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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Word For The Week

The Washington Post has launched a year-long series on Being A Black Man that seeks to explore what it means to be a Black Man in the United States of America. On one level it is commendable that they would engage in such a discussion - they don't have to take an interest in the affairs of Black Men - but on another level, the level where I live on a daily basis, it is much akin to a pack of wolves exploring what it means to be a sheep. Inevitably, their answer is going to have something to do with mutton. I object to Whites defining what it means to be a Black Man. I have serious problems with Whites framing the questions that try to discern what it means to be a Black Man. I categorically reject the idea that Whites have any say in what it means to be a Black Man, much like Americans would and should reject the Chinese or the Russians or the French having any say in what it means to be an American. If I have said it once I have said it a million times - Black folk have got to do for self. We have to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves - it is the essence of the second principle of Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia (pronounced Koo-jee-choc-ah-LEE-ah).


Because the Black Man in America is a tangible target. The United States of America has been described as a melting pot but that description is erroneous - it's more like a soup, and ideally it should be a stew. In a stew the meat is flavored by the carrots, the carrots are flavored by the potatoes, the potatoes are flavored by the beef, all the while the beef never loses its essential beefiness, the carrots are still carrots, and the potatoes are still potatoes. They have the broth in common, and that broth blends their flavors into a tasty mixture, but it does not destroy the essential nature of the components of the stew.

That doesn't sit well with a lot of potatoes.

Many potatoes believe that America is a chowder, that it is all about the potatoes, the main ingredient in a chowder. They expect the other ingredients to walk like a potato, talk like a potato, think like a potato, and eventually look like a potato. They expect the other ingredients to speak the preferred language of these specific potatoes (as opposed to those Iberian potatoes). They expect the other ingredients to conform to the social norms of potatoes, to affirm potato values, and to submit to potato supremacy, and since the potatoes own all of the means of production and reign supreme over everything within the bowl their expectations rule. That's all well and good if you're an Irish potato or a German potato or Italian potato - within a generation you can lose your accent and give up your previous culture to become functionally identical with an Idaho potato. The same is true if you are a Chilean or Argentinean potato.

However, if you're Angus steak then there is no way that you will ever become a potato, no matter how hard you try. You can give up your culture, you can sell out your people, you can buck dance, skin and grin, but at the end of the day you're still not a potato - you're beef - and in a chowder that makes you a tangible target. Everything in a chowder is white and creamy, soft to the palate and relatively homogenous. Beef doesn't fit that paradigm - it may be in the chowder but the chowder never penetrates it, never transforms it, never changes it from its essential beefiness.

Beef stands out in a crowded chowder, and that which stands out makes for an easy target.

It is much like the title character in the 6th chapter of the book of Daniel. Daniel was minding his own business when the king of Persia put him in charge of 120 municipalities. Daniel wasn't bothering anyone when the king of Persia prepared to elevate him to Prime Minister over all of the kingdom. Daniel didn't have a cross word to say about or to anyone, but because Daniel was one of those people, one of those foreigners, one of those funny-talking immigrants from some back-water country, the Persians and the Medes - the potatoes of Persia - were not about to submit to the leadership of such a man.

Daniel was a tangible target.

The various governors and constables of Persia conspired to bring false charges against Daniel, looking into his every action, spying his every word and deed. It is much like a Black man walking into a department store and discovering "extra" attention being paid to him - I experience that on the regular - just to see Mrs. Potatohead walking out the front door with an arm-load of unpaid merchandise. Surely, Daniel could relate to being a Black Man in America, for Daniel was a tangible target. Living as a tangible target means that we have to have everything in perfect order or we have to deal with inquiries about what's wrong with the Black man. Living as a tangible target means that we can't just be ourselves but we have to speak on behalf of all Black men, answering the question, "What does it mean to be a Black Man?" Living as a tangible target means that if I screw up then all Black men are screw ups, if I fail then all Black men are failures, but if I succeed then I'm the exception according to potato perception. Surely Daniel knew what it meant to be a tangible target.

The Susa bureaucrats couldn't find anything wrong with Daniel's work - Daniel dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" - so they had to find another way to get rid of that Daniel. They knew that Daniel was faithful to God, that Daniel would not waver from serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so they got the king to sign a temporary ban on praying to anyone other than the king - knowing that Daniel would not conform. There are many traps that have been set for Black men - some physical, some mental, all spiritual - but in all things, we who are tangible targets must persevere and walk in all that God has called us to be, in spite of the traps, in spite of being targeted, in spite of what other people think, wish or desire of us. We can not submit to the pressure of the struggle, we have to overcome it and press through it.

Daniel's fidelity to God got him thrown into the lion's den, a form of capital punishment in 5th Century BC Persia. But Daniel was not injured by the lions - God turned the daunting predators into Daniel's pillows for the night - and Daniel escaped the trap that was set by his enemies and reluctantly sealed by his friend, the king. Now we are not promised to always get a Daniel-esque deliverance - there were a whole lot of Christians who encountered lions in Rome's coliseum and became part of a feline value meal - but we are called to persevere through times of trouble, even those of us who are tangible targets, and know that God is with us and that God will be glorified through us. Daniel's problems were not without purpose - after witnessing Daniel's miraculous deliverance the king of Persia became a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, such that the king decreed that all within Persia should worship God.

But the story doesn't end there.

Here's the part that I like, the part with which I take comfort - those who set the trap for Daniel were themselves thrown into the lion's den and immediately devoured, them and their entire households. It is said many ways but the principle is the same - as you do unto others it shall be done unto you. Payback's Ann Coulter. Many people reject the concept of vengeance, the concept of retribution, but it is as Biblical a concept as love - as surely as we are called to love everyone God will also bring retribution upon the unrepentant. The same verse that commands us not to take revenge ourselves also says to leave room for God's own wrath: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." When it comes to the American chowder I, as a tangible target traversing this trail of tears, long for Amos' pronouncement to come to fruition:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god - which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.
Let justice roll.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 11:00 AM

Read or Post a Comment

Oscar, this is beautiful (and terrible) and true. And a crime of cosmic proportion.

(But please don't leave out Black Women, who have their own row to hoe here.)

Posted by Blogger puddle @ Sunday, June 11, 2006 1:42:00 PM #
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