We Are Hope

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”-Maya Angelou

I am still the hope and the dream of the slave. In naming this, it is equally important to name the role of Christianity in creating and sustaining systems of oppression. I am a descendant of African Slaves, Indigenous people, and free Blacks. And yet, I am Christian. My faith is complex and at times disconcerting and freeing to describe my belief system as a mash-up of African and Indigenous spirituality and practices with the belief of the trinity mixed in. It is this faith that challenges me to love. To love God first, and then to love my neighbors even while realizing and admitting that my neighbors haven’t always loved me. The lack of love exhibited has often been for no other reason except that I am Black.  It’s not unlike the experiences of other African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latino people. All of us have had a hand in shaping our country and the current systems in the United States, North America, and abroad. To deny this is to deny the ways in which people of color have contributed to creating a country that has become a nation with opportunities for all people. 

The opportunities are still, in many ways, short-sighted. They are tinged with the stain of racism. Even while working to end the oppression of dominant groups, it is often clear in communities that racism and white supremacy have driven a wedge between people of color. In some instances, we have become our own enemy, comfortable letting internalized racism and white supremacy be the thing that leads our words, our actions, and our faith systems. 

 I think it’s a case of people being so oppressed, that it becomes difficult to see the difference between the oppressed and the oppressor, with some people of color taking on the role of the oppressor, because, “isn’t it better than being oppressed?” Joining our collective political and bargaining power would inherently change the political landscape and the plight of all of us. The desire rages to keep progress between people of color limited and to keep people of color divided. We don’t have to look to the politics of dominant groups to divide us, because we have become adept at doing this ourselves. Chinua Achebe in The Education of A British Protected Child: Essays says, “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” 

Our country has found itself in the never-ending mud wrestling match. The questions that linger are: “How long are you willing to be dirty, and stay dirty?” “How long are you willing to wallow in the mud?” “Are you happy living in the mud?” The mud is the sin of racism and white supremacy. Jesus comes on the scene to save us from our sins, but we have to want to be saved, and salvation means giving something up. The thing that has to be relinquished is power. How long are you willing to let externalized and internalized racism and white supremacy drive your ministry? How long are you willing to let racism and white supremacy be your Jesus? 

We are the Hope. We represent the hopes of our ancestors. Those who endured hardships and all manner of atrocities so that future generations might have better lives. We are the hope of those who stood in the face of unjust systems and demanded justice for all. The work of standing in the face of unjust systems from a Christian perspective started with Jesus. Every day, we choose to either be the hope, continuing on the path that Jesus has already laid out, that continued with our ancestors from Christian and other faiths. We can stand and rinse the mud off and choose not to live in the sin of racism and white supremacy, or we choose to let hope die as the mud that’s caked on us dries in the sun.

By Rev. Dr. Michelle Lewis

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