– by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
Acclaimed author Toni Morrison took ownership of her words. She rejected the perceived need for African Americans to respond to the “white gaze” or the white oppressor. She said, “What is the world like if he’s not there? . . . There was this free space opened up by refusing to respond every minute to . . . somebody else’s gaze.”
I have pondered this same idea. I’ve wondered: Why did the words of white men have prominent placement in my university and seminary classrooms? Why is the white male’s perspective—especially regarding history—the primary perspective that I received growing up in school? Why is the white male voice and experience dominating every Christian arena from journalism to publishing, from conferences to nonprofits, from the academy to pulpits, even in our multiethnic churches? The white male and his voice is not superior. Without this clear public service announcement, we will remain stuck in our old ways.
In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone wrestles with his Christian faith and white supremacy, and what that tension means for black people:
In earlier reflections on the Christian faith and white supremacy, I had focused on the social evils of slavery and segregation. How could whites confess and live the Christian faith and also impose three-and-a-half centuries of slavery and segregation upon black people? Self-interest and power corrupted their understanding of the Christian gospel. How could powerless blacks endure and resist the brutality of white supremacy in nearly every aspect of their lives and still keep their sanity? I concluded that an immanent presence of a transcendent revelation, confirming for blacks that they were more than what whites said about them, gave them an inner spiritual strength to cope with anything that came their way. I wrote because words were my weapons to resist, to affirm black humanity, and to defend it.
I read this as I began work on this book. I read Cone because I wanted to, and also because I wanted my book to be saturated in the voices, words, and experiences of black people. And it was Cone, not any of the white men I read in seminary, who stood out among the faithful witnesses who helped me engage with this tension of race and the church.
Thank you, Sir. I’ve come to understand that for me writing is a spiritual discipline, a therapy of sorts. It is one of the ways that I communicate with God. Over the past few years I’ve committed to writing my way to freedom, casting a new vision, planning and strategizing a way of living and being as a disciple of Christ in a fallen world—a disciple who is fully black, fully women, fully known, fully loved, and fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every day, I choose to live free!
I don’t just write for myself. I use my pen, or mostly the keys of my laptop, as a weapon of war—to resist, to affirm our common humanity, and to defend it. I write for communities who are downtrodden and in desperate need of the liberation that only God can provide. I write for people whose conscience tells them that something is not right but in humility can confess that they don’t know what to do about all the brokenness. I write for people who long to embrace the love of Jesus but are perplexed by the hypocrisy of his church. I write for the people who are committed to figuring it out together.
What if we all learned a new way, and what if we were not afraid? What if we truly lived redeemed?
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com