Happy Birthday

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  It was a pivotal day in the history of the Civil Rights movement in America.  Although it had been conceived before (reference is made in the film Brother Outsider to a plan in the 1940’s for a march of this nature) it was the first time any demonstration of this magnitude had ever come together in this country.  A mixing of races and religions and economic backgrounds came together and stood united in demonstration of the need for change for one specific demographic sector…black people.

These kinds of demonstrations aren’t so simple now.  As we progressed from the era of fighting for the rights of one marginalized population, other groups began to find their voices in the song of freedom.  Women, Gays and Lesbians, Latinos, Asian Americans, people with disabilities, Jews, Muslims, Atheists.  But eventually people started to realize as well that they weren’t just part of one group.  We used to joke (before political correctness) that if you were a black Jewish lesbian in a wheelchair, you had the ultimate minority status.  But we don’t make those jokes anymore; in fact, we are starting to see the value of recognizing what a black, Jewish, disabled lesbian would represent in the mix.  She would represent the degree to which we all sit at intersections of cultures, demographics and social standings.  Each of us has privilege; each of us has disadvantage.  The Civil Rights Movement ushered in an age of self identity that has now culminated in all of us finding multiple self identities.

As we look back on the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, the brilliance of Bayard Rustin’s organizing and the willingness of the people to buy into the effort and gather en-masse during a weekday, it does seem clear that somethings have definitely changed.  But it is also clear that some things have not really changed at all.  People have died for a cause who’s banners would be just as relevant today.  A white man can kill a black man and walk free.  We talk about how demographics are shifting to make people of color the majority in this country by 2050; but that kind of binary based demographic still leaves white people as the “norm” or the barometer against which everyone else is measured.   Change…but the same.

Progress…real progress, will mean a time when we are able to look at the world through something other than the binary lens: black/white; gay/straight; male/female; rich/poor; able/disabled.  We will look at each other as hearts and minds and we will look at life and maybe even God as a continuum…a spectrum of experience.  We will have no need for demographics because we will no longer be judging each other.  We will fully embrace our selves as black lesbian disabled Jews and our society will actually not raise an eyebrow when it is asked to embrace us back.

But over all, my point is, this day, in 1963 is when it began.  Certainly others fought hard before and after this date, but it is the one date we can point to when we know that at least 250,000 other people were thinking pretty much the same thing: “we need to do something about this mess.”

Today is also my friend Stacey’s birthday…in fact at the exact moment when those 250,000 people were gathered on the National Mall, when Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “I Have a Dream”, while Mahaila Jackson sang “How I Got Over,” Stacey sent her first cry to the heavens.  And although both Mahalia and Dr. King are gone, Stacey is still here and still crying to the heavens, singing jazz.  In 50 years, she has changed of course…as we all have, yet she is the same; just like this country, just like our dreams for justice and equality for all.

So, today, rather than lamenting how much things are the same after 50 years, let’s celebrate what is good about those things that haven’t changed…our basic desire for honesty, humanity and humility; our basic desire for good.  Our need to see the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.  Our God given talents and gifts that lift one another up and unite us as one people to declare that we ALL have a dream; and of course the fact that we are still singing jazz.  For without dreams, whether they be great or small, what else do we have to live for?

Happy Birthday Stacey!

History

First Lady Michelle Obama meets with campaign supporters   - VA

Michelle Obama recently traced her white ancestry…

This post is part of a series this week that will honor the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

– For Kimberlee – 

So the other day, a young black friend of mine posted on her facebook about being African American.  She had been asked “what African?” and of course she doesn’t know what the “African” part was because, as she said, well, she’s African American and we basically don’t have any history of our “African” ancestry.  It got me thinking…it is very, very true.  Many people have been oppressed throughout the history of America (both North and South) and particularly in the history of the United States.  The particular brand of colonialism that gave birth to our nation was pretty much all about standing on the backs of whoever was handy.  But in that history, only Africans were sytematically separated from their history and culture by the oppressing majority.  The Irish immigrants were scoffed at and beaten but were allowed education; the Jews were ghettoized and restricted in their movements but continued to practice their faith; Native Americans were outright slaughtered but they fought to the death maintaining their cultural beliefs and practices.  But Africans were denied their language, their religion, their customs.  In fact Africans were stripped of nearly everything except their usefulness as labor.  Referred to as soulless heathens by white society, the accepted concept of the African slave was that they were brutish blank slates and any “culture” they possessed was worthless.  The result of this is that today, those of us who can identify as “African” American have no idea what that actually means.  We carry the pigment and other physical characteristics, but we are absent of that original culture.

So what does that leave us?

On one level it leaves us with young black people who grew up in this world with no sense of belonging or feeling as if they had something great to aspire to that belongs to them; they’ve assumed that they will always be “the other” and vilified; their only future is in what they “take” from society that is made for and by “the man.”   They live on the margins of society with maybe a glimpse here and there of something called success, only to see it taken away or held just out of reach.

But maybe there’s another way to look at it…

When our “African” history was obscured, and when we were raped and shuffled around and traded like so much grain, true to anything as resilient and old as the human race, we were still fertile…so fertile that even in a place with no soil and no nutrients, we grew.  We grew not just in terms of finding and equaling our education, not just in terms of flourishing creatively, not just in terms of discovering our political and communal strength, not just in terms of evolving spiritually.  We grew as a brand new and unique race with a unique set of potentials that is still waiting for us to acknowledge.  Like jazz music, we were a blend of everything we carried in our genetic code, plus all of the hardship and obstacles put in our way.  Eventually, we had to ignite.  We are not just “African” Americans, we are Native, Irish, German, Spanish, Asian…and we are the only ones who can truly lay claim to being all of those things…the embodiment of the melting pot.  We are the worst nightmare of colonial European cultures that prided themselves on racial “purity”…we are the combination of all of the strongest parts of all of the cultures that have mixed here in the United States; and we are irrepressible.

I had a lovely conversation with a friend recently where we were talking about potential.  We were discussing how some people can look at someone based on one world view and see them as a “waste” of potential.  On the contrary, potential is never wasted.  Potential is a well that is always ready to use.  Each time you access any part of that potential…any time you dip into that unfathomable reservoir of ability, you will pull out something that is far beyond what those with less potential are capable of achieving.  Whether it is Nobel Prize winning diplomacy or cooking dinner.  This is how I view the black American; a people who contain the richness of many cultures, visible in skin and facial features, but also language, faith, creativity, aptitude and a host of unmeasurable gifts.  These aren’t wasted.  They are present and ready to use at any moment in time.  It is simply up to more young black Americans to use them.

The different and distinct cultures that people lift up and identify with so strongly are beautiful and deserve their spectacular place in our modern society; but so does the melting pot “African” American. So to Kimberlee, I say, yes, you may have no idea where your “African” really comes from, but you have something that is completely unique.  Think of yourself as the “Jazz American.”  You can swing and waltz; you can paint and calculate; you are mother and father, child and parent.  You are the dynamic blending of all of cultures that are gathered here as one.  You more than anyone, own this American experience and with it you can change the world.

Link

Maybe If

(Click on the link above.)

This was so real and powerful I had to re-blog it.  I am heartbroken by how these stories either go un published or become punchlines.  I’m also disturbed by how we spend a lot of time looking at transgender people with pity and an assumed sense of tragic.  This week’s news around Chelsea Manning and the variety of comments and the twisted and insensitive coverage by even the LGBTQ press is testament to how much we don’t know and don’t even seem to WANT to know about gender and gender fluidity.  But more than that, the story in Maybe If is one I’ve heard repeatedly in my small circle of friends and colleagues only because that circle includes transwomen of color.  We can talk about “welcoming congregations” and “equality” but it means nothing unless you are willing to actually be in relationship with the people who are marginalized.  Please God let this country and this world grow up.