Black in White Spaces

Yesterday, I offered a message at First Parish in Cambridge based on my thoughts around being black in white spaces.  In January, I consciously chose not to mention Black History Month until the very last Sunday of February.  I wanted to see how people responded to my not naming it.  We still brought plenty of black history through the month, but I wanted to “normalize” the inclusion of black history into our basic worship experience.

Black and other clergy of color serving largely white churches have a particular set of challenges. Among those challenges is being able to invite direct communication and even criticism from our congregants and staff.  It is a challenge because too often I have heard of these communications not happening because white congregants and colleagues believe they will be perceived as being racist.  Being criticized for our work as ministers or being called into covenant is not racist.  Being lied to, worked around or having information witheld from us is racist.  It is an expression of mistrust based in seeing someone as the “other”.  If you are being racist (or sexist, or abelist) we will tell you and we deserve the right to do so, just as you must tell us when we are doing the same…which we do.  We are human.

After a brief discussion about Black History Month yesterday, I offered a poem: BLACK IN WHITE SPACES. The following is the final stanza of the piece and the poem in its entirety is available here: Black in White Spaces – Poem.

Black in white spaces
Has for me been a painful blessing
A journey of understanding
Of self and surroundings.
I’m sure this equation is shifting
My observations will soon be obsolete
But in the meantime, I am happy to be a guide.
And isn’t it ironic that the “black power” child
May be the one holding the candle in the darkness of white spaces.


Remember and Wake Up

Remember…The United States was founded on the premise of wanting independence from European powers.  It was not a question of dominance, but rather a question of autonomy, self-determination and intentional isolation.  We didn’t enter WWI until the final year of armed conflict and it took the attack on our ships in Hawaii (not Hawaii itself or other Pacific islands) for us to enter WWII.

Remember…The founding fathers of the US chose protecting their financial futures over the basic humanity of specific people; they wrote this into our founding documents.

Remember…The narrative that seeks to portray African Americans as non-human has been alive in media, educational materials, popular song, slogans and our language since Africans and Europeans started co-existing on this land. The continued violence of the word “nigger” is based on this dehumanization.

Remember…Immigration of non-Anglo Europeans (specifically Catholics) was regarded as a mortal threat to the “integrity” of the United States for well over 100 years and still resonates in the cultural segregation of our cities.  We have still only elected one non-Protestant president…and we killed him.

Remember…Native “Americans” were here first and had thriving cultures that included systems of trade, spirituality, justice, agriculture, government, etc.  European settlers could only see them as “savage” because of the color of their skin and sought to eradicate them.

Remember…The 1924 Immigration Act was heavily influenced by the Eugenics Movement to avoid the importation of “inferior stock” to the US.  Largely promoted to limit the procreation of mental and physical disability, forced sterilization and other eugenic techniques were later adopted by the Nazis.

Remember…Women haven’t yet had the vote for 100 years and men are still in overdrive legislating their bodies as if women are chattel.

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

Donald Trump is not a failure or an anomaly.  He is the full manifestation of the goals of the systems that we have woefully accepted as “American”.  If we truly want to deal with the challenges he presents to all but the most narrow-minded interpreters of the United States’ history, more of us have to be willing to completely re-write the book.  This means our work is not to “fight” or “resist” him and his supporters.  Our work is to birth a reality in which the virus he represents cannot survive.  The work is not explicitly anti-capitalist, but it seeks to de-colonize the mechanisms and markers of capitalist success.  The work is not anti-white, but it does not default to whiteness as a norm or automatically place white/Euro priorities at the center.  The work is not anti-man, but it demands that manhood and maleness accepts its place in a spectrum of sexuality, gender identity and orientation as an equal and not as a final word.

Donald Trump is the culmination of the American Dream; it is time to wake the f*ck up.


Black Panther (opens February 16, 2018) – OFFICIAL TRAILER