Will The Master’s Tools Dismantle The Master’s House? Trayvon Martin and the Idea of Justice

All the calls for justice in the Trayvon Martin case have brought to mind the famous quote by Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

The master has set up a system where by his very being/existence, Trayvon Martin was a threat. If it hadn’t been Trayvon, it would have been the next young black male that George Zimmerman saw walking around the neighborhood.

The master has also set up a system where someone can follow another person, be losing a tussle, shoot the person they were following and call it self-defence.

Now this same master is being asked to be fair and impartial and deliver justice to a family that is hurting.

Isn’t there a disconnect here? Can the master’s tools ever be used to dismantle the master’s house?

Why Do Black Bodies Scare Non-Black People?…Trayvon Martin, “Birth of a Nation” and The Curse of Ham

The tragedy that is the Trayvon Martin case has connected a lot of things in my brain. I didn’t know how I was going to put it into words until I read these words from Melissa Harris Perry:

 In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois described the experience of being black in America as a constant awareness that others viewed him as a problem. “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question…How does it feel to be a problem?”… Du Bois captures the defining element of African-American life as the very self, but most especially the visible, black self in public space as being a problem.

DuBois’ question raises the question nobody wants to touch; WHY, in the United States (in particular, although this could be extended to the West in general), is being black a problem? What is it about black bodies that scares the bejesus out of non-black people?

Little factoid about me…I am absolutely fascinated by the movie “Birth of a Nation.” I’ve watched it many times over the years. Its celebration of the Klan unnerves me, yet I firmly believe that it has had a significant impact on how blacks have been portrayed in popular culture ever since. Not only that, it (and its descendants) have played into the most basic of fears that white america has about those of African descent.

It has long been my contention that the South lost the battle (the Civil War) yet won the war (American thinking on race before and since). And part of the reason for my contention goes back to scripture—and Southern interpretation of it. [don’t fret…I am trying to present all the pieces and then tie it together.]

For those of you who haven’t read Genesis (or read it lately), Ham is a son of Noah.  The story that matters for this discussion is from Genesis 9.

18 The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said,
‘Cursed be Canaan;
   lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’
26He also said,
‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;
   and let Canaan be his slave.
27 May God make space for Japheth,
   and let him live in the tents of Shem;
   and let Canaan be his slave.’

And there is a little of Genesis 10 that can be helpful.

6 The descendants of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7The descendants of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 8Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. 9He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.’ 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and 12Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14Pathrusim, Casluhim, and Caphtorim, from which the Philistines come.

Now…I’m going to ask you to hold off on any questions you may have about the story. At another time there can be conversation about how these passages are about the Hebrews explaining why they believe they are entitled to the Promised Land. But the Southern interpretation of the Genesis 9 passage does not have the same motive that the author(s) of Genesis 9 had.

You see, the interpretation that took hold in the South was that those of African descent were forever indentured to whites (they weren’t thinking about other non-blacks at the time) because Canaan was to be a slave to Shem and Japheth. Hence, because Ham is the “father” of all the dark-skinned people in the world, all dark-skinned people are to be in servitude to all light-skinned people. As such, whites were ordained by God to use black Africans any way they chose.

Now with the basics of the curse of Ham out of the way, why are both “Birth of a Nation” and the curse important to consider when thinking about the tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin? The curse gives us a foundation for looking at this. Now, if dark-skinned people (people of African descent) are supposed to be in servitude to  whites, what happens when—by law—“we” can no longer make “them” serve “us?” Enter the Klu Klux Klan; the same Klan that’s celebrated in “Birth.” What better way to control people who should have never been released from servitude than to instill the constant threat of retribution if “they” step out of line? And what better way to make other whites feel safe, and threatened at the same time, than by portraying blacks as always on the lookout to have something “they” shouldn’t have or don’t deserve (and that they are willing to get it by any means necessary)—and that “we” are there to protect “us?” [I could go into the sexual aspects of this, but I don’t feel like doing that right now.]

Sound familiar?

If we just look at the 9-1-1 recordings, we can see that Trayvon Martin was “suspicious” for no other reason except that he was a young black man walking down the street in a place that George Zimmerman thought he shouldn’t be walking. And while George Zimmerman is NOT the Klan of old, if you listen to the 9-1-1 recordings, he says “they always get away.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just by his very being, Trayvon Martin was a threat to George Zimmerman (at least in his own mind). The question we are left with is why. Why did a black body inspire so much fear in a non-black person?

I believe there is a THEOLOGICAL issue at play here. And we ignore it at our peril. Everybody mouths the words that “we are all God’s children.” Yet on the other hand collective actions say that God is a respecter of persons. Has the curse of Ham been lifted? If we’re looking at the Trayvon Martin case, it would seem that the answer is no.

What Does Liberal Religion Say to the Trayvons In Its Midst?

I think that is the question that’s been sitting with me as I’ve been thinking about my uncles, cousins, friends and former boyfriends.

I’ve also been re-reading Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt’s article about why Martin Luther King Jr. was not a Unitarian, Universalist or Unitarian Universalist. If you haven’t read it in a while, you can find it here.

Was King right? Is liberal religion too focused on individualism and reason that it can not address collective issues or talk about sin?

Little Trayvons Everyday

Trayvon Martin was killed with a bullet because he looked “suspicious”. But let’s talk about the situation that affects young black men every day.

Trayvon died by the bullet. But how many other Trayvons are there out there…who die because they attend substandard schools; schools that treat them differently than the white children that are still there? As the latest study from the Yale Center for the Study of the Child reports:

 Black boys receive less attention, harsher punishments, and lower grades in school than their White counterparts.This trend persists from kindergarten all the way through college, regardless of socioeconomic status.

How many Trayvons die—not by the bullet but by the book—because of the educational realities of this country?

How many Trayvons die through the misapplication of “justice” in the American criminal justice system? Where one-in-three black men under the age of 40 is in jail/prison, on parole or on probation? Where, if you’re black and convicted of a non-violent drug offense, you get harsher sentences than whites convicted of the same crime?

How many Trayvons die just because they were born black? 


Bring Skittles and Iced Tea to Your UU Church This Sunday pt. 2

Charles Howard, in an opinion piece at the Huffington Post, writes:

This weekend, thousands of houses of worship will gather to sing to, pray to, read about and preach about God — a God Whom I am most certain cares about Trayvon and the culture around him. And yet, in so many of the sermons and the prayers that will go up, any mention of Trayvon, of gun violence, racism and profiling, will be absent. Silence. Nothing. No condemnation of an atrocity that is inconsistent with the teachings and spirit of the faith. No pastoral outreach. Just a silence that will make many congregations “look suspicious.”

The bullets of silence hurt just as much as the bullets that took Trayvon’s life.

I am Trayvon Martin. And there is a Trayvon in every congregation. Even the affluent suburban ones. Perhaps it is in those places that this story needs to be told most.

I recognize the hesitancy in many preachers to “get political” in their pulpits. Fine. No need for strong condemnations about gun laws (unless you feel so led). But a boy died. A boy who was not committing a crime. He died because black men walking in certain neighborhoods, perhaps like the neighborhood your church is in, look suspicious. For people of faith to be silent seems to be inconsistent and a poor witness. If you don’t want to bring it up in the sermon, perhaps make it one of the items you all pray for. Or at least reach out to someone you think might be grieving because of this case. Or perhaps have a small group or an after service discussion about gun violence in your city.

I am Trayvon Martin. This name should be spoken, at least whispered in your service. Care. Your God certainly does.

Bring Skittles and iced tea to your church on Sunday. Wear your hoodie. Do it even though this happened far away from you–and yet know that it’s happening in your town too.

In Light Of Trayvon Martin…Was King’s Dream Too Hopeful?

A few hours ago, on her Twitter account, Rev. Victoria Weinstein wrote:

I’m not wearing my “gangsta” hoodie today, but #Travyon is in my heart. Dammit America, when will we end open season on black men? #million

It’s been open season on black men in this country since 1619–that’s 393 years.  Is it even possible to imagine a time in which the ultimate American boogie-man is NOT a male of African descent?

 Will there ever be a time in which black men will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin?

To Be Young, Gifted, Black…and Dead

So let’s flip the situation around…George Zimmerman is black and Trayvon Martin is white/Latino/Asian/anything other than black walking down the street with his Skittles and drink. Trayvon ends up dead after George Zimmerman runs after him and shots him. Does anybody really think that George Zimmerman would still be out on the street with his gun?

I don’t have children…but I do have a father, cousins, friends and ex-boyfriends. And when a situation like this happens all I can think is, “that could have been [Darius/Reggie/Chris/Andre/etc.].”

How much is a black life worth when a person can shot you dead because you look “suspicious” for no other reason than the fact that you were walking on the sidewalk to your house with a box of Skittles and a Coke? How much is a black life worth when “stand your ground” is somehow being interpreted as running after somebody because “those a******* always get away with it”?

Trayvon Martin was young, gifted and black. He’s now been dead almost a month. He died exactly 3 weeks after his 17th birthday. Yet the man who gunned him down is still able to walk the streets and have his gun. Is there any justice in that?