Cultural and religious symbolism set attitudes
"We've got to be carefully taught," and we are.
Where do we connect black with evil, bad or not knowing, and white with salvation, good and wisdom?
It's in our everyday word choices. It's in scriptures, too. It's in the image politicians are painting to say they are the ones to choose. We need to be alert to those who divide to gain power over us.
Images of light and dark pervaded both party conventions in August.
Recently, a journalist referred to the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots as a "dark episode." It's about a white mob sweeping through a small Florida citrus town after a black man showed up at the polls to vote. It was two days of terror and a mob setting fire to houses and driving out black residents.
Seems like it really was a "white-perpetrated" episode…
Recently, Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, in a press release announcing a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday said: "Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end." He could have said the "white" legacy of slavery. Instead, he could have said the "oppressive" legacy or "unjust" legacy, but he chose "dark," reinforcing stereotypes connecting "dark" with evil or wrong.
Black Lives Matter—like Black is beautiful in a previous generation—is a corrective to the ingrained assumption that black lives are expendable. We say Black Lives Matter as part of our re-education to value the "dark," the "black," the "night," because we have been carefully taught by culture and faith to question, fear, reject, close out, hate and demonize that which is black or dark.
The imagery permeates our worship, our prayers, our Bible studies, our theology. Even the prayer of St. Francis calls us to move from dark to light, along with other word pairs that tell us what dark is.
We are carefully taught, even by our trusted spiritual symbols.
How can we overcome those entrenched images?
First, we don't need the extra adjectives. In training writers for The Fig Tree, I teach that adjectives and adverbs, like "very," add little. "Very" doesn't tell exactly how much. The adjective "dark" also tells little.
Second, we need to set aside fears of the night, the unknown, the dark and relish in the beauty, wisdom, adventure and mystery of night, the unknown, the dark. Instead of hiding from the night, we can embrace it, overcoming fears, questions and uncertainties to relish the sounds of the names of those who have died and enter the dream for new relationships and equal rights.
Third, speaking of moving people from spiritual darkness to spiritual light can feed the colonial mindset that enabled people to enslave and convert others, to set up hierarchies of power, to set up acceptance of a diminished status that allowed for exploitation.
We all move back and forth, from times of wandering away from faith and to times of new perspectives.
We need to value the times of questioning, doubting and exploring that move us into deeper faith. It's a shallow understanding to think that darkness is far from faith, and light is nearer to faith.
Fourth, we are all awakening, people of all skin tones and cultures, bringing our varying insights and innuendos. When we interact as equals, we can learn from each other. We have to be the change.
We need to see and value people with diverse skin tones and to value that people with diverse lives, characters, experiences, insights and wisdom can enhance our journey along the road of life and faith.
The dichotomies of extremism, either/or, good/bad, black/white, leave us embroiled in the extremism that undermines the American dream of people of different perspectives, opinions and political stances working together through democratic processes in a free republic to share with each other and grow from interactions to develop a healthy society that includes all.
Some believe that an autocratic law-and-order governance is needed to control or police "evil" people who don't look or think like they do. Some may espouse a good-bad perspective, comfortably assuming they are among the saved, while ignoring the call of faith to love God and love all the neighbors who God has created as we love ourselves.
Enlightenment and transformation come in democratic interaction, listening to and learning from each other in story sharing, give-and-take that helps us overcome our limited viewpoints. Fear blocks that.
We need to be open to seeing God in the dark and the light, the day and the night, and the beauty God created in our nuanced shades of skin, cultures, religions, opinions and insights.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote recently about "God's Beautiful Dark Works" through Creation beginning in the dark, Jacob wrestling at night, Israelites escaping slavery at night, God's glory revealed in darkness, Jesus's at night and the Resurrection happening the night before Easter.
We need to be careful about understanding what we have been taught, so we don't jump to simplistic misunderstandings that limit our lives and the lives of others.
Mary Stamp - editor
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2020