Let me first address this notion that race is a political issue, and so we can’t talk about it. That is one of the most asinine statements on many counts. I’m wondering where in the Bible it says thou shall not talk about politics. First, do you think the Egyptians discussed what to do with the Jews during the plagues God brought on them? How about Joshua leading the people into the promised land and deciding who would get which territory? Can we get a shout out for the selection of the twelve disciples which included a zealot and a tax collector? And finally, the handling of Jesus from crucifixion to burial. All these situations had political ramifications. Did you know that every church by law must have a Board, which includes a President, Vice President, and Treasurer? Do those positions sound familiar? We need to stop throwing politics in the middle of racial conversations as an excuse to dismiss the subject.
Let me give you an example of a period that was very contentious and uncomfortable for most people to talk about. On August 23, 2005, one of the worst disasters of this brief century reared its ugly head. Its name was Katrina. A prominent Black figure said, “George Bush does not give a damn about Black people.” Once that racial statement came in, my White brothers and sisters went to their quiet place. White people spoke to other Whites and Black people spoke to other Blacks, but the two did not come together. I remember going on many diatribes. Most of them were directed at my teaching colleagues as that was my job at the time. I was surprised at how many of them listened to me and agreed with what I was saying.
I was hurting and I needed to be heard, but my White brothers and sisters did not know what to say so they said nothing. This is like a person who does not know how to swim watching someone drown and rationalizing it by saying he should have stayed in the shallow end. While that assumption seems logical, it lacks a big piece of common sense. and that is how did he get in the deep end? Maybe someone pushed him. Maybe he slipped and fell in the pool, or maybe he lost his sense of direction. The point is that he is now drowning, and somebody should do something to save him. I can’t remember a single White disciple asking me how I was doing or providing a platform for discussion. This one fell squarely under the umbrella of the uncomfortable.
I never got a full death toll, but I know that an old lady in a wheelchair died virtually on television. The city knew the levies would not hold the water back from the city. It knew that all neighborhoods would see damage, but the poorest Black neighborhoods would be destroyed. These souls, who were called refugees by the national media, were left with no homes, food, or clean drinking water.
Let me share one fact that most people uneducated about the poor would miss. Since these were some of the poorest people in New Orleans, they were most likely on public assistance. Nationally, public assistance comes on the first of the month. I remembered hearing disciples saying, “Why didn’t these poor Blacks listen to the advice given to evacuate?” Now you know that by the 23rd of the month, they were almost out of money, a fact that I thought was sorely missing from most newscasts. Poor Blacks were portrayed as hard-headed and rebellious. The fact was that most of them did not have the means to follow the advice to evacuate even if they wanted to capitulate. I was angry during this time, and I had very few White disciples that were willing to discuss this subject. Most of them were in their racial basements. You know, that place where they can go to weather a racial firestorm. I need that basement to be refinished with human kindness and a willingness to experience discomfort.
Help for the Hurting
A real brother is one who is there for you especially when you are hurting. There has been a lot of pain in the Black community over the last 20 years. I’m used to being neglected, but I really got upset when undocumented Mexicans faced the threat of being separated from their children. It does not matter where you stand in the politics of undocumented workers. There are Christians that felt totally justified that our government was separating children from their parents. I’m not telling a person how they should feel about any political issue. However, I can’t see Jesus approaching a hungry person and asking to see their papers before he feeds them. I think the story of the Good Samaritan illustrates my point.
When I’m hurting, I need someone to respond to my pain instead of making an excuse of why they don’t have to consider my situation. When I tell you something personal that really hurts me, the last thing I want to hear is, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that subject.”
Can you imagine if Jesus had let comfort be an issue? I’m sure he had his moments, but there is no doubt we would not have had the cross. The whole crux of Christianity gone and all for the fear of discomfort. If we are to call ourselves brothers and sisters, we are going to have to learn how to discuss uncomfortable topics. If we fear saying the wrong thing, maybe we should listen instead of talking. We must learn to deal with discomfort, or we can never be the brothers and sisters we need to be for each other.