Why Are You Wearing that Afro?
Stereotypes and presumptions can be super funky because sometimes they’re untrue, sometimes they’re largely true, sometimes they’re largely untrue and sometimes their truth is only best understood in their true context. Like virtually all African Americans, all of my life I’ve had to navigate the challenges of being black while living in a white nation that (seemingly) often doesn’t see the consequential implications of its whiteness. It’s hard for fish to describe the distinctiveness of water because they rarely experience a different environmental reality, and so when you mention the experience of water, fish are inclined to ask, “What water?” Because I’ve often been a double minority (meaning a minority in both my secular and sacred worlds), I’ve repeatedly encountered spoken and unspoken questions that are superficial at times, but also deeply substantive at other times, including questions that admittedly illicit heavy sighs:
- Is there sometimes a beguiling racism associated with biases regarding hair?
- How do you tolerate worship services that are so rigidly scripted and painfully bland?
- With all of the noise, how could you all possibly focus on what’s being said?
- Why are you all so verbally and attitudinally aggressive?
- Why do you all assume white is the criteria by which everything should be measured?
- Why are you all quick to dance?
- Why is it that you all tend to lack rhythm?
- Why do you all blame others for your socio-economic displacement?
- How is it that you all criticize snippets of our culture or pretend you don’t notice it, just before you start adopting and imitating it?
- Why do you all stay in worship so long?
- Why is it that your pastor talks a lot about love of neighbor but ignores injustices propagated against our fellow man?
- Why do you dress up for church?
- Why do you wear jeans and flip flops to church?
- Why do you question law enforcement?
- Why don’t you question law enforcement?
- Why are your neighborhoods filled with trash?
- Why are your neighborhoods not filled with us?
- Why do you think telling me you don’t see (my) color is a compliment?
- Why is there often a brazen disregard for the plight of people living in disenfranchised communities?
- Isn’t it obviously true that Jesus was a white man?
My father, Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes (now retired), was a pastor who stubbornly reached across racial barriers. In the 1970s, he started bringing white ministers onto the ministerial staff of the black church he pastored in the heart of the black ghetto. I didn’t ask (and I regret it), but I often wondered what those first white ministerial staff members at my church experienced as they sought to navigate black church waters. For sure, there are some complexities to race in America and the church has not escaped those complexities. We desperately need to talk because sometimes our right is flat out wrong. We desperately need to listen with both our spiritual hearts and spiritual ears. We desperately need an increased willingness to push out from the shores of cultural comfort if there is to be any hope of the church being a headlight for the world. We desperately need to plunder the depths of the Scriptures to see and hear what "Thus saith the Lord."
NorthStar churches, can we talk?