It’s so quiet. I would love to start this piece with a more provocative opening, but the truth of the matter is that those three words encapsulate what I observe happening (not happening, as it were) in the moment we, as a nation, find ourselves in. By the time this article is published, not only will Donald Trump be a month away from being sworn into office as President of the United States, but the Electoral College will have cast their votes confirming Trump’s candidacy & renouncing the voice of the popular vote. The last scenario in which this election ends without a fascist winning the White House has come and gone. A cabinet replete with those whose interests exclude more than they include has been developed. Hate groups that have been encouraged and empowered by the elocution of our country’s new leader operate with newfound confidence. Doubt and disappointment rule the day & while fear keeps many up at night. And while all of this is going on…it’s so quiet.
The silence of which I speak is not related to those who find pleasure in the state our society but to those who do not. The most deafening dead air is coming from those who claim to feel some type way about all of this yet do not say anything about it. It is almost as if the ridiculousness of the reality we find ourselves in, the saddened, sickening state of our society, has stolen our voices and our motivation to lift them.
While the effects of investing in a system whose function is to fail those at the bottom of it are pointed and perceivable, while the blatancy of what we are as a nation has bludgeoned and bruised the belief of “better” for so many of us, this is not the time for us to be disconsolate or defeated.
In this season of life, the 24th Proverb illustrates the Master’s mandate clearly to us. Solomon pens that “Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them”.
We block our blessing when we condone the work of the wicked with our silence. The blessing we desire to manifest in the lives of this nation and her people will not come through inaudible indictments. Our breakthrough will not come from charisma, worthiness or benevolence. But the change we want to see will only begin to happen when the righteous become willing to raise their voices in unrighteous times.
Now is not the time to concede victory to the vicious. Now is not the time to struggle in silence. Now is the time to strategize, organize, & mobilize our efforts of the name of a progress that will not be attained without struggle, but it starts with us being able to offer an honest critique of the context we find ourselves in. Our language must not be personal but prophetic. What we submit for consumption must be needed nourishment for the scarred souls of those who are having dehumanization forced down our throats. We must push back against the stigmas and stereotypes designed to cheapen our culture and distract us from our depreciation. What we repost and retweet must be what we need to say and not only what we want to say. We must speak in the name of a God that demands that His people be allowed to walk in the freedom He offers us all.
Patriotism ought not only be comprised of compassion & conviction, but also correction. And, as God loving pursuants of righteousness, we must be willing to refuse and rebuke change that condemns more than it considers. The time is now for us to assume a position of humble morality in the name of God and begin the process of change through challenge. The time for a rejection of elections that only favor sections is now. The time is now to pressure government into being the best version of itself. The time is now to push back against (and even discredit) those who claim Jesus but don’t sound like Him. The time has come to stop waiting on a “move from God”. The movement of God is waiting on us.
We must be valorous enough to meet these conditions with an unblenching proclamation loud enough for the world to hear. Even with tears in our eyes, heaviness in our hearts & fears for the future, the time for reformation, the time to stop being so quiet, is now. In times such as these, God is prompting and pushing His people to offer a righteous rebuke.
In 2007, Universal Studios produced a movie entitled “American Gangster”. Set in the late 1960’s & starring famed actor Denzel Washington, the film provides the viewer with a lens into the life, rise & fall of Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas. There is a scene in the movie where Frank Lucas (Washington) is in a nightclub having a conversation with fellow drug lord Nicky Barnes (played by actor Cuba Gooding Jr.) concerning the purchase and redistribution of the drug Frank sells: Blue Magic. Nicky has been purchasing Blue Magic from Frank, diluting it with other chemicals to decrease its potency, and selling it under the same name. Frank meets with Nicky to attempt to explain that when you sell a watered down product using the same brand name, you, inevitably, diminish the value of the name.
I think about Lucas’ principle with our recent Presidential election now behind us and the impending presidency of Donald Trump in front of us. As voting has now ceased, demographic statistics are now being released relating to the votes that were cast. Traditionally, this data is released to offer perspective into the science behind our electoral process. But, in this particular election, where the prevailing sentiment is one of discontent, many (at least, in the public square) are looking for some understanding as to how this actually happened. Figures from the election show that 80 percent (4 out of 5) White Evangelicals/Christians cast their vote for Donald Trump, a candidate whose record of racial discrimination, misogyny, cruelty and demagoguery have not only been on display on the campaign trail, but have also followed him for more than twenty years.
The part of that statistic that is the most concerning to me is not “white” part (though I do think that some healthy conversation ought be had regarding the racial implications that we saw play out so heavily in this election and what that, in turn, affirms about the social landscape of this nation) but the “Christian”part.
The endorsement of a candidate who willfully, defiantly even, decides to embody such vitriol is bad enough. But, for those who choose the coinage “Christian” as their self-identifier to show up in drones to lift that candidate to the highest office in the land is deeply disturbing. Christians who used their relationship with Jesus as a justifier to cast a vote for Trump (or engage in other acts contrary to the life model Jesus lived for us while on Earth) misrepresent our Lord and simultaneously complicate an already difficult mission of spreading the Gospel all over the world. This particular perversion of our Savior says to the world that Jesus is only good enough to be at the center of a contested chronicle and not strong enough to stand and have something to say on social issues. Our support of that which our God stands firmly against offers the world a watered down brand of Christianity and, inevitably diminishes the value of the Name.
Our relationship to God through Jesus Christ, ought to be more than a moniker that gives us access and acceptablity in the marketplace. Being a Christian ought to prompt us to constantly evolve and evaluate who we are; it ought challenge us and, ultimately prompt us to correct ourselves. As followers of Jesus engaged in the American voting process, as Christians, perhaps the thought shouldn’t have been “I’m voting for ______ in the name of Jesus” as much as it should have been “Who would Jesus have cast a vote for”?
If those who espouse theology connected to Jesus Christ are able to drop the conviction of that commitment in the face of our earthly biases, we stain the sacredness of our Savior and transform our faith into nothing more than a cult of convenience. When we preach and propagandize submission to God’s Will yet work towards the fulfillment our own will, we give the impression that Jesus is only as good as the worst in us as opposed to the catalyst for the best in us.
In the nightclub, Nicky tells Frank that when he owns something, he can do whatever he wants to with it. Frank doesn’t dispute Nicky’s ownership of what he has claimed as his own. Frank desperately tries to get Nicky to appreciate the value in what he has by telling him that this is so good that you don’t have to do anything to it; Frank tells him the product “is good enough the way it is”. The pure, true image of the Son of God (not only loving and compassionate but also inclusive, radical, controversial, unconventional, bold, and unafraid to challenge the establishment), is cogent enough to “draw all men unto Him”. Jesus is good enough the way He is.
We need to be more careful and protective of the name we’ve decided to adopt; more discerning of the decisions we make in Jesus’ name. We must be careful not to commit acts of infringement against the name of Jesus.
Damage was done to the reputation of our Redeemer on Election night. May we, as daughters & sons of God be both prayerful and careful what we do. For when we act, we do so on Your behalf. Lord, forgive us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
-The woman on TV is attempting to sell me winter coat with electric heaters into the lining. This idea is absolutely ridiculous. I truly don’t know what is greater: the foolishness of this fashion fire hazard or the fact that I have yet to change the channel…
-It is the morning before Election Day in this country and I have mutual concern about the two major party candidates, as well as the Libertarian candidates. It is sad that we exist in a reality where the most sensible candidate requires popularity in order to succeed in the polls and the least sensible candidate has a puncher’s chance of winning the White House purely based on popularity. If anything good has come from the circus that political discourse in this country has devolved into, it is that through all of the nominees, we have a vanity mirror’s view of where our country is and how far we have to go.
-I think that, as it relates to my people, the simplest way that we can begin to motivate the change we want to see around us is by boycotting any type of media that objectifies our women, criminalizes our men, and marginalizes us in front of our children. People can create whatever they want to, I just think we have to love ourselves enough not to consume it.
-God’s church, as a whole, is going to have to do some serious rethinking as it relates to the way we do ministry. There are those who are open to an introduction to Jesus through us, that we have unintentionally alienated in the name of loyalty to our doctrine. Could it be that there are so man who miss the message of Jesus because we are unwilling to adjust our approach?
-$129.99, huh? Thats not a bad price for coat. I wonder what it is made of…
-If no one was able to make any money for creating Rap/Hip Hop music, I wonder if people would still do it? Even deeper, what does it say about the culture if the answer is “no”? Are people really doing it “for Hip Hop” anymore?
-Lil Wayne’s recent comments about the Black Lives Matter movement (and his assertion that Black life in this country is obviously valuable) make me feel like the prophet Amos talking to the nation of Israel. I feel deeply led to caution my brother not to become at ease in his own, personal Zion while inviting him to look at the Lower Ninth Ward or the Calliope and see if they are better off than where he is.
-Whatever it is that someone chooses to believe, one’s theology ought to be solid enough to endure respectable critique while simultaneously flexible enough to evolve. What we believe ought to have moments where its suggestions strain the security of our suppositions.
-Polyurethane?? I wonder if there is a warranty on this coat? Like, if I burst into flames on the sidewalk, do I get my money back after I get out of the hospital?. What am I saying??….wake up, Derrick! Its time to go back to sleep. I really need to turn this off. But the remote is on the other side of the room. I guess for things to change, I’m going to have to move from where I’m at…man, that’s inconvenient….I guess I should figure out which means more to me: comfort or change? Hey!….*yawn*….maybe in order for things…..*stretch*….we need to move….from where we are at….I wonder which means more to my people…..comfort….*yawn*…..or change….zzzzz
There is a simple but common misconception among 21st Century persons who claim Jesus as their Lord & Savior. A way of thinking that has festered among our fellowship of believers. We find ourselves in a day where many modern Christians qualify their faith in God by the quantity of what they receive from their God. For some, God is only as good as what they get from God and if they aren’t getting, then God isn’t good. There are those of our sisters and brothers who have allowed this commodified culture to have detrimental effect their understanding of the Most High and their interpretation of His activity in their lives.
This epidemic is not exclusive to the pews. It has far reaching influence that stretches past the pews of our churches and ascends up into pulpits all over this nation. As much as it troubles me to type it, this malignant mindset has even made its way into the mentality of those sisters and brothers who are charged with proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is known as Prosperity Gospel; the trend where those who believe in God concurrently believe that they are to get every material possession they desire from God. It softly suggests that the goodness of God is directly connected to what we can grab from God. This warped form of ministry places heightened value on belongings and diminishes the value of what it truly means to be blessed. So often, instead of the Lord blessing us with what we believe we need, God allows His favor, grace, and mercy to bring us through our struggles without that which we thought we needed. The flaw of Prosperity Gospel (and the Prosperity Preaching that comes from it, for that matter) is that it propositions that the Lord’s provisions are limited to the what one can count, spend or even touch. Prosperity theology mispositions the Christian in such an injurious way that they are unable to see or grasp the blessings God intends to deposit into their lives.
These impaired inclinations toward ministry are made visible in a lot of what is seen on television today. One doesn’t have to travel far down their channel guide to find a clergyman or clergywoman suggesting that God has some high end item in store for them and that for a small, nominal fee, this blessing will be theirs. Through these practices, our Heavenly Father ends up being reduced to some ecclesiastical accountant balancing a budget before bestowing blessing upon those whom He loves.
To misrepresent and minimize the nature of the Divine (especially in an age where people are seeking to understand what it means to follow God) is deeply problematic. When relationship with Christ becomes reduced to the same relationship we have with an ATM machine, things have gone deeply awry.
The beauty of our belief in Jesus is most tangible in the fulfillment we receive from it. And though difficult at times to embrace, the reality of that fulfillment is not the result of what we get from God, but instead what we have in God. There is a peace, a joy, and a contentment that comes with having The Lord in your life; a Spiritual sense of care and comfort that transcends anything that may come from material possession. The danger of prosperity gospel is that it compromises the opportunity for the peace of the Lord to work in our lives. Prosperity gospel is a contradiction among itself as it presents the Spirit of God insufficient while holding up a Bible that repeatedly instructs us that His Spirit is all we need.
As Christians, we ought to fight against this dogma by offering our Christ-centereed interpretations of the Gospel as a countercultural alternative to the false doctrine so prevalent in our time. The way that we discredit this demonic doctrine is by not allowing ourselves to be seduced by its fruit. Ours is not a walk of property and popularity, but one of obsequiousness and service. Like any good parent, God loves us too much to give us everything we want or ask for.
We need more prophets not concerned with profits who are willing to share God’s true message of love and salvation. The church is in danger of being viewed no differently than the culture it is called to change. If we are not cautious, we will have an even greater fight on our hands. One in which we will not only have to fight to win souls to accept Jesus, but also fight to prove to the marketplace that we are not market driven. Prosperity is not at the center of our gospel, Jesus is. We, the Christian Church, must remind this world that our spirituality is not for sale; that Jesus’ love for all of humanity is free of charge. This is the only way that we effectively respond to the danger of Prosperity gospel.
I want to start out with a bit of an admission. By way of fairness, it behooves me to begin this article by stating that I am an apologist for the church. Whether right as rain or wrong as snow in the summer, I will always hold to the idea of God’s church being valuable. Even deeper, I see that value as something worth defending.
It is actually the essence of that value that pushes my “pen”. The contemporary Christian church finds herself being questioned and criticized. Scandal, false prophecy, poor biblical scholarship, dictatorial doctrine & a misalignment of creed and conduct in so many of our houses of worship have taken their toll on the reputation of the church at large. So much so, that despite all that the church does (and has done) in the name of Christian service, there are many today who approach the sanctuary with skepticism. There are those who have been turned off by the idea of attending church, instead opting to connect, communicate and commune with their God without having to deal with the fuss and foolishness that sometimes comes with the “fellowship of the assembly of the righteous”.
For many of our brothers and sisters, the increasingly common statements like “I’m spiritual but not religious” , “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” and “I believe in God but not in organized religion” are not just indictments of the universal church, but also clarion cries to cosmos saying “Lord, I want you, but not all that has become synonymous with Your church”
At the risk of losing my membership in the “We Love The Church No Matter What” club, might I make the claim that these types of critiques are desperately needed. The critiques of the institution are required in order to not only re-establish her credibility in the world but also to realign her back towards God. The church is called to reflect and resemble God in all of her doings. Whether in service on Sunday or in service to others during the other six days of the week, the church is supposed to operate as the hands, feet, eyes, arms & heart of Jesus. When Jesus is no longer discernible in the dealings of the church, His absence ought to be worth discussing in detail. And those who may not have as vested an interest in the Church changing into anything different that what they’ve always known it as are uniquely positioned to offer constructive commentary.
Our love and loyalty to the church notwithstanding, we must learn not to view these criticisms of the church as indictments but instead as emplorements. Instead of being hyper-sensitive (or responding in a hyper-sanctified way) to anything that calls God’s church to task, we, as followers of the life model set by that poor Palestinian Jew named Jesus, must welcome these appraisals & respond to them in a way that offers perspective and appreciates accountability.
With all that presently plagues our world, there is a need for the righteousness, justice, hope, encouragement, and love that is inculcated in the church. May we consider that principled critique of the church is not to hatefully point out what may be wrong with her but instead to lovingly revive what is right with her. Current cavilings of the church, as a whole, are nothing more than passionate pleas for the church to be the best version of herself. While all of the complaints aren’t legitimate, they all ought be listened to and taken seriously; seen as reminders to revisit God’s plan and purpose to ensure we are measuring up to what God has called us to be.
It is what the church is called to be (and what the church has meant to our society across the stretch of time) that still make the church relevant today. With all of the chaos, confusion , and calamity around us, the world is still looking to the church of the living God for direction. The world is still looking for the church to offer a model for how they ought move. Our world becomes a lot less confused when the church becomes less confused. Most people aren’t against the church; people are against the church where Jesus is not discernibly at the center of it. The desperation of the days we find ourselves in have minified the tolerance people have for the church to be anything less than what God says it ought be.
Make no mistake, divinity and drama, merits and mistakes…flaws and all, the church is still a factor in today’s times. The voice of the church still holds weight in the marketplace. The love of the church still comforts the unloved & welcomes the outcast. The faith in the church to rediscover “the Way, the Truth, & the Life” that they have lost still remains unyielding as ever. The church still represents something holy in a hedonistic world. The church still matters.
I once had the opportunity to visit Sevierville, Tennessee with a few friends of mine. While on my trip to the southern part of our country, we had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting across the waters of Lake Pigeon. A native New Yorker through and through, my first feelings about this idea were feelings of reservation. Subways, sidewalks, and skyscrapers had all but soured me to the idea of spending any significant amount of time in the outdoors. Truthfully, outside of scenery that makes for great wallpapers on my cell phone, I struggle to see whats so “great” about the outdoors. But, in my attempts to not be a complete antediluvian, I agreed to participate.
My friends and I arrived at the location where we were to receive our equipment. We suited up and shortly thereafter made our way to the raft designated for our party. When we got to the boat, we had a lady assigned to help us named Jane. She told us that before we got started down river she had instructions for us.
Jane told us that before we went anywhere, that in order to make it up the river, we had to be able to hear & understand her commands. She told us that we needed to be familiar with her voice. She went on to tell us that their would be times when the movements of the river would become so loud that it would be difficult to hear anything, but if we just listened for her voice, we would be able to hear what we needed to do in order to make it through the turbulence. It wasn’t enough for us to know the words she was using. We had to understand what her words meant for us to do. Certain commands were intended to elicit specific responses; We had to allow the words Jane spoke to us to influence what we did and how we acted.
I pray that all is going well with you on yet another day that the Lord has made.
I wanted to reach out to you to lovingly address (and prayerfully have conversation about) some of the concerns that I have regarding the propaganda that comes from your movement. Over the past several months now, it seems that everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I find people proclaiming that “All Lives Matter”. More often than not, the statement is used as a rebuke to those of us who state that “Black Lives Matter”; a correction mean to usher is back into a mindset of equality and equity.
I’d like to offer that there are deep misperceptions on your end about what we mean on ours. I would contend that these spaces of equality and equity are not ones that we have vacated, but rather, these are spaces that we seemingly occupy alone.
For your consideration, I’d like to offer a different way of thinking about the state of affairs we find ourselves in collectively and how it affects African Americans, specifically.
Think with me on these questions for a moment: What does it mean for you to be invited if you’re not allowed (or expected) to be yourself when you get there? What does it means for a people to have to downplay and deny their own identity for the sake of acceptance in a larger dynamic? More categorically, what happens when I have to compromise my “Africanity” in the name of inclusion in the grouping of “all”? Are there other sub sects and groups that are castigated for speaking to their own issues in specificity?
When Parisians are victimized by violence & the cry is to “Pray For Paris”, the collective rebuttal isn’t that “All Cities Matter”. When police are killed in the line of duty and the cry is “Blue Lives Matter”, the collective reply isn’t that “All Public Servants Matter”. Even deeper, the reason why it isn’t the response is because to suggest that “All Cities Matter” in the wake of Parisians having to deal with realities unambiguous to them or to suggest that “All Public Servants Matter” to police officers dealing with the death of their colleagues would be both insensitive and inconsiderate.
It is in this same vein, that when African Americans (& others) proclaim that “Black Lives Matter” and people respond to this declaration by stating that “All Lives Matter”, an act of disregard, disrespect and devaluation is taking place.
Though you may not realize it (at least I’d like to think you don’t realize it), this repeated rhetoric represents a passive decimation of our movement; an invitation to a global party which stipulates we, as African Americans, are our best when we are seen and not heard.
Now, I realize that the tone and topic of this letter may have become suddenly uneasy. Let me pause briefly to say that I make no judgements here. In fact, my Bible teaches me to not to. As a Christian, I also try to presume the best of intentions when dealing with all people. My words are not given in an attempt to condemn but rather to correct.
That being said, these repeated rejoinders from your end made to the pronouncements of personhood from our end are offensive. Your failure to see it this way, does not make it any less hurtful nor does your indifference towards it make your action any less ignorant.
Brethren beloved, please allow us, African Americans and those sympathetic to our struggle, the God-given space that every one else on the planet is afforded to grieve and self-determine for ourselves. Do not allow your lack of comprehension to translate into a lack of compassion. If you feel compelled to critique our behavior, be just in your observations & invest as much time criticizing what creates our responses as you do criticizing the responses themselves.
We are all children of Most High, valuable beyond measure in the eyes of God. Despite this truth, not everyone’s life is viewed, treated or treasured in the same way. All we desire is to be seen as God sees and regarded in the same way our cultural counterparts are.
We welcome your prayers and participation, but, please, refrain from confining us. Allow us the freedom to emote apart from your approval. Doing this is necessary if we are to ultimately to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God”. Hopefully, we can discuss this further. Take care & may God bless all of us.
I was on my way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Following the tragic death of Alton Sterling, an African American whose life was viciously and needlessly taken from him by police officers sworn to protect and serve, I was ready to lift my voice in prayer, protest, and dialogue. Handling my responsibilities with the congregation I serve (and equipped with the prayers and support of that congregation), I was headed to the airport. The continued abuse of authority by law officers needed to be addressed and I was ready to do so in the name of a God who loves justice and righteousness.
On my way to the airdrome, my phone rang with a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I answered and though the number was unfamiliar to me the voice on the other end was. The voice was that of my oldest son.
He was calling me to come and get him as he had been robbed at gunpoint by a pair of young men while dropping a friend off at home. Instantly, I turned my car around and began to head in his direction while listening to the details of the incident. He told me that things happened suddenly and abruptly. He explained that as his assailants kicked and beat him, he laid still on the ground. Even after they had left, he remained on the ground for fear of losing his life. He said that after a few minutes, confident that they had departed, he got up and used the phone of a bystander to call the police and then to call me. I instantly begin to pray that God dispatch angels to watch over my child until I could.
Hearing that police officers were on their way to my son, and given the reality of what has become regular procedure for so many policeman and policewomen across the country, I sped as fast as I could to my son to protect him. I drive till I arrive where he is and when I get there, I find that the police had beaten me there. I prayed for peace as I approached where my son stood with the officers.
I walked over, tightly embraced my first born, and asked him if he was alright. He assured me he was and after I looked him over to sense his wellness for myself, I began to make my way over to the officer to talk with him. Before I get to him, the officer begins to make his way over to me. The policeman introduces himself and apologizes for the incidence that involved my son. The officer then goes on to tell me that while I was on my way there, he had contacted the paramedics to make sure my son was physically well. He had already taken a investigative report but reviewed the report with me to inform me of the events that had transpired. The gentleman also stayed with my son and I while the crime scene was investigated and information was exchanged. The experience ended with another heartfelt apology for what had happened to my son and an assurance that the detectives and he would all do what they could to apprehend these persons. He also left me his cell number to call him if I had any questions. I gratefully shook his hand and took my son home; praising God not only for His protection of my son, but also for the officer that He allowed to be there with my son.
I share this story not to invoke any sympathy on my behalf. Nor do I write this to defend those persons who hide their hatred behind the police badges they brandish. I write this to offer perspective in the midst of our collective pain. With another maddeningly recurring rash of African American fatalities by police, it is easy to allow the hatred at the center of these actions to infect our perspective of the world. In these times of stress and sadness, it is so simple to seek our solace in solutions laced with spite. I offer that our efforts to counteract these wretched actions against us…our protests, our activism, our strategies, our defense of ourselves, even our angst…must be rooted in love. For it is only love (and the God that love originates from) that is able to downthrow the disease of hatred that ails our society. To imitate and react to the hateful acts committed against us validates those acts. If the actions are wrong, retaliation of the like is also wrong (even if it is done in the name of right). It is this conduct that furthers and perpetuates the hatefulness we attempt to stand against. We instead must negate this hate with our capacity to love.
We musn’t allow hate to paint inaccurate portraits of this world. Instead, we must dare to view the world through the lens of love. Hatred would lead us to believe revolution will only come through retribution. The Bible tells us not to “repay evil with evil”. Hatred would make us think that violence is specific to a race or even a religion. Reality shows us that violent tendencies are found across the varied spectrums of our society. Hatred would have us think that all police are evil. Life reminded me on last night that all of them are not. Our efforts are not only against persons but also against the spirit of hatred they are operating in. We do not defeat hatred by operating in reactionary fear or remedying revenge. When we come together and act in love, when we become brave enough to live out our love boldly, that hatred will ultimately be defeated.
I don’t watch BET.
Armed with a real concern about the programming of the network (and, in particular, how that programming promotes a marginalized perspective of my people), I presently find myself in a boycott of the longstanding television outlet. I realize my lone television not being dialed in to their frequency will not miraculously prompt them to change what they show, but I personally struggle with feeling like I am supporting the stereotypes that are perpetuated of our people (especially our women). Word around the campfire is that they are trying to do better, but even if that were the case, I wouldn’t know it because…I don’t watch BET.
Despite my non-existent viewership, my very real connection to social media allows me to be kept abreast as to what goes on as different shows and events are put on the air. So while I do not watch BET, my Twitter feed & Facebook timeline allow me to have blow by blow details of awards shows, premieres, and the like.
This past Sunday, while on Facebook, a “friend” posted a video that had made its way to my newsfeed (I’m sure you haven’t heard it or seen it). The video was of actor and activist Jesse Williams giving his acceptance speech after being awarded the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. Williams’ speech was a beautifully worded disquisition raising awareness to the realities of the African American struggle. His words were not only a clarion call for consciousness and activism from persons of color, but it was also a call to accountability for how we manage ourselves in the name of liberation.
From an apology to how we treat our women (and a promise on behalf of our brothers to do better) to warning abusive law enforcement to change their behaviors to expressing the need for urgency in our efforts to obtain justice to emploring Africans Americans to better control their dollars, the speech was both poignant and powerful.
As he concluded his speech, Jesse Williams’ words were met with a standing ovation. Celebrities, dignitaries, and persons of influence throughout the auditorium showed their support for his statement by raising to their feet and applauding. History teaches us that Williams joins a long list of entertainers who have used their fame and influence as a platform to speak to social issues regarding African Americans. It was an extremely compelling moment to witness.
I watched this video and was overtaken by two distinct emotions. On one end, I was extremely proud; overjoyed by the vision of unity among our people. The other feeling that took hold of me was an overriding feeling of concern. As I watched our people applaud the call to cognizance, given on this stage for the nation and world to see, I found myself wondering what would happen after this moment. By my thinking, milestones occur when moments are married to memories. Mountaintops are attained when motivation is translated in movement. As I watched this, I began to question whether or not we have we allowed the comforts of our culture to confuse us as to what the difference between milestones and mountaintops is?
Have the ideas of fighting for freedom, sacrificing in solidarity, and protesting for progress been relegated to notions that simply sound good? Concepts that we celebrate because our celebration makes us feel better about the work we are unwilling to do.
To affirm Jesse Williams’ remarks with applause is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the right thing (dare I say, the ‘Godly’ thing) to do. But I wonder what happens after the applause? It has been 48 hours since the ceremony, and the wheels on the commercial machine (wheels that often crush the consciousness of our people) are still rolling. The applause means nothing if the same rappers who clap make the same minstrel music that maligns us. The praise is purposeless if the actors who offer it still play characters that calumniate our culture. Our laudation is lessened if we offer it only to go back to business as usual after the occasion has passed. This convenient consciousness is dangerous as it is crippling to any breakthrough and betterment our people aspire toward. Convenient consciousness tells one that it perfectly acceptable to know what needs to be done but equally acceptable (even commendable) to fail in doing it.
The issues we face are real & the solutions to them are far from easy. The place we profess to desire for our community cannot be reached solely by our plans or our plauditing; they also require our participation.
Those who would look to oppress us, those who benefit from our inactivity, are banking on it. And while need to celebrate and support this who demonstrate the incredible courage to live past their own comforts to speak truth, we must not only affirm their truth with applause, but also be willing to act after the applause.