Well, day three of Reading for Change is here! Some of you have joined me, in the same books I’m reading and by solely reading other books by black authors in honor of Black History Month.
And today I’m most delighted to enter into discussing Drew G. I. Hart’s recent release, Trouble I’ve Seen, with you. Instead of me highlighting passages or talking about central themes in the book, Drew graciously responded to my request for an interview of sorts.
So, let’s do this: let’s enter into and honor Drew’s words by paying attention to what he says below. If you read the book, comment about it below. If you didn’t read the book, engage with Drew’s words here. Then, run as fast as you can to your local bookstore or your favorite online designation and purchase Trouble I’ve Seen. While you’re at it, you can also check him out on his website, Twitter and Facebook page.
Without further adieu, Drew Hart, folks:
- One thing you talk about in your book is a “colorblind rhetoric” many people within the dominant church have when it comes to issues of diversity. Will you describe that to us, and also tell us what it might look like to have a color-filled rhetoric (or whatever you might call it)?
Yeah, colorblind rhetoric is simply language people use to claim that they do not notice the race and color of other people in their day to day life. While it sounds like a nice gesture the reality of such a comment has several problems. First, it isn’t very honest. Americans are deeply aware of the racial group of the person they are talking to. Second, denying the diversity of physical features is hardly a way to celebrate God’s creativity expressed in humanity. The various tones and features that make us all who we are should be celebrated. Third, there has been research that connects colorblind rhetoric usage with people that in actuality live very racially distinct lives. For example, you might have a white person that says “I don’t see color, I just see people as people” but every choice they make is towards whiteness. Could be the case for their neighborhood, social networks, organizations, or church. Or, it could be as simple as them having all-white book shelves and only reading and learning from people from their own racial group. So the language of colorblindness is actually then covering up their racialized patterns of life. Finally, most Americans use racial descriptors at various points. Usually, people talk about not seeing color in response to people discussing racism. So in actuality it is racism that they are not perceiving, rather than color.
Instead, we need to honor the diversity of everyone and recognize that we are all created in the image of God. And while it is tempting to make utopian and post-racial comments like “we are all just Americans” we must resist and instead speaking honestly about the ways that our society is indeed racialized and how that impacts particular groups in different ways. Pretending that our society isn’t still influenced by 400 years of racialized history actually prevents us from intentionally righting the wrongs and bringing healing to suffering in our society that exists. I believe in a God that has not turned away from the beauty of humanity nor the injustices of humanity.
- How can we break patterns of self-segregation? How have you and your family broken patterns of self-segregation?
If we truly recognized that we are all made in the image of God, then that would change our posture in how we engage with different people groups. Those that have been historically alienated and ignored would be sought ought and listened to. You know, seeking to understand their human experience and wanting to see things from their standpoint. However, if we unconsciously have racial hierarchies that we have been socialized by, and are not intentionally challenging those mindsets, we will find every justification under the Sun for why we continue to live out racialized patterns every day.
My family, though we intentionally live in a poor black community, have never had self-segregated lifestyles. It really is not that hard for middle and upper class people. Poor people, on the other hand frequently have much less choice about their social networks. I think that as Christians, our lives ought to not only break from these racialized patterns ourselves, but we ought to disrupt the forces at work in our neighborhoods and communities that trap poor black and brown people into ghettos and neighborhoods without adequate resources. As such, my dinner table breaks racialized patterns, but I also support justice organizations in Philadelphia that are addressing systemic issues as well.
- Tell us about the white Jesus many within the church in the US have come to know: how can we get to know the real Jesus who stood in solidarity with the socially outcast and oppressed?
Unfortunately, in the West, Christianity and western civilization got conflated together. It was so bad that when missionaries went out to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example, they claimed to offer Jesus but in reality offered so much more. Instead of receiving the good news of Jesus people were forced to receive the gospel of western society. Missionaries thought people had to Anglicize their name, cut their hair, change their clothes, change their language, and sever their lives from everything indigenous to their own culture. That is, people died to their culture and were raised in western European new life. All things became new, but that new thing was white standards of beauty, values, and norms. And in this western Christian conflation, even Jesus had to die to his Jewish body and Judaic roots and find new life as a western white hero. The conflation is bad enough, but since western societies were also engaging in conquest and domination of people groups all around the world at this time, making Jesus into a white man also fashioned him into the face of power instead of the powerless.
If we are to get back to knowing the real Jesus, we need to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ story. It is not good enough to claim Jesus if we are not going to take seriously his life and teachings. And we need to keep in mind, as Howard Thurman explained so well in his 20th century classic, Jesus and the Disinherited, that Jesus was a poor Jew living under Roman occupation. If we lose track of these important realities for his life, then we will not understand the context in which he ministered in. Beyond the obvious reality that Jesus’ life in scripture centralized the folks on the margins (Samaritans, vulnerable women, the poor masses, the sick), understanding the backdrop of Roman occupation, for one, transforms simple teachings into very radical statements. And it is this Jesus that we must get to know and follow after in life.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have greatly influenced your thinking, to the point that you (assumedly) named your son after him. How might we learn from and apply Bonhoeffer’s actions and theology to our everyday lives? [Side note: He’s one of my favorites, too!]
I do like Bonhoeffer. I find him intriguing. One of the neat things about Bonhoeffer is that we know so much about his life (though some aspects of his life continue to be hotly debated) and yet we also have writings from him that span the course of his life. We can follow his thoughts and his life, and be taken on a journey. What got my attention with Dietrich Bonhoeffer was his time in Harlem and at Abyssinian Baptist Church, a historic Black Church during his time in the states in 1930. He was clearly captivated by what he encountered and began intentionally learning more and more. As I explain in Trouble I’ve Seen, he begins to see life from a very different vantage point after that experience. Bonhoeffer is not perfect, and at times I still get frustrated with him, but he was on a serious journey trying to follow Jesus. Discipleship wasn’t a devotional moment for him, it was in fact truly costly. We would all do well to take our discipleship to Jesus as seriously as he did.
- You talk a lot about people becoming learners, and not going into situations “presuming they know everything about a community even though they have never studied the people group and its concerns in depth” (114). How have you done this in your life? How have you taught your sons to be learners of others?
Honestly, as a black man, I don’t think I have ever really had an option. I have always had to learn about other people, especially white people and their history, culture, icons, music, and literature. However, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I am drawn to also hear the stories of other people groups that have suffered under white supremacy. It really is about learning to listen. As a Christian, I want to understand other people’s experiences. Hopefully my boys see that by my life and that it will be caught just as it is taught.
- #Blacklivesmatter: it’s not just a movement but it’s a call for the church to affirm that all lives matter, especially all black lives. You talk about risking concrete love so we might affirm black lives. What’s an example of concrete love you’ve seen when it comes to these words?
I think this concrete love can be anything from sharing in the life of others, to working to dismantle our school to prison pipeline. For it to be actual love, people have to move from the talking points that are so common when talking about black people, especially poor black people, and must actually value and care about the well-being of black people. Out of that, people just need to join into the lives of others and demonstrate that they are in solidarity with us through the challenges our community is facing. There is no one way to do it, but when actual love is present it is hard to miss.
- Your final chapter entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” is particularly eye-opening because it gives ordinary, everyday examples for all of us to live and lean into. Can you give us one example from your own life wherein you experienced leaning into people who weren’t like you, in an effort to further break down the walls in your own life?
Absolutely. I am a part of a group of leaders in Philadelphia that formally meets once a month. We are a racially diverse and are scattered throughout the city. I love that the primary thing that we do is dwell in the Word together and pray for each other. And yet we also have other initiatives and goals we address as well. For example, a construction company was birthed out of this group. It intentionally makes regular profit for middle income earners so that it can subsidize the costs for low income and elderly households in the city. It also intentionally hires returning citizens from prison whom historically have large obstacles finding employment after they are branded permanently with the ex-convict label. Many of these leaders are like family now. We enter into each other’s lives throughout the month beyond our capacities as leaders. And I see the life of Jesus made visible in many of them. When I think about what it means to be One in Christ, I often think about many of them and the ongoing journey we have been on together.
Thank you for your powerful words, Drew. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to enter into dialogue with us. Thank you for trusting us with your thoughts.
So, Trouble I’ve Seen: did you read it? What’d you think? I’m a big fan of Drew and encourage all of us to take his words and thoughts to heart. Leave a comment regarding the book or his words below, and enter into the conversation! Also, don’t forget to support his writing and buy his book!