The Risks of Rejecting Racism, Pulpit and Pew Speak to 2020 Presidential Hopefuls (part 3), David Albert Farmer, PhD

excerpts from spiritual reflections at Silverside Church Delaware, March 17, 2019, David Albert Farmer PhD, preacher and pastor

I

David Albert Farmer

I discovered on Ancestry.dot.com a Benjamin Farmer, whose name in the research data has this stamped on it:  SLAVE OWNER.  If the connections are correct, he’s my fifth-great-uncle, and he lived in Virginia in the 1700’s before migrating to North Carolina in the early 1800’s.  I had suspected that my ancestors along the way had given thumbs up to the slave trade, but because after they got to these shores they seemed not to be well-to-do I kind of doubted that any of my kin actually owned slaves.  I must now dismiss that notion from my imagination and deal with tragic, unchangeable historic fact. Benjamin Farmer:  SLAVE OWNER.  I wonder if anything besides war or law helped him see the light.

The vestiges of what allowed white people in England and the United States, and other places as well, to begin believing darker skinned people should serve us and must not be our equals sadly has never been bred completely out of us.  The reason I’d say such a thing that causes me tremendous sadness and alarm, yes despair, is because of how readily racism creeps back into the social equation and—when it does—how it lingers. 

I suspect that by dinnertime this past Friday or certainly by Saturday morning you’d begun to see headlines about the unspeakably tragic acts of terror at the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  This headline stopped me in my tracks Friday evening as the death toll had climbed to 49 with lots of injured people still struggling for life:  “Boundless Racism, Zero Remorse.” 

I wasn’t surprised that someone who’d massacred 49 people of all ages was unable to cough up any remorse, but I was stunned that he so clearly understood and articulated his motivation: racism—in particular, toward Muslims who had immigrated into New Zealand.  He made some reference to the specifically radical ones among the many who moved there; incidentally, he is Australian.  But there was absolutely no indication that any of the people whom he shot were anything but people of peace.  The thinking goes, doesn’t it, “They’re all pretty much alike so any I can take out is a win.”  The radical ones are much too smart for the likes of this guy; they’d squash him in a heartbeat. So coward that he is, he goes after representatives from the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, the peace lovers, who gather in openness and vulnerability to pray and to seek in Allah’s messages to Mohammad (peace be unto him) ways to a better world.

That particular murderer hoped to intensify racial tensions in New Zealand and Australia, AND, as a special favor to the United States, which has some news commentators who inspired him, he hoped/hopes to spark a civil war.  Many days, I already think it wouldn’t take much. 


Races weren’t created; they happened as people migrated away from the sites where all or most of humanity was born on the continent of Africa. And when the races happened it was nothing more initially than a change in the color of the skin, a fading from the original darker hues for many, depending on where people migrated to and lingered. I want white supremacists to savor that tasty morsel.

I think Rep. Steve King first called this to my attention in a devotional message he brought to the NAACP.

Just a reminder. Races weren’t created; they happened as people migrated away from the sites where all or most of humanity was born on the continent of Africa. And when the races happened it was nothing more initially than a change in the color of the skin, a fading from the original darker hues for many, depending on where people migrated to and lingered. I want white supremacists to savor that tasty morsel. Any biblical assumptions or assumptions outside the Bible that God created any races and especially the idea that God favors or ever favored any one of the races is pure nonsense–very profitable though dangerous nonsense. 

The Tower of Babel story in the book of Genesis is a mythological short story attempting to explain why people speak different languages, properly reflecting that many languages cause great confusion.  Again, multiple languages weren’t created; they took shape as people moved away from their original families and cultures and adapted to new surroundings and circumstances.  But different languages came to be associated with different races so haters who hate the one typically hate the other. 

I think the two finest gifts the next US president can take leadership in gifting Americans with are:  peace with de-escalations of tensions and military engagements all over the world AND multiple remedies for racism because as with many diseases, no one medication is guaranteed to cure all the patients suffering from it.

  II

“The Good Samaritan”

Jesus didn’t give this parable a title; I can’t think of any of his parables he titled, but this is the name that has stuck for a long time in English.  Had he given it this title, his mostly Jewish hearers would have been put off immediately without having to wait for the Samaritan to appear in the story. 

In Jesus’ time, Jews and Samaritans for the most part detested each other.  They were descended from the same ancestors, but having been separated during an exile, there was intense argumentation about who was closest to the originals, whose scriptures were most authentic, and where the holiest ground on Earth was where the worship of God should center. As the groups had existed separately, marriage to partners without any Hebrew heritage at all occurred, which fired debates about who was purest and thus in their minds closer to God. Yep, racism. So, here’s a better title for the parable, though without a sweet, compact ring to it: The Racially-Reviled Guy Who Saved the Life of a Racist, While the Racist’s Own Clergypeople Wouldn’t Even Bother Trying to Save Him.

Jesus telling a parable in which a Samaritan did the most godly deed while the Temple’s most beloved priest and cantor failed miserably made many of his hearers so irate they couldn’t even ponder the meaning of the story.  Racism will do that to us. A few brave white southern pastors preaching during the zenith of Dr. King’s ministry used stories in their sermons about Black people who were on godly paths while their white racist haters were not; some of those preachers got crosses burned in their yards, or worse. Of course, those attacks didn’t compare to what the Black citizens lived through every hour of every day or the courage it took Black Americans to carry civil rights across the finish line. I’m only giving an example of how a white preacher daring to preach like Jesus, and most didn’t dare or care to, infuriated hearers by telling a “simple” story in which a person of the wrong race was the hero.

Until each of us makes ourselves the person in the story who would have died unless rescued by a person of a race we greatly dislike, we haven’t heard the parable. Nor have we heard the parable until we have in our mind’s eye seen ourselves on a lonely road somewhere giving aid to a person of a race we have been taught to hate. Before you tune me out for appearing naive about helping someone who appears to be injured but who might be part of a setup to rob and otherwise harm would-be rescuers, let me remind you that there are 911 features on most cell phones even away from “home” towers. Also, let me remind you that the application of this parable was and is much more far-reaching than about helping someone beside the road, as important as that can be. Jesus’ parable had broadly cultural applications as well. A whole group may be needed to save another injured, dying group, and Jesus says they should do so even if the two groups have considered themselves enemies, racially speaking.

III.

When Hattie McDaniel won the first Oscar ever awarded to an African American of either gender, in 1940, she made her way to the platform at the Coconut Grove Restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  A dinner had preceded the awards.  As the hotel and its restaurant were strictly segregated in 1940, Ms. McDaniel and her date, were required to sit at a table for two pulled into the back of the room and over against a wall out of sight.  This was an accommodation to her studio executives and some of her friends in the cast, such as Clark Gable; not to her. Against that backdrop, she nonetheless gave one of the great speeches in Academy Award history. 

Hattie Mcdaniel was the first black performer to win an Academy Award…. Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939)

When she died in 1952, of complications related to breast cancer, she made plans for her body to buried in the Hollywood Cemetery where many famous stars had been buried, but, again, there was a racial restriction; and the cemetery owners refused to allow the body of this great actress to be buried with the once-white bodies.  How long do you think one’s skin tone is maintained after death?  That’s a sign of how deeply racism runs.  Her family buried her at a cemetery that today is called the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. 

A new owner of the Hollywood Cemetery took over in 1999. He renamed it Hollywood Forever and invited Ms. McDaniel’s family to bring her remains over there, as a way to right the racial wrong that was done.  They were grateful but declined.  In response, Hollywood Forever put up a memorial marker in honor of the late Hattie McDaniel.  It was a beautiful gesture, the most they could do; but nothing could undo the racist attitudes of the previous owners that prevented her burial there in the first place. 

We’re all mature enough to realize, aren’t we, that some wrongs can’t fully be made right? I mean, it’s great when an innocent person who has been in prison for ten years or more is released, but no one can return to the person who was imprisoned unjustly all the life lost during those years. 

And speaking of the criminal justice system, that may be a place where racism as a present-tense reality is more obvious than anywhere else in this country.  Governor Newsom of California said this week:  “We’ve built a system where you’re treated better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.  A race-based system of tremendous injustice for people of color.”

There are those white folks who shaped thoughts toward Black people in my growing up years in the south who got around the idea that you weren’t a racist if you hired Black people to work in or around your home; talked to them like human beings instead of beasts of burden; and referred to them as “Negroes” instead of the other more popular N-word.  No, that was a little nicer than the norm expected, but not non-racist. 

We’ve built a system where you’re treated better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.  A race-based system of tremendous injustice for people of color.

Governor Gavin Newsom

Anyone who thinks she or he is fundamentally better than a person of another race because of ethnicity even if skin tone isn’t a give-away is a racist. 

Anyone who entertains the notion even for a millisecond that the world could be a better place without the people a certain ethnic group in it is a racist. 

Anyone not willing to share all the available everything needed to make life good is a racist, if the people they want to exclude are people of an ethnic group other than their own.  This recent statistic that school districts serving predominantly non-white students get about $23 billion less per year when things are tallied up than districts working with mostly white students is yet another atrocity—that boils down to $13k+ for most white students in public schools and about $11k+ for most non-white students in public schools.  Over a period of several years in a public school education, that’s a whole lot more money going to white kids than kids of color.  It’s racism. 

I’m sure anyone who would listen to my compelling arguments today anywhere in the world would immediately change her or his ways. [wink] Of course not.  Here’s the thing.  Even if my encouragement made sense to a few people, there are risks when someone trades in racist ways for non-racist ways.  This is to say, the culture, the family, the church that helped you earn your racist wings will not readily let you go. 

You may be rejected, ridiculed, threatened, treated like haters of the ethnic group you decided you can’t hate any longer. 

  • Hitler said if you’re a Jew lover, such as Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you belong in the concentration camps with the Jews.  As far as I know, none of the pastors in the camps were gassed; most were starved, and Dr. Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging.
  • The KKK said and says still as far as I know: If you socialize with Black folks, go to church with them, try to protect them from Klan attacks, march in protests with them, date them, marry them, you can expect a cross burning in your yard just like the Black families across town, or maybe they’ll just run over you or shoot you at a rally.

Silence and invisibility and a hands-off approach to the suffering of people of races we don’t like are whole-hearted efforts to sustain racism.