Race

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Breaking With Tradition: Jesus Isn’t White & Student Activism Should Be Encouraged

Much like political affiliations and whether you prefer Target to Wal-Mart, religious beliefs are very much learned and passed down from generation to generation—a precious heirlooms, though treasured, may not be real.

As the mother of an inquisitive 5-year-old, it is now my time to continue the tradition of gifting my daughter with the same religious foundation that was given to me by a mother who held firm in the belief of training “a child in the way he should go.” Only I’ll upgrade my family’s heirloom with a shiny new gem: Jesus, like Santa Claus, is not a white man. Nor is He a convenient chameleon that morphs into whatever ethnicity, race or gender of the person who seeks Him. My understanding and belief is that He is a feeling that cannot be accurately illustrated despite the centuries-long depictions perpetuated on paraphernalia and stained glass windows in places of worship.

CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER, TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2015/03/15: Jesus on the Road to Emmaus: Beautiful stained glass windows at the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

via Getty Images

My mother, who received the same ideals from her parents, gave my religious beliefs to me, only she didn’t explain to me that the porcelain-skinned brunette on every other page of my Sunday School book was merely an illustration—a single perspective, an image cultivated from the imagination of someone with something to gain from the image, be it money, power, or both.  Overlooking the discrepancy between the imaginative physical concept of Jesus and the interpreted directive of the biblical scripture in Deuteronomy 4:16 (NIV):  “…so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman…”– caused me a great deal of confusion and severed my prayer life and spiritual connection for many years.  My experience with being “churched” in such a way that resulted in my spiritual inadequacy has served as the catalyst for laying all the cards–the ones I hold, at least–on the table and visible for my daughter to see. 

At age five, many children still view parents as the apples of their eye.  The raggedy robe that I don the moment the day’s work ends and my bra hits the floor, is nothing less than queen’s garb to my daughter. That said, wielding the words and recycled beliefs of her father and I as her shield and armor, my little one will go to battle with anyone.  As she is currently enjoying her first fall as a kindergarten student at an Episcopalian school, I keep my phone nearby in anticipation of the day I will receive a call from an insoluble school chaplain telling me that my daughter has started a riot (with Jesus’ birth approaching, I’m expecting that phone call in the upcoming weeks).  I imagine my little one waging war on decades of inaccuracies, misinterpretations and traditions.  She’s been known to upset an entire pre-school class by telling classmates  that McDonald’s fries are poison. Good. Dang, good. But poisonous. Her father–the health and wellness coach–taught her about pesticides and agriculture and that was all she wrote…

So yeah, I’ve practiced my speech, polished up my inflections and rehearsed my facial expressions in preparation of the day that the roles will reverse and I will have to back my daughter’s words up and treat what have become her beliefs as the truth, the gospel and the way. 

There are so many horrid examples of what it looks, feels and sounds like to be accused of hating another individual, group of people or sets of beliefs for simply exercising your right to believe, to love, to think, to have a perspective, to just be. If you tout that #blacklivesmatterthat somehow means you hate law enforcement and any person who does not identify as black. If you support, or better yet, if you do not loudly condemn gay marriage you are unequivocally rejecting Christianity and making reservations for a seat in hell. Similarly, if you teach your child that Jesus is not an image meant to be drawn, duplicated and idolized and can instead be felt in your heart, in music, in a flower growing through a crack in the cement, you may be accused of intentionally teaching your child to hate, to cause disruption and confusion.  

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But alas, the beauty of perception, individuality, freedom of speech and thought, and prayer–much, much prayer–has allowed me to feel at peace with teaching my daughter to question what she is being taught. Question third-hand knowledge and when able, seek the answer for herself. Accepting others’ truth, including the heirloom of truth passed down from generation to generation, is not a pressure she has to suffocate from.

In honor of activism and student activism and not accepting behaviors and traditions because “it’s how it’s been done for years,” I salute the students at the University of Missouri who aren’t afraid to demand change, to confront history and to spark a movement. I salute my daughter, the 5-year-old activist who fearlessly questions “truths” until she finds comfortable resolve. 

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For now, I await that phone call…

 

 

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taraji

Taraji P. Henson Was the 2015 Emmy Awards’ Most Unedited Black Girl

This past Sunday evening, I sat on my living room couch and begrudgingly prepared to watch and cover the 67th Emmy Awards for work. To keep it all the way Un-edited, during Andy Samberg’s opening monologue, I was ready to flip over to Basketball Wives, or as Andy said in his intro, any of those other “Wives” shows. At one point I considered pouring me a drank to get through, but that Ernest Hemingway quote doesn’t say anything about editing drunk. So much for on-the-job inebriation…

For me, watching the Emmys started off like how it feels to attend a gathering of lifelong friends — as a plus one. Inside jokes go soaring over your head (slightly above your exasperated eye rolls of alienation). Just when you’re about to throw back your fourthfifthsixth drink of the evening, out of the blue someone you can actually relate to shows up, y’all instantly get your own little party going, and it turns out to be the best. Night. EVAR!

That’s pretty much how I felt when the commercial that needs no introduction aired.  Y’all  already know what I’m talking about and thank gawd someone had the good sense to make a GIF of Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington’s black girl groove session AKA Apple commercial that presented the first relatable moment of the awards show for me.  

via GIPHY

Prior to that, Amy Schumer mentioning her plan to get blackout drunk was the only remote reassurance that this show was intended for my viewing pleasure.

Luckily, the commercial loosened me up like a few gulps of that stiff drink I so badly craved, but then came another major black girl moment: Taraji announced Regina King as the Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her role in American Crime.  And in true Taraji fashion, she didn’t bother to maintain any stuffy ol’ Emmys decorum. In fact, she cheered Regina on like she was a shamelessly proud mama on the sideline of her child’s first game and took her time greeting her fellow actress with a huge, genuine hug.

via GIPHY

After Viola Davis’ historic Emmy win, Taraji embraced the How to Get Away With Murder star with a warmth that was palpable, like that aunt who replaces the life she squeezed out of you with love when she greets you at the family reunion. Judging by her excitement, a stranger would’ve been hard-pressed to properly identify which of the two was the first black woman to nab the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama. The only girlfriend-in-my-head moment that didn’t involve Taraji’s magical sisterly touch was Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba nabbing her second Emmy. However, her teary, heartfelt acceptance speech made for yet another poignant moment.

This tweet basically sums up why Taraji was every black girl’s best friend at the Emmys:

Overall, the Emmys were full of unedited black girl moments. It was clear that they didn’t think twice about tempering their blackness for the comfort of the masses, which ultimately made me feel like I belonged at the party after all.

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