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Umusungu, Tubob, Muzungu, Firenje

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

Zambia—South Central Africa; iciBemba and 71 other languages; copper; the mighty Zambezi; Mosi-Oa-Tunya; flatlands; hills; wetlands; maize; wheat; rice; cassava; nshima; cattle; chickens; goats; the big 5; churches everywhere

 

Senegal—West Africa; Wolof and French; diamonds; gold; Atlantic coast; beaches; islands; baobab forests; salt lakes; bird sanctuaries; rice; spice; baguettes; fish; horses; cattle; goats; mosques everywhere

 

Kenya—East Africa; kiSwahili and many others; Indian Ocean coast; beaches; mountains; Lake Victoria; Great Rift Valley; Hell’s Gate; Masai Mara; maize; wheat; rice; chapati; ugali; cattle; chickens; goats; the big 5; churches and mosques everywhere

 

Ethiopia—East Africa; Amharic; Red Sea; hills; flatlands; eucalyptus forests; honey; coffee; wheat; spice; njera; chickens; goats; cattle; Ethiopian Orthodox churches and mosques everywhere

 

Above is a very limited, experiential taste of the vast geographic, linguistic, natural, agricultural, culinary, and architectural wealth of four very different African countries.

 

 

The Great Rift Valley, Kenya

 

 

 

Zambia—Black poets; Black farmers; Black resistance fighters; Black politicians; Black clergy; Black inventors; Black investors; Black artists; Black actors; Black playwrights; Black teachers; Black lawyers; Black judges; Black musicians; Black athletes; Black presidents; Black authors; Black doctors; Black engineers; Black researchers; Black professors; Black ancestors

 

Senegal—Black poets; Black farmers; Black resistance fighters; Black politicians; Black clergy; Black inventors; Black investors; Black artists; Black actors; Black playwrights; Black teachers; Black lawyers; Black judges; Black musicians; Black athletes; Black presidents; Black authors; Black doctors; Black engineers; Black researchers; Black professors; Black ancestors

 

Kenya—Black poets; Black farmers; Black resistance fighters; Black politicians; Black clergy; Black inventors; Black investors; Black artists; Black actors; Black playwrights; Black teachers; Black lawyers; Black judges; Black musicians; Black athletes; Black presidents; Black authors; Black doctors; Black engineers; Black researchers; Black professors; Black ancestors

 

Ethiopia—Black poets; Black farmers; Black resistance fighters; Black politicians; Black clergy; 

Black inventors; Black investors; Black artists; Black actors; Black playwrights; Black teachers; Black lawyers; Black judges; Black musicians; Black athletes; Black presidents; Black authors; Black doctors; Black engineers; Black researchers; Black professors; Black ancestors

 

Above is an even more limited view of the vast human wealth of four very different African countries. The list could, of course, go on towards approaching infinity. 

 

 


 

Maryam Entoto Ethiopian Orthodox Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monument of African Renaissance, Dakar, Senegal

 

Zambia—White soldiers from England murdered and forced people off their land; White settlers from England colonized the land; White missionaries from England, Scotland, and France demonized the ancestors and traditions; White politicians from England erased names and shoved namesakes of Rhodes and Victoria into fame; White corporations from England enslaved people and forced them to rip up the ground and drain its resources for the sake of White wealth; White philanthropists founded schools that attempted to delete Black history; White Europeans and Americans still try to dominate resources and control markets.

 

Senegal—White soldiers from France murdered and forced people off their land; White settlers from France colonized the land; White missionaries from France demonized the ancestors and traditions; White politicians from France erased names and shoved namesakes like Louis into fame; White corporations from France enslaved people and forced them to rip up the ground and sea and drain their resources for the sake of White wealth; White philanthropists founded schools that attempted to delete Black history; White Europeans and Americans forced an untold number of people into chains all over the continent, marched them to this westernmost coast, beat them, raped them, murdered some, kept them in prisons, packed and stacked them horizontally in ships, and stole them across the Atlantic to be chained, beaten, raped, imprisoned, and forced into labor again.

 

Kenya—White soldiers from England murdered and forced people off their land; White settlers from England colonized the land; White missionaries from England and Scotland demonized the ancestors and traditions; White politicians from England erased names and shoved namesakes like Victoria into fame; White corporations from England enslaved people and forced them to rip up the ground and drain its resources for the sake of White wealth; White philanthropists founded schools that attempted to delete Black history; White hunters started the process of bringing members of the big 5 to the brink of extinction; White Europeans and Americans still try to dominate resources and control markets.

 

Ethiopia—White Europeans tried for centuries to colonize and exploit the land but failed; White missionaries tried to enter but found a Christianity just as ancient as theirs; White Italian soldiers invaded and tried and failed to take over; White Italian militarization led to the partition of Ethiopia and Eritrea, creating a scenario of perpetual warfare between the two.

 

 

Above is my very limited knowledge of the history and present of Whiteness in these four very different African countries.

 

 

 

Zambia—Umusungu

 

Senegal—Tubob

 

Kenya—Muzungu

 

Ethiopia—Firenje

 

Above are the words for “white person” in iciBemba, Wolof, kiSwahili, and Amharic respectively. White visitors often complain about having a single word to describe them based on skin color, about names not being used. Putting aside the obvious hypocrisy of these complaints, these words are used in an opposite manner to the literal denigration intended by words generally used to name somebody based on race. You see, each of the above words is used with absolute respect. You can think of them as meaning “Sir” or “Madam.”

 

This is a very small window into the pernicious strategy and effects of White colonialism and neocolonialism. Even with the horrific histories (and present) of Whiteness on the continent, there is still widespread, unmerited honor and respect given to white people and white culture solely because of that Whiteness. Even with the obvious reality of Black power, Black resistance, Black history, and Black brilliance, there is still widespread, unmerited honor and respect given to white people and white culture solely because of that Whiteness. Even with the vast geographic, linguistic, natural, agricultural, culinary, and architectural wealth of each country, mentioned at first, there is still widespread, unmerited honor and respect given to white people and white culture solely because of that Whiteness. While moving about Zambia with TEEZ, there were many instances of toddlers seeing their first umusungu. Often their response would be that of sheer terror. They would scream, cry, and run away or hide behind mom’s skirt. Given the history of Whiteness, this response always made more sense to me.

 

 

This, my friends, is the nature of privilege.

 

It is the intentional result of strategies put into place long ago and carried forward up until and through this day. Hidden within the supposedly benevolent missions of “Christianizing,” “nation-building,” and “educating” were the seeds that would grow into white privilege and worship of the West, the less obvious and therefore perhaps more dangerous successors to the bald violence of genocide, colonization, and trans-Atlantic chattel slavery. The demonization of traditions, the theft of resources, the imposition of “democracy” as the only acceptable form of governance, the rewriting of history, Anglophon-ing and Francophon-ing, the deification of profit-driven capitalism, and the subsequent flooding of African markets with Western products and White media promoting White products and White beauty—all of this created a system that declares, “White makes right. White is right. White must be respected. White must be honored.” Of course, all of this is without any white person having to lift a finger today. All of the meritocracy, competition, and fairness preached in the gospels of democracy and capitalism that we evangelize across the world do not apply. In fact, sticking others with those tenets as unquestionable truths ensures that we perpetually have a head start, an advantage, a weighted average. It ensures that we control the system.

 

And so umusungu, tubob, muzungu, and firenje.

 

Our mission must become dismantling this system—yes abroad, but most pressingly at home. We must recognize and name active and passive complicity. We must recognize and name the benefits we receive because of privilege. We must stop both. We must make reparations. We must offer our resources, even including our bodies, to struggles of resistance led by young people of color. We must use our privilege strategically in ways that will destroy our privilege. 

 

In short, we must re-Christianize ourselves as actual followers of the way of Jesus Christ.

Posted October 10, 2016

 

Posted by Tyler W. Orem with 0 Comments
in Race, Hope

Lessons from Zambia in Light of a Shooting Massacre of Queer People of Color

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

Last night I sobbed.  A tremendous weight settled itself onto my shoulders, which already carry the majority of the stress of my body.  It was difficult to breathe.  Everything felt heavy.

 

50 people dead in another mass shooting in the USA.

Queer people of color once again targeted—at least 49 murdered, 53 more wounded.

A gunMAN driven by the ideology of the fundamentalist wing of his religion.

A gunMAN so warped by the power of gay hate that he may have even internalized it against himself and externalized it against those he found attractive.

A sacred, brave, and safe space invaded, assaulted, raped, made no longer safe.

Families’ lives shattered—some that were whole, some that were heartbreakingly estranged, some that were about to start in exciting and creative ways.

 

The logical result of the hate proclaimed in fundamentalist churches, fundamentalist mosques,  and fundamentalist temples.

The logical result of the hate proclaimed in city halls, state houses, Capitol Hill, and campaign trails controlled by extremist ideology.

The logical result of the hate proclaimed by a nation that refuses to restrict the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (all guns, especially assault weapons).

The logical result of the hate proclaimed by a society that persistently equates masculinity with power and power with violence.

The logical result of the hate proclaimed by systems at all levels of our existence that enforce the oppression of people of color, people of queer sexualities, people of queer gender identities, people of marginalized religions, and especially people who embody intersections thereof.

When I woke up I found myself in a state of paralysis.  A significant part of me wanted to do nothing besides my duties of the day, to teach our lessons, eat, and then get back in bed until a new sunrise.  A significant part of me wanted to do something, anything.  I wanted to engage in some more spirited battles on social media.  I wanted to disengage entirely because of how inexplicably draining that is.  I wanted to sit alone in silence.  I wanted to speak, shout, and scream.  Then I realized that I have this blog with a very specific purpose and platform: to detail my experiences in Zambia and lift up from those experiences that which can be instructive for the U.S. American context.  So, I have decided to do just that—to detail some experiences here that are directly related to the issues at hand in this massacre via assault weapon of queer people of color.

 

Gay Hate

I use the term “gay hate” because “homophobia” linguistically relieves the person and the society of blame.  We usually think of a phobia as something that is not chosen.  The hateful attitudes held and acts done by dominant people and dominant society, however, are chosen.  I use “gay hate” to describe those attitudes and acts.

To begin with, it should be made clear that homosexuality is categorically illegal in Zambia.  That being said, since independence there have been very few if any prosecutions of people for homosexual “acts.”  Unsurprisingly, the law is a vestige of colonial law, maintaining the same language as codified by the colonizing British empire.  Further, the Zambian constitution has an anti-discrimination clause that seems to protect people from the still existing British colonial law.

Knowing about this law and having heard about other people’s experiences in different parts of Central and East Africa, I fully expected to hear regular gay-hating rhetoric from the government, from pulpits, and in everyday conversation.  In short, I expected to hear what so many people in certain parts of the U.S. regularly hear.  On the whole, though, I have been pleasantly surprised.  I have encountered gay hate on only four occasions over the past nine and a half months.  The first was a statement made by a white United Methodist missionary.  The second was a statement made by a white PC(USA) mission co-worker.  The third was a statement made by a white American Baptist missionary.  Are you seeing the trend here?  The final was a Zambian preacher at a wedding railing against “Adam and Steve”…a clear import from U.S. American rhetoric.

I will not minimize the struggles of the LGBTQI community here.  They have to be largely silent in a largely conservative country.  There is very little “coming out” because to do so risks not only expulsion from the family and the church but also the possibility of longterm imprisonment under the British colonial law (a real fear even if not an actualized reality).  They survive in whatever ways they can, which all too often means living fully into their identities only behind closed doors and in very secret places.  What I mean to do is point out that the gay hate I have encountered here is of a distinctively Western flavor.  I am sure that there has been a lot of gay hate in Zambia throughout history, as such is the case in all societies.  Overall, though, it seems that the homophobia of today (yes, for this one I actually do mean fear of homosexuality) has largely been thrust upon the country by the gay hate of Western governments and Western missionaries.  The same rhetoric that leads to systemic oppression in the U.S. and that laid the groundwork for this shooting massacre is continually being exported to other places and contexts, laying the groundwork for unknown horrors to come.

What can I lift up as instructive to the U.S. American context?  Our actions as a society, the systems of oppression we create, do not remain isolated to the U.S.A.  They have real impacts in other contexts, deeply affecting whole societies, marginalized communities, and vulnerable individuals.  These impacts are especially profound when carried by representatives of faith to deeply religious societies.  The impacts we have, though, don’t have to replicate oppression.  We can export radical inclusivity, openness, and affirmation of identity.  We can export the hope of survivors and victors over systemic oppression.

 

Guns

I regularly field questions here about why guns are so readily available in the U.S.A. and why we are not doing anything to make them less available.  It is “regularly” because there have regularly been mass shootings in the U.S.A. during my time here, and once again what happens in the U.S.A. does not remain isolated to the U.S.A.  People are shocked by the callousness of a national belief that a right to carry guns is more valuable than a right to live.  They shake their heads.  They say, “Shame.”  They ask, “Why?”  Even as I sit here writing this, my colleague Rev. Changwe is saying it is quite obvious that these things won’t stop happening until we change our laws on guns.  In Zambia only military personnel, police, and security guards carry guns.  I have never seen a gun elsewhere.  There have not been shooting massacres in Zambia since the British left.

What can I lift up as instructive to the U.S. American context?  I think it is pretty self explanatory.  People in Zambia see the U.S.A.’s gun love as ridiculous and evil.  The absence of guns in the general populace in Zambia means no shooting massacres and very few shooting deaths.  We have a lot to learn.

 

Racism and Disproportionate Impacts of Violence on People of Color 

Every time there is a shooting reported from the U.S., Esther, my dear mother in the TEEZ office, wants to know why people of color are always being killed…by police, by gunmen, by guns.  Not just, “Why does your society allow this continued violence,” but clearly, “Why does your society allow this continued violence against Black and Brown people?”

Every time Donald Trump says something blatantly racist or xenophobic, everybody I see asks me how it is possible that this man is so popular.  When a national figure describes Africans as “lazy fools,” people hear it and are appalled.  They want to know why so many people accept this and celebrate it.  I frequently find myself attempting to explain systemic racism in the U.S.  I frequently find myself learning about how this racism, once again, is not isolated to the U.S.

What can I lift up as instructive to the U.S. American context?  To Americans of color, people across the world are aware of your plight and are deeply affected by and concerned about your suffering.  To white colleagues, people across the world are taking note of whether or not we are fighting against systemic racism and are wondering if we will continue to accept the overt racism now being embodied by a major presidential candidate.

 

HOPE

Amidst all this hate, violence, and pain, I am regularly reminded through my experiences here in Zambia that there is hope in humanity.  I have dear friends who are victors over systems of death.  I see communities that band together in times of physical need, grief, and celebration.  I worship in congregations that provide sanctuary for people who are marginalized and service for communities plagued by the massive injustices of this world.  I live in a compound where people struggle together, depend on one another, and challenge each other.  I even engage in conversations initiated by clergy and lay leaders in the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa about gay rights, including ordination and marriage.  And in these conversations I don’t hear hate.  I hear genuine concern and curiosity.  I hear faithful wrestling with something that is usually not discussed.  I share my beliefs.  I share resources from the PC(USA).  It is not hateful.  It is beautiful.

I will continue to sob.  I will continue to feel heaviness.  I will continue to shake my head.  But I won’t do so in despair.  I will learn what I can learn here and lift up what needs to be heard in the U.S.A.  I will carry inclusivity, openness, and affirmation of identity.  I will share the stories of survivors and victors.  I pray that you will join.

Posted June 14, 2016

 

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8