Updated: Nov 19, 2020
November 13, 2020
Recently we were hanging out when you lobbed the question, “Why can’t black people just move on?”
Me: Pin. Drop. Silence. (You are our very good friend.)
I shouldn’t’ve been surprised, and I mean that in a nice way. Tens of millions of Americans sincerely do wonder why. Haven’t most people we know been there? So, I wish I would have had the courage for us to talk it through in the moment. Not that I’m an expert on racism, though my bookshelf is stocked; but because, Dear Friend, we have a lot to learn from one another and this might have been a helpful, however difficult, place to start.
So now, this letter is for you. This letter is for you and for me and for so many of our family members and other friends (I’m guessing) who have had enough of the conversations about racism, hatred, empty debate, persecution... poverty… xenophobia… homophobia… lies… and just want to move on; get along in what feels like a really beaten-up world of ours.
I'm going to suggest that we can begin with a deep dive into Uncle Tom’s Children (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938; 1940). Uncle Tom’s Children is the first published collection of work by Richard Wright. Wright was a grandson of slaves, so this is not a page-turner of historical fiction handed down in such a way that by now, the stories are wide-eyed tales. Yes, Dear Friend, if southern comfort is what you hope to find, this will surely disappoint.
Uncle Tom’s Children is a supremely powerful contribution to American literature. It reads like a love offering of palpably real novellas written in the Jim Crow south - stories of real-life trauma that was inflicted upon living, feeling people when the author was just a little boy (and your mother was just a little girl. That’s relevant, IMHO. - Heck, my own grandmother was a young, pregnant, white lady when UTC was written, living just a few hundred miles away from where a young, pregnant, black lady was made to lie face-down across a divot of dirt dug to fit her belly of so she could be whipped across her flat back for doing absolutely nothing wrong. (Breathe.)) This sort of account is a recent reality, frosting the collective consciousness of millions of black brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, little boys and little girls who continue to be (*whipped and shot and lynched and taunted and arrested and accused and bullied and undereducated and unnecessarily feared) while in their most innocent and/or vulnerable state. Today.
When pain is raw; when the incidents of pain remain so pervasive and penetrating; when the only changes between my grandmother’s day and my own is the downing of some statues, the overturning of some laws and the passing of some new ones that may or may not be abided, so that black folks still (*see above) in this 21st century U. S. of A., in my opinion it becomes more understandable why ain’t nobody movin’ on quite yet.
So then, I really do believe that the question is not “Why can’t black people just move on?” but “What more can we do?” Because it’s not that we’ve heard enough about racism, hatred, empty debate, persecution... poverty… xenophobia… homophobia… lies… it’s that we’ve had enough racism. We’ve had enough racism, hatred, empty debate, persecution... poverty… xenophobia… homophobia… lies…
My Very Dear Friend, you’ve seen many of my spots through the years. And I’ve been taught that a preacher can’t shame someone into a better life, though my letter to you today might read like I’m trying to do just that. There are thousands of people out there who are more knowledgeable, articulate and able to speak of these concerns than me. I hope we can find them together. They can help us all. Until then, I pray, that you and I will remain Dear Friends of the kind that we can openly, honestly ask questions like you did and engage in a more immediately truthful conversation than I had the courage to engage that last time.
Let’s ask God to help.
You know us so much more than we will ever know ourselves. You hear our private questions and you give voice to those with which you have entrusted us to raise. You suffer through our ignorance and clear the way for truth. In this period of suspicion and division between even the closest of friends, help us to listen and learn from one another in a spirit of love, generosity and reciprocity made known to us through your Creation.