On election night, I hunkered down in my living room, eyes glued to the television, waiting for the announcement. When talking heads announced that Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Donald Trump, my body shook — literally. I could not control it. I had never experienced anything like it. A cry rose from the pit of my stomach and quickly turned into a primal scream.
When I was a little girl, I would look at the 1960s as the ideal moment to be alive in America. I imagined myself marching with Dr. King in Selma or Birmingham. I imagined myself standing in the crowd of 250,000 surrounding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington. I did not imagine what it would be like to live as a black woman in pre-Civil Rights Act 1963 — an era where black people’s rights to live, move freely, eat at any lunch counter, go to any school, and vote were not protected under the law. I did not imagine that. I only saw the glory. I did not understand the thick, oppressive weight of the darkness.
My first taste of that 1963 black experience came in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
On a sweltering day in late August 2014, clergy and faith leaders gathered in front of the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office to support State Senator Jamilah Nasheed. She had collected approximately 70,000 signatures from across the state of Missouri petitioning Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step down and appoint a special prosecutor to defend the rights of dead teenager, Michael Brown. Brown was shot by local officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.
A line of white officers stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind yellow police tape. Their bodies blocked entrance to the prosecutor’s office — a public building. As Sen. Nasheed tried to walk the box of petitions into the office, officers denied her, an African-American woman, the right to enter a public building.
When asked why she could not enter, the officer countered: “The building is closed.” People peered down on us through glass windows from the second and third floors of this “closed” building. Clergy raised their voices demanding entry while the officers smirked, as if to say, “We rule here.” At one point I stood in the crowd — hand raised to heaven — praying that God would break through. It then occurred to me: “This is 2014, not 1963.” These words came tumbling out of my mouth within earshot of the officer standing directly in front of me. But the words did not stick. They seemed to bounce right off of him. I thought to myself, “Maybe things never progressed past 1963 in Missouri.” A chill climbed my spine.
I felt that same chill the night Donald Trump was elected. This was not about a political party. It was about the person’s rhetoric, promises, and character.
Over the year-and-a-half of Trump’s campaign, I stood witness to how he opened his bid by dividing the American people down racial lines, calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Later, he encouraged his crowd to beat up a black woman and several black men, promising to pay the crowd’s legal fees. He looked at the dire plight of Syrian refugees and said America should ban Muslims from entering the nation. And he called himself the “law and order” president after proposing to federalize New York City’s racially oppressive “Stop and Frisk” policy. He was caught on tape boasting about grabbing women’s genitals and kissing women without permission. My black woman body shook from the core and tears streamed down my face as Mr. Trump took the podium to declare his win.
Even as the tears streamed, I tried to discern exactly what was causing this reaction. These were the words that rose within my soul: “I feel as though permission to flourish has been ripped from my body.”
The Obama presidency was not Utopia in any respect. Guantanamo is still open. Drones became regular weapons of war (and non-war) on Obama’s watch. America’s immigration laws are still problematic. In fact, Obama deported more immigrants in his eight years than any president in American history.
With that said, Obama entered his presidency asking Americans to push him to do justice. He knew his hands would be tied. He was not elected to be America’s king but as an equal among three branches of government. He knew he would need a movement to do what was right. When state or local arms of government violated the common good, he would use every mechanism within his means to protect the civil rights of all Americans. The first piece of legislation President Obama passed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work. The Obama administration intervened in Ferguson by sending the Department of Justice to examine the Ferguson police department for violations of residents’ civil rights. The president and first lady entered the “Fast for Families” tent on the National Mall in 2013, where they listened to stories of immigrants trapped in our broken immigration system and wept with men and women as they petitioned God to stop their suffering. It was not Utopia, but we knew that our president had the backs of the vulnerable.
On Election Day, and every day since, the world has watched Trump set the course of his presidency. One cabinet appointment after another announces the coming era of white nationalism coupled with authoritarian rule — an era when the press will be undermined and the very notions of fact and truth will be questioned.
Suddenly Luke 2:1-14 and John 1: 1-14 feel more real than ever.
Luke begins his Gospel story “In the days of King Herod …” In other words, “In the days of a despot … in the days of a corrupt leader … in the days of a man who would kill his own family members to maintain power …" In those days Jesus was born!
John talks of light and darkness — a direct reference to the Hebrew story of creation, a story written down by a company of priests exiting 70 years of Babylonian enslavement and oppression.
In the Hebrew story, darkness surrounded the world. The spirit of God entered the darkness and hovered over the deep. (According to Babylonian worldview, the deep was the home of the gods that created the Hebrews to be slaves.) Like a hen broods over her eggs, God hovered over the deep, ready to battle the chaos and agony of oppression. God spoke: “Let there be light!” With that, God placed boundaries on the darkness.
John’s gospel takes place in the same era as Luke’s — in the days of Herod. But John proclaims at the start of his good news: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This baby we celebrate holds the power of the same light that split the world in Genesis 1. Jesus has come to cut the darkness — to put boundaries on it, to proclaim light and life and freedom for the oppressed.
Let the vulnerable whose call and capacity to exercise dominion has been silenced within our nation rejoice! Jesus has come! The overwhelming goodness of God’s very good Gospel is about to be revealed!
This post originally appeared at OnScripture.
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