This post is about the first part of the SPOTLIGHT tour with Propaganda and Sho Baraka. The night was an effort to dialogue openly, honestly, and respectfully about unity, compassion, race, the Church and more. I will paraphrase important highlights and offer my thoughts.
It may be a surprise to you that the dignity of all humans needs to be discussed. Doesn’t everyone believe that all humans should be treated equally? Well, not exactly. Paraphrasing, here’s what Propaganda had to say about it.
Propaganda: In the Bible, Genesis says that we’re all created in God’s image, male and female. The Declaration of Independence, a founding document of this nation, says that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. We’ve all heard many Christians say that this nation was founded on Christian principles. But, was it founded on Christian principles for everyone?
Think about the Declaration of Independence. Most of us have had to memorize the first paragraph where it’s emphasized that all men are created equal with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What many fail to see is that below that first paragraph is also the declaration that people of color are savages; we were seen as just a little above animals.
//I went to read the Declaration of Independence for myself and found that the word savage was referring to Indians and not Blacks. I make this point not to discredit or prove Propaganda wrong, but to clarify the original context of the use of the word savage.//
Again, Christians say that this nation was founded on Christian principles. Was it really? For all people? How is it that these same people who declared that God created everyone equal are the same ones who mercilessly slaughtered indigenous people, not only stripping them of their land, but much more. These same people who said that all men are created equal are the ones who purchased slaves and supported their sinful behavior with the Bible. They also continued their quest for land and power with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny – the idea that freed should expand far and wide.
Whites had an attitude of supremacy; they believed that people of color were subservient, less than human. Think about the stereotypes we’ve been given based on the idea that Blacks were not truly equal with Whites. Think about the way we’ve been denied access to the same opportunities that Whites have had all along (e.g., education, voting). We’ve endured White Supremacy from its most repulsive and radical manifestations to the subtle and passive-aggressive forms from people hiding behind white privilege. We’ve hopped from physical slavery to political slavery (i.e., Jim Crow laws).
It’s no wonder that we (Blacks) are skeptical when our dignity has not been affirmed by people in power from the beginning of this nation. To this very day, it’s not always affirmed. We’ve fought so hard for our rights to be equals only to be told by Whites, “Get over it. I didn’t have anything to do with slavery.”
So, how can we truly be a nation founded on Christian principles where truly all people are seen as equal with unalienable rights? How can we as followers of Jesus affirm the dignity of all people in this nation and across the world? How can we be part of the solution to help heal the racial divide between us? We have to truly recognize the dignity of all human beings.
Reflection: As a kid, I heard many times that this nation was founded on Christian principles. I also learned to have a deep love for my country. In fact, patriotism was so strong that at school we sang songs like This Land is Your Land (How ironic to sing this in Oklahoma. Didn’t Whites take land from the indigenous people and put them on reservations?). We proudly said the pledge of allegiance, emphasizing one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. The class was 99% White.
The view of this nation’s history I had was positive and favorable to our founding Fathers. I was taught that they came and sacrificed so much to gain religious freedom from the British. Because of their bravery and sacrifice, we could enjoy the religious freedom that they fought for.
It never occurred to me that not everyone felt the same way about our nation’s history.
As I put together all of the pieces that Propaganda laid out, I began to see a clear picture of how people of color perceived our nation; I’ve missed what I should’ve seen all along. People of color see Whites as domineering and oppressive. They see hypocrisy and an attitude of supremacy. How could a document declare that all men are created equal with those who created the document condoning slavery and denying women the right to vote? It’s painful to think about, but it’s the hard truth that we need to acknowledge.
Let me give you an example of this perception. Today as my students came in from lunch, they were having a political conversation.
Student A: We just elected (in the past 8 years) our first Black president.
Student B: (jokingly) Huh? Our first president (George Washington) was Black!
Student A: Man, when we had our first president, we were slaves! (emphasis mine)
This comment floored me inside. It was so clear to me again. As I think back on the history of this nation, as a white male I get to think about a government that is made up of my people (e.g., every president except 1 has been/is white) and a culture that has favored my humanity. Unlike my students having that conversation, I don’t live with the painful memories of my ancestors being enslaved by the Whites or being denied the right to vote or having to go to a certain school because of the color of my skin.
Thinking about this is tough. It hurts. But, we have to face the facts so that we can better understand where Blacks and other non-Whites are coming from.
Truth is, slavery did not end until 1863 during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency – the 16th president. Blacks were not allowed to vote with limited access until 1870; full access was given in 1965. The segregation of Blacks ended in 1964.
How can we say to Blacks, “Get over it? I didn’t have anything to do with what happened in the past?” How can we expect their view of Whites to be a positive one when time and time again their progress is hindered by our lack of acknowledging their human dignity as an equal person who is made in the image of God?
How do we move forward? I think we move forward by doing what I’ve had the privilege of seeing so many of my White colleagues doing – loving and serving Blacks in a way that makes them feel welcome, honored, and valued. I’ve worked with so many educators who would give their last shirt for these students if they needed it regardless of their color.
I’ll tell you from my own experience. When my students look me in the eyes, see my positive body language, and know in their hearts that they are loved, valued, and respected, we build a beautiful relationship that I wouldn’t trade the world for. I’ve seen these racial walls come down by interacting with students of different races regardless of our differences. The meaningful relationships we have, founded on love, respect, and honor, make it possible for all of to have dignity and full access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Header image: https://pixabay.com/en/handcuffed-arrest-oppression-racism-1251664/