The day that 45 got elected, my heart dropped into my stomach like a stone, because I knew that the Black community was about to get zapped back to the 1960’s, when leaders like Dr. King rallied us together as a people to change how the nation saw us. I knew that we were going to have to fight for those rights all over again. We were going to have to fight for our dignity all over again.
I have asked myself if we are strong enough for that fight this time.
I’ll just say it plainly…I am disappointed in the complacency of my community. I was brought up on the stories of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Negroes stayed off the buses for over a year for the right to be treated like human beings on the bus. I grew up learning about the protest marches, where young people had fire hoses and police dogs set on them. I read about people who got arrested for trying to register to vote. I saw footage of sit-ins, where college students were doused with hot coffee, burned with cigarettes, and spat on for just sitting at a lunch counter.
Sixty years later, I’m arguing on social media with Black Americans who dare to justify their choice not to protest, march, or vote against the current administration. The tone of their argument is “I’ve got mine, so the rest of you can get yours on your own.”
How did we get here?
I believe that the weakening of the Black church has a lot to do with today’s complacency. In the 60’s, the Black church was the nerve center of the Civil Rights Movement. The most prominent leaders of the community were ministers and pastors. Meetings were held in churches. Spirituals like “We Shall Overcome”, “Oh, Freedom”, and “Keep on Walkin'” became battle hymns for the movement. Grandma and Nem knew how to stand in the gap for us with prayers that left them in pools of sweat before they said “Amen”.
They changed the laws of their Nation. We allowed an open racist to lead ours.
Long story short, many younger Black Americans back then bucked against what they thought was a “white man’s religion” and flocked to Islam, Buddhism, or as far away from organized religion as they could run. Over the decades that followed, Christian churches became so desperate for members that they relaxed the standards and stopped requiring repentance. The end result is a church full of men who lie, cheat, steal, and abuse their positions; women who walk out in a huff if you make the slightest mention of how they’re dressed; grandmas who can’t cast out their own headache, much less a demon; and a community who makes up excuses not to support their own and couldn’t be paid to boycott anyone else.
The Black Church raised the village that helped us raise our children and that had our backs whenever we needed it. Now, church is more like a club: watch the show, get your fix, throw some money into the offering basket, and leave in the middle of the sermon before they ask you to join. We call the pastor in desperation to go to the courtroom for that relative who just caught a case, but if Pastor asks too many questions about your living situation, “That’s none of your business! I just go to church here!”
I’m not arguing that every Black American should go back to the Christian church. Not at all: these modern-day brothers and sisters seem to lack the intestinal fortitude to handle God’s call. Grandma and Nem had rocks and bottles thrown at them, and you walk out when someone tells you that your dress is too tight. Please. If your nose gets out of joint because the usher told you to stop crumpling your dollars, then God cannot use you on the battlefield. The Black Church is better off without you.
Wherever you do get the courage of your convictions these days, screw it to the sticking place and join us in the new fight for community pride.
Here’s a radical suggestion: let’s honor Dr. King’s legacy by standing up for people who are too weak to stand up for themselves. Let’s get back to working for something more than personal success. Let’s grow our collective spine back and go to the mat for each other against racism and social injustice.
Let’s extend the life of the Black community and fight the fight that matters. We may not get another shot at this.