I have always tried to stay below the radar. I don’t like to make people angry and I certainly do not want to put myself or my family in harms way. What if I say something that hurts someone? What if I make someone mad? It’s not just me they will be mad at, but I am a Reverend – they will blame the church or God. So, I pick and choose when I say something. And…now is the time.
Some background. My family is filled with activists. Not in the way you might think. They don’t, to my knowledge, wear Black Lives Matter shirts or go to marches. Let’s start with my mom. She pushed to adopt me. Her family is from Texas and in the extended family tree, there is deeply rooted racism. When she wanted to adopt a Mexican baby, an aunt asked why she wouldn’t just get a dog. When they first met me, they just stared. And would not engage with me. My mother stubbornly made me her own and thus created a chasm between her and her family. Activism.
I remember a conversation with my grandfather before he passed away. He referred to a new family moving in down that street as a van full of N*******. I was shocked, but knew he had grown up in a racist environment and was held deeply by those prejudices. And I also knew that he was my hero and I deeply loved him. So, I asked him why he called them that word. I knew it was wrong. He said he was afraid. I looked him in the eye and said that if they are that word, then I am that word. I asked him not to call them that and we sat in awkward silence. Later that week my grandma told me that he had walked down the hill and introduced himself to the new family and offered any help they might need. Activism.
When I was in 2nd grade, my group of friends ruled the school. We called ourselves, The Group. And we really held most of the social power in the 2nd grade. We played together and hung out. We destroyed property and made other kids feel left out. I vividly remember standing in a circle in the covered play area at recess one day and the undeniable leader of our Group suggested that we give ourselves nicknames. I don’t remember any of their names, because they did not stick, but I was given my name. Brownie. I immediately hated that name and did not want to be known by anything other than David. My given name, it means Beloved of God. And I always knew that because my activist mom reminded me of that anytime someone treated me different or looked down on me. I was Brownie for a year before the nicknames faded. But, I have always been Brownie. That day in the covered area was the first time I realized that I wasn’t David to my friends, I was brown.
One day I was working with my dad in the garage. He loved working and tinkering on cars. I did not. I read books and played football. He engineered things and fixed cars. There was a gap between my dad and I. I love him. He is brilliant and caring. And hilarious. He is kind and he has overcome challenges in his life that not many would take and still come at life with a smile and hug. In one garage conversation I was working and my dad just out of the blue said, “David, close your mouth when you are working.” Why? Who cares? Because you do not look intelligent like that and I don’t want anyone to ever judge you. Someone will think you are dumb. Someone will think you are dirty. Someone will think you are lazy. You have to be better than that. You have to prove that you belong. Prophecy.
My daughter asked me recently if I had every been pulled over and felt afraid. Ha!!! I am 48, got my license when I was 17. 31 years. I have been pulled over about 35 times in my life. That may seem like a lot, but it seems normal to me. I had 14 tickets by the time I was 21. I lost my license because of that and didn’t drive for 2 years. I was without the privilege. Each time I get pulled over, I hurriedly get my license and registration out before the office approaches my window, so I am safe. You know, so they will see me as safe. I put my hands on the steering wheel or out of the window. I sure don’t get out of the car. I did that once. Never again. I had a lead foot for a long time – 28 in 25 zones, you know. One time, I got pulled over by a state trooper. He approached my car and took my papers. He came back and asked if I knew him. I did not. He asked if I was a pastor. hmmm. Yes. He was a member of my large congregation and he gave me a warning. I guess I am privileged.
I got a scholarship in grad school. It was huge. When I was in high school my school counselor said I should aim for community college. It was the opportunity that was within reach for me. I wasn’t a good student. I was stubborn and refused to do my homework. And my grades suffered. I eliminated many opportunities. But I always thought that I was capable of performing academically. I did end up going to community college (Go Dolphins!) and on to the University of Washington. After that I looked at law school and ended up going to Princeton Theological Seminary. In my second year, I was made aware of a denominational scholarship that was set up for Native American students studying theology and seminary. I applied and was awarded the scholarship. After the award letter came, I then received even better news. The fund had not disbursed any funds due to the lack of Native American studying at the graduate level, and I was going to have my first two years of school paid for!! Now, a lot of students at the seminary benefit from the generous need based scholarship. Due to my age as and having frugally saved for 5 years, I was not given the typical aid package. So, the scholarship I was to receive was in excess of $45k. Amazing! …Until they asked for my BIA number as proof that I was Indian. I said I don’t have a number, nor would I ever. I don’t trust the BIA or its history. I did say I could send a picture or share the numerous times I had been treated differently because of my appearance. This evidence was not sufficient. I asked if it was because of the donors demand. It was. I vented on the woman who delivered this bad news. She cried, I was mad. I asked her if she knew what it was called to give something to someone and then to take it away. There was a long spell of silence as my question hung mercilessly in the air. it was cruel to her to bear the weight of my anger. But the question still stands. I ended the call by saying, I will be fine. I work hard, I don’t need your money. But don’t ever fool yourself into thinking you are about helping people like me. You are just a tool and an instrument in the system. Buh. Bye. Activism, Prophecy, Protest.
I could spend the next 3 days telling these stories. And I feel like I have been protected from a ton of racism and White supremacy. I have privilege. I have love and support. I have White friends and family who have stood by me.
PROTEST. That is where I am at. I ordered an “I Can’t Breathe – Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and am trying to get a #43 NASCAR hat. When I learned that a noose had been put in the garage of Bubba Wallace. After weeks of protests, weeks of people of all colors marching, weeks of news coverage on racial issues, this is the thing that sent me over the edge. I was awake until 2:30 last night. Enraged. As mad as I have been since my scholarship phone call, since my high school cross country coach was surprised I actually worked hard as an athlete and claimed that I was different than the others. A television commentator opined that this is a good thing. The tide is turning and racist people are nervous. “Good. Bring it on”. These actions need to happen in the light of day. Don’t hide behind hoods or secrecy. Don’t let your evil thoughts just guide your covert actions. Stand up and let the world know who you are. And then be ready for the consequences. Let the people around you challenge your backward thinking. Engage in conversations. I will buy the coffee. Confederate flags need to go. They are dog whistles. States rights can happen without the thin argument that the Civil War was about freedom – White freedom. The story of our country is apartheid and genocide. Let’s own it!! And make something of the ashes of our history.
Fear makes people replace dialogue with the cowardly violent message of a noose. Fear makes people defend a battle flag that wasn’t even used by the treasonous forces it is attributed to. Fear makes you lock your doors when I walk through a parking lot at night.
Until we can do this, let’s not stop protesting. Read this. The war ended, but the stubborn sin continued. End it now
Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Speech.
“Fellow countrymen: at this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends is as well known to the public as to myself and it is I trust reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it ~ all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war ~ seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered ~ that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
One thought on “Activist? Prophet? Protestor?”
Powerful Post, David. Thank you for sharing these tough experiences…I’m so sorry you have had to experience racism and hate…anyone who knows you knows that you are the epitome of acceptance and love. May your words help us to heal as a nation and a community.