Lies and the Traumatized Tokenized
By: Michelle Higgins
“It fits, but you can't make it work. Where there's pain, there's got to be hurt
But the green grass grows from the dirt. That's a fact of life, that's life
The good Lord stands behind every step.”
Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu
Reading: Daniel 3
I grew up in the Black Pentecostal tradition hearing sermons on “the three Hebrew boys” at least a few times a year. My sister and I can spell and pronounce some of the most obscure Old Testament names (#PKperks. Black Bible nerds, unite!). Whenever my dad preached on this text, he always said, “We know about that fourth man in the furnace.” Whether Nebuchadnezzar saw an angel or the Lord’s appearance Himself, this vision of one “like a son of the gods” is a comfort to the faithful and a warning to the arrogant: God’s people bow down to only one King.
There’s a new image to worship every time we see the news, check our timelines, or look around our neighborhoods. The comfort of our coming King is that His Word reminds us we need not put our trust in these idols, and His wisdom to us is that we take care not to construct idols ourselves. In some freedom struggles, Black women become the image people are expected to worship. In most power struggles we are the poster-people used to diversify a crowd of worshippers, legitimizing whichever racist, misogynist enterprise has been cooked up by the empire of our day.
One response of the fearful elite to Black women is to demonize us; another is to tokenize us. Those in power pretend in public that they adore us, while behind closed doors their public remarks are a cover-up for their plots to silence us so they can maintain the status quo. Our Lord Jesus knows this experience more than we could imagine. His story and His truth are our comforts. God’s words to the prophet Isaiah ring ever true: “Do not fear what they fear, do not dread what they dread.”
Multi-ethnic churches often act as numbing agents to the pain of those who are unrepresented. Our families are told they will have more power to preach reconciliation than in another church. Much like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we may have higher positions than others who are marginalized. But the question remains, whose house is it?
Are we pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of heaven, or the flag of a government founded on massacre and oppression? These questions loom over these United divided States.
Are we building the Lord’s house, or towers to the machinations of men? Both are worship spaces, though only one is sacred.
So many of us know the desolation of being tokenized, and then utterly forgotten. In the Evangelical church in the United States, urban missions has become one of the central myths of “valuing diversity.” But the truth is that many of the most conservative white evangelicals prefer Black folks to be seen and unheard, at least until the assimilation process (usually labeled discipleship) is complete. Meanwhile, white evangelicals who call themselves “allies” to radical Black liberation run away from home instead of facing their own racist inheritance when they “get woke.” Either way, we been lied to, fam. To those who attempt to disciple us into whiteness, we respond by awaiting the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. My sisters, do not fear the cultural expression they fear. Do not dread their diminishing prosperity and populace.
Black women experience deception even in liberal movements that claim to amplify our voice. Angela Davis writes about the early struggle for gender equality, when “Woman” was the supposed litmus test for people organizing for change: “Not every woman seemed to qualify. Black women were virtually invisible within the protracted campaign for woman suffrage.” Frederick Douglass spoke often about the “suffrage movement suffering because it wouldn’t demand votes for Black women as well as white.” Famed male ally to suffragists Harry Beecher Ward said, “Women are more important than Black men.” And y’all know he was not referring to women of color. My God, how can we sing in these strange and stolen lands!?
My sisters, we are witnesses to lifelong seasons of waiting for justice. Black women are expected to coddle the people who exploit us and only challenge the people who want us dead. But we know the truth: manipulation is just as deadly as outright hatred. All the lies that tokenize still traumatize.
All creation is traumatized by sin. In our waiting for ultimate renewal, we must continue to confess sin that comes out of the lies we tell ourselves. Particular trauma often leads to particular sin. It is easy to see the way a traumatized person can traumatize others.
The impact of displacement and removal has long plagued the Black diaspora. In government, and sacred and social spaces, we are colonized and mistreated by the same people who give assurances that if we leave our people and serve theirs, we will be given status and security.
The best-case outcome is an ambiguous sense of belonging, since any idea of “normal” is dictated by people in power who are asking marginalized communities to bend to their images of right-ness into whiteness. But cultural diversity is God-ordained. He promises to restore the inheritance of His people who are languishing. And oh y’all, how often I feel our Blackness languishes for every stride towards liberation.
In our grief (our silent tears) of bearing communal loss and crying over social ills that we feel nobody understands, we can grow complacent in order to cope. In our fatigue (our weary years) of singing Zion’s songs while our captors mock or appropriate our culture, we internalize oppression in order to blend in. Whiteness, like all demonic deception, is not just an action carried out by an individual. It is a predatory institution, seeking to steal, kill and destroy. Because the primary defenders of whiteness are often baptized into a nationalism thinly veiled as evangelicalism, theirs are the kingdoms which sin seeks to build.
Sin against Black bodies that comes like a wolf disguised in suburban safety can tempt us to sin with or against our bodies and the bodies of our kindred.
We are tempted to bow down to the golden images of those who manipulate privileges for their own power. We begin to manipulate any newfound power to have those under us worship us as well. We might hide our motives or blanket them in a veil we call authority or expertise. We will always become like the things we worship. Daniel writes about three men who stood in bold ambivalence to the foolishness of a conqueror king, because he was not their true king. They knew who they worshipped, and the more they lived like Him the closer they came to His presence. The testimony of their accusers is a life goal for REAL, sisters. The king’s loyals said, “These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Oh that this would be what the empire knows of us today!
But we must not fear the fire, for King Jesus is there. His truth is our sweet escape from every traumatizing lie.
When Christ returns He will gather those who are riddled with the frantic distress of trauma. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord Jesus. He will expose all falsehood and force every person bent on evil to bend their knee to the Truthful One. The King is coming to destroy the idols erected to the importance of America and her so-called churches. Then He will usher each tokenized child to an honored seat at the very table of blessing, in the kingdom that their faithfulness helped to build. Those whose voices have been hushed or made ashamed will sing and shout the victory.
Prayer of Confession [some portions from PrayingwithJamesBaldwin.com ]
Holy God, we are afflicted by various diseases, poisoned by our own trauma and miseducation, and fearful of the mortifying fires of sanctification.
But You tend to the needs of the isolated child inside of us who has been hurt . . . is still hurting.
We need You and we believe that You will show up in the fire to redeem our plagued pasts.
Merciful Father, we leave our people to seek higher ground from the floods of cultural peculiarity. We sometimes flee to forget the sufferings of the lowly. Forgive us.
We know that You will topple the mountains of men, and set the downtrodden in places of glory.
But we are often perpetrators of violence towards the humble of our own people. Let us never use our power to control rather than to free our sisters and brothers.
O King Jesus, You are King of our life. From You comes all power and authority. Your sacrifice frees us to confess our sins, and empowers us with the meekness that makes us bold enough to face any fire.
[Confess your failures before God and your desperate need of Him in your own way]
Holy God, where the oppressors cover themselves in veils, uncover them. Hold their faces in the light, and let them know that You see their evil deeds.
Holy Son, when I try cover my sin, help me to remember that there is no hiding from You. Liberate me and bring my sin into the light, that I may repent.
Holy Spirit, cover me with Your grace like a womb, and use my life to cover others in that same grace. Help me to remember that the truth I tell in my life echoes in the lives of those little ones who live and grow into Your good future. Amen.