I’m going to show my aging Gen X sensibilities a bit here. After hearing about Melania Trump’s RNC 2016 speech, where Melania ‘borrowed without attribution’ much of a speech given prior by Michelle Obama, and after reading this article, the first thing that popped into my head was the 1986 Bruce Hornsby and The Range song, ‘That’s just the way it is.‘
The song resonates with ‘how it is’ for many black women in American. White women sometimes ‘get a pass’ (in a white male dominant system) but black women seldom do.
Many of our policies of affirmative action in the United States benefit white women more than black women and other women of color.
I find this same kind of pattern in the mainline church, which mirrors our society at large. As in the wider society, within the mainline church world, there is some current pressure to try to be more inclusive. Yet, most white men in positions of church power believe they are taking care of the inclusion ‘issue,’ by hiring a white female, or even two, on their senior staffs.
But still to this day, being inclusive in most white male dominant systems only means that the ‘glass ceiling’ is cracked enough for some white women to squeeze in (with the requisite cuts and bruises to show for it), but hardly any black women. And still to this day, I could probably count all black women bishops and senior judicatory staffers in all of our mainline denominations on two hands. I am speaking about this from my own direct experience, both prior and current. I used to be one of the few black women senior denominational staffers, back in the day.
Then next in line to squeeze in after white women are white men who are gay. There is justice in ‘letting in’ white women and gay white men, but it remains a justice which leaves the most oppressed and shut out group (women of color) still very much shut out, and it leaves white male dominant systems in both church and society ‘tweaked,’ but still very much in place.
That’s just the way it is in American racism, sexism and all the other ‘isms’ that keep in place our current status quo. All of these struggles for human dignity in America are intersectional and related as Randy Woodley so clearly points out.
The song ‘That’s just the way it is” topped the charts in the USA and in parts of Europe. It made strong allusions to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Many vintage Gen Xers of color, like myself were too young to remember that movement, except by talking to our parents and grandparents (some of whom had the same set of three hung pictures on the living room wall: Jesus, MLK, and JFK).
The song is very appropriate for this moment in our history as well, as it seems ‘back to the future.’ The song lyrics are also ‘theological,’ in that they express the paradoxical nature of the struggle for justice, a struggle which is ‘already, but not yet,’ and seeking futher in-breaking.
In the church, we call this the Reign or Kingdom of God. In less obviously churchy language, it is about human ‘being and becoming.’ It is a birthing process that is very painful, but can lead to new life, that comes after enduring the ‘death’ of fervent struggle. Most of those in power never give up privileged positions, without a struggle.
There are a few ‘allies turned accomplices’ who do this willingly but they are very few and very far between. In my career, I had the privilege of working with one such white man of great integrity, The Rev. Dr. Paul R. Nelson. I also received much encouragement from Bishop Jeff Lee, who supported me back when he was a parish rector, and I a start up church planter. Both of these men showed up and spoke up for racial justice by putting their faith/ belief / conviction into actual practice, and with lasting impact.
Well, enough for now. Do also check out my prior series of ‘SURJ’ racial justice posts.
I will let Bruce Hornsby’s song be a charge /call to action/ benediction to accompany this post, and enage the struggle and harsh birth pangs for justice in the USA.
That’s just the way it is. But don’t you believe it’