The Death of Respectability

              Free Agents, it has been a week. Last week I shared my exhaustion as a clergyperson after all the festivities of Holy Week. Well, Easter is a way of life. Easter is the beginning of the Christian life, not the end of the season of Lent. For Christians can only call ourselves followers of the living Christ because Jesus suffered and then rose from the dead. So, we are charged to live with that holy resurrection boldness all the time.

               This week, I have been forced to come to terms with all that the mandate upon the lives of Christian folks to be resurrection people entails. In the days after the Resurrection, Jesus’ friends struggled with it too! They did not go out to share the good news of the risen Lord, no, they hid behind locked doors. We know why those doors were locked, don’t we? Those doors were locked because the disciples were hoping against hope. They were believing in something that is impossible. They were grappling with the reality that their friend who they were well-aware had been tortured and killed by the government just a few days prior was now up and walking around.  And, you know what, as I read this story right now, I am wondering what we do with all that suffering from Good Friday? Are we sure that Jesus’ suffering was redemptive? Are we sure that if someone gets up after they have been persecuted, their suffering was redemptive? Or is that just the cop-out response of a bunch of people who have been educated in a colonial framework?  

               This year, I can’t have some jelly beans, sing the Hallelujah Chorus, and pretend that all that bloodshed doesn’t disturb me to the core of my being. I have been spending far too much of my time excavating our shared historical past, celebrating the lives of the Free Agent women of the past, encouraging the Free Agent women of the present who cultivate lives of creative resistance, and frankly, I have been spending too much time paying attention. I have paid attention to every liberal white man who tells me he is concerned about racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and the like and then disregards and demeans the lives of black and brown men, women, and children. I have paid attention to every liberal white woman who is somehow just realizing that racism exists but somehow believes she can lead an anti-racism movement without centering the lives of black and brown women who have actively spoken out about racism and misogyny since, well forever. I have paid attention to every news story that promotes a narrative that our Muslim brothers and sisters are just a bunch of terrorists but won’t label the violent actions of young white men against the most oppressed among us as terrorism and are hesitant even to name hate crimes for what they are.

               Now, some of my Christian brothers and sisters might say that I should not focus so much on the oppression of people because of their identity. They would be quick to remind me that Jesus died for all of us and that if I were confident in the redemptive power of Jesus, I would fearlessly forge ahead, trusting Jesus to take care of all the problems of the world. And, in response I say, I do trust Jesus. I trust Jesus so much that I want to partner with Jesus in His work of proclaiming the good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and setting the oppressed free (Luke 4:18-19). Yep, Jesus loves everybody, and I want to run and tell the folks who are so often kept out by the church’s “virtuous” gate-keepers.

               I am concluding my series on the Complications of Respectability in this way because I am fed up with the idea that the suffering of black and brown women in the workplace, in communities of faith, and in larger society is redemptive just because we endure. Since writing my post on black and brown women in the workplace last week, I have heard from many women who have told me stories of the physical and psychological torture they endure as women of color in predominantly white workplaces. Last week, we (finally) saw Fox News let go of their longtime correspondent Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, his decades of sexually aggressive behavior over the past decades is only a problem because major sponsors are pulling their support, but he stands to earn $25 million in severance on his way out the door. Even as I write this, I see headlines about O’Reilly’s podcast returning today. Bill is fine. The women, especially the women of color, who have courageously named his violent behavior meanwhile are mocked for reasons ranging from their looks to their failure to speak out soon enough. Where is the redemption in that? And, this violence reaches far beyond the workplace. Women, especially women of color, in this country are enduring abuse in their homes and houses of worship daily because of respectability politics that demand that they dress, speak, and run their households in particular ways. Trans-women, especially transwomen of color are ostracized and even killed because of respectability. And, I am only referring to what happens in this country.

               Respectability is killing people of color. Respectability is killing women of color. Respectability is killing queer people of color. Respectability is killing disabled people of color. Respectability is killing poor people of color. And the way we suffer to conform to the image of someone or something we will never be is not, and never will be, redemptive.

             And, since I am already ranting, I want to add one additional item to my rant. I occasionally become curious about what Wendy Williams is doing over on her show, and I usually end up regretting my curiosity. The video (below) I saw on Saturday is no exception. In the clip, you will see that Wendy brought back her popular Hot Talk panel. She assembles the panel occasionally on Fridays to discuss some of the biggest pop culture stories of the preceding week. On Friday, the main topic the panel discussed was whether Billy Bush should be allowed back on television. You might remember the leaked Access Hollywood clip which featured Bush goading then-Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, in an interview eleven years ago as Trump recounted his sexual harassment of married women. Wendy and two of her panelists concluded that Bush should return to television considering even after the leak of the old interview, Trump was elected President of the United States. No doubt, we all noticed the disparity in the way the two men were treated in the aftermath of the leak. However, Wendy’s response as a black woman was infuriating to me (and clearly to many others who watched the video on YouTube). Wendy stated that she did not understand why Bush had been fired in the first place and furthermore that she had found the original video to be funny. Wendy’s response gave me pause. While the violent words did not come from Bush's lips, anyone who watched the video could see that he egged Trump’s disgusting rhetoric on, and continued the “joke” even after the men got off the bus. As one of Wendy’s guests pointed out, there is nothing funny about bullying.

              So, finally, I must say that I am fed up with women, especially women of color, who have somehow become so desensitized to our trauma that they lack the ability or even the empathy to name it. And, that is what The Church does when we see something like the crucifixion of Jesus and say that the torture was acceptable because of the resurrection. We unwittingly teach through that theology that people enduring trauma cannot name it and work to overcome and dismantle the systems of oppression that erode their quality of life. Free Agents, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a social and political problem for me, but I find hope and comfort in it theologically. I understand theologically that Jesus had to endure a violent altercation with sin and death so that I can have eternal life despite my sin. However, that theological reality does not overcome the social or political reality of the cross for me.

               So, what do you think? Can we overcome respectability politics? What would it look like for you to stop conforming to the image of someone or something you will never be? How will you creatively resist in a world that has become accustomed to your respectability? See you next week.