Black frustration and even anger are completely reasonable responses from communities who have borne the all-too-heavy burden of anti-Black violence, masquerading in many various forms over the decades.
As a minister and a community worker, as I participate in these debates, sometimes quite passionately, I occasionally ask myself if this is the best or the most "spiritual" way to engage. Isn’t there a prayer I could say? A meditation or perhaps a mantra I could chant? Surely these demonstrations of frustration are not quite "dignified" responses.
And then I am reminded that this tendency towards a performance of respectability — with my person in this instance, and in our communities in many others — is itself a product of the anti-Black violence permeating our world. Some of our ancestors, seeing that Blackness was a target, strategized ways to maintain and to safeguard our lives, including ducking behind the seeming protection of Black respectability. Keep a stiff upper lip. Smile while they spit on you. Turn the other cheek. Show "them" that you're not like the others: you're softer, gentler, kinder, more educated, from a "good" neighbourhood. Know your role, and speak when spoken to (in the Queen’s English, of course — no patois spoken here. All of these social gymnastics, and for what? The hope that a fortunate few can avoid the assaults on the bodies or characters of their less privileged brothers and sisters?
At some point, we must be clear with ourselves that this hope is futile. There is no place or space, social or physical, in which we as Black people can hide from the impacts of centuries of a humanly constructed but spiritually destructive ideology that devalues human beings clothed in the brown, black and beige tones that signal our African origins. Black, brown and beige bodies that tell a story of piracy, kidnapping, indentureship, and slavery, and of a people who are dealing both physically and spiritually with the after-effects, live and in full effect, of hatred toward all things Black.
As a minister and as a person working with and within communities of all sorts, I would be remiss to try and dismiss these injuries. Worse, to do so would mean betraying my community and myself. G-d is in this too. In the upset, the pain and the collective cry for change. Being spiritual is not an excuse for inaction; it is not an idle refrain to be touted from pulpits. It should be a conscious understanding that Spirit is the active energy in all things. Spirit moves and so should we, particularly in the face of injustice, violence, discrimination, and violations of all sorts, not only when these acts threaten Black people, but when they threaten any people.
It was this sentiment that was the impetus for me to join three other community leaders from Toronto as we descended on Ferguson Missouri as part of the Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride just three weeks following the shooting death of Mike Brown. During the Labour Day long weekend, 500 Black activists and clergy from across North America gathered on the ground in Ferguson, marching and chanting side by side with local residents, offering our support as best we could.
Justice is never about JUST US, but it must start, as all things do, with us first. You can’t tend to the wounds of another while ignoring the immediacy of your own. This is not an American issue or even a Canadian one, this is of concern for all of us Africans in the diaspora. And there’s nothing more spiritual than the recognition that all things are connected as is our healing too. Saying and showing that Black lives matter actually reminds us that all lives matter; Black, brown, women, trans*, differently-abled, poor, and those deemed beyond the pale. "Black Lives Matter" is just the beginning of a much needed collective memory jog, moving an idea the Spirit has always known out into the world; life is connected and so are we.
Now, how’s that for a spiritual idea?
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