It’s been over a month since the body of Oluwatoyin Salau was found and I’m still enraged. In tweets shortly before her murder, the 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist revealed truths that still haunt me with aftershocks of anger and grief. In one thread, she reveals she trusted the Holy Spirit to protect her as she got into a truck with a stranger who passed himself off as a man of God, hoping to eventually find her way back to the church where she had been seeking refuge and spiritual guidance. Just days later, her body was found in the home of a man who had been arrested for battery twice in the weeks leading up to her murder.
The pangs of regret for trusting men who came in God’s name – and perhaps God’s own self – is an all too familiar sorrow for Black women.
In the weeks since, there’s another tweet that sticks out to me the most. On June 6th, Oluwatoyin wrote, “The same [n-ggas] i’m risking my life for are the same [n-ggas] who are convinced they are stealing away my ‘innocence’ or jewel not knowing that I am standing on a rock. Therefore I can never be broken or robbed.”
The irony that Oluwatoyin lost her life and Black women are consistently willing to risk our lives for men who harm us in myriad ways is one that I’ve been wrestling with.
Around the time that Oluwatoyin went missing, many Black women, like her, were knee-deep in the movement demanding justice for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Interestingly enough, Breonna Taylor is the only one of the three who has yet to have the needle of justice nudged on her behalf in a meaningful way. Breonna’s murderers are free and yet, in many ways, the rage of Black men has simmered at best, or has been redirected toward Black women, at worst.
For instance, after rapper Noname tweeted about top selling rappers being M.I.A. in the public discourse regarding Black Lives Matter, J. Cole took it upon himself to personally speak up on behalf of M.I.A. rappers and Black men everywhere by dedicating his time to writing, recording, and releasing a response record decrying Noname’s tone and failure to take a more gentle approach to educating ignorant Black men.
Perhaps this back-and-forth was on Lecrae’s mind when he decided to participate in a back-and-forth exchange of his own with Black women on Twitter. The exchanges occurred after Lecrae participated in a sit-down with megachurch pastor Louie Giglio and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, during which Giglio attempted to rebrand white privilege as “white blessing.” Lecrae later admitted to fumbling on his response, but his initial interactions with Black women who called out his lack of rebuttal on stage was pernicious. In one since-deleted tweet, he snidely replied, “You right, starting businesses, employing black people, building schools, protesting, writing books, and advocating for others is so weak of me. I gotta do better. Help me.”
In my community of Black women small group members, we tried to process these toxic interactions against the backdrop of national unrest regarding the mistreatment of Black men and women and – of all things – a Bible study on relationships. We hit a wall one day when someone posed the question, “What’s the benefit of being in relationship with men who don’t understand our rage?”
As single and dating women, we had been talking to our perspective candidates for days about George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery; holding space for their pain and rage; sending them reminders of how valued and loved they were; and lacing up our sneakers and donning our masks to risk our lives amid a global pandemic to demand justice beside them. But, when it comes to our rage for Breonna and Oluwatoyin, their passion fizzles. As Brittney Cooper writes in Eloquent Rage, “Black women have the right to be mad as hell… Black women know what it means to love ourselves in a world that hates us.”
That beginning of Oluwatoyin’s tweet keeps echoing in my mind: it’s the same men we are risking our lives for who don’t understand the rage that consumes Black women. It’s the same men—and others, too. It’s rappers, and pastors, and politicians, and neighbors, and colleagues, and Christians. Above all, it’s the lack of understanding from Christians and Black men who claim to be men of God that sticks with me.
How is it that Christians can so easily understand the rage of God in the Old Testament and Jesus at the temple (John 2:13-22; Matt. 21:12-13), but struggle to understand why Black women could be so angry? How can Black men feel the rage that they feel over the disregard of their lives yet disregard the rage Black women express at the erasure of ours?
In addition to flipping tables at the temple, Jesus was angry at the stubborn hearts of the Pharisees who would rather he stick to the law than heal on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Jesus also passionately called out the disciples when they fell asleep as he prayed in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:40). How is Jesus’ rage and calling out of the disciples any different than Black women who call out Black men and others while asking, “Can you not stand beside us in this dark hour?”
The good news is that not only does Jesus’ anger and frustration challenge the simplistic notion that “anger is bad, letting it go is good,” his interactions with women reveal guidance for men like Lecrae and J. Cole who need a little help.
For instance, Jesus defied ethnic and gender divides to have a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). His decision to break away from his crew of male disciples to have a one-on-one moment with a woman that the disciples most likely would have never spoken to (John 4: 27) allowed the Good News to reach people and places that might not have otherwise been reached. This interaction was a bold representation of Jesus’ respect for women and his faith in their ability to be a trusted source of truth, regardless of their background.
Shortly after his encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus defends another woman against mob-like behavior and mentalities. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and a group of others in John 8, they told him that her just punishment was a stoning. Instead of consenting to having the woman stoned, Jesus responded, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Through his actions, Jesus encourages men to take a long look at themselves before publicly shaming and punishing women.
Jesus showed compassion at the tears of a weeping woman (Luke 7:13); he was attuned to – and sympathized with – a woman’s anxieties (Luke 10:38-42); and he acknowledged and stood in defense of a woman’s sacrifice, while safeguarding her legacy (Matt. 26:10-13). Jesus showed women respect, he amplified their voices, he listened to their fears and anxieties, and he defended women’s honor in the face of other men. Any man, or any person for that matter, who aims to be like Christ, should also aim to embody his interactions and identification with women.
Black women deserve men who understand our rage. We deserve men who see our rage, who allow it to be, who feel the weight of it, who allow us to express it, and who stand alongside us enraged until its need to exist is no more. Isn’t that what Jesus would do?