When the Chips Fall

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What Africans are Learning from the Pursuits of Men like Dr. Martin Luther King

Hey there people! It feels like ages but I am so glad that I got an opportunity to share something on this sensitive topic. First and foremost, Happy New Year, or as we would say in my country Baraka za Mwaka Mpya Kwenu (Blessings of the new year to you all)!

As the first post on my blog, I want to set the pace for a series of thought-provoking and inspiring pieces throughout the year. This is the first of many that I hope will get the world thinking a little bit more of my voice as a member of the black-African community.

For a long time now, people of African descent have been identified every now and then as “African”; a clear example of this is seen in it’s use as an adjective to describe members of the black community who reside in the US, naming them “African Americans”. As okay as it sounds, it isn’t the full story surrounding the terminology.

African American is not necessarily a substitute for the indicator of people group. Black is the race, African is related to the continent and as such does not make an excellent substitute for the truth. Our identity is black. The question then remains, why do we escape it so?

I was privileged enough to hear from people who have had negative encounters with some people from other racial backgrounds and what they have observed is worth noting. One of the first things that they observed is that black is associated with the worst things imaginable (think about it a little bit…’black plague’, ‘black coal’, ‘black sludge’). I’m sure you get the point. It is very hard to associate oneself with that word…and what seems to happen is that these negative connotations associated with the color itself are somehow pasted onto those whose skin is labeled black or dark (note the words used). This is how Africa itself gained its identity as the ‘Dark Continent’…not a cool name.

But should we run? Martin Luther King Jr showed the African American community–no, scratch that!–the world! That race does and can never determine one’s contribution to society (content of an individual’s character supersedes the color of one’s skin). It is on this very basis that black as a color has over the years been associated with cool, hip, fun and stylish…and it is on this very basis that my fellow black people ought to realise that there is hope for our people. Not because of change of use of the word black, but because of the potential of the black community to be more (so far I feel like we have been up to a lot of “doing”). We are either getting hyped up about immediate wealth/riches or clinging to titles or forms of power.

In us uniting and working together, we can show the world what we are made of as fellow citizens of the world and coequal members of the human race. Africa is probably the richest continent but we underestimate it because we underestimate ourselves. Racial slurs and awful history has affected us negatively and it doesn’t matter whether you were born in Africa or in the West…we’ve suffered but here we are. It’s about time we own our identity as one people and stop bickering and allowing divisions of no consequence to destroy us.

We know pain, we know labor and we know intelligence. How can we let divisions reign in our midst…we are one! All other races ought to work together in like fashion and help destroy the chains that have kept us in fear.

In Jesus’ words, let us love one another…

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MY BLOODY SHABBAT

WHY THE INJUSTICE FACED BY NON-WHITES IS DISTURBINGLY FAMILIAR AND A PAINFUL NEO-MITSRAIM WITH ONE HOPE

“I’m down to get killed for the real that I speak…black boys calling me white, white boys be calling me nigger; I ain’t fitt’n in my skin is havin’ me feelin’ disfigured”

-Sevin

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It’s enough. This shabbat, I feel it’s about time we took this matter seriously. There’s blood being shed and though it may be from a few individuals now, it’ll be from more later. Nothing in history has demonstrated that a disregard for any man/woman because of his or her race has ever ‘gone away’. Let’s face it, the issue of race is an old question and it has always provoked certain feelings. I get that. I know that for a fact, that although I am black African, I can still feel the pain experienced by fellow people of color. We witnessed in Africa such a brutality in colonial days that marred our African identity and culture in a way that’s virtually irreparable.

I’m reminded of the intentional use of the word ‘Mitsraim’ as a descriptive word for ancient Egypt under Ramses. The word itself is a play on the Hebrew word for suffering–a word echoing pain, torment, devaluing. I am Christian, evangelical studying in a Christian Evangelical school that is seeking to find that African identity that was lost when other cultures were imposed upon us. Seeing us as somewhat backward, unintelligent and incapable, we got ‘re-created’ in the western image and no matter what some historians state, we were not ‘Christianized’ we were de-valued and robbed of our African identity [Bert Gary, a biblical scholar based in Israel actually raises the question that attacks what we know as ‘western Christianity’, he asks in his book, Jesus Unplugged, “There is much emphasis in the church today–by laity and clergy–on being respectable, nice and presentable. Yet where in Scripture did Jesus say that we should make being well-dressed and well-behaved priorities? Is the Church guilty of reducing Christianity to mere social etiquette? The Jesus of Scripture rejected these priorities with both word and deed”]. It’s no small wonder that Africans who branched off from missionary-established churches to form indigenous African Churches that sought to ‘Africanize’ the Christian Gospel were looked upon with suspicion. Also, the educated elite, who sought to restore authority and governance back to Africans had one motive…to educate and elevate the status of their own–still they did so with so much pain.

It’s heartbreaking that it’s because of this that we as Africans have it so ingrained in us to fight and steal in order to have our identity in and through what we own. What’s even more terrible about this is that the leadership that we are right now seeing in Africa that is so torn and broken (I purposefully won’t say corrupt because that is not the real problem) is in this state because of nil-succession in leadership and a lack in communicating how it was understood by our fore-fathers since it was largely disregarded in favor of a ‘better’ western model? What! We no longer have real respect and value for what our fore-fathers gave us, what do we want to be? Big businessmen, wealthy earners, empty individuals–not just spiritually but mentally; ask these same individuals what they hope to do with all their acquired wealth and status and you’ll swear that you can hear a pin drop in the room because of the silence. It’s only as I was growing up, that I got to understand the saying; “If you want to hide anything from an African, put it in a book” because we truly have lost our love for knowledge and wisdom, we now chase the wind till our great grand children can feel the hollowness of our vain pursuits.

We are in such a prison mentally that conquering the modern African child’s mind is just that, child’s play. How long can we stand and casually watch? How long do we here in Africa have before we experience what our counterparts in western countries are facing right now? Have we truly forgotten the price paid for our freedom? Have we indeed forgotten that injustice anywhere, is really and truly a threat to justice everywhere? Are we going to let the blood of those before us become worthless because of how we handle our so-called freedoms? How much more so the blood of the very Son who tread African soil when he sought refuge from Herod–the very Son who was nailed to the cross because of injustice? Do we even care? [I actually like what Lecrae Moore pointed out in an interview last year about how bad things have become in society. When asked about where are we going wrong, he pointed out that we merely observe the evils around us and criticize them but when asked to do something about it, we can’t, why? It doesn’t affect me].

Are we so blinded by watching all the glamour of the artists and celebrities–most of whom are colored, selling us ‘the good life’ on TV but living lives that are in no way close to good? Are we all letting the lives of the youth, the fathers and the elderly go down to the grave in vain because ‘it doesn’t involve us’? Is the blood of a colored individual that worthless? As someone so disturbingly pointed out on an interview in a popular UK show, “Why do the former enemies of the commonwealth, the descendants of Nazi Germany have it easy in matters migration, but those of African race/descent are treated as outcasts and terrorists yet their forefathers helped their forefathers in the WWII…a white man threatening death is said to be ‘demonstrating terrorist inclinations when he’s about to blow up a plane..a black/colored individual is thought to be a terrorist and a roach?’ Seriously, world, what’s going on here??

Shabbat reminds me of the battle the Lord waged against Egypt, her injustice and her gods. That battle freed the Israelites and showed them that God truly sees and he’s the giver of identity; giving Israel her first sweet exchange, being for worthlessness. Making out of a distorted psyche, a renewed perspective. They are made human beings when God decrees this day as a day to sit, reflect and delight in God; a day when they truly realize that they are defined by God. Then comes the rest of the spirit…negro spirituals have plenty to say about this. They speak of a hope in the midst of the storm, a longing for peace and rest for their souls…the cry for liberty. In comes the living Shabbat, Jesus suffers a cruel trial, dies a merciless, unjust death and rises triumphant. There’s nothing better than this message; that in the darkest depths of our despair here and now, our Jewish non-western Messiah breathed hope to us. He offers us a different kind of rest, not merely one that ignores the world and the suffering but one that guarantees us victory, even as we rise to the occasion and speak and act in love to those who hate us without reason…he has shown us that he has triumphed over the fallible governments of this world for his rules over all and one day, he’ll show it to all the world, that no man of no race is superior to the other for one Man trumps all.

I am by no means racist, but eracist. For I believe the Bible that tells me that before the Judge of all the earth…”there is no male or female, no Jew nor Gentile, no slave or free…all stand equal before him”. I am an eracist. This means that I believe in the equality of all because that’s exactly how we were created.

“Head up, while I’m walking in the MOB, people part like the Red Sea was it the color they saw? They clutching to their purses, as if I was young and thirsty like my people went an’ hang onto branches in front churches. They treat us like colored skin was made of sin and deemed worthless, my heart ain’t bad but can’t get past what they see on the surface, I tell ’em ‘God bless you’ and just keep walking in public, they take it in but no relief from the hurting, still getting pulled over, beaten up, illegally searched, cousin still got killed by cops…what’s done in the dark will rise to the surface”

-Faith Pettis