Adapted from Chapter 4, “Coin Drop”
Throughout history, the Black experience has meant engaging in the practice of killing our emotions. This goes against God’s design for us as people. Emotion is defined as an instinctive or intuitive feeling distinguished from the reasoning of knowledge. I’m focusing on the “instinctive or intuitive feeling” aspect of the definition. For too long, we as a people did not have the freedom to express the deep well of our intuitions holistically. Society wedged us into a corner to erroneously set a course for us that was not of God’s intended purpose.
However, there are some icons who lived contrary to the norm of society; these were prophets such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Malcolm X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Lauryn Hill, Tom Skinner, Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and many more. These heroes as well as many unnamed others are symbols of courage who gave voice to the emotions we have often felt.
Many of us have tried over and over and over to master a way of life that is not for us.
The reality is this: God made us a mighty people group who are creatively prophetic in nature, but our attempts to stifle that emotion in response to injustice and defeat have been the collective death of us. Yes, we have the Nina Simone types whose art and protest are indistinguishable, but music is not where life is lived for most of us. It is, however, a cry of the soul—the souls of people like her who were not surrounded by a community that supported them.
Blackness redefined means we refuse to be different from our authentic selves or to convey an emotion different from what we intuitively know to be true and are designed to express. Because of the traditions killing our freedom both outwardly and inwardly, we have a skewed view of humanity and Blackness, and it must change. We must see the actual condition of ourselves. People like Spike Lee leaked these intuitions into films in an attempt to improve our state of Black identity. We need to know our true condition; it is the reason we must change.
CHEAT CODE NO. 5
We must change the way we relate to each other emotionally and sexually, we must change the way we handle those in pain, and we must be careful what identities we try to put on or take from others. Black men cannot leave their Black women behind and call it progression. Black men and women must refrain from cannibalizing each other due to the trauma comparison of who had it worse. We are powerful creatures, and God gave us powerful emotions to express our needs. We can practice over and over and pretend like this is the path God has for us—or we can stop and get on the path of healing and change.
Don Furious, my therapist, told me I was in pain and that this pain had become a badge of honor in my community. In order to earn it, though, I had to ignore and endure; this was antithetical to God’s hope for me. That day, more lights came on for me. I realized I needed to call out this problem and change the direction our people had walked in for centuries, calling it following God. This is not God or Blackness. It is what Lauryn Hill says in her song “I Get Out”: “traditions killing our freedoms.” The refusal to recognize our condition and the need for change has killed many of us for too long.
I remember the first time I read about Ida B. Wells in James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. I was captivated and compelled by her willingness to change the status quo and hold accountable both white and Black churches that did not speak out against the lynching of Black people. Her life struck a chord as she challenged people to understand that a life lived with Christ could not focus on the spiritual component of the person while ignoring the physical realities happening around them. Even when she received no support from a number of Black and white churches due to the fear and tyranny prevalent at the time, Wells persisted in changing the course and path for her people.
Her legacy continues today. She stood for calling people to put their gospel to the test in a volatile society even if it cost you your life. She did not allow people to believe they were Christians in spirit while ignoring what was happening in the physical society (especially when many of the lynchings were done by churchgoers and church leaders). She called people to live an integrated gospel of the kingdom.
CHEAT CODE NO. 6
The biggest revelation Don Furious gave me was the need for me to live as an integrated person. He wrote down the different components of a person: the spirit, the soul, the mind, the psyche, the physical actions, the eyes, and the deepest gut feelings we have. He said the person who lives as one, successfully and consistently bringing all these pieces of themselves together, experiences God’s joy. This person lives as one person every day in every situation of their life. If this freedom is robbed from you and your people, you reproduce bondage and nothing more.
Don said, “Adam, you only know one part of freedom: living to provide as survival, and that part has been met with shame and uncertainty.”
I believe we need to start asking the question, what does it mean to live integrated, and how is it achieved? How are your thoughts and feelings realized without the shame of wondering, “What if someone knew I did this or thought this way?” To live in this fear is to disintegrate yourself.
Don went on to say, “I believe no one can thrive with this type of existence. God has not called us to live fractured and disintegrated lives but integrated and abundant lives.”
Blackness redefined rejects the “traditional” belief that we must conceal and edit pieces of ourselves for acceptance and progression. We see the landscape of our personhood and know we must change. We believe we will live integrated lives, and any relationship that does not allow us to bring the full person through the door is not worth having. We must refuse to cower and hope for acceptance but trust God with the full expression of ourselves.
Black folks have a prophetic essence from God designed to bless all of humanity when unhindered. We must reject the traditional voice that says, “Life cannot be lived unless I fracture and disintegrate myself.” You are a whole person, and here is your permission to be so.
Make Change (A Spoken Word)
Broken glass everywhere
Piece by piece I mend what I can
Insufficient these hands of mine
Work using the only tools they know
Provision is the means
Yet my emotions scream
I am a part of this process
Sit your five-dollar ass down before
I make change
I must change
Knowing our condition
Is the reason we must change
Bringing what was normal and scattered
Back to the intent of the designer, as one, oneness.
Traditions kill freedom
God kills myths for us to be free
Transformation is not based on information alone
Information does not transform the emotions.
WE CAN CHANGE.
Taken from “Permission to Be Black” by A.D. “Lumkile” Thomason. Copyright © 2021 by Adam David Thomason. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
Photos courtesy of InterVarsity Press