I just don’t have the words…but I’m going to try.
What Bro. Kirk is expressing here is what black Christians, especially those of us who refuse to assimilate to white culture and are vocal about our experiences as black people, experience in white church spaces…even those that claim to be “multicultural” or “multiethnic.”
We are constantly surveilled, our every deed and action is scrutinized under the white gaze.
We are constantly censored and edited. We are constantly silenced. We are constantly treated like we’re too much…except when we are there to coon, step and fetchit, and play the emotional mammies and sambos to the ‘nice’ white folks who ‘welcome’ us into their churches, seminaries, awards shows, and every other Christian space.
We are constantly surveilled, our every deed and action is scrutinized under the white gaze. When we are promoted or given attention within the institution, it is in direct proportion to the amount that we can make and keep the white folks around us comfortable. When our blackness can be commodified and appropriated we’re seen as assets, but if we’re too vocal about the things that make white folks uncomfortable, the powers that be go to wringing their hands and putting us in the back.
In white-dominated churches, our time, talent, resources, and genius are exploited as long as we go along to get along, but as soon as we step up and assert that we won’t stand for being treated any old kind of way in these spaces, we are dismissed, ignored, and/or discarded because when we assert our dignity and humanity as black people, we automatically become more of a liability than an asset. And if we are seen as indispensable, we will be manipulated into shrinking back into the box.
It’s all smiles, giggles, and alleged transparency until the fecal matter hits the oscillating cooling device, and suddenly nobody has time to talk…
When we try to open dialogue about our experiences with those in power to bring light, understanding, and the necessary correction to a situation or matter, we are stonewalled. Leaders who have time for us when we are doing something that benefits them suddenly don’t have time to talk to us about their missteps. It’s all smiles, giggles, and alleged transparency until the fecal matter hits the oscillating cooling device, and suddenly nobody has time to talk…or leaders are told not to discuss what happened and these white institutions move on without acknowledging the harm that they’ve done to black minds, bodies, and souls.
I’m not against multiethnic and multicultural churches, as such. What I am wary of (and frankly against) is the “name-brand” multiethnicity and multiculturalism that is touted by the white-centered megachurch (and megachurch wannabe) industrial complex. I don’t like it because it is problematic, rarely authentic, and frequently harmful. Being diverse should not be part of your brand identity…it should be what the church is because that’s what God created. And if geography and demography prevents a church from being multiethnic and multicultural then it better work hard to be anti-racist. And it better do the deep work of pushing its locale and/or congregation to ask itself hard questions about its lack of diversity.
The Gospel Music Association, which is the organization that is responsible for the Dove Awards, has recently issued an apology…of sorts…that is filled with weak excuses for why they took the action that they did, and treats it as if it were a random accident and not a choice.
I’m not personally invested in what happens at the Dove Awards, but I am fully invested in white people and institutions that are predominated by white people treating black folks right. I’ve heard that the president of GMA is black…which only compounds the atrocity and doesn’t help it. These white Christian organizations need to do better than some half-hearted apology. I don’t believe that Kirk Franklin would have spoken out as he did if this weren’t 1) a pattern of behavior and 2) concominant with how black people are likely treated in this and other white-dominated Christian spaces.
What if we lent our time, talent, resources, and genius to black churches?
I am thankful for what Kirk Franklin has said. There’s only one point that I disagree with. He emphasizes that this is his personal decision. That’s true, but in doing so, espouses the rugged individualism of our oppressor. Black people have only ever been able to stand against our collective oppression when we stand together.
What if black people stood up and said that we aren’t going to be in any Christian space where we are not treated with dignity and respect?
What if, instead of tolerating this type of thing, we collectively said that we aren’t going to tolerate this treatment and that we will go and build our own tables to which all are truly welcome?
What if we lent our time, talent, resources, and genius to black churches (and this might require some of yall to work through your black church hurt…some of us have traded church hurt for spiritual abuse in white spaces)?
What if we revitalized black churches that have been neglected by their communities?
What if we set our own houses in order and dealt with abuse where it is present in the black church (or left black abusers alone, periodt)?
And if these white institutions recognize the error of their ways and want to lament, repent, and repair THEN we can talk about reconciliation.
But yall don’t want to have that conversation…