For four years, I have been in a silent war. While not fought with ‘horses and bayonets” or aircraft carriers filled with drones, the battle has been fierce and unrelenting. Though occasionally the evidence of its existence would emerge from time to time on a Facebook rant or in an office conversation with a colleague; the true weight of its import was only known to me, God, and my 8 year old Pit Bull, Ms. Eddy (who was forced to listen to my attempts to make sense of what I was enduring). My intent was to remain in this silent hell until Nov. 6—convinced that regardless of the outcome, a psychic cease fire would be called and maybe I could return home. Yet when asked earlier this week to reflect upon the question “What is the most important issue facing your particular community this election year?”—the battle that raged beneath the surface has now broken out and revealed the gapping heart wound that it is left in its wake. You see, as an African American academic, woman, minister living a middle class life, I am not sure I really know who is my community or if it can only be narrowed down to one. Sadly, in this era of the one trick pony voter—the solidly ideological voter—I am a washed in a sea of conflicting concerns, ideologies, and identities.
As a middle class American my concerns are my property taxes and home values; 401Ks and mortgage tax relief; the availability of credit; the high cost of maintaining my mother in her middle class memory care unit; and making sure that people who mean me harm or to take those things I work for by force are kept at bay. I live in a world secured by ADT and insured by John Hancock. I am worried about raising taxes and lowering deductions; whether the Alzheimer’s gene that has plagued my family is now lurking in my own brain; if I will be able to afford a vacation; a new pair of merrills; and if Equal and Splenda really cause weight gain. I want to know that when I retire, I will be able to live well. I am all for affordable housing as long as it is not in my back yard and for inclusion as long as it doesn’t endanger my exclusive benefits. I am all for public schools until it is time to register my child for St. Marks or St. Phillips. I extol the virtue of all of individuals publically while doing everything I can to keep a safe distance.
As an African American, I am overwhelmed by the high rates of incarceration facing not only young black males but more increasingly young black women. I worry about the fact that at any given time there are at least one third of African American men entering prison; in prison; or exiting prison. How will they transition to a life outside of prison? Is it possible to move them from number 2243567 to a human being with a name, hopes, desires, and real possibilities? I worry about a media that emerge increasingly from other African Americans that depict dysfunctionality and bafoonery as the status quo not because it is reality but because it makes good television (and good profits, doesn’t it Mr. Perry?). I am worried increasingly that the healthy food required to combat obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are priced out of range or simply unavailable in the urban food deserts that plague American cities. I fear the predatory loan operations that promise easy financial fixes and pay day loans that only increase the fear and economic instability in our communities 45 days later at 635% APR. I worry about an African American intelligentsia (me included) that is growing more detached from the concerns of the ‘folks’; content to reside apart but to study and opine; to rage and write; but no longer visit; no longer engage; or embrace. I have no problem driving to the ‘hood for a good Catfish sandwich or some swinging BBQ, but I would rather not have the ‘Hood visit me in my upper middle class neighborhood. I am worried about African American Pastors STILL preaching intolerance and so-called morality in the daylight while ‘caught up’ in their very public vices at night. I think about how they are promising their congregations mansions in the sky while creating mansions in gated communities for themselves. I am worried about African American politicians who have learned how to game the system of racism not to liberate but as a means of wealth cultivation and electoral success by offering rhetorical salve rather real solutions to their community’s problems and remaining dependent on a pathological Pavlovian historical electoral response that dictates that we will vote for you because you are black regardless of how you perform (Don’t believe me just ask Jesse Jackson, Jr). Side note: when White people do this, its racism but when we do it its for survival and as often is argued because White people do it.
As I grade the papers of my students, I fear that the creativity and expression that is lost in budget cuts of Arts programs will render our Republic to black and white solutions when Technicolor is required. I am forced to ask, as I correct subject verb agreements over and over, how overwhelmed were their public school teachers with the growing class sizes and demands to teach to a test. Reading admission files, I wonder how a public school kid will ever again compete with the private school students who can afford the test preparation; the private tutors; and have time to do the extra-curricular activities we are convinced make the most successful students. I am concerned that I am encountering more students (and their parents) who are asking ‘what is in it for me’ rather than how can I best use my talents to serve? Sitting in countless meetings, I hear that we must ‘compete’ for students; that education is a business rather than a laudable pursuit of the mind. Sadly, I know deep in my heart I live in an academic world in which creating solutions that result in a more humane world are not as important as developing commercial enterprises and funding opportunities (as a matter of fact—entrepreneurship is the new campus buzzword).
Looking around the table of the academic leadership and of the leaders of my country, I am more profoundly aware than ever, that regardless of the number of binders they fill, women are less likely to find themselves in true decision making roles. I have painfully come to realize that a man with less experience, a promising yet untested record, and telegenic smile will always be chosen over a woman who has done the homework; taken the shots; raised the children; and worked her way through the ranks. I now know more than ever that I will be paid less to work harder and be passed over more. I worry that more and more decisions that matter to my body are being made by individuals who don’t know a Summer’s Eve from a Personal Summer and that we have cured erectile dysfunction while breast cancer and uterine cancer take too many lives—reminding me that medical research is as gendered as every other aspect of American life.
Finally, if I think I might find some respite from these concerns in the pew of my church, I find I am sadly mistaken. For it is more clear than ever as it is in every other aspect of American culture, size matters in the life of the Church. Efficacy and mission is measured in budgets rather than souls saved, hearts mended, or meals served. Rather than being an oasis of peace and contemplation, our churches are repositories of buzzing activity and over-programmed youth who are no closer to Jesus but are skilled at building houses in his name. We can Zumba, drink coffee, and buy a book but rarely encounter the ‘other’ in our sanitized worship environments. Ministry is done at a distance and often with a check. Pastoral visits are farmed out while strategic planning and promotional value is all the rage. Thousands of years after the battles between Cephas, Apollos, and Paul, the cult of pastoral personality still reigns. The battles of conservative versus liberal so barbaric on our secular airwaves are proving more destructive in the place where there is supposed to be no East or West or Jew or Gentile. Seminaries are behind in preparing leaders for this new mediated world in which they are more managers than evangelists. Yet despite this occupational gap, seminaries remain the only game in town ensuring their long term survival at the expense of a church that needs new types of leaders.
So which issue is most important to me during this electoral season? Which one do I want our leaders to confront on day one?
It is hypocrisy. It’s the conspiratorial, system manipulating, race-baiting hypocrisy of the right. It’s the self-righteous; self-delusional; elitist, dilettante hypocrisy of left. It’s the political hypocrisy that promises to be a voice for the voiceless while taking money from the deepest pockets. It’s the Christian hypocrisy that purports to live for Christ while wanting little to do with the people of Jesus. It’s the racial hypocrisy that blames, obscures, and still fails to embrace the interconnectedness of human existence. It’s the hypocrisy of realizing that left to your own devices—the person staring back at you in the mirror may just be the biggest hypocrite of all. Just once and for all, I want someone to just be real, to say what they mean. If we are really going broke then tell me. If you really don’t give a damn about poor people tell me. If you have no clue how to really legislate make it clear. Just be real. For once, get off the Daily Show, the View, and NBC Nightly News and tell me the real deal. If Grover Norquist has you by the short hairs–tell me. But stop blowing smoke up my dress and telling me its fresh air.
Now if you will excuse me…I will go have a talk with that lady staring back at me in the mirror.
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