I grew to love God in white spaces. Being black in evangelicalism was like a party trick I brought out when things got awkward. If a new song came out that was not too secular and folks wanted to learn the dance--guess who got the floor? Everyone assumed I knew all the dances and all the secrets, and they wanted me to teach them. I later learned these lessons were not about them wanting to learn as much as they were about them wanting to become experts. They would use this 'expertise' to reinforce their privilege at a later time when the moment or conversation presented itself.
In American evangelicalism, being black is really inconvenient and tiring.
When Obama was running for President, I felt like an orphan. Not black enough anymore to celebrate and appreciate the moment without feeling like a fraud and not assimilated enough to shun him without a lump my throat.
During those years I felt so out of touch with my blackness on one hand and yet on the other very in touch with it. Suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me about politics, abortion, and socialism. They wanted to discuss crime in neighborhoods I'd never lived in and the motivations of people I didn't know. They felt it necessary to tell me about papers Martin Luther King Junior wrote in his twenties and about the theological dangers of preachers like Jeremiah Wright. I was taken aback, confused.
These weren't conversations we'd ever had before. These weren't topics they'd ever felt so inclined to acquaint me with. It felt as though their suspicions of this candidate overflowed onto me. During this time I was becoming more and more acquainted with the blackness that had up until this point been a necessary afterthought, both for them and for me.
Up until then, the only proverbial nods toward my melanin took place when the worship leader used an 808 in their worship set. It was usually followed by a sheepish glance in our direction to see if one of us had noticed ( we all sat together back then) or when they asked one of us to do a spoken word at some event that was held in February.
As the conversations persisted, thoughts would flood my mind while I stood there, smiling and nodding trying my hardest not to disclose my discomfort.
Wait, I am one of you!
I'm on this team, not that one.
I don't like those guys either.
I am a sound believer, a good evangelical.
Why are you talking to me this way?
Why are you treating me like an outsider? I am an insider.
Don't you know how many deaths I had to die to myself to get in and fit in?
I felt the pressure to prove myself. To prove that I was loyal. To prove that I knew the rules.
I was first a Christian, not black. I had gotten the message, I had kept the rule. But I soon came to realize that this particular hermeneutic was limited to us alone, like a colored fountain in Mississippi in the 1960's.
From the pulpit we were told that our blackness needs to be surrendered to Christ. That there was no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. We were told that Christianity took the place of our blackness and that pride in that identity meant disassociation with Christ.
This was the rule and who were we to question God?
We are to be colorblind and to see only one race-- the human race.
However, over time and especially in light of the last two elections, it became more and more apparent to me that this rule didn't apply to them, it only applied to us.
Whiteness was everywhere. It was the default. it goes unquestioned and unsurrendered.
Because, whiteness, like cleanliness is next to godliness.
There was a black man in the white house for eight years and we were told to reject him. He did not represent Christ and he would make our nation susceptible to apostasy. We had lost our way and we were in danger of judgment from God. But I found it terribly difficult to shun him.
He walked like my dad. His wife's complexion was the same as mine and her attitude reminded me of my mother and my auntie. My nephews were enthralled and my brother had voted. He made me feel proud.
And in the light of this unchecked, unsurrendered identity on the part of my white brethren, I began to resurrect my own. I realized I could hate wickedness and love this blackness, I could love Jesus and love Obama and I had never felt so free to break the rules.
Since then, I have been on a journey. I have started to embrace my ethnicity as a gift and all that comes with it, the fun the pain, the beauty, and the brokenness. I have reached the conclusion that I am not alone. Thousands of us are beginning to wake up and to see that we've believed a lie. We've started to realize that we were following rules that didn't apply to our peers and we are embracing who were are. We are resisting evangelical spaces that desire exclusively to enter into black fun without also entering into black pain.
I realized that I could not walk in wholeheartedness as a believer until I was walking in the unapologetic embrace of my blackness, because wholeheartedness is about giving our whole selves to God. You cannot be unapologetically black, without being unapologetically Christian and you cannot be unapologetically Christian, without being unapologetically black.
The two inform and influence one another.
Doing so reinforces the truth that our ethnicity is given to us by God and so in order to fully and authentically embrace it, we must know Him. There is a new breed of woke folk emerging from the ashes of American Christendom and they are embracing the two without fear and without shame.