Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In addition to writing the popular article, “Everything I know about reconciliation, I learned in the church,” Christina Cleveland wrote a previous article (below). To you understand spiritual and physical reconciliation, we need to heed this message equally.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT I WAS A NIGGER
by Christena Cleveland, 8/5/13.
Every summer, my mom would sign us up for vacation bible school (VBS) programs at local churches so we could experience God in diverse settings. The summer I turned six, we attended VBS at an all-white church in a neighboring city. During recess, my brother and I were so engrossed in our tetherball game that we didn’t hear the teacher calling us to return to the classroom. Exasperated, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Get in here, niggers!!” Being six and all, I had no idea what the word nigger meant; I just knew that it referred to me and that it was negative. I ducked my head in shame and ran toward the classroom. The teacher’s words violently contradicted the VBS theme: “God loves all the children in the world” and made me question whether God’s love was meant for me too.[i]
The church taught me that God’s love is only for the white kids.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT ALL BLACK PEOPLE RAP
Many people recall junior high as a dark and stormy stage in their identity development timeline. But as one of two black girls in my class at my Christian school, I had the unenviable task of figuring out who I was and where I belonged while surrounded by a sea of white classmates who only interacted with me long enough to ask to touch my hair. Feeling different and excluded, I signed up for choir class, hoping to find a place to belong.
That year, the Christmas musical script un-ironically called for a “Rapping Angel” who rapped Luke 2:14. Without holding auditions for the part, our choir director (with obvious support from my classmates) cast me as the rapping angel, saying, “You can do it, right Christena?”
Nope, I couldn’t.
But since I did not fit in with my classmates, I was desperate to prove that I belonged to another relevant social group – namely, black people. So I went along with our director’s decision and now have the distinction of being the most woefully miscast Rapping Angel in the history of cheesy Christmas musicals.
The church taught me that I belong nowhere – not even in the tiny stereotypical box that they tried to stuff me into.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT I WAS OVERLY SENSITIVE
When I was a high school student, I walked into a local pastor’s home and was immediately assaulted by the sight of a large confederate flag hanging on the wall. I gasped and asked them why they had a confederate flag. With disarming matter-of-factness, they told me that they liked the colors, the aesthetic and the “rebel” image that it projected. I tried to explain (as best I could as a frazzled teen) that the flag invokes painful images of black oppression but they remained committed to their blissful ignorance. Ultimately, they shoo-ed me away, telling me that I was making a big deal out of nothing and that I focused too much on negative events that were resolved long ago. The flag remained mounted on the wall for years.
The church taught me that my perspective is invalid and that the pain of my people is unimportant.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT RACISM IS HILARIOUS…