hurt too. And here’s how we react to it or want to do better about how we react towards it.” And I wonder if black people can and will respond to that knowing, or just become jealous or upset (like I was at first).

Or will we continue to fight to reclaim the top spot, always imagining rap and hip-hop as a game to be won and conquered instead of an expressive social movement with hopes of invoking healing for many.

Eminem is making some issues of his race, class and culture known. I wonder if black people will listen and listen well and engage this whole community thing where we love each other not because of race but because of our journeys in life. Maybe Eminem is (drum roll please) doing racial reconciliation is a subtle way by taking step one and honestly informing others about himself and many like him so that responses can be made.  

He could be or I could be giving him way more credit than necessary, but I know for sure that I’ll be paying more attention to his lyrics and hopefully his life and the lives of many others.








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