by: Brandon Edwards August 2017
To my Brothers and Sisters in these United States:
It is with great conviction that I address you in this very public, candid, and vulnerable letter. In years past, it would have behooved me to remain silent regarding the social climate of these United States. However, in light of the very recent, public, and controversial events in this nation, most recently the “ Charlotteville incident” as well as the assassination of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on the campus of my alma mater and ministry location, I can no longer stay in the seat of neutrality. As a campus minister, it is my duty to steward the position that I have been graciously granted; by speaking when my voice is needed, behaving in such a way that Jesus commands, as well as actively engaging is the process of continual sanctification. Although I cannot touch upon everything in such a letter, it will serve as a starting point to a greater and much needed course of conversation and action.
In 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress ushered in a new era with the following words:
“ When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth,’....... ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”.
In 2017, as a member of the governed, it is my right and duty to report that there has come a moment in our history in which our form of government and ideologies have become progressively destructive to both its government and people; as it pertains to the racial and social climate of these United States. While I am not surprised by the recent events, I am disturbed that the United States is continuing in it's ever constant state of social degradation. To keep it simple, racism is alive and well and we, Americans, have done a wonderful job coddling it.
To understand my statements you must understand my history. Born to West Indian immigrants in Brooklyn NY, my life was shaped in diversity. As the case with many children, the concept of racism, and evils in the world went completely over my head. When my family moved to an affluent town in New Jersey, these concepts escaped me even more. Although racism was sporadically discussed at home, I never took it seriously, nor did I entertain the thought of its existence. I was under the impression that my family was stuck in their own ways and would not let the past be the past. To be honest, my family is very diverse in itself so the “American” outlook on life was not my primary lens. To further explain this disposition, as one of the only African American children in my schools; most of my friends were caucasian, I could not fathom that those who were my friends could be “racist”. In fact, I know and love many caucasian people who are what I would consider to be very good, respectable, and wholesome people. However, I could never reconcile one factor. I did not like my own skin nor those who looked like me. On the outside it was ok, I was able to talk and float between cultures, which now plays in my favor. Yet, for a long period of time I struggled with what W.E.B DuBois calls in his novel “The Souls of Black Folk” , a "double consciousness”. Du Bois describe this as:
“A peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face”.
I couldn't reconcile being my color, having my culture, and existing in my environment. I’ll put it this way only to drive the point home to some folk: I wasn’t “black” enough to be black, nor “white” enough be white. It wasn’t until I attended college when I started to be proud of my skin color and culture. I believe it was a divine moment in which my eyes were figuratively opened to the beauty of “blackness”. The beauty of being my skin color; in my environment. The beauty of being intricately designed by God with a culture and skin color for, as the book of Esther says, “ such a time as this”.
You might ask, how could this be possible in this day and age?
I’ll address this question, with more questions and examples from my life:
The simple answer is that there is an undoubtable implicit idea that African American people are inferior and evil. Racism. This ideology has always been and unfortunately still is interwoven in the fabric of this nation. It permeates throughout society, expressed in the language we use and traditions we partake in. These traditions are such that cause my African Americans brothers and sisters to appear to be inferior to, lower than, more evil and dangerous than my caucasian brothers and sisters. These traditions are interwoven into the laws, business practices, entertainment sources, behind the doors conversations, and educational systems and resources. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it like this:
“Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything Black, ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word Black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word White, it’s always something pure, high and clean”.
It is this same ideology that allows a group of people to falsely presume that African American people are slothful, violent, and unintelligent. It is the ideology that allows a group of people to falsely proclaim that Mexicans are murderers and rapists. It is also the ideology that allows for large quantities of people in a nation to elect a leader who is unashamed of directly or indirectly promoting or enhancing these same ideals. For we know that every word in the dictionary and phrase we use has a history and a connotation to it. Therefore the words and phrases that we choose to use, often times are a reflection of those same connotations. The book of Proverbs states that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Our words either bring death or life and we will reap the result of our words. This applies ten times more to leaders. Once you hold a mantle you have a responsibility to steward your words and actions. For Jesus also said that we are defiled by what comes out of our mouths, however I digress for my objective is not to criticize, but to illuminate an ideology.
To those who say: “ Slavery and/or segregation was years ago…...” I understand your train of thought and feelings. At one time, I would have said the same thing. I understand that it is frustrating to constantly have an issue resurface over and over again. As a Christian campus minister, I will make a scriptural comparison in order to help you understand. In Matthew 15, Jesus comments to those who questioned his reasoning for breaking old traditions by quoting the prophet Isaiah saying, “ These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. In modern words; we can change our word choices, we can change the words in our laws, we can even change the names of groups and even use scripture to defend our ways of thinking however these are not what will breed the ultimate change and the harder change; a change of heart. You can call me your best friend, and say you see “no color”; while cursing me behind your words, and spitting on my face with your deeds. By living in your world that turns a blind eye to these issues, you may be ignoring my struggle. In doing such you can escape an acknowledgement of your errors. You are now free to live in denial. However, the hard reality is that you cannot fix what you won't acknowledge. This goes for everyone, including myself; no one can permanently escape reality, eventually it will catch up to you. What we refuse to address will most definitely come up again and again until we make the time to deal with it. So if you didn’t know, the reality is such, racism is alive in the United States and it is wrong.
So the question becomes, where do we go from here? How do we, as a nation, heal from where we are right now? I will not pretend like I have the answer; however this is my humble opinion. We must recognize two things. First, that there is problem. We all should identify and agree upon what the actual problem is, together, as a nation. Secondly, we must believe that reality says we have more in common than we differ on. Most of our differences lie in what we find more imperative in our own eyes, also known as our guiding principles. However at our core, we are humans; all of whom desire to be loved, and to love; to be known and to know. Black people want the same things as white people. If we would sit at what Dr. King called, “the table of brotherhood”, we would see this as reality. However, we must not solely “sit” at the table of brotherhood, we must truly fellowship as “brethren”. If we did, we would find that neither the “black experience” nor the “white experience” are monolithic. If we did, we would see that most black men and women are honorable, intelligent, law abiding citizens and that there are also a plethora of police officers who protect and serve with integrity. If we did, we would admit that not every tragedy revolves around race; however we would also have to admit that many conflicts in these United States humiliatingly carry racial undertones and are blatantly racially motivated, and be willing to call them out as such. Taking a seat at the table of brotherhood also means that we, as Apostle Paul says , “bear one anothers burdens”. Engaging in real relationship with another human being means that, there is a cost. Whether financial, or emotional it will cost you something. Period. As one powerful young woman from Coatesville, PA beautifully articulated in her Sweetly Candor blog, “Though lamenting for those who are in pain can get taxing, it is also great because it keeps us balanced and soft hearted”. As a Christian, I believe that every problem on earth is not solely physical, or emotional; at the core, its spiritual .The answer was, is , and always will be Jesus.
He is the solution. Jesus crossed generational, racial, gender and even religious barriers. He is the one who can soften hearts, change minds and bridge the gap of our imperfections. The issue is whether those who claim to be followers of Jesus will submit their opinions and agendas to His will and word. Whether we as the body of Christ will see to it that we fellowship at the table of brotherhood. Whether we truly lament with one another, and love one another despite our faults. Whether we will learn from one another in the midst of conflict, confusion, and pain; by engaging in the never ending process of sanctification. No one said it would be easy, but at the end of the day, it is worth it.
With Love, Conviction, & Gratitude,
GIVING Q&A WITH RYAN PENLEY