Many of you don’t know who Richard Pryor is and the ones who do are thinking he was dirty and inappropriate for Christian consumption. I’m not writing this to fight that rather universal assumption. I want to tell you a little about this man so you can better understand me and those like me.
Richard Pryor was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1940. His grandmother ran a brothel. His mother was a prostitute, and his dad and mom were divorced when he was a child. One thing Richard learned from his father was to be honest. I’m not talking about just telling the truth. I’m talking about telling the world how he saw things. Richard unabashedly told the truth about how he saw the world.
When he started his career, he performed on the Ed Sullivan show, Johnny Carson, and the like. You know, places where you had to be politically correct. He performed to almost exclusively White audiences. Can you imagine not being able to be yourself and not seeing anybody that looks like you while you are working?
This was the end of the golden age of Capitalism, when even Black people were making some gains in society. America did not want to hear about Richard’s unsavory upbringing. We liked Black men like Bill Cosby who were clean, made us laugh, but rarely made us feel uncomfortable or think outside the box. (Now that name brings up an entirely different feeling.)
Now Let’s Move to My Story
I’m a 63-year-old disciple who’s been a Christian for 41 years. I remember being told about how our movement was going to win the world for Christ. This gave me pause because I knew most of the world is yellow, Black, or brown and we were a White dominant movement. Many had and have great hearts, but are sorely lacking in the ability to understand the non-White world.
I was awestruck as I read the Bible and saw Jesus embrace the woman at the well, Paul giving up his privileges and rights as a Jew to win over a Gentile world, and to see the Holy Spirit speak in specific languages in order to make people feel special and win them over to Christ during Pentecost. These events make me see that this race thing can be conquered.
For the first 10 years of my Christian life, I felt much like Pryor. I could not be myself and should thus keep my opinions to myself, and lastly, never make White people feel uncomfortable about race. The turning point for me was seeing the movie “Malcolm X” in 1992. I decided, coming out of that theater, that I was going to talk about the things I see concerning race “by any means necessary.” This did not make me popular among my White brothers and sisters. Most of them either blew me off or tried to minimize what I was saying.
There’s a Fire That Burns Within Me
Do you know when Richard Pryor became the most relevant? Answer—when he set himself on fire. Sometimes I feel like I need to set myself on fire to be heard. I don’t free-base or do any drugs, but I often wish there was something to take away the pain inflicted by the silence of my brothers and sisters during a racial firestorm. I know I matter to God, but sometimes I think people just want me to shut up and go to Bible Talk. I’m sorry I no longer operate on that frequency. I’m going to be a spiritual “hell-raiser” until the day I die by refusing to be silent on a topic that is my world. I live in it every day. It will never be my intention to hurt another individual with the truth, but from now on I will speak my truth and hopefully it will set some people free.
I agree with Gordon about the fact that we cannot change the world and their views and actions in the racial realm. That is not my goal and not the audience to whom I am addressing this article or others to follow. I am asking my brothers and sisters in Christ to recognize that most of those with my skin color often feel like we are on the outside looking in, even in the church. I just need for you to recognize what my world looks like and feels like and to try to understand both my world and me as a Black individual living inside it. I’m not going to go Richard Pryor except in one way—telling you honestly what is inside my heart and asking you to engage with me in trying to understand. I think that is what the Bible calls love.