Saturday, July 18, 2015

How To Live in a Racialized Society

A friend recently sent me an extensive article addressing race, written by a well-known African American conservative, when it pertains to matters of race. Statistics were cited, perspective shared and a call issued to move beyond victimization, don't believe the hype and rather embrace hard work, resilience and the abundance of oppprtunities that exist to excel and thrive in American society.

I understand where the author is coming from and know that there must be initiative,  persistence and determination for anyone to make strides in life. I understand that wallowing in one's sorrow will not enable individuals to gain one inch of ground towards achieving the goals for which they are aiming or enpower them to achieve the greatest gains within the grasp of their abilities. Nevertheless, at the same time, personal experience has taught me that it is naive and dismissive to ignore the challenges of a racialized society that persist to this day.

22 years ago, especially coming from the perspective of an Army Brat in a military community that promoted and insisted on breaking down racial barriers, I might have penned an essay similar to the one to which I've alluded, in spite of some very heavy racial experiences that occasionally found their way into my generally positive existence.  I chose to live in a sort of fairyland, that refused to fully acknowledge that any significant vestiges of racial challenge remained for black people in the United States.  I assumed wishfully that if one simply clicked the heels of ones red shoes like Dorothy in Oz, ignored the problems,  pressed forward and remained positive,  one would probably eventually triumph,  save some unfortunate tragedy. 

Since that idyllic clueless time, 29 years of racial reality have not dampened my fire to overcome any challenges - racial or other - that may confront me. Nevertheless,  the realities I have experienced,  witnessed and ministered to have allowed me to better understand the complexity of the issue of race and have moved me beyond the fantasy of wishful thinking or the stubborn dogma of citing debatable statistics as "argument settling proof" of a position on race one way or the other. The years of struggle I have experienced have also knocked some sense into me and helped me to face reality - even painful, frustrating and persistent reality - with faith, courage, determination and hope.

I have come to understand that when dealing with race in the USA, various components of truth exist simultaneously and must be acknowledged,  understood and navigated if one is to survive the racialized landscape of America as an African American.  Some practical principles and ideals I have chosen to apply in my daily life as I navigate the complex racialized landscape of America are the following:

1. One must prepare oneself to the maximum extent possible intellectually,  spiritually, emotionally and physically to achieve the greatest gains possible in one's chosen area of endeavor. Proper prior planning and preparation prevents preventable pitifully poor performance.  Do your best at all times in all endeavors of importance! 

2. One must assume there will be challenges in general to overcome and perhaps setbacks to rise above that are simply part of the general human experience.  One must be prepared to get up, dust off and press on when the difficulties come - and they will! Expect the worst and overcome it with your best!

3. One must always be prepared for being blindsided by racial malfeasance and understand that such malfeasance may cause more havoc than typical human problems for the majority culture. If such a problem arises, one must fight for righteousness with all one's might. One must also understand that such happenings are often systematic and won't stop with one individual's experience without active opposition and sacrificial efforts to establish a righteous environment. The "N-word" and its associates can present themselves at ANY time! Have a plan in place to face the ugly and be prepared for an extended struggle involving lots of inconvenience, painful listening and sharing if your desire is a positive and impacting outcome! 

4. One must speak the truth in love at every opportunity,  seeking to promote understanding and never giving up on one's attempts to making a difference and improving understanding between people. Be honest yet diplomatic. Be gentle yet tenacious. Be unrelenting and unyielding in standing for what is right, yet with humilty and civility. If one is pushed to be combative,  be combative with skill, dignity and an ultimate aim to wound to heal!

5. One must never give up hope, or allow one's joy to be destroyed or allow the harshest of realities to allow one to become cynical. As an observant human being it is clear  that very bumpy times are ahead, yet I have faith that God wins in the end. In the meantime,  the Good Fight must be fought, and the difficult duty must be done until our time has come either through death or the culmination of all things. Understand that dealing with race in America is a lifelong discipline.  Make friends. Seek to grow. Don't quit!

This is my heart on the matter.
I  hope it adds to build just a little more hope and understanding. 

I remain committed and approachable and would love to hear from you!

Blessings to you all my friends!


Sam J

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monumental Destruction - The Tension Between Pride and Shame

Should monuments honoring the memory of heroes of the Confederacy be destroyed? Before you answer definitively, consider the image of the Taliban blasting ancient monuments fowhat they would claim is the good of all that is holy and righteous and the potential peril of such actions becomes apparent. 

No one deplores the hypocrisy of some of our early historical heroes more than I, and few make it a point to bring attention to their astounding duplicity as much as I do.  Nevertheless,  I say, let's not destroy the monuments but rather let's use them to educate.  Destroying them would very likely erase the lessons from their shortcomings and increase the likelihood of future folly. 

Before we completely vilify those who fought for an unjust cause we must acknowledge that  people are complex. The Confederate icons are no exception. As a West Pointer, the Cadet records of Lee and Jackson were still legendary during my time at the Academy.  T.J. Jackson apparently had such presence of personality that upperclassmen refused to haze him all during his Plebe Year!  R.E. Lee suffered zero demerits during his entire Cadet career - ZERO! (I suffered zero during the entirety of Beast Barracks - Basic Training - but Upperclassmen made sure I got caught up during the rest of Plebe Year! Lee's was an amazing accomplishment!)  Lee also turned the Academy towards modernity in its structure and designed the Full dress hat that is worn during many parades to this day.  

I abhor the cause these men defended, but I can still recognize their admirable qualities and understand that they contributed as much to the American experience as they damaged. Their inconsistent records are cases in point of the peril of good people being caught up in their own pride and refusing to call evil by its name and failing to oppose it in the name of a lesser loyalty.  

Their mistakes must not be forgotten and the  great suffering caused by their rebellion must remain before us in our collective historical memory. Therefore, I say, keep the monuments. Teach the whole truth! We cannot afford to allow history to repeat itself.

Me,  Samuel D Jackson,  in front of a monument to Confederate Veterans at Port Gibson, Mississippi ca. 1966.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Loving Through Frustration

Today I became very, very frustrated. The duties of fatherhood, being a husband and caring for my father came crashing in with a powerful and irresistible thud! My emotions were totally on edge and I had a sit down talk with the Lord that is not postable. As I stewed, I didn't feel condemnation, but the gentle push that says, "My grace is sufficient. My love will prevail. Go visit your father - by yourself."

Having been raised and trained to do my duty, duty pushed me forward and there Dad was, taking a nap as he sat in the hallway.  My heart sank. He looked so frail. My greeting was met with an awakened Dad who smiled and enthusiastically took my had without words. It's a bit hot here, but I  felt compelled to take Dad for a walk outside. We walked in the shade and parked by a bench where we held hands and looked at each other. As we continued to look at each other, I asked him a number of questions he should have remembered which he seemed not to. A slight breakthrough came when he acknowledged a visit from our dear family friend, 1SG (RET) Bobby Warrix with a smile. We continued holding hands and I kept thinking of the great love Dad has for me and I shared my love through my touch and expression.

Out of nowhere,  a beam of light. Dad looked up and said, "This is beautiful weather we're having. It's a beautiful day. I like it here. I'm glad you're here."   Over the next 10 minutes he repeated the notice of the beauty of the day.   It was as if someone had dropped a bag of gold into my lap. I asked Dad if we could pray with him. His eyes lit up and he nodded. As I prayed through tears and weeping, Dad's face was full of joy and peace . My prayers were being answered as I uttered them. An Amen shared between us and we returned inside.  I kissed Dad and told him I love him. He responded verbally that he loved me too! A mega-blessing of a day, totally unexpected!

I share this to encourage you,  my friends,  to keep on demonstrating your love for others, even when you grow weary,  frustrated and faint of spirit.  Love is the last Victor!  1 Corinthians says that while every other gift and accolade fades, love lasts forever! Love is pretty much all Dad and I have, and it is more than enough!

Don't stop loving. Our society is filled with hate,  frustration and malice. Be stubborn. Love anyway!  There will be fruit, even if it's only produced in your own heart. Don't give up. Keep up the love and embrace the blessing that comes through sacrifice!

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Banner of Hope

After a very busy season of ministry,  our family made a trek southward to some old haunts seeking refreshment and rejuvenation. On our way to the South Carolina coast,  we decided to drop in to see the changes on the campus of the seminary I attended in Columbia, the state's capital.  It was our first visit to Columbia since the early 90's.  I was not prepared for the emotions that would flood in after more than 20 years away.

We experienced some sweet times in Columbia and I personally was spiritually awakened in a way that is difficult to describe in this relatively short essay.  But with Luz by my side, we both were unexpectedly hit with sledgehammer force by a flood of unpleasant memories that we experienced as people of color and a culturally mixed family during the early days of our marriage in the Palmetto State. Memories of my first recurring negative encounters with law enforcement rushed in as we passed by places where memories had been made that we'd rather forget and where various negative encounters caused Luz to beg me to stop traveling alone at night. Memories of the months it took for us to find a church home where we were truly embraced as children of God and not viewed as an intrusion or a freak show.  Memories of being boldly denied a merit scholarship by a historically black university because I attended a formerly segregated institution.  Memories of Luz's countrymen asking her why she had married a black man and didn't she understand that blacks were at the bottom of the pecking order? Tough memories that had apparently been suppressed in the heat of battle and the necessity to function on a daily basis.

I might have sunk into a pit of despair had we not consciously remembered the ultimate price paid by 9 Americans. 9 African-Americans. 9 African-American Christians. We remembered their sacrifice, the supernatural response of love by the family members they left behind and the call of service we have felt to break down barriers ever since our Columbia experience.  We remembered that we could not allow our pain to overshadow the victory of our faith and the hope we have experienced in following Christ and preaching and living in the light of His love.

With our victory in Christ in mind and His hope deeply embedded in our hearts, we welcome the changes underway in South Carolina  to forgo symbols of division and to earnestly embrace the unity that should characterize American life. As one old and divisive banner is lowered and our national colors assume their unique and rightful place as our national symbol of togetherness as the UNITED States of America,  let us contemplate the words of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin,  who said of this ground-shaking occasion,

"This moment is about more than a flag or a vote. It’s about the hope that now, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we have grown beyond our differences and have begun to grow together. This is not the end of division, of prejudice or of hate. But it is the beginning of something new. If we can hold on to it and to each other, if we can nurture that hope and help it grow, then we will have something more precious than history. We will have a future."

"...and the Star Spangled Banner, O' long may it wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

America, the Truth

Regarding the question of the dismissal of monuments like the Jefferson Memorial,  it seems an extreme stretch to expect the disengagement of the same. I suggest, use the monument to teach by presenting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As the Bible presents King David in all his glory and all of his ugliness, we should endeavor to do the same with the founders. Present the majestic, powerful words of the founders that proclaimed our national liberty and allegiance to God and, by its side, in equally prominent fashion, display these words of perspective like these uttered by the great and mighty crusader for abolition Frederick Douglass when he contrasted true faith and the slave holding faith of his day:

"What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to theslaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels."

We need not destroy or  hide the ugly facts in our righteous anger. The reality of the ugliness and the beauty of our history should stand together as monuments to warn us of the crushing potential  of the angels of our lesser nature and the overcoming power of righteousness. This is truth. This is America!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

America is Beautiful!

America is not flawless, but she is beautiful. I love her not because of her perfection but because she never ceases to strive towards the realization of her ideal. She is majestic and yet gritty. Regal and still down to earth.  She will fight anyone at anytime to remain independent,  yet possesses enough generosity to keep her door open for one more and is quick to adopt that one as her own.  I have experienced the best and worst America has to offer and emerge from my experience proud to be one of her sons.  It is fitting that we celebrate her birth on this day of national independence. Even understanding her imperfection, this is not the day to criticize or to lament but rather to celebrate and give thanks. We who are Americans should give thanks to be fortunate to live in a nation that seeks to uphold the most noble of human ideals. Others who are not American should celebrate with us that a friend like America exists, always ready to aid, assist and to stand with anyone who shares her ideals or desires to pursue them. In the midst of uncertain global times and an ever changing domestic cultural landscape may we all take the time to stand together, thankful for the privilege of being a part of this great experience called America, and may we commit ourselves anew to continue to devote ourselves to make her all she can and should be for the benefit and blessing of us all. Happy Birthday America! You are beautiful!
The Original Statue of Liberty Design Offered by France, showing the struggle and hope that is America!