A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color

Peace Be Still

I recently finished a few books I’ve been reading simultaneously; one is Gordon Parks’ “Voices in the Mirror,” the other is a book about the life of James VanDerZee.  I am also currently reading a book by Alexis DeVeaux on Audre Lorde entitled “Warrior Poet.”  In all of these books I’ve read about racial prejudices, how people felt righteous in their treatment of Blacks, and the numerous, inhumane and almost unspeakable crimes committed against Black people pre-1960, through the turbulent 60s, right up to the present day.  I also read something else that was not so pretty, Black folks' own prejudices against other Black folks – light vs. dark, and dark vs. light, and those Blacks who immigrated to this country vs. those who were born here.  You would think we had enough to worry with from racial prejudices by those outside of our race. 

There were other things as well like some Black folks who were jealous of other Black folks because one received more fame than the other one and so the other one decided to do whatever he/she could to tear the other one down.  We ostracized each other in an attempt to make our cause appear better, larger and worthier than the other man’s cause – a bit too schizophrenic for my tastes but unfortunately, very true nonetheless. 

One man appeared to have remained consistent throughout and that man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  From Gordon Parks’ book I read how happy Muhammad Ali was upon receiving a letter of congratulations from Martin Luther King, Jr. after earning the title of “Champ.”  Other Black leaders, during those days, tried their best to maintain a healthy distance from the boisterous Ali and apparently, did not congratulate the man.  Martin Luther King was the same with Bayard Rustin in his acceptance of him regardless of his past and his being a “homosexual.”  I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the only man who truly understood Christian teachings by withholding judgment and extending an olive branch to all – Stokely Carmichael and SNCC, Malcolm X and others – despite their way not being his way. 

Apparently, Gordon Parks too had his own run-in with Black folks namely, John H. Johnson.  Unfortunately, the run-in was not a face-to-face run in but something more behind the back, done with a well placed knife. 

We as Black people have had our share of strife, mixed well with an equal serving of betrayal from our own.  Racism was never a beautiful experience, it did not warm the heart, bring a smile to our faces, and we did not rejoice at the sight of “strange fruit” hanging from the poplars.  Contrary to popular belief, we were not happy slaves dancing and singing in the fields either.  We cried out as the leather strap breached our backs and we ran away in search of freedom guided only by the North Star.  We learned there was power in numbers and we did much together.  Now, years later, we are not together. 

It took the power of my ancestors; their intestinal fortitude to take a licking and keep on ticking that taught me courage.  It was their willingness to die that taught me to fight against racism and prejudice, of any type, wherever I found it.  I did not want their deaths, or their bloodshed, to have been given in vain. 

I remember a time back in 1989 when I applied this lesson as I sought a job at one of the larger computer retail stores in Chicago.  Just the day prior, while talking on the phone with the woman I would later meet, apparently she did not recognize something in my voice that would have easily identified me as Black.  She was probably unfamiliar with the South Side and could not make out the street where I lived.  Then again, she might not have checked the address on my resume assuming I had to be White with such diction.  Of course, my mother was always a stickler for proper grammar, diction, and she fussed at us when we failed to enunciate our words.  In my mother’s house, one could never rest comfortably with lazy speech.  Poor thing, she assumed we were incapable of being “well spoken.” 

I guess, in some small way, I fooled this poor White woman because on the day of my arrival, having been pointed out to her as her interviewee, she looked at me with such contempt and disdain she forgot she had been this nice, chatty woman I had spoken with a little more than 24-hours prior.  She walked near me, paused and then walked toward her office and before entering and without once looking my way she said “come in,” while continuing on into her office.  I learned the words “come in” represented a command and the subject was understood as “you,” meaning “you, come in.”  Since I did not view myself as a mule, I remained seated with full realization I was not going to get this job. 

There was silence for a time as everyone around stared with discomfort probably wondering if I were deaf.  Finally, the poor woman who must have felt some sense of embarrassment for even allowing this Black face to make it though the doors of this establishment, lighted from her office and said “Ms. Odom, you can come in now!”  I rose and walked into her office only after being addressed as something other than a mule.  No, I am “Ms. Odom” and you will use more effort to address me as such because I will never need a job that bad.  I thank my ancestors for this. 

Now, as a Black lesbian, I am once again put upon, in the same form and fashion as I was put upon when I was only seen as Black.  As a lesbian, I am in that strange position, yet again, of being separate but equal, of no equality under the law.  I pay taxes, I participate in local and federal elections, but I am now experiencing taxation without representation and I believe another revolution is in order. 

Since the elections – a few short days after Halloween – I have watched Black ministers sit in judgment of me and state – proudly I might add – how it is both important and necessary to deny me my rights.  Some of these ministers have built large churches in our communities, surrounded by adverse poverty, they serve as temples to an obviously blind and heartless God.  Recently, I passed one of those large, oversized cathedrals in the Black community and not far away laid a man sleeping on a bench, blanket, shopping cart and all.  The large and pristine church served as a backdrop to the poverty existing in that community and yet, some of them can raise their voices against me but are doing nothing to raise a hand to help those in need around their towering churches. 

It’s funny, as I told a friend last night, Jesus did not appear to question a person’s sin before healing them.  I’m sure He knew precisely what their sin was prior to healing them but he kept that part to himself.  He healed them nonetheless and simply said “go and sin no more.”  I do not recall His withholding gifts because He disagreed with what that person did and neither did He find them objectionable as I’m sure many did during that time.  Even the adulteress, before the crowd of men gathered to stone her, Jesus interceded on her behalf by writing something in the dirt.  With simple words He said “those of you without sin, cast the first stone.”  What did He write in the dirt?  I don’t know, but whatever He wrote it caused them to drop their stones. 

The Samaritan woman also comes to mind.  His disciples seemed more concerned about Him talking with a woman.  His disciples just could not grasp the depths of God’s love and compassion for all of us.  Yet, as Jesus talked with her, He knew all about her “living in sin” as some would call it today.  Did He condemn her?  No.  And still, He said it would be easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah to get into heaven than some of those living in that time.  I would venture to say, even in this time.  He never withheld or denied a gift, not even to a Roman soldier whom I’m sure was considered a heathen.  But, these today believe in withholding their gifts while equally denying rights.  Their hearts are just as cold and hardened by judgment just as the Pharisees of Jesus' time and would probably hold within the same jealousies towards the man who garnered such popularity in such a short period of time.  Today, these would still request the life of a thief be spared and not the life of the healer who genuinely loved and gave to all whose lives he touched.

After all of these years, through racial strife and the Black man's fight for equality, the fight for equality for both women and other minorities, and now gay and lesbian equality, some still misunderstand one simple bit of text and that is “as ye judge, so shall ye be judged.”  Gays and lesbians are being lynched everyday.  Matthew Shepherd was lynched, Fannyann Eddy was lynched, and the list is too long and the pain of its existence too deep.  It pains me to know generations upon generations have still not learned one simple lesson and that is “to love thy neighbor as ye love thyself.”  We just can’t do it and unfortunately, Black folks have become the very thing they both hated and fought against.

I don’t know if it was Robertson or Fallwell who urged that if we continue walking the liberal path – and I am paraphrasing – God will turn against us and all of our material wealth will evaporate into some large debt bin.  Apparently, their God is the God of material things, of large churches and schools erected in their name.  They worship gods with the names of Cadillac, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Town Car and Continental.  They love living in fine, well appointed homes while worshiping the Gods of silk suits, fine neck ties, and please, do not let the collection plate pass without putting something in it lest they not speak to you when you exit the church.  The never ending building fund will always need your contributions and still, the man lying near the bus bench will continue to lie there and no one from that great building will come to his aid. 

Many Black folks want to hold the Civil Rights Movement as their own and they don’t want to hear others sing the song “we shall overcome.”  They wish to claim ownership of the billy clubs that once smacked across our heads, the dogs gnawing at our bodies, the water hoses pushing us down streets and pinning us against buildings, the lynchings, and the mobs.  In their zealous pride of ownership, they also wish to hold the same Bible over the heads of gays and lesbians that was once used over the heads of Black folks – the Curse of Ham – used as justification to keep us bound in slavery.  It is interesting to note the descendants of Ham also lead us to Sodom and Gomorrah.  When will we leave this road and find the road to Jesus, to compassion, to love?

In this country we pray a lot.  We pray and the crime rate continues to grow like there’s a hungry monster looking for bodies to swallow for its sustenance and this monster has gotten hungrier and hungrier.  We pray and more guns are sold on the streets to hurt or kill.  We pray and continue to build better weapons of mass destruction to test in our own country and drop on innocent civilians in lands far away.  We pray and then someone rises calling himself an "Angel of God" planting dirty bombs filled with nails in planters at abortion clinics to kill a police officer whose wife chose to keep his child and spray nails into the body of a woman who also kept her child.  This "Angel of God" killed a Black mother in Centennial Park, during the Olympics, and still many ministers rose to offer this supposed "Angel of God' the best defense and representation money could buy because he chose to kill after the fact, after birth, after life, subsequently begging the question what exactly do you mean by pro-life?. 

We pray in front of abortion clinics and yet no one follows the woman turned away at the door to ensure she and her child receive proper prenatal care and after birth, ensure the child is not lying somewhere on a bed termed “failure to thrive.”  We pray and poverty continues to exist in this country, kids continue to receive substandard education, and people are going hungry.  We pray and find our own thirst for murder extends to the death penalty renewing the old law “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But, we pray and let’s not forget, in God we trust.  Somehow, the fruits of this nation have not quite bore this out.  Instead of Dick Cheney making jokes about talking nicely to people, maybe we should try it for a change, it might work.  Maybe we should truly accept pro-life. 

I just want peace to be still just long enough for us to know how peaceful living feels.  A day, a week, maybe even a month, if we could possibly muster it, just to know peace.  No more condemnation and no more judgment offered only to make the one doing the condemning or judging feel good about themselves.  “Look at me, I’m glad I’m not like them,” uhm, yes, that too is in the Bible.  I just want peace and I want peace to be still for just a little while to allow a little light into those rusty crevices of a hardened heart just long enough to shine brightly upon the soul.