WHERE are you from? No, where are you really from? But where are your parents from? Come on mate, you’re obviously not from around here!
The events of the past few weeks have occurred because unarmed black men and women have died in a country which feels like a police state to African-Americans. The protests have shocked the country, but they did not shock us. As Will Smith summarised observantly: “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.”
Our leaders didn’t believe us. Not when we spoke about our experiences. When we showed you our scars, or even our bleeding and open wounds, you still doubted. When we sent you statistics after statistics, not just from wailing mouths but academic books, you still ignored us. But we continued to sit in your pews, we went on your retreats, and even helped to organise your church fairs. But still you did not listen. The events of last week are a searing reminder that we don’t matter. And worse — we don’t belong.
I matter. I matter. Black Bodies Matter.
My Church, I love you. Do you see me? I can’t jog. I can’t sit in my home alone. I can’t walk in certain neighbourhoods. Do you see me? Do you hear me?
We aren’t talking about the centuries of transatlantic slavery or the glorification of the British Empire. We are talking about the traumatic environment in which we currently live — one in which our black bodies are united by the singular blood of pain. This is our daily anguish and horror.
Deep within our souls and minds, we think that this could have been me. I’m alive today, but maybe not tomorrow. It’s a fear baked and cemented into our hearts and minds. This is not a tough few weeks, this is a tough life. If you are tired of talking about racism, then try living it.
There are two choices. If you can avoid this conversation, you are already more privileged than me. But if you choose to be on this journey, there can be no looking back.
Our consciousness is only fuelled when we are alert to the plight of our brothers and sisters. The Church has a history of physical and emotional brutality towards black bodies. Our system doesn’t favor accountability or transparency but white supremacy. The Church’s ability to end the disease of racism has been exposed as impotent and feeble. You still don’t listen to me.
I matter. I matter. I matter.
Our brown and black bodies are broken. For whom? Not for the Lord Jesus Christ. He was broken, for us.
We wait and anticipate the savage reality. A misunderstanding can carry you to the grave. Our white brothers and sisters break us. We are always the slaughtered lamb on the altar of selfishness. This table is no feast or thanksgiving. It is wickedness, a table built with stones of sin — built by the unexamined hearts of men and women who both knowingly and unknowingly destroy us.
You virtue-signal through social media with no plan for action so that you can show you are not a racist. You make public statements and change your profile picture and “feel bad”. Then, after a week or two, your life will return to normal.
But our normal is oppression and pain. If you have no desire for the pain and oppression of black and brown bodies, then leave the ministry. Stop calling yourself a disciple of Jesus. And do not patronise us by supposing that social welfare is the same as social justice. Foodbanks do not change hearts. People with black and brown bodies are not always poor. Social charity is not the only way to engage with us.
I matter. I matter. I matter.
While walking down the street now, you might see someone look you in the eye, half decide in their mind which way to go, and then avoid you. While this might be motivated by a noble desire not to pass on the virus, when it happens enough times you may begin to think that you have some form of leprosy.
This can be painful. It makes you feel less human. It can make you feel “othered”. But it is only for a time like this, which will surely pass. There will come a time when your neighbour breezes past you, or embraces you with a smile or hug; life will be back to normal. For many people, however, being distanced by others has been their lifelong normal.
SHORTLY before the lockdown, in February, Ahmaud Arbery, a 26-year-old African- American, was gunned down while jogging in Georgia, by two Caucasian Americans. Mr Arbery was doing what many of us are doing during this lockdown: jogging. Unfortunately, he never came back. Events such as these create a sense of fear which penetrates through black and brown people, not just in the United States, but in the UK, Ireland, and beyond.
Privilege, race, and Christian theology are what theologians such as my mentor, Anthony G. Reddie, and others, such as Michael Jagessar, Joe Aldred, Muki Barton, and Robert Beckford, have been exploring for more than 20 years. And now, white Christians get to partake in just a little of the everyday life experiences that these theologians have drawn attention to.
Often, people of colour have been socialised to think that they are less than their white counterparts, or they buy in to the racial stereotypes that continue to destroy communities. They think, “If you come close to me, you, too, will experience a deadly disease — or is it just ignorance? Should I be in this neighbourhood? Is that person staring at me?
They experience an old lady clutching her handbag a little tighter; a couple leaving their car and hurrying to lock it; or a group of people staring as they enter a shop. This is the reality for many people of colour living in a white-majority culture. Muslim women who wear the niqab have also, for a long time, experienced social distancing. There has been an interesting discussion in the Muslim community about whether the lockdown will reduce such hostility.
It’s not my job to educate you. It’s not my job to hear your shock. It’s not my job to be a token. It’s not my job to hear you tell me about how sad and upset you are rather than listen to my experience. It’s selfish to turn my pain into your gain. We’ve been telling you for decades about this. When we live in an age of instant information don’t come to me for resources.
My mentor Anthony Reddie, has been writing, researching and speaking about this for over 20 years of his life, yet you never chose to engage with him. You invest your time, money, and energy on white-run projects that only enhance your career. You spend more time speaking out about giving or stewardship than seeking justice for the poor and marginalized people. You want our money more than you desire justice for our people.
You never answered my emails or phone calls, but you want my time and emotional energy. It’s insulting to deny me a job or a leadership role and then ask me to share my feelings and time with you and your congregation for free.
You told us that we are victimhood culture. You told us this is political and we don’t do politics, we do Jesus. You told me this isn’t a gospel issue. But it is!
I matter. I matter. I matter.