Headlines abound. Many stories are told. Some stories are ignored. All have some truth. Few have real solutions. Left in the aftermath, the next generations have to deal with the national trauma associated with the construct called race.
But, there is hope.
The rhetoric heard in communities across America is deafening. White Americans hear, “you need to be more aware of your privilege and sensitive to the plight of Black Americans. You need to repent.” Black Americans hear, “why are you still talking about these things, you have the same opportunities. You need to forgive.” Each group is tired. Each group, barring the extreme exceptions, has in some measure tried. But here we are, 161 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, making proclamations that reaffirm the need for the emancipation of both groups from the noise of politicized partial truths.
White American pastors must stand up and lead a movement of open repentance. To whom much is given, much is required. We need you, my brothers, to declare all across America that we can break the silence related to the American Church's history in the role of racism.
Black pastors must stand up and help Black Americans not limit themselves to the acceptance of others or the emotional reparations many demand from others. These pastors must help their followers remove from the orphan help-me mentality towards the "mind of Christ", knowing that they are "sons of God".
"Susan can't come play with you anymore."
So my father, who did not make it to high school, worked on Saint Charles Avenue in New Orleans about 1/2 mile from where my son attended university. My son was reaping the fruit of his grandfather's prayer, perspiration and perseverance.
Fifty years ago, on the same street where my son attends college, I used to climb through a window and enter the basement of the Casa Grande apartments to work with his grandfather. There was always something cooking on the stove in that basement and many city leaders, pastors, and plain folk would climb through the same window to get faith and food from my dad. He did not have a title, but he was a leader’s leader. As my late cousin, affectionately known as the Prophet said at dad's funeral, "this man makes preachers." So true.
On one normal day in my elementary school years, I climbed out of the safety and sanctity of the basement to walk next door and invite my "lil friend" Susan to play. Up to this point in my life race was not much of a consideration. (Well, except for the poster of Huey P. Newton in our bedroom, thanks to a radical sister. LOL)
But at that moment at Susan’s house on that hot NOLA day, I would discover the cold reality of the world. You see, Susan (not her real name) and I were marble buddies. I would go to her house and she would come out and play marbles with me. It was fun. It was pure.
But on this day, Susan and I would learn something we had not considered: Susan was white and I was black.
I walked up to her house, probably whistling and skipping. Now, this is not simply a house, this is a mansion on Saint Charles Avenue - the kind of place that represents old Louisiana money. Yet, none of that mattered to me at the time. I was just another kid going to play with a friend. ButI noticed a certain sadness on the face of the Black-American maid who was standing on the back porch. I knew something was wrong - the intuition of kids is amazing, but I still asked the question:
"Can Susan come out and play?"
With regret and the kind of hidden anger that suggests “I don't like this, but there isn't anything I can do about it”, the maid said:
"Susan can't play with you anymore."
I went through so much at that moment: "Wow. Why? I don't understand. What’s wrong? What did I do? What is this?" This moment is as vivid to me as it was then. It marked me.
Years later, I saw Susan getting out of her convertible. I recall speaking to her with a bit of hope and anticipation that perhaps we could "just move on". But, she had no interest in conversation and barely remembered me. I was an invisible man.
This moment, my observations of history, my matriculation through Howard University, the “let’s-move-on-ness” of many White Americans and many subsequent experiences of discrimination continued to mark me. The cultural pressure to be a “visible man” was real, and naturally speaking, warranted. Until, I learned this:
MY INVISIBILITY IS MY PROPHETIC ADVANTAGE
God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Treasures are in hidden darkness. A grain of seed must fall to the ground and die before it brings forth fruit. The things which are seen are not made by those which do appear. God makes men on the “back side of the desert”, in obscurity.
I choose to remain invisible.
I have chosen to remain invisible, so that Jesus might be seen.
I have chosen to forgive whoever was responsible for making such a nominal distinction as "race".
I have chosen to not blame Susan for how she was raised, but to understand her.
I have chosen to receive any Susan who wants to understand me.
I have chosen to pray for all those who are indifferent.
I have learned that I am responsible for how I process reality.
I have learned that if I can appear before God, I can go before any man.
I have learned that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek.
I have learned to judge each man as an individual and not make conclusions about him because of the color of his skin.
I have learned that I am not defined by race, but by my Father, God. I am a son of God. My real identity is eternal. I am eternal by nature. I am an invisible man.
May Jesus be seen.