Is the worth of an African American male priceless or is it comparable to meaningless matter, insignificant and cheap? For centuries the value and worth of the black male in society has come under question, as if God didn’t create everyone equally. Who are we as a society of brothers and sisters to determine otherwise?
As I sat in my room and watched the Michael Dunn verdict, I immediately reflected on the question: What is the value of an African American male? The jury convicted Michael Dunn on four of five charges against him, but were indecisive concerning the murder charge. How can you be uncertain when 17-year-old Jordan Davis was unarmed and was unable to protect himself from the rage of Michael Dunn? Furthermore how could you shoot into a car because of loud “thuggish” music and then go home as if your actions were normal? A mother and father have lost their son because someone felt threatened by the face of difference rather than seeing the heart of similarity. A split jury, some who will never see the black experience, has decided that a mistrial is better than convicting a man who killed out of malice towards someone different. Is it a matter of changing the laws or changing the individual who views African Americans as inferior second-class citizens?
One could pontificate that the laws need to be amended, but the world will always have its stance on the value of an African American male. This ongoing sense of injustice has continued to be a huge problem within our society. Some may deem that we should worry about other issues. Some may revert back to the argument about black-on-black violence, but is this a mechanism to cover up the overall injustice towards African American men? Should we ignore these new Jim Crow laws and modern-day lynchings of African American men? Several African Americans have been mistreated by the judicial system that is only designed to work for people with privilege and power. Brothers such as Emmet Till, Oscar Grant III, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Danroy Henry, Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and several others have been victims of an unfair system that judges based on “the color of the skin rather than the content of character.”
When personal bias and bigotry enters the soul, it damages the very fabric of what it means to be alive in this world. Being alive in the world means waking up everyday acknowledging that God created everything well without blemishes. Personal difference is not a blemish but rather it is the gateway to exploring the essence of God. I am not a blemish and I am not an enigma. I am an educated black man who may be different on the exterior because of my skin, but I breathe the same air as those from other cultures. I am a black man who longs for the moment when we all walk down the hallways of schools and jobs with love towards one another. I am a black man who wants people to see my rich value rather than my skin tone. I am not a monster. I am human. We all are precious in the eyes of God and we should cherish the fact that we are worth more than silver and gold. With our seminary experience let’s change the world so that everyone can be treated equally and fairly.
Lawrence is a second-year MDiv student at Candler, a student ambassador, and president of the Black Student Caucus. He is a licensed minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA) and has served as a youth pastor for several years.
The book of Esther provides a deep explanation that dissimulation is a legitimate technique by which a marginalized population can gain access to political power. Steed Vernyl Davidson suggests that dissimulation can be defined as concealing cultural identity in order to rise to political power. When Esther concealed her identity in Esther 2:10, she in essence unlocked her future. She was able to thwart the extermination of the Jews by Haman, and at the end of the book was heralded as influential within society. Esther essentially gained access to power by hiding her identity.
Many African Americans over time have used this concept of dissimulation to gain access to White American political power. Based upon my experience as an African American male, America constantly presents barriers and obstacles that make it difficult for African Americans to advance. Furthermore, concealment is often necessary for cultural survival because it eases those oppressive barriers.
Many marginalized individuals deem that the social system is not designed for the minority to gain political power. To some degree that is accurate because there seems to be this notion of the “richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer.” Even though a marginalized person has access to education and various resources, there has to be some level of dissimulation to fit into a societal mode of success and power.
In the book of Esther, it was imperative for Esther to conceal her identity in order to advance and survive in society. In both the African American community as well as the book of Esther, political power and influence is not an easy concept. For example, if Esther maintained good work and optimism as a minority in Persia, the Jews may have ultimately been killed by the decree of Haman. However, it was their strategic mindset that allowed them to conceal their Jewish identity in order to avert death and ultimately gain access to political power within the royal court. It could also be suggested that Mordecai believed that the Persian Empire political system was designed to keep provinces, especially those populated by Jews, from advancing in power.
The book of Esther provides an important concept of identity that can be delineated in other social realms. Through my cultural experience as an African American male, I am able to see convergence between the rise to power in Esther as well as my own community. Some African Americans are constantly hiding their “trueness” or “blackness” in order to fit into the larger mold of society. One could suggest that dissimulation is similar to W.E.B. Dubois’ notion of double consciousness because both ideas wrestle with dualism of identity. Like Esther, African Americans who dissimulate into power have to deal with keeping their “trueness” as well as adapting to a different cultural framework. Several African Americans conceal certain aspects of their cultural identity in order to gain status and acceptance in certain power structures. I suggest that this concept of dissimulation is a means to gain power, but it is essential that an individual maintains their “trueness.” It is vital to always remember who you are regardless of your achieved level of status.
Lawrence is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. He is a licensed minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA) and has served as a youth pastor for several years. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Artwork: “Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity,” mosaic by Canadian artist Lilian Broca.