“Racism poisons civic life and denies the worth of human beings because of their color,” Michael Eric Dyson wrote. We know that racism destroys a Black man by ignoring his gifts, overlooking his presence, and demeaning his manhood.
Larry Holmes, pugilist, said it: “It’s hard being Black. You ever been Black? I was Black once — when I was poor.” John McWhorter echoes Holmes: “Poverty is a tragedy, not a lifestyle.”
The opportunity to advance — in order to escape poverty — is approached through job skills training and education when privilege did not come through the accident of birth, but there is more to discuss in Black culture than poverty. At an April 2014 lecture at Hamline University, the speaker said that the Black church is Black culture. In culture, “Connection is belonging.” People, your people, is home.
At another April talk on Macalester’s campus, the lecturer said 90 percent of students on campus today would declare themselves spiritual, but not religious; that churches are currently “hemorrhaging” members; but now reconcile this with Black church as Black culture and Black belonging.
At yet another college, Concordia, a speaker from Pakistan stated, “My culture is my identity.” This identity, he went on to say, “is my confidence.”
As recently as 2014, South East Asian men raped a young woman for marrying a man outside her father’s culture and permission. In the book Bliss, in the region of far-eastern Turkey-western Iran, a girl was to be executed for dishonoring the family name.
Religion can be used in a harmful way. Witness this: “Church men were coming to resent and attack [a Mormon woman’s] right to befriend a Gentile,” from Riders of the Purple Sage. And even religion can be used to keep you in or keep you out of belonging.
Would you attend a baseball game with people of your ilk just because you were a member of the same church? Or because you enjoyed their company? Or because you enjoyed baseball? Or because you would belong? When you “out” yourself as a non-believer, you risk the possibility of being shut out.
“Everybody wants to be respected enough to be trusted,” Ralph Wiley wrote, and everybody wants to belong. Shunning is a powerful tool, and the risk of ostracism can cause us to acquiesce to beliefs or to religion.
“Code switching” was explained as this adaptation from one culture or one vernacular or even one behavior to another when what you are does not fit the particular milieu you find yourself in, when people feel disdain for what you are or what you might not be. Compassion and patience are required to accept the private vs. that public self we know people want to see.
“Black people have to love you before they trust you,” Wiley goes on, but will they love you when you don’t share their religious belief? “Hard experience has taught Black people this: only those you know and trust can truly hurt you to the quick in this life. You expect to be hurt by everybody else,” Wiley wrote.
The Pakistani speaker said that his fellow Muslims would tell Christian Americans we “didn’t ask for this mess!” regarding the disdain and hatred as a result of the bombing incident of 9/11. They, too, were made to feel inferior under a controlling regime as were the Armenians, Kurds and Bulgarians under the Ottoman Turks.
The country of the Pakistani people spends millions more on military defense than education. Their populace is moving from rural to city lives. The land belongs to the elite. The nuclear arms race is used to intimidate and to keep people in line. The caste system is still in place, and corruption is rampant, but they are a “down to earth people.” So, too, are we.
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected].