“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”-James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
“It is a miracle that a nation of black people has so fervently continued to believe in a turn-the-other-cheek and heaven-for-you-after-you-die philosophy! It is a miracle that the American black people have remained a peaceful people, while catching all the centuries of hell that they have caught, here in white man’s heaven!”-Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Years ago, during the first semester of my junior year in college, I decided to enroll in an Intro to African American Studies class. I had never been particularly interested in “Black stuff,” but I was transitioning from becoming a science major to a psychology major, and an African American Studies class seemed like an easy elective to knock out while I switched disciplines.
I wasn’t fully prepared for how my life would change.
A dashiki-wearing, Yoruba priest, PhD-professor greeted me.
And told me everything I knew about myself was a lie.
That I had, in fact, been brainwashed.
He schooled my classmates and me in all things Black. We learned about everything from the great pyramids in Africa to the social movements of the 1960s. The information he passed along to me deeply challenged who I was and what I thought I knew about what it meant to be Black in America.
Nothing was off limits: not even the religious faith I firmly held.
He exposed the contradictions of the Christian faith by explaining its origins and how it was a fairly new religion in the span of world history. Moreover, we discussed how many aspects and figures of Christianity—angels, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus—resembled and had probably been stolen borrowed from the faith traditions of my ancestors.
Even more troubling were the ways most of my ancestors were introduced to the faith—through violence, manipulation, and coercion.
It angered me.
Indeed, before the semester was even halfway done, I was raging. I was black, conscious, and Christian. And I was struggling to reconcile those seemingly warring identities.
Christianity seemed like the antithesis to being black and conscious.
And if I’m honest, years later, every day is still a struggle.
To be black, conscious, and Christian is to raise a different set of questions. It’s to participate in, as Dr. Robert M. Franklin calls it, a “vocation of argument” with God. It is to deeply interrogate God and each other about this faith we lay claim to.
How do we reckon with the fact that European colonizers went to West Africa, gave our ancestors the Bible, stole their land, and then stole their bodies?
What does it mean that we have a history filled with black organized resistance to white supremacy—resistance that has been informed by a deep faith in Christianity?
Did the Bible empower and mobilize black people or has it been opium for our people, keeping us doped up on high praise where we can’t see the hell we’re living on this earth?
I know I’m not alone confronting the challenge of being black, conscious and Christian.
Many of us struggle with these questions even more given the current political and social climate. We’ve stretched the Bible far and wide in our interpretations, and many of our radical, black Christian leaders are still fully invested in the movement.
Yet the question remains: Do all black lives matter to God?
I’m not sure there’s proof to substantiate that claim. Black people in this country have experienced enslavement, Jim (& Jane) Crow, mass incarceration, and police brutality to name a few.
Black lives mattering to God is not an apparent or obvious reality. When black people die at the hands of police or a person protected by the state every 28 hours, how could it be apparent?
When the overwhelming majority of our churches still preach and practice an #AllLivesMatter gospel that is detached from reality, how could it be obvious?
Despite the past and present challenges of being Black and Christian, many of my ancestors and elders still believed and believe that black lives matter to God.
I’m willing to continue working through tough questions for them.
Even when I don’t feel close to God or interested in the faith, the love, community, and communion I receive from the fellowship of black people in the church is worth it.
Joshua Crutchfield is a history graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University researching and writing about the intersection between the Black Church and Black Power. He is also the co-founder of the #BlkTwitterstorians monthly twitter chat.