Channel The Rage

Poet’s freshly painted haiku on Durham city street

I was in fourth or 5th grade the first time I recall being insulted for having black skin. I was in an integrated public school classroom in smalltown Alabama.

Jenny – yes, I still remember her name – was a chubby white girl with short dark hair, glasses and a big round face. She called me the N-word as we lagged behind on the way to recess. I have no recollection why.  I knew the word to be a racial slur, hurled at me like a rock before she ran from the room.

I chased her. I didn’t think. I just reacted. She got to the playground ahead of me, wading into the safety of her friends and eyeballing me. 

What would I have done had I caught her?  No idea.  I was simply enraged.

That was not my last brush with hate-filled speech in my formative years. I wrote a Letter to the Editor as a young girl, back when letters to newspapers had to include the writer’s full name and address. I promptly received a threatening reply from the local Klan, the original domestic terror and white supremacist hate group.

First, I was frightened then infuriated. The indignity set my course in life. I became a journalist, championing First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Journalism presented its own maddening racial challenges. During our phone conversations, Fred, my first bureau chief, mistakenly assumed the new hire was a white woman. His jaw dropped to the floor when we met. The man who had offered to show me his mid-South capital city was a racist saboteur that I inevitably reported to the union.

James Baldwin once said: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

I don’t have to tell you that we are living in infuriating times. News reports in these United States are a parade of “black death by policing” or white vigilantes: George Floyd, David McAttee, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin etc., etc., etc. Even when these killings are captured on camera, sometimes by the perpetrators themselves, arrests and charges can takes months. Convictions are not guaranteed.

Freshly painted protest mural in the City of Durham, NC

People are enraged. They’re rightly in the streets protesting. Some in the crowds have burned businesses, even police precincts to the ground, looted, turned on police. I don’t excuse that, but I understand it. Reforms have not worked to check police violence fueled by racial hatred. They are in Fight the Power mode.

Well-meaning white Christian friends ask what they should read to help educate themselves in this season. I recommend we all revisit the Bible command to love the Lord with everything we are and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

None of us needs new information. We need new hearts, open ears, changed minds and the will to do what we already know is right.

Racism is sin, and sin always leads to death. (Roman 6:33) Stop ignoring this sin, tolerating it, making excuses for it. Stop saying “I don’t see color.” It’s insulting. If you don’t see my color and culture, you don’t fully see me. Color is not all that I am, but it’s part of my identity. God sees my color, and I am accepted in the beloved.

Three closing points.

  • Don’t sin in your anger – Anger is a volatile emotion that “only leads to trouble.” May God help us to accomplish His righteous purposes in the power of His Holy Spirit. “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)
  • Do goodMy children are engaged in this renewed struggle for justice, marching in peaceful protests and using creative expression to promote positive change. Let’s all find ways to shine light in the darkness.
  • Know your master – We are servants to the one we obey. Are we obeying Christ or have we become slaves to a political ideology, to a religious tribe, to family tradition (aka “how I was raised”)?

As a Christ follower, I intend to rage against the night that seeks to devour those I hold dear and everything that is good and decent. Join me. And may God give us grace to love our neighbors.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.

Romans 10:13