Challenge 68: Walk in Your Strength

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

For the last few months, about four to be more exact, I have watched out my kitchen window this black plastic bag blow in the wind as it hangs from a bare tree branch high in the sky. This bag, the thin, flimsy one you get from the beauty supply store, has weathered wind, rain and snow storms and is still hanging high, is still on display for all to see. It has not been ripped from the bare branch, hanging on to seemingly nothing but withstanding nonetheless. I think this bag is there for me. As I wash dishes, fruits or vegetables, get a glass of water, prepare meals or some other necessary but mundane task, I have to look out the window to see my wonder. I wonder how it flew so high, how it got stuck and how it hasn’t yet been ripped away. My wonder is strong and resilient, no match for a storm, and hangs and blows to remind me I can go on.

I, made in the image of Christ and strengthened and directed by His Spirit, have everything I need to push past the mundanity, to stand square against adversity, pray through calamity, speak out against perversity, claim my sanity and know it is well in my soul. God, I believe, gave me this bag as a reminder of who I am and throughout the years has given me and all of us souls to remind us of who we are and what we can do. As we celebrate Black History Month, I reflect on the black souls who have fortified me when I think about their life contributions. One of my favorites is anti-lynching crusader, journalist, and suffragist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931):

One had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” – Ida B. Wells

This quote glibly expressed Wells’ drive to fight for what was right in spite of the odds against her. Watch the video here and be inspired to (continue to) make it your business to fight injustice wherever you believe God is calling you.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week, in addition to fighting injustice on your battlefield, remind someone of who they are and encourage them to use their strength to fight injustice. Walking in strength and fighting injustice truly are radical forms of love.

Challenge 67: Take Time to Teach Black History

Early in elementary school I didn’t like seeing newsreels of black folks, my folks, being hosed with water and hit with fists and hateful words. This time made me sad and mad that white folks could hate black folks because they weren’t white, that laws supported and encouraged more hate and my people had to fight for basic God-given rights that humans had the nerve to try to alter. I can now put my feelings into words, but when I was a child, I just knew how I felt. Though my well-meaning teachers, who taught us black history beyond Black History Month, would often seek to end the late 20th century Civil Rights Movement segment on a high note by having us sing “We Shall Overcome,” my angst would remain. I could not see any overcoming, only hating and fighting, and I was not moved. The only reason I didn’t harbor my angst because I lived in a home and attended schools that celebrated black history. As a result, I never questioned if black was beautiful. I simply knew that it was because my daddy said so.
My caramel-colored daddy with the eternal afro was a history professor and made sure my siblings and I knew the history he taught his students. And he applauded Mrs. Tinsley, my 4th grade teacher, who made sure we knew about African kings and queens and other great figures that supplemented his teachings on people like Renaissance man Paul Robeson, blues singer Bessie Smith, singer and actress Ethel Waters and surgeon Daniel Hale Williams. Learning about these black contributions to the world had me reading on my own to find out more. Though my mom would often say, “People are people are people,” her way of expressing that skin color shouldn’t color our love or create hate toward a certain group of people, my daddy held firm to his hatred for systemic racism, which he often targeted toward white people. I know my mom’s ability to see people and not just race helped to curb my black militant leaning, but I have never shirked my vocal or physical expression of being black and proud.

I have taken for granted my long-time knowledge and feelings and naturally have shared with my sons, but last week, when reading a news article my 11-year-old said he didn’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen were, I felt I had failed in my teaching. I know that at 11 my oldest son may not know everything that I know about black history, but I have to be more intentional about imparting this knowledge to him. I have tried to walk the fine line of truth with hate and pride on either side. I have wanted him and his brothers to know the history, its glory and goriness, without causing them to fall into deep pride or hate. Not always knowing how to do that has caused me to not teach as aggressively as I believe I should. I have not tapped into the greatest power in the universe—God in me—for direction on this. After seeing I needed help, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me teach my sons what they need to learn, how they need to learn it and when they need to learn it. I will use to anchor my black history lessons my perpetual teaching that from the blood of one man came all nations of men so they know greatness resides in us all and, because of the fall of man, sin resides in us all (Acts 17:24-26; Genesis 3). I know to love them is to teach them and that includes black history, not just in February, Black History Month in the United States, but always.

As my daddy would say to his all white classes where students would lament about having to learn about blacks and Native Americans, “When are we going to get to American history?”: “Black history is American history” and we know that it is also world history. History is the stories of all peoples. Therefore, we all need to know black history for our better individual and collective selves. There is no truth and love in erasure for comfort’s sake, only deception, oppression and delusion. No one can fully live without trying to fully love, and teaching—then living—the truth helps us to do that.

Take a Risk Challenge: Go beyond your comfort zone and teach black history to someone else. If you need to begin with you, teach yourself so you can teach another. Teaching history of a consistently marginalized people is a radical act of love.

Challenge 17: Renounce Black Hate

alek wek

Before I reverted my hair back to its natural state 21 years ago, I had been going to the hairdresser every two weeks for almost 20 years; my mom began taking me when I was 4, saying she couldn’t do anything with my thick hair. So for the next 18 years I got my hair straightened with a hot comb, the blow dryer and finally relaxers and each of these methods changed the structure of my hair and even caused a thinning of my left edges which lasts until this day. My mom was only doing what she knew to do. When, still at 4, she had to wash my hair at home because my hairdresser was sick and she had to let it air dry because we didn’t own a dryer, I begged her to let me keep the afro my drying hair was becoming. She quickly told me she was going to press that “nappy _____.” Her declaration, an attack on my hair, began my struggle to embrace my natural hair, which I have always thought was beautiful. She thought differently, had been taught differently, but over the years she embraced her own natural hair, now having worn a short afro for about the last 10 years.

I had to wait until I was physically grown to embrace my hair, and my mom was really grown—60—when she embraced her hair. This may have been a long time for us, but it should be expected. Our culture has privileged whiteness over blackness for centuries, really pronounced when slave masters pitted house slaves against field slaves. The house slaves more often than not were the mulattos and the field slaves were the dark-skinned blacks. The house slaves didn’t have to work in the heat performing extreme physical labor. Their white skin, the result of a white slave master impregnating a black slave, allowed them the “privilege” to work closely with the slave master. In general during black American slavery, whites embraced that blacks were less than human, even years after slavery legalizing this twisted view with Jim Crow laws. And we still have laws written upon men’s hearts that manifest themselves with redlining, which is in full effect. When people constantly tell you that, treat you like and legalize you to be less of a person, it is hard not to believe it. We believe the old cultural saying “If you’re white, you’re all right; if you’re brown, stick around; it you’re black, get back.” And we all have told someone or some aspect of black to “get back” in one way or another.

Black women straighten their hair because they hate it “nappy.” Some of us won’t shop black businesses; we won’t hire black people; we won’t seek black expertise; we ignore black expertise when it’s given; we assume black shoppers and professionals are sales clerks, janitors or some other form of help; we think dark skin is ugly; we think dark people are mean, violent, dirty and other negatives associated with being dark. Some black folks bleach their skin and have surgery to slenderize their noses and lips in an effort to become privileged, to be accepted by the privileged, to get the benefits of white privilege. We hate blackness, but that’s not biblical.

From one man (God) created all the nations throughout the whole earth.—Acts 17:26 (NLT)

When God created everything, including humankind, He saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31). That didn’t change when He created other ethnic groups from the blood of the original man, Adam. So when we decide to see someone or some inherent aspect of someone as bad that God sees as good, we are not only violating the person but we are violating God. We are challenging God’s wisdom in creating black people the way He created them and are seeking to destroy what He made. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the only way we can do that is if we remember that God loves them just as much as He loves us. We must model our lives after Him; we must exhibit that we are children of the Most High God. We must cease hating blackness and begin to love.

Take a Risk Challenge: So this week, to help us celebrate Black History Month here on the blog, I want you to think of the way or ways you have told black to get back and renounce that. This is the first step to being able to love blackness and is a radical act of love.