Systems of Oppression: The Family Farm

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough, you princes of Israel! Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Quit robbing and cheating my people out of their land. Stop expelling them from their homes, says the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel  45:9

The context of the above scripture is Israel and the dividing of the promised land. God warned the rulers over His people to do what was just and right.  Throughout history and today, the  people within the systems that oppress have driven human beings out of their rightful land, using the tools of that system to do so. Something as idyllic and American as family farms should never be linked with oppression, yet they are.  The next story we will explore has to do with one family farm that was a young man’s dream turned into a nightmare.  I take this story from a podcast called Seeing White, on Scene on Radio  with John Biewen as host.

Statistic:  Today more than nine out of ten farmers are white.  Why is this, when “the nation’s economy was built largely on Black farm labor–in bondage for hundreds of years, followed by a century of sharecropping and tenant farming.” (John Biewen, Losing Ground)  After the Civil War, the promise was made to give the freed slaves 40 acres and a mule to get their new lives started.  What happened?  The promise, like many others, was broken.  But Black farmers persevered and just a century ago, African American families owned 15 million acres.  Unfortunately, through the 20th century, Black farmers lost their land faster than whites and now are fewer than 1% of American farm families.  Hasn’t this been the story for Black people in every sector of society since Emancipation?  Broken promises,  all our homes and livelihoods stolen for no other reason than the color of our skin.  The story of Eddie Wise, his wife Dorothy, and their dream of owning a farm, ends with heartbreak.

Eddie Wise was born in the forties in North Carolina and had a lifelong dream of owning a farm.  His ancestors were all sharecroppers.  He wanted to own land and make a living for himself and his family.  When he was eighteen he joined the army and it became his career.  Thirty years after he joined, he got his own farm and soon married Dorothy.

On January 20th, 2016, it was the beginning of the end for Eddie And Dorothy’s dream.

For many years they fought against discrimination in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. US Marshals came that day to seize his property and all he owned, even his beloved dogs.  

It all began in 1991, when Eddie and Dorothy found the farm they wanted and went to the USDA for a loan through its lending arm, the Farmers’ Home Administration or F.H.A.  It took five years after that initial visit for their loan to be approved.  They were turned down several times with the excuse that the F.H.A. was out of money. Eventually the loan was secured and they were able to purchase the land. The Wises also needed capital to buy hogs and repair the building where the hogs would be housed. That loan was approved, but it took seven months to actually receive the money.  They weren’t able to do the repairs before the hogs came.  Needless to say, he lost most of his herd because they didn’t have a proper building and they froze to death.  They never recovered from the loss of 400 hogs and struggled to keep the farm afloat on their pensions and social security checks. 

The Wises loan was taken over by a Black loan officer (the only Black loan officer in the state) named Carl Bond, who worked with them for several years, assisting them with the loan applications.  Before Carl, they were consistently denied assistance and their work undermined. Soon the payments overwhelmed them and they were put on the road to foreclosure. This case and many others illustrate how racism within any system can find ways to circumvent discrimination laws to oppress people of color. Eddie wanted to leave the farm to his son, but there was nothing to leave.

Where are the Wises now?  They live with Eddie’s sister in eastern North Carolina.

The stress of the years took its toll on Dorothy.  Her diabetes grew worse and she had both legs amputated below the knee.  She lies with her eyes closed most of the time in a rehab center, responding only to Eddie when he comes for a visit. 

John Biewen states at the end of this segment:  “Given the history of Black people on America’s farms and plantations, building the country’s wealth for little or no reward, isn’t there a special, cruel irony if a branch of the US Government  seemingly goes out of its way to drive one more Black family off the land?”

Black Veterans Matter

When the troops came home from World War II, they were met with much fanfare.  But there were vets who weren’t celebrated by America. Black veterans were not given the support they needed to begin their lives as civilians.  They were denied money for college and purchasing a home.  These funds were given freely to white veterans who were able to buy homes, go to school and get jobs, and begin to build wealth for themselves and their families.  There was a deliberate plan by politicians of the South to exclude Black people and keep the Jim Crow laws intact. People of color weren’t allowed to make progress, to get ahead, to build wealth for their families and communities.  No matter how heroically these men fought, they were denied even the medals that they earned. A significant number of vets were dishonorably discharged so they could not qualify for these benefits.  The language of the law was race neutral, but the criteria was such that they made sure Blacks were outright rejected and if they tried to buy a nice home, they were told the neighborhood was closed to them.  The consequences of these policies are still felt today.  Don’t be fooled.  The exclusion of people of color in all the systems of the world exists today, but they’ve learned to use wording that is not blatantly racist.  The power brokers know how to continue to exclude people of color without looking like they are.  Jim Crow is alive and well.

The following story is found in the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  A Black veteran of World War Two, Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr.,  served his country well and was honorably discharged. He fought in the Pacific Theater. Sargent Woodard was riding to his home in North Carolina on a Greyhound bus. At one of the bus stops, he wanted to use the restroom.  The bus driver said he couldn’t, that they had no time.  He was resistant, stating that he was a man just the same as the bus driver.  He had been out of the country for three years, away from Jim Crow and he had “taken on a degree of assertiveness and self-confidence that most southern whites were not prepared to accept,” said author and judge Richard Gergel.  The bus driver backed down and let him go.  But at the next stop, the driver called the police and had him arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.  At the stop and later in jail, the sergeant was beaten with a billy club and had his eyes jabbed by the same billy club.  He received no medical care until later, but by then it was too late to save his eyesight. The other reason given for his arrest was that he didn’t say “sir” to the sheriff. 

The sheriff was found not guilty of assault.  When the verdict came in, there were cheers.  Listen to what ethnographer Bertram Schrieke wrote:  “If a Negro rises, he will be careful not to be conspicuous, lest he be accused of putting on airs and thus arouse resentment.  Experience for example has taught him that competition and jealousy from the lower classes of whites often form an almost unsurpassable obstacle to his progress.”  This has proven true on many occasions, even as recent as President Obama.  Instead of welcoming what people of color can bring to the table, White society finds clever and devious ways to try to keep POC outside of the places of power and influence. The mindset of superiority hasn’t changed.  In God’s kingdom the only one superior is the Lord Jesus Christ, Who welcomes all who believe into His presence to share in His love and grace.  There is no oppression or suppression, only openness and acceptance, allowing us the space to grow and be a blessing to the world He created.

“…He (Christ) is first in everything.” Colossians 1:18

The Untouchables

The Untouchables (called Dalit today) were in the sewer of the East Indian caste system. They continue to be trapped in persistent poverty and despair. Even the shadow of a Dalit was considered a defilement.   As repugnant and horrifying as we know this is, the land of the free and the home of the brave has established and sustained a caste system for centuries.  The following story is a heartbreaking illustration of  the sewer-level caste Black people have occupied and in many ways still occupy. It comes from the book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents  by Isabel Wilkerson.(pages 121-122)

One day in 1951 in the town of Youngstown Ohio, a little league team won a baseball championship.  On that team was a Black boy named Al Bright.  To celebrate, the coach decided to have a pool party and picnic at the local swimming pool. Al’s parents weren’t allowed to attend this celebration, even though they were invited as other parents were. The coach apparently had forgotten that people with black skin could not swim in the same water as people with white skin.  Of course, the coach did not have to think about such things as race.  He and most of the team were part of the dominant culture that had the freedom to go anywhere and do anything they wanted in relative peace and safety.  They did not have to live in the skin of an untouchable. 

Al sat behind a fence away from the pool area and watched his teammates splash and play on that steamy summer day.  Sometimes one of the boys would come to sit with him, but that boy had the freedom to return to the refreshing water, which he did, and continue his good time. I imagine that Al stared with tear-soaked eyes and a broken heart.  He was allowed eventually to get in the water, only after everyone got out.  He was put on a small raft and told he couldn’t even touch the water with his littlest finger or they would have to empty the pool and refill it. Al floated around for a small amount of time while everyone else watched.  When he was taken out, they all returned to the water.  Al went back to his spot for the rest of the party. Later the coach asked him if he wanted a ride home.  He turned it down and walked home alone, clutching his championship trophy.  What do you suppose he was thinking?  Feeling?  He was humiliated in front of his peers.  It was a painful wound he didn’t understand. He was the innocent victim of a lie.

Thankfully, there are no more segregated swimming pools (that we know of), but the practice of segregation remains. My parents bought a house in 1968 in an all white neighborhood.  Little by little, though, the white families moved and were replaced by Black families. Why did the White people move? They believed the myths of low property values and the so-called inherent criminality of Blacks. There are no such structures of inequality and hate in God’s Kingdom. The beautiful life of Jesus reveals God’s tender love in a world crushed by harsh religion.  He was not afraid of touch: 

 “Large crowds followed Jesus as He came down the mountainside.  Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached Him and knelt before Him. “Lord,” the man said, “if You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” He said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”  (Matthew 8:1-4).  Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of His robe,  for she thought, “If I can just touch His robe, I will be healed.” Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 9:20-22).

His followers are admonished to walk even as He walked.  It is the power of love and truth lived in our lives that will destroy the strongholds of racist beliefs.

Segregation in the Church

Segregation as a law was struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s. There are many first hand stories about segregation in the schools, but I want to look into segregation in the Church.  When Brown v. Board was passed, the Church tried to justify the continuation of segregation by using the Bible and Natural Law.  In his book The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby relates what happened in the churches when integration became the law of the land.

G.T. Gillespie, president emeritus of a Christian School called Bellhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, gave a carefully worded  message to pastors there,  titled “Christian View of Segregation”  He admitted that “The Bible contains no clear mandate for or against segregation as between Negro and White races”. He conveniently  used “natural law” to explain the need for the separation of races. He said that birds of differing colors or species never mated, such as the blackbird and white dove.  He went on to say that scripture did account for separations, like linen and cotton cloth and different strains of seeds or cattle. (pgs133-134). Another minister, Carey L. Daniel went so far as to call God “The Original Segregationist” and that desegregation was one of the “schemes of the devil” (134).  They should have been satisfied with the truth: the Bible contains no such mandate about segregation.  

Thankfully, there were white Christians who took a stand against the injustice of segregation, but there were more “Christian moderates who were complicit with the status quo of institutional racism.” Thus, racist structures were left undisturbed. My desire here is to line up with the Kingdom of God to dismantle them. The origins of racism and prejudice are darkness and death. Believers are about Life and Light.  This is a spiritual  battle. Although there are integrated churches today, it is said that the most segregated place on Sunday still is the Church!  Real integration and reconciliation begins with leaders who reach out to all people and embrace them entirely, including their stories and their pain.

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

I began in the womb of Africa, a majestic continent rich in natural resources. According to my DNA profile, I am 40% Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu peoples.  I am 19% Benin and Togo, to a lesser extent Ivory Coast and Ghana, and even lesser extent Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. How did someone with this ancestry get to America?  When my ancestors were forced from their homes, put on a ship, and taken to the New World, Europe, and the Carribean Islands, including South America, they instantly became goods to buy and sell. How is it that human beings who could be bought and sold, taken to a land that professed freedom and equality? What was the justification for this tragedy?

In the New World, as Robin DiAngelo explains in her book, White Fragility, “the tension between the noble ideology of equality and the cruel reality of genocide, enslavement, and colonization had to be reconciled.” By creating, as Toni Morrison calls, the “other”, the founding fathers could claim that all others not white were morally, intellectually, spiritually, culturally, and physically deficient, which made them natural candidates for enslavement.  Historian Nell Irvin Painter, in her book The History of White People, gives a detailed recounting of European history and how “race” was created.  Many of the myths about race have lost credibility, but there is one that has not and is an unhealed wound in the souls of American Blacks:  white supremacy. The truth is, there is only One Who is supreme: God. 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.  All He created was good, including the man and the woman who were made in His image and likeness.  But through one act of disobedience, Adam and Eve brought the Earth and all its inhabitants under a curse.  We cannot examine racism apart from this truth: We are all born with a sinful human nature that rebels against everything God is.  We are a mere shadow of His image now. Only through the death of Christ can we begin to live the life He intended for us all. 

Consider this:  The DNA for every human being God placed in Adam and Eve. Then we were truly one. 

“For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16,17

In the Beginning

I want to look back at where America’s racial wounding began in order to discern how deep the roots of racial injustice are in spite of passed laws, Supreme Court rulings, and proclamations of unity.  We can cry like the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day:  We waited for peace and salvation, but no good came, and for a time of healing, but behold, terror!”(Jeremiah 8:15)    In God’s kingdom, the answer is simple: Proverbs 6:14-15: “…there will be no healing or remedy because he has no heart for God.”  America’s collective wound will continue to cause the imprisonment, slavery, and death of brown and black people until the country repents and turns to God.

In his book, American Holocaust, historian David Stannard quotes a professor of modern history at Oxford, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, giving his thoughts on the history of Black and Brown people:  “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe, who are nothing less than people without history.  Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach,’ he conceded, ‘but at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of Europeans in Africa.  The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, Pre-Columbian America.  And darkness is not a subject of history.” (Stannard, 1992) Before the Anglo-Saxons ever touched the shores of the Americas, they embraced the lie that they were superior to all others and that their history was the only history worth recording.  They were and still are wrong.

I’ll examine the rage of the oppressed and the cycle of hatred that is perpetuated around the world and contrast it with the everlasting Kingdom of God. God brings together and heals.  He so loved the world that He gave His only Son.   It is written:   But now at this very moment in Christ Jesus you who once were so very far away from God have been brought near [b]by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace and our bond of unity. He who made both groups—Jews and Gentile—into one body and broke down the barrier, the dividing wall of spiritual antagonism between us, 15 by abolishing in His own crucified flesh the hostility caused by the Law with its commandments contained in ordinances which He satisfied; so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thereby establishing peace. 16 And that He might reconcile them both Jew and Gentile, united in one body to God through the cross, thereby putting to death the hostility.” Ephesians 2:13-17.  I will show how race is purely a human invention, conceived by demons.  I believe that race classifications and categories are social constructs to further man’s evil ends.

God is love.  Racism is hate.  Can the wounds created by hate be healed?  Nothing is impossible with God, so my response is a resounding yes.  But healing is available only to those whose hearts are willing to repent.

 

Be Whole

You’re a sell-out!” Angie Grier is the main character of my short story, Choose Life. She hears these words coming from the mouth of her beloved older sister. Angie, her husband and their two children live an idyllic life in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Brockton. She is accused of being a sell-out to the Black culture by choosing to stay away from her parents and siblings. This sets the stage for the rest of the story, but what I want to touch on is the significance of the oft-used phrase as it pertains to our society today.
In the minds of those who have accused their fellow African Americans of such, they are meant to convey the distaste the speaker feels for someone whom they believe has turned their back on the Black culture by not living up to a complicated standard of Blackness. Much pain has been inflicted because of racism. I’m not denying or devaluing this. It’s real. But we must give everyone the freedom to live their own lives before God without being judged as not “Black enough”.
A healthy racial identity, no matter what race we are, is an essential part of self-acceptance and a positive self-image. Loving who we are includes loving others as they are. Give everyone the same unconditional acceptance that you are looking for. If you’ve been wounded by racism, don’t hesitate to seek healing today so that hatred will not be perpetuated through violent acts of retaliation or hurtful name-calling.

If you need assistance, call on me. My desire is to see you whole and walking in your purpose and destiny.

Ancestral Wounds, Part One

What happens when you are judged by the way you look? What if you have lost in the eyes of another before you even open your mouth? A wound is formed in your soul and takes on a life of its own. Sometimes these wounds are accompanied by more of the same over a long period of time without being tended to. They turn into poison that finds its expression in violent rage. What about the offenders? Are they not just as wounded? Yes. Race is a hot issue these days, but it is by no means a new thing. It has been separating people for hundreds of years. Why, since it is a biological factor and on the inside we are all the same? The answer to that lies in the philosophy of men that has become an ancestral wound (supposedly proven by scientific fact, no less) that the Black race is in every way inferior to the White race. Of course, there is nothing scientific about this philosophy. It is rooted in evil and those who believe it and teach it to their children spread such evil like a deadly plague.
What we believe about one another based on skin color are like arrows aimed at the heart. One wound creates another and none of them are healed. They are merely perpetuated in our society, causing more pain and birthing more hatred, the kind that leads to death. The truth is the only way to conquer the arrows, and forgiveness and love are the healing balms. What is the truth? We are all lovingly created in the image and likeness of God. The internalizing of this truth will revolutionize our relationships with fellow human beings and turn our race-based culture upside down. Is it possible to get there?