Estimated reading time: 5 mins.
*In my best Sofia Petrillo voice*
Picture it, New Orleans, October 3, 2019.
This is the day that the seeds of “Black, Saved & Smart” were sown.
The black community awaited the sentence for former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger who murdered Botham Jean in his apartment while he was watching television and eating ice cream. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a conviction that very few black people saw coming.
What happened next would be the catalyst for this project. I watched, jaw agape, Botham’s younger brother Brandt Jean, offer his forgiveness and a hug to his brother’s murderer.
I understand very well the biblical mandate for forgiveness. I am an ordained Elder and the First Assistant Pastor of a church in New Orleans. Additionally, I am knee-deep in a Masters of Divinity program. Paul’s words in Romans 12:20 (NIRV), along with a few other hundred verses, rang out in my head:
20 …”If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink…”
And there, in that space, I felt something I had not felt before when it came to the many (MANY) police-involved shootings of unarmed black people: guilt. Guilt because I knew that if it were my brother, I would not have the strength to do that. Guilt because I thought that it SUCKED that he offered a hug to his brother’s murderer — and did it so publicly. Guilt because I felt anger rising up inside of me while watching that hug.
“But, Torrey,” you may be asking, “why would that hug anger you so much?” I’m glad you asked!
Historically, black people in America have been the ones tasked with the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. White people have the privilege to look at state-sanctioned violence against people of color individually, and the privilege to calmly call out any response that diverts from pure and full pacifism.
You know, its the “that’s-just-one-bad-cop” crowd. Black people, however, look at that same violence historically. So in our eyes, it’s not that a black person has been executed, it’s that another black person has.
The news of Botham’s death wasn’t just about his interaction with former officer Guyger. In his death, I felt the heartache of enslaved Africans on the perilous journey to America, and the lack of reconciliation or any restoration to integrity. I felt the waves of thousands of unnamed men and women swaying in the southern breeze as “strange fruit”. I felt the pain of Emmett Till. And…I don’t feel like hugging any of the perpetrators of these unjust actions.
So what was “Pastor Torrey” to do? Torn between my Christianity and my blackness, I created a post on Facebook that said this…
It felt as though my Christianity was urging me to hug my oppressor, and my blackness was imploring me to resist that urging. There were, of course, Christians in the comments who told me that the only thing that mattered was my Christianity. That the anger that I felt was simply flesh that needed to be ignored. My Christianity in me should have made me overjoyed to see that hug. They were saying, in essence, you’re not black, you’re only a Christian. But this didn’t (and doesn’t) sit right with me.
In his exceptional article “The Double Consciousness of Blackness and Christianity: Towards a Biblical Intersectionality”, Jaison K. D. McCall sums it up perfectly, “In many cases, given an issue that affects the masses, there is an expected response from the African-American demographic that differs from the anticipated response of the dominant Christian community.” I know the expectation of my response based on my ordination and I know the expectation of my response based on my blackness. My plight was now: how do I reconcile the two? Do I indeed need to put my blackness down in favor of my Christianity? Or is there a way for the two to coexist within one person?
W.E.B. DuBois coined the term double consciousness in his work “The Souls of Black Folks” to lift up the fact that African-Americans live in a constant state of “identity crisis”. We constantly have to navigate our blackness through the lens of our American identity knowing that America is hostile towards our blackness. Allow me to add that some of us are even more than black and American. We are Christian. We are academics. We are married. We are single. We are divorced. We are parents. We are teenagers. All of which we consider as we attempt to make sense of what’s going on in the world.
With all of that said, the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, provided yet another pivotal moment for our culture and myself personally. The video of that murder (which, admittedly, took me several days to actually watch) was eye-opening.
Seeing the former officer with his knee on George’s neck, hearing everyone gathered pleading with the former officer to release him, and ultimately hearing George Floyd call out for his mother made it very clear to me.
I am black. I am of Caribbean heritage. I am an American. I am a Christian. I am saved. I am “fire-baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost”. I am a rational, thinking human. I am educated. I am also MAD AS HELL. I am refusing to allow myself to be forced into any one of those categories if it means erasing another. Not anymore. Never again.
When faced with the challenge of maintaining the societal status quo or violently enacting change in John 2:15 (NLT), Jesus chose the latter:
Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.