I had to marinate awhile on the eulogy of Aretha Franklin given by Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. It had a lot of tough pills to swallow. For me, the black church’s dualistic nature is one of the strangest dichotomies faced by the descendants of Africans.
The structure it provided was instrumental in helping early black Americans organize as a community, build familial bonds and create new traditions here in the land their forefathers came to long before. However, the very same form of “salvation” was used to control and manipulate slave populations and their descendants for generations. Those very same tactics are used today.
On Monday, when news first broke regarding the talking points of Rev. Williams it was not controversial for me, but expected that he’d say such things. He spoke of several things he believed had resulted in black America losing its soul.
From minimizing the herculean and heroic efforts of black mothers to excoriating black communities for the scourge of black on black crime, and even throwing in some very unnecessary shots at the Black Lives Matter Movement, much of what Williams had to say was problematic and counterproductive to black upliftment. Yet, there was more to it than that, though it didn’t strike me right away.
Is there any wonder why the talking points of Williams’ speech sound like rhetoric torn straight from the pages of a white nationalist fanzine?
Seeing black people, conservative religious leaders in particular, fawn over Donald J. Trump at a recent prison reform meeting at the White House makes me balk. An adulterer and philanderer who is under investigation for treason shouldn’t be praised by anyone, least of all black clergy.
Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan, and scores of other white nationalist groups use the Bible and Christian imagery to spread their message of race purity, godly providence and hatred of all non-whites.
Is there truly a mystery as to why more large, predominantly white Christian megachurches have refused to even pay lip service to the idea of protecting black lives from police brutality or institutional racism?
A child could tell you of the impact of the Black Church during the Civil Rights struggle, but even then, many congregations wanted to nothing to do with Martin Luther King, Jr. As a matter of fact, most Americans didn’t like Dr. King prior to his assassination.
Could it be because of a centuries-old lie spun into the fabric of Christianity alluding to the descendants of Ham being cursed to servitude? They said we were cursed with black skin then gave us a book. This is how they rationalized slavery for centuries, and only recently have religious scholars refuted that claim.
As anyone can tell you from observing how Fox News manipulates the masses with falsehoods, it’s far easier to get someone to believe a pretty lie than an ugly truth. Sometimes, lies become irrevocably attached to a culture as self-hate, like comparing “good hair” vs “bad hair”, for example.
America is at war with itself. When orange-faced Trump proclaims Make America Great Again, he’s declaring war on the progressive America that Barack Obama began laying the groundwork for. The America where the poor and disadvantaged could get affordable health care without leaving the country they love.
This mindset was implanted by white cultural norms that placed blacks on the bottom rung, and many of us believed it then and still believe it now, even if only subconsciously.
Mr. Williams, with roots in Memphis and beholden to a significant southern Christian tradition, with a family that is a veritable preacher factory, believes that he is telling black America exactly what it needs to hear, but it sounds like the same old song of white denial to me but in blackface.
Mentioning black on black crime, as if white people aren’t killing themselves at over 85 percent, mentioning Black Lives Matter with bile as if they were the ones that marched on Charlottesville, VA, assaulted multiple individuals, and killed a woman, Williams’ speech on Black America could just have easily been penned by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon–who also fancies himself as being a devout Christian, a Christian Nationalist to be exact.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” – James Baldwin. As a journalist, a Black man, and a lover of Baldwin’s work, that quote has become chiseled into my version of the truth; I say my version in admission that there are other truths.
No mention of the lack of good paying jobs to keep men off the streets, and no mention of the real-life cadre of white nationalists sitting in the White House this very moment. Only finger pointing and victim-blaming. Of course, the self is the common denominator when making any decision, and free will is something we’re all born with. But there are many more determining factors than sin and bad upbringing.
Plus, no mention of how the black murder rate per 100,000 people has decreased by a third since 1990. Well, of course not. That would take him off his message of making black folks feel ashamed of themselves for the actions of others.
I don’t expect a preacher to mention the effects violence, poverty and disenfranchisement has on the mind of a black girl or boy, on their outlook on life, and on their very DNA, but these are factors that determine behavior, not devils pushing us to sin but concrete environmental factors that millions are facing every day.
He said he was trying to galvanize black America in the name of Aretha Franklin, but it’s very doubtful the fiercely independent and pro-black Franklin would have approved of her own eulogy.
It goes without saying that not every black pastor or preacher believes as Williams does, but he got an interesting amount of “Hallelujahs” when he spoke about Black America. There are a great number of things wrong with black America, and the entire history of this nation has been spent admonishing black America for not being “better” despite the evidence that we’ve thrived in soil laced with white arsenic.
It’s interesting that many black southern preachers sound just like Williams, or those Trump-loving preachers who were conned into a photo-op at the White House, or even Ray Lewis. They all love those talking points that let institutional racism, white nationalism and police brutality off the hook.
Is it a coincidence that they’re all southern Christians beholden to the religion of their great, great grandparents, whose parents were likely forced to convert via the lash, the blade or the bullet wielded by white slave owners, and that they would then blame black folk for the entirety of their current, contemporary condition?
I don’t think so.