Never Lose Sight: Putting One Foot In Front of the Next

It literally pains me when I hear people take cheap shots at poor black people. Recently, I had a conversation in which someone did just that. The most troubling part is that 9 out 10 times when I have such encounters, the person offering such a diatribe is a white, middle class, person that lives, moves, and breathes purely in dominant culture. They have never lived in poor black neighborhoods and they certainly do not have significant relationships with poor black people.  Yet somehow this doesn’t appear as the slightest barrier for those who want to verbally abuse the most vulnerable citizens of this land. Apparently, actual 1st hand knowledge or experience isn’t a prerequisite for being an expert on black people’s problems. Stereotypes from media are apparently sufficient. Besides, poor black people are easy targets, people can say what they want, often have a laugh at their expense, and there will be no social consequences for such action. Poor black people have no champion to defend them socially or politically.

When I was growing up my family scraped by with the bare necessities but there was never a short supply of love. By High School, my family had clearly crossed over firmly into the black middle class. We moved to the burbs and I attended a middle class suburban high school from grades 10-12. Since college, I have been living in black neighborhoods (1st in Harrisburg, PA, then in Philly) comprised of mostly poor and working class families. However, my own family is most certainly middle class. Everyday I live with the realities that come with being a young black male. The fear, the stereotypes, the clutched purses, and the always present and perpetual threat of being suspected for the crime of being black at the wrong time or place, that is when cops are looking for any black body to fit their description. Being black is draining. Blackness still continues to be described pejoratively in America. To be a black american is to constantly have to tell yourself that you are somebody, that you are made in the image of God, that you are creative, and intelligent. To not do so will result in being drowned in the negative words that dominant culture has to say about your existence and ‘your kind’.

Yet, I don’t even have to deal with where my next meal is coming from, or the stigma of not having a college degree while searching for a job (God forbid you have a conviction, because there are almost no options for you when you are black). I have healthcare, food, housing, transportation, and a reliable and livable income. And in a couple years I will have a PhD, which will make me extremely privileged educationally speaking, within the black community. Blackness by itself is tiring enough, but to be poor and black is a burden I honestly can only sympathize with at this point (rather than empathize with) as  my neighbors share with me their struggles to find work and provide for their family. And yet, it is precisely poor black families that are often the most popular targets of the media and the middle class. Through vitriol and stereotype, they get blasted 24/7 for every aspect of their lives. They are the scapegoats of America, who will champion them?

And yet what is amazing, and surely a sign that there is a God in the world, is that many black folk courageously get up each morning  (and have done so for 400 years of oppression) with a renewed determination to keep going. They lift their heads, get up, put one foot in front of the next and continue to struggle and believe for better. Folks create out of nothing, stretch little into much, hustle, grind, and make due with scraps. Can some families do better in this area or that? Sure, which family couldn’t? Cause most folks who blast poor black folk need to look in the mirror at the log in their eye, rather than worrying about the spec in someone else’s. Some people’s dysfunction is just hidden behind middle class suburban-home walls and are not the topic of discussion for American consumption, but I know that the vanilla suburbs is full of drama and strife (remember, I lived in a mostly white middle class suburb for 3 years in high school!). So, maybe it’s time to stop scapegoating the most vulnerable among us, because there is one person that is a champion for the poor and oppressed, and his name is Jesus, and he doesn’t take kindly to those that would trample over the vulnerable.

“As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment.”” (NET, Luke 20:45-47)

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

15 thoughts on “Never Lose Sight: Putting One Foot In Front of the Next

  1. This is so touching Drew…we personally are experiencing being drawn into this more and more..thanks for drawing attention to what is important to us and to God’s kingdom. How can we say we are a complete church or a community without realizing the importance of our brothers and sisters. This reminds of what the Word says about the weak & the strong members of a body. How can the strong member say,”I don’t belong to the body” & how can the weak say they’re not part of it either…without all the parts the body is incomplete…we cannot limp and find our way to God we got to walk together and take others who can’t walk along with us…When I was doing the research paper for Bernardo’s class I came across C.F. Andrews , who was a British priest who came to teach in India. He called his entry into India as his second birth. Here he mentions that he discovered the Christ of the East and that the Christianity of the West is not complete without the faith of the East. We wish & pray for God to open people’s eyes and be sensitive to the Wholeness of his body, the Wholeness in healing, the Wholeness of His Vision for the His people as a whole….(wish I was as articulate as you!)

    1. Thanks Sara. I wish folks were as open to receive and learn from “the other” like you and Bernardo have demonstrated in your lives. While we were in Harrisburg, your home was truly an “alternative” space that witnessed to the way of Jesus through hospitality. Renee and I have both been deeply impacted by that time. Thanks for stopping by and commenting and offering a non-indigenous to the west perspective rooted in Christian faith.

  2. This post is reminiscent of one I read a few weeks ago, on the topic of Biblical literalism in regards to homosexuality. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say being black and being gay are the same, just that this author makes some great points which relate to yours (eg. examining logs in eyes). I see many parallels in your anger of the treatment of poor black people and her’s on the treatment of homosexuals. I think the crux of both arguments is that we treat people like the “other”, not like “ourselves”, as a way to justify our lifestyles. It requires recognizing this to begin to correct it, both by how we treat others and how we live ourselves. As always, thank you for your perspective.

    http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/literalist-gluttony

    1. Thanks Chris, you are on the money. When we are unable to see the image of God in someone else, that will certainly change how we perceive, talk about, or engage with such folks. Thanks for sharing, be well!

  3. Thank you so much. Many of my intuitions and struggles within the color spectrum I live in you have validated with your words and experience. Because of you I have a logical argument when I discuss white privilege with my friends, not simply a feeling. Because of you I am emboldened to develop friendships with those of color- no longer afraid. I was not wrong to send my boys to an “inner” city school-I use that term loosely as it pertains to the red-necked city I live in. I am not wrong in being concerned with how to develop the same experience for my daughter, within a different school which meets her educational needs.

    I accept all of this is privilege for me. As that veil is pulled back, my focus now is how to include others within what I take for granted.

    1. Thank you for sharing your heart. Breaking out of the racial mold that most live in is hard, especially because people all around you will try to inject fear into your mind that adds additional and un-needed worry. The reality is that kids that grow up with a diverse social network will have an advantage to other kids, because will be better equipped than most white kids to interact in a diverse world (which in America will only continue to grow more and more diverse). Any small challenges that they face in the present are nothing in comparison to the well-rounded experience you have blessed them with. Sounds like you are dong a great job, keep learning and allowing that wisdom to shape your parenting as well as your own life and perspectives. Grace and Peace!

  4. This was a good late night post. I do feel that black people and definitely poor black people have always been the scapegoats of America. It is especially discouraging when I see middle class black folk down others who are of a different economic status.

    Thanks Drew for having your head on straight and I feel you on the vanilla dysfunction. Pastoring a church in the suburbs of LA taught me experientially that sin is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives.

    1. Thanks, glad you were able to stop by and read. And yes, black middle class folk are also guilty of this! They will complain about racism when it is about glass ceilings, but quick to throw the black poor under the bus.

      And yes, the dysfunction is everywhere, its just that some folk have the means & the energy to keep it hidden. Take care.

  5. Thank you for your post, and you are so right about the white suburbs. A year or so ago our suburban church sponsored a picnic for a sister church in Philly that ministers to lower economic African Americans. As I chatted with an African American woman from the church, she asked me to please pray for their youth, because of all the struggles and temptations they face. Of course I agreed, but I was thinking of all the ways that our kids have gotten into the same kind of trouble — drugs, alcohol, STDs, petty crime, mental health issues…I wanted to say, “Yes, and please pray for our kids, too!” Kids who grow up in affluent school districts, who have every opportunity to do well, and turn to selling drugs or stealing because it’s such an easy way to make a buck. Kids who get into college easily and drop out just as easily because they can’t or don’t want to do the work.

    I’m not saying that these white suburban kids face the same issues as poor black kids whose everyday lives involve avoiding gun violence. Not at all. I am agreeing with you that whites in the suburbs often do the same crimes, have the same failures, but no one is pointing the same kind of judgmental finger at them. And their privilege allows them to stay out of the criminal justice system (because their parents can afford expensive lawyers to keep them out of jail).

    1. Marianne,

      I am in full agreement with you, and you offered great examples of what I am talking about. I often say that when a poor black kid uses drugs, people see him/her as the source of social disintegration in America, but when a white kid uses the same drugs, they always are “just experimenting”, you know kids will be kids. I’ve heard that language my whole life. Anyway, thanks for sharing, it’s always insightful.

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