Thursday, August 28, 2008

Righteous History

Hat tip: Prometheus 6

From the Washington Post Faith Blog:
Righteous History
Susan K. Smith
Senior pastor, Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio.
The Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith, senior pastor of Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio

We are people of privilege. I say that because we are living in a moment in history that is almost too great to comprehend. From our beginnings as slaves in this country, we are witnessing the ascension of an African American to heights our ancestors might never have imagined. Many of us didn't either.

When Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America on Wednesday, a link in the chain of our history was broken. From slavery and the insult of being considered property, our people have moved to the possibility of one of our own being on the verge of the presidency.

It is almost too awesome to take in. At the moment Senator Obama was officially nominated, black people wept. My friends' parents, both octogenarians and participants in the Civil Rights movement, sobbed. A little boy, fascinated but not fully understanding what was going on, asked, as he watched his parents cry, "Are we supposed to celebrate or something?"

A friend of mine recalled how her mother -- who had told her of how her father had been lynched -- called, crying. Another friend called, reminding me of how it had been for her and for her parents in the South, being called the "n" word at will and being challenged to do anything about it. A member recalled how her grandmother had been forced to leave the South because she had had a fight with a white woman.

I remembered my own father, a brilliant man who had memorized the entire dictionary but was consistently passed over for a promotion at the IRS where he worked. I remember the last time he was passed over, how he wept and how my mother comforted him. As I peeked at the two of them from around a corner, I could hear my mother remind him that he could do something else, that he didn't have to take the insults anymore.

My father listened and began his own business as an accountant.

I remembered watching participants in the Civil Rights movement, being attacked by dogs and hosed down by firemen. I recalled going on long trips and not being allowed to even think about going to the bathroom in certain places, because the bathrooms "reserved" for "colored" people were too despicable for my mother to even consider letting us step inside.

I remembered learning about the transatlantic slave trade, where European traders left Europe, went to Africa to pick up Africans who would be enslaved, traveled to the Caribbean to drop the slaves off and pick up sugar and tobacco to take back to England, dropping the sugar and tobacco off and African captives as well. It was all ... business.

I remember learning about the horror of the Middle Passage, a trip which took on the average of 50-60 days, with our ancestors stuffed in the bowels of a hot, dirty ship, ripped from Africa and taken to lands they knew nothing about.

"How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"

I remember how pained I was, once I learned about the Jewish Holocaust, to realize that African Americans had lived through our own Holocaust as well. It is estimated that 50-60 million Africans died during the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

I remember shivering with horror as I stood in the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool this spring, because I felt too close to the spirits of ancestors who had been involved in the brutality and inhumanity of slavery. I had to get out of there.

It has been a hard road for people of African descent in the United States. So we wept as Senator Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. People in Columbus and Chicago and Trinidad and Jamaica and Brazil and London. People all over the world whose lives were forever impacted by an era where people created by God were considered property, because in spite of all odds against us, we have kept on getting up.

Some people complain that Senator Obama is not a "real" African American, because his mother was white and his father a Kenyan. They say he didn't live an "African American" life. But if your skin is bronzed in this nation, no matter where your people were from, you are treated as an American who descended from slaves. Senator Obama stands on the backs and shoulders of people who fought and died to make a way for black people in this nation. He is standing on the backs and shoulders of Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles Drew, Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglas, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Paul Robeson, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and indeed many nameless who passed through the "Door of No Return" that still exists in preserved slave castles in West Africa.

Yes, Senator Obama is an African American.

When I was little, whenever anyone of our race accomplished something, hit a milestone, as it were, my mother would wake us up and make us watch in on television. We were too little to understand why she was crying, but we would watch and, finally, be allowed to go back to bed.

She was "writing our history" as "frontlets between our eyes." She was helping us to see that we were once aliens in a strange land, but that God was with us, moving us forward, opening one Sea of Reeds after another, so we could pass through.

The weeping continues. People wept this week because the Senator from Illinois might very well become president of the nation that once enslaved his people. It is no less historic and fascinating than when Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa.

Tell your children. Write it as frontlets. This is history being made right before our eyes.

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