When Black Americans Become Good Germans
African-Americans were the richest people ever to come to these shores.
They were billionaires -- in the realm of the soul.
Ever since then we have sung the harmonies forged by slaves in the crucible of their experience. We remember and cherish those in a way we don't embrace the melodies of the Polish coal miners, or Irish railroadmen, or Mexican charros.
Nobody impacted the culture as they did.
They were rich in grace.
When their political hopes were dashed after Reconstruction, then -- as often happens -- their religious commitment only deepened. (Compare China after Tiananmen Square.)
Next they were spread across the whole country, immigrating to form pockets in every state. They bore a fabulous heritage, and were ready to be leaven in every city's life.
Instead, what happened?
The light went out. It was extinguished. A massive damper was pulled over it; the glow was reserved for those inside. Black Christianity became a part of black identity, to be husbanded but not shared. Churches were reconfigured as black cultural forts -- as bastions for defense, not bases for outreach. (Local churches did not dispatch preachers as far as Chinatown, let alone China.) Even in Brooklyn, when a rabbi was hoped by thousands to be the messiah, and signs were pasted up -- "We want messiah now!" -- black churches only a few blocks away could not stretch beyond their cultural boundaries to engage in a response. Black Christianity had become all about "just us."
We may disagree about how this transformation happened, but the cultural deformation was real. For half a century, political, academic, and media leaders pounded into black consciousness the idea that, for them, blame was an archaic concept. The ability to feel ashamed -- an essential ingredient for any system of morality -- was to be eradicated. No matter what actions were taken or deeds committed, nothing should ever cause them to feel they had soiled their garments. And there had to be unity against the outsider: "just us."
Thereafter, an unfocused milieu evolved, unique among all those groups who make up the mosaic of America. It was double-minded: it proclaimed itself Christian, in every way -- even a rebirth of the New Testament church, in that it featured its own apostles and saints. It had perhaps more churches, per capita, than any other.
Abortion. No other ethnic group has so totally thrown its support behind abortion. A look at the Black Caucus for the past fifty years is enough to prove the point. Black institutional churches remained silent as fifty million perished. Today, in places, black abortions outnumber live births, but opposition to abortion is not a part of being "just us."
Or consider the inner cities. In Detroit, the illegitimacy rate is more than 80%. Yet Detroit has no dearth of churches and pastors. Is it possible to believe that Christianity was ever preached there? The gospel overcomes the world, not the other way around.
Or, to put it another way, Christianity is the salt of the earth; that means it is the preserving spice of society. And yet even the two-parent family has disintegrated in the inner cities. How did a branch of the faith that is so proudly Christian on Sundays lose so much of its punch?
Moreover, no other subculture has nourished a Farrakhan, who waits for the mother ship to arrive and expects the extermination of whites. There is no Latino or Asian or Native American equivalent.
There is no major infiltration of Islam into Latin, Asian, Native American, or white cultures -- but Islam flourishes in black culture. It is treated as respectable; trendy pastors adopt new names and become imams, and the churches refrain from launching a vigorous response.
To defend the faith might mean opening fissures in "just us."
There is no Latin or Asian Sharpton, damning Jews:
"If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house."
"Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights."
In no other subculture is so much blatant anti-Semitism tolerated; it has festered for decades like an open sore, and no dressing is ever applied. What Latin or Asian poet has written like this?
"I got the extermination blues, jew-boys. I got the Hitler syndrome figured."
"We are all beautiful (except white people, they are full of, and made of sh&t)."
"Come up, black dada / nihilismus. Rape the white girls. Rape / their fathers. Cut the mothers' throats."
"The fag's death they gave us on a cross... they give us to worship a dead jew and not ourselves."
Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) was not abjured; he was anointed Poet Laureate of New Jersey (somebody must have liked his work). Molefi Kete Asante included him in his list of 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia.
Was no offense to be expressed at the scorning of Jesus on the cross, because the derision came from "one of us"?
In no other subculture are fully uniformed racist agitators given leave to rant from pulpits. Aryan Nations and Nazi speakers are not guest preachers in white churches; if they were, those churches would be speedily booted from their denominations. Yet Black Panthers often figure before black congregations. During the Duke lacrosse case, Malik Zulu Shabazz himself was made keynote speaker at a church rally, attended by civic and civil rights leaders. By report, the Jewish name of one of the falsely accused lacrosse players was mocked. Snickering resulted -- as if names like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Isaiah, and Hosea are proper subjects for derision inside a church (or anywhere else). Another Panther speaker expended himself in denouncing "Zionism."
There was no dissent. No one even got up and left in symbolic protest. Those taunts and others like them are too often swallowed instead of being answered -- even by leaders, pastors, apostles, prophets, and gospel singers. (Because it's all about "just us"?)
But, some will argue, the majority of African-Americans aren't in sync with those views. "We don't agree. We don't endorse such things. Just because we don't speak up out loud, you shouldn't assume we all support this. It doesn't speak for me."
But there are times when silence, too, is a sin. Ask the Germans who were still when the Gestapo came for the Jews, or who continued with their church services undisturbed, while nearby extermination camps were processing the daily quota. It is a faux excuse to hide behind: "It wasn't us. It was someone else."
Because it is always about "just us."