Dear Black Santa Barbara Churches
You've Always Been Feeling It
You’ve always been feeling it.
Brother Malcolm told us, “When White America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.” White America today has something much worse than a cold, so where does that leave us? It leaves us where we’ve always been: in the struggle.
Without due recognition, we have always had to fight against disparities and for our dignity. Frederick Douglass, the first African American to visit the White House, threatened a boycott by Negro troops. While we can applaud Abraham Lincoln for weathering the contempt of spiteful white folks over the meeting, Lincoln’s discomfort is nothing compared to the brutal lashings Douglass absorbed before he escaped slavery. Oh, the courage of this bold Black man, but “history” celebrates Lincoln.
We have always had to fight. A. Philip Randolph promised a military boycott that pressed FDR to enact changes and caused Harry Truman to order the desegregation of the military. “History” remembers Truman.
Attorney Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education before the most forward-looking Supreme Court in history, but the Warren court gets the credit. Later, as a justice on that high court, Marshall did what he could to “keep ’em honest.”
Lyndon Johnson was a conservative president, and although he certainly deserves some praise for enthusiastically signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later the Voting Rights Act, these landmark documents did not come to his desk without the presence of King and other Black champions for equality and dignity.
Congressman John Conyers was valiant in the effort to win federal holiday recognition for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reinforced by Coretta Scott King, and a number of entertainers, most prominently Stevie Wonder. President Ronald Reagan signed into law the bill creating a national holiday honoring King’s birthday, but it was never Reagan’s design.
We as a people are fueled by anger, outrage, and a desire for righteousness, but mostly we are compelled by love. One of the things I admire most about Black people is our capacity to love, along with our skepticism of power. The reason we are suspicious of power is because we worry that those who crave power must waive moral authority. It could cost us more of our humanity. Power-tripping is always madness.
Love has sustained us. So many Black folks, especially women, are mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As in countless other dramas, it is unrequited love. When Ginsburg criticized Colin Kaepernick for his protest against police brutality, some of us took a closer look to find that she hired but a single Black law clerk, one of over a hundred, in all her years on the bench. You can’t love us if you don’t know us.
Someone asked me if I was saying that Ginsburg was racist. I replied, “That is not the question.” We should ask how it was that she could get away with it. Did the other clerks ever call her on it? What needs to be addressed is the Court, the government, and the society that does not demand better.
We love those who don’t love us. We take Jesus to heart when he tells us to love even our enemies. This can only happen if we love ourselves. We are also to love and cherish our non-Black friends. But not only them. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:34-35)
In these words, Jesus empowers us to live bold, liberated lives of persistence with a clear conscience, knowing that when we fight for one another we are fighting for humanity’s humanity, for even the worst of humanity.
Especially disruptive to our solidarity is the centuries-old phenomenon of self-hating Blacks. Self-hating Blacks, of course, are those who see themselves through the eyes of a white dominant system. Rather than resist, they surrender. The struggle is real.
Self-loving Blacks are known for intoxicatingly loving everybody, and especially the disinherited, whom God favors, but self-hating Blacks often hate the same people that white supremacists hate: LGBTQIIA family, immigrants, Muslims, Sikhs, and people who speak Spanish, or any language other than English.
But we will love the self-hating, just as we will love all people. We find renewed energy and courage when we refuse to hate, and when we refuse to relinquish moral authority by envying those who wield power.
God is with you. Jesus said as much. His words recorded in Matthew 5 were,
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
5 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I especially relate to verse 6. When a person is truly hungry or thirsty, all they can think of is food or water. Many of us think about justice day and night. We preach encouragingly about justice every week, not just on MLK Day weekend, but on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and every other day, because God, our Hope, is on the side of the meek, mourning, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted.
The verses that ensue are loaded with empowerment for us. Jesus says,
11 Blessed are you when they have slandered you, and persecuted you, and spoken all kinds of evil against you, falsely, for my sake:
12 be glad and exult, for your reward in heaven is plentiful. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
He was speaking to his fellow Jews, warning them that when they advocate for their own people they will pay a price, but not to sweat it. It’s always rewarding. So, my sisters and brothers, don’t you lose heart. Keep on standing up for our people. We have always had to fight. Don’t be ashamed that you’ve had some setbacks that should never have happened.
It’s been a long time comin’ but a change gon’ come, because all kinds of humans are coming together with the power of love to create that change. We have always had to fight. We have a long history of struggle that shows that, no matter what happens in this world, we were made for this.
It is time for us to be Rosa, Frederick, A. Philip, Thurgood, and Coretta.
We pray, in Thomas Dorsey’s words,
Oh, oh, oh, can’t turn a-round,
We’ve come this far by faith.
All of this to say, “Please vote.”