It begins.

So, in the same week we will witness the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr and the inauguration of Trump. I am fairly certain the dominating rhetoric this week will attempt to bring these two personalities together with a thread called "unity" or "peacefulness" or "love". It will be overtly suggested and subtly implied that walking in the steps of King requires that we lay down our concerns for the sake of such pretty words. 

This expectation has already been stated with calls to "support the President-Elect" to "see how it goes" to "try working with him instead of against him" to "unite behind him" . We have even been expected to be silent about the overt racism of Trump, many of his staffing picks and yes the folks who voted for him. We have been told in article after article after article that it is unfair, too far-reaching and altogether unwise to state unapologeticaly that race was a driving force of the campaign. We are told to believe it was economic concerns that drove people to Trump, not the racial rhetoric of "law and order" for black bodies, not the protests that kicked, and punched and pushed black protestors around, and not Trumps hate-filled speech egging on the violence of crowds. How easy it is for all these writers and pundits to forget how many folks cited "political correctness" as a reason to vote for Trump- read I-want-to-be-able-to-say-racist-things-but-never-be-called-a-racist. Its amazing to me that we have become so used to uncovering dog-whistle politics, we dont recognize the overt versions of racism anymore. 

And I partially understand. White people really dont like being called racist. The politically astute are correct that this isnt a great strategy to win converts over to the democratic party. But even in light of this election, I am less worried about winning people over to the democratic party than I am worried about the dignity of my community. 

In addition to "I dont like this", those who only have a superficial understanding of racism are genuinely convinced that it is inaccurate to say that white people, who knew his racial rhetoric was problematic but just wanted his economic policies, are racist. But this is the classic definition of racism once we move beyond the interpersonal, white hooded, slur-using racism. To make a decision to choose ones own economic security at the expense of people of color is exactly how we arrive at systemic racism. It is the small step on the way to big leaps of disparity. Choosing white economic security over the personhood of black Americans is how we got redlining and housing covenants, segregated schools and segregated neighborhoods, job discrimination and college segregation, unequal access to loans and mortgages and credit of all kinds, mass incarceration and environmental racism. Much of America believes there is nothing wrong with a pursuit of happiness that sacrifices the dignity of Black citizens. But I dont have to cooperate. 

For weeks I have been trying to figure out my game plan for inauguration day and beyond. Will I stay home or go to work? Will I write or hang out with friends? Will I take a long bath or go volunteer in my city? Will I road-trip to the Womens March or spend the entire day reading about black history. Will I plot or rest? Honestly, I still have no idea! But here's why. I have decided that whatever I do on inauguration day will only be the first step, the launching pad, the starting block.  Instead of focusing on just the one day, let us think about it as the source for infusion of energy for the race to come. If you need to march, march on! If you need to plan or write or read, go forth. If you need to rest, practicing self-care or indulging in your art, I affirm that choice. Because contrary to popular memory, MLK resisted white America's desire for the status quo. He spent his entire ministry resisting the abhorrent treatment of Black folks. He was so successful in leading this resistance, he was assassinated. 

So no. I will not be "supporting" my own erasure. I will not be "joining together" with the dehumanizing language Trump uses to talk about black communities. I will not be "waiting to see" how many policies are dismantled that help those in need. I will resist. 

I really wish there was just one way we could do this. I wish there was an easy way for all of us to band together to resist. But this is going to require writers and professors, pastors and artists, voting and calling representatives, protesting and petitions, journalists and organizers, youth leaders and donors, lawyers and health professionals, homemakers and third-shift workers, CEOS and the retired, historians and researchers, millennials and baby boomers, celebrities and voices who will rise out of "Nazareth". The next four years are going to require all of us. Its going to require all of our voices, all of our skills, all of our passion. Some of you will focus on housing and homelessness. Some of you will focus on food justice or environmental racism. Some of you will turn attention toward mass incarceration and criminal justice. Many will need to keep an eye on health care policies. We will have to work locally and still keep our eyes on national politics. You dont have to do it all, but please do what is yours to do, bearing in mind that all of our work matters.

This is how we pursue peace. This is how we unite. This is how we love one another. 

 

Austin Brown
I Was Able to be Hurt

I still havent recovered from the election, yall. Life keeps moving forward. I am going to work. Im cooking dinner and washing dishes when I run out of clean ones. There are lots of black movies coming out that Im excited to see. Im hanging out with friends and making new ones. Im still responsible for caring my little pup. But the truth is, I am still not over the election. I still feel lots of feelings. The grief process goes on for me. 

A friend of mine had someone close to her pass away a couple years ago. She used to describe momentarily forgetting, dialing the phone in a moment of excitement... then remembering. Her grief would come crashing down around her again- but differently. It didnt make her sob, But it made her deeply sad. It was like going through the shock of being told again, but not the desperation. She was doing something normal- making a phone call. But suddenly this moment wasnt normal at all. And she had to find her footing again. She had to swallow, breathe deeply, feel it all and then make a conscious game plan for what to do next. "Im just going to sit here for a moment." or "Im going to call my sister and tell her my news, but also tell her about a ringing phone that no one is going to answer." 

To be clear, it is not my desire to compare the pain of losing a loved one to this election. I do want to say that sometimes I forget, and when I remember everything stops for a moment. It all comes rushing back. I hear a speech or catch a headline, and I shake my head, wondering again how we got here. My reaction is still a little intense- pops of anger or shock or denial or sadness. But mostly anger when I remember again.  

Im not over it. And this makes me mad. 

I want to be over it. I want to have not felt anything to begin with. I want to say that I didnt feel grief, that I didnt possess enough expectations in America to be disappointed. I am supposed to know better. I am supposed to know how deeply racism and xenophobia runs in America. I am supposed to know how treacherous and poisonous white supremacy is. I am supposed to know and knowing is supposed to save me. 

 

Once a year I read "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuff". I read it because I love it. I love the women. I love Shange's poetry. I havent experienced all (or even most) of the events described in its pages, and yet their thought process is familiar to me. In one section of this choreopoem Shange writes, "i've lost it / touch wit reality / i dont know who's doing it / i thot i waz but i waz so stupid i waz able to be hurt / & thats not real / not anymore / i shd be immune / if im still alive & thats what i waz discussin / how i am still alive & my dependency on other beins for love / i survive on intimacy and tomorrow" I cant believe America is still able to hurt me. But I survive on intimacy. And tomorrow. 

For this work, sometimes...oftentimes... I desire to be hard. Impenetrable. Unable to be rent, torn, cut, scarred. But Im not. 

And so I am paying attention to Trumps picks. I am paying attention to the reaction from white nationalists. I am watching news stories normalize white supremacy. I am noticing how uncomfortable white people are with that term- especially those who didnt vote for Trump. I am noticing the current interest in who is racist and who is not- this conversation is always more fun for folks than how do we uproot racism from our lives, communities and society. I am paying attention. Paying attention to the black folks still dying the streets, the native americans still fighting against the pipeline and flint residents who must avoid their drainpipes. 

Because though these are all theoretical choices right now. Soon these folks will be governing, suggesting policy decisions, changing funding priorities, making decisions that will impact all of us. And those decisions (and the rhetoric used to champion them) will embolden folks. 

I am writing, But also trying to follow the lead of my sister friend, Christena Cleveland, who has modeled for me what it looks like to embrace a contemplativeness that is culturally relevant to me (image that, white people dont own contemplativeness! Who knew!?) I am practicing joy when I can. I am devouring books. I am rethinking how I preach and what I am saying to the Church. I am taking it all in; I am letting a lot of it out. I am trying hard not to explode all the time, but without retreating, without choosing ignorance and avoidance. 

This is hard. But I am not. 

I was able to hurt, but my hurt wont define me. I will not become my hurt, and so I wont fear it. I wont fear being able to be hurt. I will recognize that sometimes this is the cost of hope.

Austin Brown
Nov 9th

Today I woke up and wept as if someone I love has died. I need you to know that it was a strange feeling, because I am no stranger to our divided states. I have studied our divisions. I have studied the roots and particularities, the manifestations and the patterns that fall along our racial fault lines. And I have been on the receiving end of that hate- letters and emails, trolls, and people walking out of my sermons or angrily exploding at me afterwards. I didnt need an election to tell me about the power of white supremacy. But what I have learned over the years, is that knowing doesnt stop us from feeling. We know a break up needs to happen, but we still feel the loss. We know a grandparent is going to die but we still feel the loss. Knowing doesnt always insulate us from feeling.

I spent a lot of time feeling feelings today because I have people in my life who are afraid of a spouse, a sibling, a parent being deported. I spent a lot of time in my feelings today because people in my life are afraid to practice their religion. I spent a lot of time in my feelings today because people in my life who are LGBTQ are wondering what backlash comes next. I spent a lot of time in my feelings today because I know young women who are sexual assault survivors and their sense of security in the world has been stolen again. I spent a lot of time in my feelings today because we have already been warned of a "law and order" agenda and I know what that means for black and brown people. I spent a lot time in my feelings today because I am legitimately worried about the real implications of this election decision.

And "God being on the throne" doesnt make those real implications less real. God was on the throne during Hitlers regime. God was on the throne during slavery and Jim Crow. God was on the throne during Japanese internment. God was on the throne during Native American genocide. The very suggestion that marginalized people dont have to worry because God is on the throne is an extraordinarily privileged theology. If you want to be a help to hurting people, dont wash your hands of this election with platitudes that only work for those who will remain largely untouched by the policies and attitudes perpetuated and promised during the campaign. If you want to offer something helpful, consider sharing with those who are hurting that you are willing to take larger risks because God is all powerful. Tell some people that are hurting, that you will confront the racism in your family because you serve a God who is all powerful. Tell people that are hurting that you will stand up for them when its frightening and unpopular because you serve a God who is all powerful. Tell people that are hurting that you will not stand for your church to dehumanize anybody, any body because you serve an all powerful God. Tell us about how this all powerful God is moving you to greater action, greater advocacy, greater passion. If all you have for me and people I love is: "dont worry; God is still on the throne" you are telling me more about you than about God. 

My lovelies. I hope you spent the day taking care of yourselves to the degree that you can. It was hard to face the world today. It was so hard. I hope you will continue to take care of yourselves. I hope you let the Holy Spirit remind you of who you are- not who the world says you are. I know the feelings and emotions of this moment will likely come in waves as those around us voice their own concerns, as we cry together, as we begin to find the words to describe how we are feeling. Keep checking in. Keep checking in. 

Ive only just started to feel glimpses of defiance. Mostly my heart still hurts. So I am going to take it slowly. I am choosing to be gentle with myself. I hope you will be gentle with yourselves too. But know this. I am coming for white supremacy. I will stand against injustice as it starts to unfold in specific ways over the next few years. I will write more. I will speak more. In my good moments, I am imagining new ways to work together. Its too soon for me to have details or next steps or anything to do. But I wont be going into hiding. I will cry this one out, but I will also be back to work. Just you wait.  

 

Austin Brown
Chaos or Community

The events of the last three days have been devastating. While I want to say that its all been unreal, the truth is the last few days are a microcosm of the times in which we live: police brutality, unfiltered black death recorded on cell phones, protests, mass shootings, calls for peace, love and brotherhood and an onslaught of voices attempting to move forward specific agendas on the back of all of this. It has happened close together, but make no mistake- this is the world in which we live.

So how are we to understand these events? Right now Im seeing a lot of appeals to MLK. In speeches, in photos, in tweets, in prayers, in interviews it seems the man killed by a sniper is the voice everyone wants to appeal to now. i understand why. MLK was brilliant and much of his wisdom has stood the test of time. The quote I am seeing most often right now is one that seems as relevant today as it was when first written: "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

MLK certainly doesnt need my approval, but before I begin I want to say that I do agree with MLKs assessment of violence. And though I agree with these words, I want to assure t the importance that we stop taking MLK's words out of context. We must stop using his most memorable quotes to reframe conversations, inserting them like weapons of our own to mean what we want them to mean. MLK did not chidingly say these words to his flock of protestors and then sit down. In an attempt to affirm the words but also give them context I have a few things I would ask you to consider. 

1. Please read the entirety of Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community? It is a book MLK wrote, not a two sentence speech that we have made it. In this book MLK is building a case for nonviolent action as the most useful weapon for the liberation of black bodies in America. He wrote it during the rise of the Black Power movement and is seeking to put that movement into context while also declaring his commitment to maintaining the principles of nonviolence. Why is this important? Because MLK was not suggesting through this statement that black people shouldn't demand justice. MLK was promoting a specific strategy he hoped black people would use to seek justice. In the pages preceding the quote we love so much, MLK lays out the vast number of ways black Americans have suffered injustice: murdered civil rights leaders, political clowns being elected to office based on white backlash (his words, not mine), black people's disproportionate rates of infant mortality, substandard housing, lower incomes, higher unemployment and a host of other issues that have yet to be resolved even in 2017. But MLK does not leave us with these injustices, he outlines many prospects for their rectification including organized labor, eliminating discrimination in employment, credit, and public service, using political power, eliminating poverty and much more. Some of the ideas King raises in this book would be considered radical today. So why does he end up talking about violence? Because he is nervous that the Black Power slogan/movement will lead to violence without a plan. To this end MLK begs black people not to be violent (catch this) in the same way that white people are violent. MLK is saying that if we (black people) imitate the violence of white people, than only more violence will follow because white people are not sympathetic to our cause for justice and are looking for reasons to stand against this cause for justice. In MLKs estimation, black people becoming violent is not only against his principal, but in his estimation simply will not work to achieve justice because its just the excuse white people need to keep being violent. That is the context of this statement, and we must be aware of that when we use it. MLK wrote every word in support of radical forms of justice, and the weapon he hoped to use in that endeavor was non-violence. Because returning white hatred in the form of violence would not work. 

2. Which leads me to my second point. The use of this quote in response to the Dallas shooting is unfair. The protests were not violent. On this the protestors and the officers present have agreed. The man/men responsible for the Dallas shooting, then, is not an example of violence begetting violence. Perhaps what could be said for violence begetting violence is that the sniper was trained to war or that the multiple instances of police brutality/violence is the source. We need more details about his service and experiences before we could be adamant about either. The point is that chiding black lives matter protestors or supporters with the admonition that violence begets violence is unfair but it is also limited- on to point 3. 

3. MLK is espousing/building an entire philosophy of nonviolence. So it is disingenuous to post about violence begetting violence when an officers life is on the line, but not when black civilians lives are on the line. If violence begets violence, than we all ought to be upset with EVERY unarmed murder of a black life, with EVERY mass shooting , with EVERY terrorist attack (local or global) and with EVERY form of violence at political rallies, school playgrounds, private residences and yes twitter feeds and comment sections. To use this phrase discriminately is to suggest that only violence against certain members of society promotes darkness and hatred. Either you believe King's entire philosophy for nonviolence as a way of life for all or you need to stop posting MLK quotes. 

4. I humbly ask that you be vigilant in coming days as folks try to discredit not only the organization black lives matter but the very notion that black lives matter. You can absolutely mourn the loss of all the lives taken, without reducing the importance of systemic change.

5. I want to repeat what I have already stated on social media. This attack was frightening for everyone. During a peaceful march, a peaceful protest, bullets rained down on officers and civilians. A display of unity was violently interrupted and that should anger us all. It is deeply concerning that Im hearing on CNN (some) officers suggest that black lives matter is the problem instead of being angry that someone would so violate a peaceful protest by taking the lives of police. This would be true brotherhood. This would be the beloved community of which MLK speaks. And I fear what comes next when the Dallas Shooting is interpreted as anything other than a violation of both black lives matter and police officers, together. For this is exactly what King was trying to get us to understand, we have a choice between chaos or community. 

I leave you with this, also from Where Do We Go From Here?

"One of the great liabilities of history is that too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we all live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together perish as fools. 

We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually."   

 

*I apologize for typos. I will try to circle back and fix them at a later time. 

Austin Brown6 Comments