A Broken Heart
In the last ten months I have broken down twice, weeping, uncontrollably like a child, as I relayed to my wife how broken-hearted I was. How hurt and ruined, lost in my religion, my culture, my identity, my substance, and existence.
How does one cope with trauma? How does one cope with the nightmares of past abuse? Trauma that if it were brought to light now would ruin already tattered relationships. How does one confront the reality of their identity in a sea of people who deny that identity? Deny the pain connected to the history of that identity. An identity I have come to love and adore more over the years and tenfold more this last year alone.
I’ve witnessed black men gunned down and their execution excused. I watched as pregnant women were catapulted on concrete, bellies full of life, squished violently under the force of men in authority. I’ve watched as black school-age girls, teenagers, little girls, were handcuffed, thrown into service vehicles, and carted off to jail, their parent’s cries for mercy ignored. Watched as young black boys, children, were gunned down for playing with toy guns that I had played with not too long ago as a kid.
Death. I saw death.
Not just that but I saw the compounding trauma of denial within other circles, a denial so vibrant I thought I was going insane.
Perhaps he did deserve to get shot in the back so many times.
Maybe he shouldn’t have fought off that neighborhood security guard who approached him at night and threatened him.
Maybe he shouldn’t have been driving that night.
Maybe she should have just stayed home from school that way that man would not have twisted her arm in so many places.
If he hadn’t had all those tattoos maybe he’d still be alive.
Maybe racial profiling is a good thing. It must be. How else are they going to get drugs off the streets?
If he had been playing with a baseball bat instead of a toy gun, maybe, maybe he wouldn’t have been shot.
If he had been playing with a basketball instead of a baseball bat he would be less of a threat to them.
Maybe if he hadn’t been playing basketball he would not have been perceived as a loiterer, a drug dealer even. They start them young you know!
If they had not congregated for worship in such a racially hostile environment perhaps he would not have walked in there to kill them.
If he hadn’t looked at her perhaps she would not have falsely accused him of rape. His lynching was his fault. There was no need for an open casket funeral service.
If he hadn’t stirred people up perhaps he would not have been assassinated.
If they had just known their place in society maybe their church would not have been bombed.
If he had just not been in the store that day, maybe they would not have had to put their knees on his neck.
It wasn’t the lack of oxygen that killed him. It was his lifestyle.
What Is Going On?
Hearing this from the secular scope of things made it manageable but hearing it from the people I thought were part of my religious community tore me apart.
I set off to critique the history of terror black people have endured within the United States and began a lengthy article on it. I wrote and gathered information.
Maybe if they read this they’ll understand. This is so simple! It’s history! It happened just 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 5, 1 year ago! It happened months ago. It was all caught on camera then and it is caught on camera now. We can all see the weapons drawn, the knees upon necks, the two seconds between arrival and execution.
It’s impossible to deny. Right?
Therefore I wrote, compiled, erased, continued, elaborated, linked, and confirmed, time and again that perhaps this brief history will inform both my secular and religious friends that we still have a race problem.
I wanted to name the write-up something, say, benign, something that would not incise hostility in the title.
Titling my article: White people, please, read this because it’s still going on!
Is catchy but problematic because I wanted to lure people in with something welcoming.
More so my religious friends. My Christian community.
The people who serve a middle-eastern Jesus. I wanted them to see His color and how others who looked like him and darker were continually mistreated throughout history and still, so, today!
So: White Christians, Please See Our Pain!
Sounded bare. I had to settle.
That was it. That was me. Unnecessarily long. But, it got the message across. It got what I wanted to talk about across. We’re called to reconcile this venomous gap and we cannot ignore the reality of harm being done to those we call brothers and sisters in the faith. When you call me your brother in the faith that means you care about what happens to me so you’ll read this.
So I wrote. Simple. Common sense. Simpleton terms because I’m simple. Uneducated and simple. And I wrote.
Weighing the death of black men and women. Weighing the death of George Floyd. Recapturing his final moments with words. It was impossible but I tried. Failed. Erased it. Rewrote it. Hated it. Struggled through it but I willed myself to make people understand the scene, the horror of it.
I then progressed naturally to events that happened in the not too distant past, the bombings, the assassinations, the lynchings, the killings, shootings, the murder of black people and their white friends as they fought to bring equality between the races.
Roman Ducksworth, shot dead by police.
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, little girls, their bodies disintegrated by a bomb that exploded outside their church. They and their black family and church members the targets of this bomb.
James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Henry Schwerner, civil rights activists unlawfully arrested and later released by the deputy sheriff to klansmen to be lynched, murdered.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a seminarian who sought to show solidarity with his black brothers and sisters in Christ by attending civil rights demonstrations was unlawfully arrested, later released, and shot dead by a deputy sheriff.
I made the argument that the sentiments that allowed for such nefarious behavior to be exhibited openly back then is still present within our culture today.
I made the argument from scripture from the very divinely inspired words we all read from to point to the fact that our faith, the precursor and final entity of our faith, Christ, would not stand for this evil called racism.
That we must combat it wholeheartedly, not ignoring the need for reconciliation in every sphere of life possible. Mending the gaps we allowed to grow for generations, liberally so.
I finished my article. I was scared. Shaking in my seat. Later pacing back and forth, wondering, perhaps, if they simply read it they’ll understand the pain, the reality, the continuity and fluidity of this evil still present in our midst.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the article. How to share it. When. With whom.
So I asked my wife if she was willing to sit with me as I read through it with her. You know, she’s my proofreader, and this not her choice, of course. Spouses are de facto proofreaders so they usually listen or read through some of the worst material to ever make it to print.
We sat, me, excited as ever to share with her what I thought would be my mini-magnum opus or, better yet, my minimum opus, to my religious community that yes, look, we still have a problem! Let’s fix it together, in heaven’s name, people!
I began, I read, mumbling through parts, faltering here and there, struggling through, fighting to contain my excitement and pride over my work.
And as I made my way through the leaders and people who had lost their lives, senselessly so, to white violence, I reached a mental block where my mouth kept moving but my emotions found no ground.
At the mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name something caught in my throat so violent-like that I couldn’t catch my breath. My pulse shot through the roof and my mind scattered, unhinged, unable to withdraw from this precipice of loss of control.
I sat and I couldn’t, under the threat of death, I promise to you, I could not go on because as I faced my wife and down at my work I was stuck in a place of utmost grief.
As if Dr. King Jr. and the others mentioned were my family members, they were me, and they, I, had just died. Shot. Hanged. Stabbed. Murdered.
It took so long, under my kind wife’s care for me to regain my composure. I had sweat through my clothes and the air in my lungs fought to stay away. I fought to keep it in. I didn’t know that feeling. Never had I felt it before. Exasperated, frightened, and voiceless I could do nothing at that moment but cry more tears than I had ever thought possible for me to release.
After some time I was able to finally read through my work. Shocked at my reaction. And perhaps, unwilling, at this point, to even publish it because without empathy they would not understand. They just wouldn’t get it!
I published it anyway. With not much import or care given to it.
Information Nation: Rediscovery and Rage
And I began to consume more literature that helped me understand why this world, racially speaking, was the way it was. How did it come to be this way? Why were my faith heroes of the last five hundred years or so such strident supporters of chattel slavery and at the same time prolific revivalist ministers and reformers?
Everywhere I turned I saw their materials in several seminary syllabi, their sermons recited from prominent faith leaders today, their lifestyles lauded at the highest possible stage as archetypes of our great Christian faith. Every facet of my faith was given to me by men who, had I been their contemporaries, would have seen me as property! Their books littered my bookshelf. Their teachings covered my Kindle e-bookshelf. Their dictionaries, their concordances, their teachings of “good doctrines and practices” were on my mind from the start. Their names plastered over conference halls and their work seen as almost divine.
Therefore I sought to read about my church history and secular history.
I invested time and research into this season of my life. Consuming literature about abuse, abusers, narcissists, culture, cultures, systems, systemic and systematic structures, race, ethnicity, ethnocentrism, xenocentrism, the rise of anti-intellectualism, the fear of rigorous thought within religious circles, the fear of modernism, of modernity, oh for God’s sake. An unwillingness to further scientific thought and endeavors was prevalent in these circles. People who promoted dangerous and racist ideologies would later go on to found seminaries and religious institutions, further poisoning the minds of people to hate their colored brothers and sisters. These same founders would later run for office, and when they failed in this venture they would promote others who thought like them. They wanted to take over one of the two political parties within the United States and they have, since the late 1980s, they have.
I thought these issues were endemic only to the North American culture and society until I read further and further into the West Indies stories, plantations, the genesis of rum, and how it was manufactured. Who was forced to harvest it for centuries? Who benefited from it, for centuries, and still does today?
And I dove headfirst into Brazil’s history, my country’s history with this issue of race and religion. How it began and where. Howcome. How could Christians, protestants, and Catholics alike have supported such a devilish industry? The Nazis would have dreamed of having hundreds of years through which they could operate in their killing fields, under the protection and blessing of the church. They had a mere 12 years by which to terrorize Europe whereas the European empires and colonies did it for hundreds of years.
For some four hundred years. Others, for six hundred.
And in Brazil, I discovered that the transatlantic slave trade began as early as the 1530s. And how Brazil received well over 4,000,000 black souls from the west African coast.
Over 4,000,000 lives, over four times as many as any other American destination.
I was so caught up on how messed up the US was with its black population that I never stopped long enough to think about how the Portuguese, the Spanish. the French, and the British, for a season, treated Africans and their descendants in my country. Only 10% of all Africans forced into slavery went to the US whereas more than 40% were murdered in Brazil.
I discovered, this, new to me, that I could be one of or a mix of four different African nations. Five, perhaps.
Slaves that settled in Brazil came primarily from Angola and later the Congo, Nigeria, Senegambia, and Benin.
So my wonderful ancestors derive from one or more of these nations.
How proud I was. How renewed in inner strength to know that their resilience, their willingness to not die from a heat stroke, a hanging, a shot, or a club to the back of their head had led to my being born in a somewhat free or freer society.
Strange is that Slavery ended in Brazil much later than it did in Great Britain, 1833 and the United States, 1861-1865 (ish).
Brazil emancipated the negro in 1888. My parents were born in the 1960s. Do the math. That’s right.
Because black men and women were joining uprisings and rebellions, tired of their shackles and rape. I mean, who enjoys this?
So the Brazilian sovereign powers sought to amend their laws in 1885 with Sexagenarian Laws that allowed slaves over the age of sixty-five to be released from bondage. A welcoming retirement party, I imagine.
And three years later, they outlawed and banned slavery federally on May 13, 1888, with the Golden Law.
So as I read these and other things, consuming history, I believe too fast for someone already traumatized by my own experiences with racists and bigots, secular and religious ones, strangers on social media, and familiar faces within the church, I reached another dead-end.
Another emotional block where I read and read until I became desensitized. I was experiencing that same sense of grief I had when I read my article to my wife. But this time I was in bed and I was reading Esi Edugyan’s, Washington Black. A story about a black slave boy who is born into a sugar cane plantation called Faith Plantation located on the West Indies island of Barbados.
There I read of blacks being beat, dragged, raped, maimed, murdered, decapitated, and sapped of their religious hope of a life after death. Subjugated to servitude and then annihilation.
I placed the book down. And other materials I was reading and I wept, I grunted, with tears in my eyes and rage welling up. I tried to put the book down so I could get a few hours of sleep. Rest. Lights off. Kids asleep. The wife was asleep. And here, in pitch-black darkness, I was fuming with rage at how my people had been treated for hundreds of years!
And for what? For what? If anything, if they ever fought back it was retaliatory, not instigative.
So I grabbed my phone, tears running down my face, my heart full, me angry with everything around me, everyone I knew, with no name coming to mind, no face distinctive enough to recognize. I was angry for every black person who was denied their rage. So I did the only thing I knew I could do to ease myself of this anguish and I penned a psalm, a prayer, a poem, a diatribe, a manifesto, in rage and anger, against the Whiteness that had devastated my ancestors and denied the detriment upon their being liberated, and to this day, still, deny the reality our mistreatment.
A Black Uprising Is Retaliatory, Not Instigative In Nature.
The life of the negro hangs on the balance of white men fighting to enslave us and later emancipate us. On white men fighting to degrade us and later value us. On white men segregating us and later integrating us. On white men ousting us from high-end communities and later welcoming us back. Preventing our educational growth and later investing in our intellectual wealth. Exploiting and later banking on our success. Warring to mistreat us on the basis of race and later warring to deny the existence of their initial and now continued hatred for us on the basis of race.
Fighting to destroy our faith and later fighting to force faith into us. Doing everything within their power to keep us at the center of their depravity and at the same time the center of their redemption from that depravity.
We are the blemish on their rise to power and the agency through which they will wash their hearts white.
It is a white man’s pursuit to grant all men the right and freedom of speech but it is the white man who waged war and terror on black bodies should they speak of the injustices and evils they have experienced at the hands of white men.
We are forced to hate each other through time by white men and forced to take responsibility for our self-hatred by statistics produced by the same.
Our ghettos go from bad to worse, we’re granted grants and funds, degraded for the same, elevated and denigrated, all, by white men.
There is no freedom under whiteness but at the same time freedom only comes through whiteness.
Our scope of history is white. Our sciences are white. Our institutions are white. Our workforce executive leadership is white. Our bosses, managers, supervisors, and company owners are white.
Our beauty standards and manufacturers are white.
Few care or dare to say that whiteness exists as a result of exploiting everything that is not white.
I say that my thoughts are expressed through the mediums provided us by white men and at the same time, I may be shamed into silence and obscurity by white men.
It was white men who forced my ancestors into slave ships. Convincing my black ancestors that this was the best way to obtain peace, wealth, and posterity. Turn on each other for security, they were told. For wealth. Let us not even speak of the conditions my ancestor’s lands are in today, the state of disrepair and destitution at the hands of white men.
It was white men who ravaged black women and created mixed-raced children in the West. Mixed-raced people were later shunned and exposed to further rape by white men.
The sugar, coffee, tobacco plantations, and gold and diamond mines that so enriched and established western societies were all made available through slave labor on the backs, knees, uteruses, and lives of black people for the betterment of white men.
But where is our reward?
Again, it was freedom from one form of slavery in the field to slavery in the city.
It was the white man who instilled in us a rage so violent for them but one we so continually enact on one another.
How many revolts have taken place, from the first slave ship that crossed the Atlantic to the last? How many uprisings, revolutions, rebellions by blacks against whites, by slaves against slaveholders and we only call them uprisings, revolutions, and rebellions because it is wrong and evil for a slave to step out of the confines of his chains to scream for freedom!
For a maimed, blind, toothless, scarred, burned, tongue-less, earless, disfigured, overworked, malnourished negro to want something other than twelve-hour workdays, seven days a week, every year of his life, for life, however short and miserable that life would turn out to be is defined as rebellious but according to whom?
Whose narrative defines this want for liberty, freedom, and basic decency as a dangerous uprising deserving of a violent squashing?
It is the hegemony, the rule, the status quo, the foundation, and the prolonged devastation from the hands of white men.
Six hundred years of evidence is stacked up against this insidious dichotomy created by the culture that stood and still stands to benefit from creating whiteness and the verdict of humanity whole, humanity colored, humanity black, will come back as guilty.
Guilty of kidnappings. Brainwashing. Raping. Devastating. Liquidating. Exploiting. Maiming. Murdering. Profiteering. Never having enough black bodies to finish your devilish damning God-forsaken work of hell that you fought for half a thousand years to keep and for who and for what?
To think we could just so easily forget?
You’re guilty of willful amnesia. Guilty of ignorance. Arrogance and apathy. Guilty of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
Guilty on all counts and the charges will continue to rain down upon you until you are reduced to the very thing you wanted to reduce negroes to but have failed miserably in the process.
The Heavens watch and they wait.
This insidious whiteness that permeates will one day cease to exist and the world may return or perhaps progress to a more mundane faction or tribal schismatic system where color isn’t a thing. Where color is just that, color. Not profit nor gain.
The Heavens watch and weigh-in, Whiteness, your time has come.
I fell asleep shortly after. Mumbling some sort of prayer up to God, not sure if I asked for forgiveness for my feelings, my words, my rage, or if what I felt was a fear of these words making their way on to the screens of the very people who had hurt me. In my fear I wanted to avoid offending them, for having offended me.
I did not know what to do. I slept.
And I awoke, eventually, less angry, more determined to consume more information, more literature, history, diverse and closer to the source of true Christianity; multi-colored and multi-ethnic Christianity. Not the chattel slavery, white supremacy, Christian nationalist supporting Christian culture I was saturated in.
And I want to inform the reader that I do not hate white people, I despise Whiteness with a capital W that has devastated western society. I liken this to my hatred of all things Nazi but my love of all things German. I am able to hate the extreme, the abuse, the evil of a system perpetuated by an identity but at the same time love the people who descended from that ilk.
I despise what the Ottoman did to their innocent, non-combative victims of war but I harbor no hatred for muslims.
If I could clip King Leopold II at the knees with a baseball bat to keep him from maiming and killing natives of the Congo, I would, but that doesn’t mean I hate wonderful Belgians.
I do not hate my white friends, teachers, professors, pastors, leaders, students, youth members, and strangers. I love them.
I hate the system created by a hegemony that stands to benefit from Whiteness whilst at the same time denigrating everything that is NOT white. It kills me. It kills people who look like me.
This not to say that blacks and colored people cannot exhibit racist sentiments and violence toward whites. They can, and have, many a times. In many cases I see it as reactionary rather than instigative. That doesn’t make it any less evil but it helps us understand the dynamics of this violent behavior. Its history.
It’s wrong, nonetheless. Wrong.
That’s why my headspace today, my social media feed, and my conversations are filled with words like, “Deconstruct the evils.” “Understand the history.” “Let’s understand why we think this way or believe this tradition, this music genre, this clothing style, hairstyle, and whatnot is acceptable but my culture is not within Chrisitan circles.”
Talks of abuse and abusive structures. Dangerous power and money-hungry circles. Racist circles. Nationalist and exceptionalist circles. I’m fighting hard to understand my history and to condemn the systems and peoples who worship the systems that my ancestors could never have spoken out against.
I am their voice today. I speak for them. For those who died on African soil fighting for their freedom. Those who died on slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Those who died on gold, diamond, and copper mines, plantations, and expansionist excursions all for greed, power, control, and wealth of others.
Those whose lives were sifted by colonialist brutes and later by robed klansmen and today, modern-day neo-nazis who congregate in our public square and find shelter in our churches.
I stand today, writing, shouting, reading, preaching, and conversing because my ancestors could not.
By the grace of God, I will not stop.
So if you see me share more articles, books, history, and information that better explain who we are as a society today and how we got to where we are, not just the triumphs and success stories but also the abuses and evils, then know, that I am but the voice of one calling in the desert, in the plantation field, in the mine, in the suburbs, come… repent… empathize… reconcile with God and men… and live.
In the loving memory of one my my favorite heroes, Erik Stevens, also known as, Killmonger.
“Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Featured image, mine.