Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays… it is centered most around family and food, two things I love dearly. In addition, because of my family”s Christian heritage, we saw it fit to share what we were thankful for… attempting to embody this thing called gratefulness. But is that really the right posture we ought to have as Christians towards Thanksgiving day?
The central issues that ought be considered have to do with history, memory, narrative, and power. As they say… the winner gets to right the history books. In this case, it is a warm fuzzy story of indigenous Americans helping the Europeans through a rough start, and them sharing a meal. The picture in my mind just leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy all over. However, what is not mentioned is that while the natives did in fact show much hospitality, the Western Europeans came and took everything from them. It is a story of conquest, imperialism, colonization, disease, suffering, loss, and almost complete genocide.
I do not dare suggest that a heart of gratitude is always an appropriate attitude to have at all times. We ought to be people that give thanks. But we should also be discerning people who give thanks for appropriate things. In this case, this “holiday” is a power move by the strong, to narrate history in a way that favors what was done. I am sure that this holiday is seen as hurtful and insulting to many 1st nations peoples.
This would be like their being a holiday to celebrate how helpful the African indentured servants were in 1619 in Jamestown, and how appreciative the westerners were of their hardwork. So because of this beautiful collaboration we are going to celebrate Unity Day through large festivities and parties. If this did exist, I am pretty sure what position I would take in response. So why is thanksgiving any different? Well as I write I am heading off to church and then family to “celebrate”. It must be our apathy towards others that allow us to ignore the sufferings of others.
Did you know?
During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African. Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.
In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria. It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then. Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.
Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa. His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.
While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers. In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse. The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it. Check it out for yourself.
Do you know the origins of black history month? it actually started this day (February 7th) back in 1926. It was initiated by Carter G. Woodson who wanted to make a concerted effort to incorporate the accomplishments and history of African Americans in the larger American story. Unfortunately, the black experience was systematically ignored as though black people were invisible and contributed nothing to society. Well, I guess some things don’t change much, since a few blacks are hyper-visible while the majority of black people continue to live in the realm of dominant societal invisibility. Anyway, Negro History Week was originally picked because it landed during the week of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Give us an inch and we’ll take a foot, give us a week, hey we are gonna take a month!
While most months of the year our country is consumed in white history and culture, ignoring the contributions and culture of African Americans, February (yes the shortest month) is set aside for the purpose of learning and celebrating African American history and culture. For many this month is only Black History month in name, while in reality everyone just goes on as usual. However this month I invite you to actually be intentional, listening and learning from the rich heritage and history of the black community!
How will you participate in Black History Month?
I recently started inching through J. Kameron Carter’s book Race: A Theological Account. I’ve found him to be an extremely insightful scholar and theologian as he discusses the origins of racial classification through a theological framing. He’s a heavy weight, but I promise his insights are worth it. Here is a video of him giving a lecture a Columbia, let me know what ya think.
Check this video out (and yes this seems to have been made right when Obama becomes President, which is why he is such a huge part at the end.)
What do you think? (This post is not meant to be political about Pres. Obama, but the black american experience in totality)
Messiah College Centennial Celebrations: Keynote lecture
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Alphonse Fletcher University
Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for
African and African American Research at Harvard University
Messiah College Humanities Symposium Lecture
“Genetics and Genealogy” • February 25, 2010, 8:00 p.m.
Brubaker Auditorium, Eisenhower Campus Center
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Ph.D., will deliver the second keynote lecture of the Centennial year and the keynote address for the Messiah College Humanities Symposium. Professor Gates is editor-in-chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies and Africana Studies, and of The Root, an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture, and genealogy. In 2008, Oxford University Press published the African American National Biography. Co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, it is an eight-volume set containing more than 4,000 biographical entries on both well known and obscure African Americans. He is most recently the author of In Search of Our Roots (Crown, 2009), a meditation on genetics, genealogy, and race, and a collection of expanded profiles featured on his PBS documentary series, “African American Lives.” His other recent books are America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans (Warner Books, 2004), and African American Lives, co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford, 2004).
Immediately following the lecture, audience members are invited to attend a public book signing by Dr. Gates in the Eisenhower Campus Center.
This event is open to the public. Seating is by ticket only; no charge. Tickets available beginning January 14, 2010 through the Messiah College Ticket Office, (717) 691-6036.
While most think of lynchings as something from another era, lynchings while not as numerous went well into the 20th century. The last recorded lynching was on the 21st of March, 1981. The young man’s name was Michael Donald, and he was lynched at the age of 19. Even though we no longer have lynchings occurring in our country currently, nooses have continued to be used as a sign of terror and intimidation in contemporary America. Should we just forget this history as so many have suggested? Freestyle with me…
Prominent African American theologian James Cone has made the connection between crucifixions in the first century under the Roman Empire and lynchings in post Civil War America. Both of these rugged trees were used to maintain control over a people group. Criminals, revolutionaries, and innocent men were hung up on these trees to not only kill the individual, but to also put fear in the eyes of those who saw these dead bodies hanging. Around 70 A.D. over 6,000 Jews were crucified during the Jewish war. And there were over 5,000 blacks lynched after the civil war.
It is on the cross that Jesus, a Jew under Roman rule was crucified upon as well. The cross has become the primary symbol for the Christian faith. However, its historical significance has been lost in current American culture. As we proudly sport crosses around our necks and on top of our buildings, we also have lost the symbolic, cultural, and social weight of the cross from a 1st century Palestine perspective. The cross of Jesus must be understood in light of the Roman empire and the rulers that harshly ruled over the Jews. In fact, for us to understand the cross we must step up to the foot of the lynching tree. For it is there, in the harsh, ugly history of lynchings that we get a glimpse of the Cross. And it is there on the Cross that Jesus defeats the dominant rulers and authorities of the world, while also defeating death itself.
“Colossians 2:15 Disarming the rulers and authorities, he (Jesus) has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
While we tend to think of lynchings as an act by a few hateful individuals, the reality is that often times it was an event for the whole family. Many times as seen above, the whole town came out to watch the black body swing until the last breath has gone out.
Often black males were castrated before they were lynched. Many were also set on fire as this picture depicts. Pictures then would be taken with the townsfolk posing (often with grins) in the background. These public spectacle lynchings were especially common the first few decades after the civil war and the abolition of slavery.