Killing White Lies: Abraham Lincoln

I grew up nearby a street named Lincoln Way. This transcontinental highway runs all the way from Lincoln Park in California to Times Square in New York. And, it ran through the town I grew up in, giving me a kind of landmark for directions, much like I was taught to treat the street’s namesake when it came to history.  I grew up being told to admire Abraham Lincoln––the 16th president of the United States, a man of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), one who fought for the Union and to end slavery… or did he? 

While it’s not surprising, our history books lied to us and Lincoln got it wrong.

Recently, I’ve been reading a number of books by theologian James H. Cone including Black Theology & Black Power, The Cross and The Lynching Tree, and God of the Oppressed. Struck by his words and my growing understanding of truth as clearly laid out before me, I couldn’t help but fumble around when I read about this “great” president. I’ve come to realize that when we see the history we’ve been told is a lie, it’s not only our responsibility to listen, learn it, and apologize; It’s our responsibility to not look away. This writing is my apology. This writing is my refusal to look away.

“There is no place in this war of liberation,” Cone writes in 1969, “for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.”

While reading Black Theology & Black Power, I came across Cone’s notes on Abraham Lincoln and the frequent lies told about him as a man who longed for the freedom of slaves. Cone writes, “Whatever may have been the motives of Abraham Lincoln and other white Americans for launching the war, it certainly was not on behalf of black people. Lincoln was clear on this:

“My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Cone goes on, “If that quotation still leaves his motives unclear, here is another one which should remove all doubts regarding his thoughts about black people:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have I ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races––that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and interior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” (Abraham Lincoln)

With a whitewashed history, what does the future hold? Years from now, will the 45th president be portrayed with the light of racism and white supremacy under which he stands? Or will we––yes, we––continue to add layers and layers to the facts and perpetuate a world of hatred and injustice, a world comfortable enough for the nice white person who wants (and thinks under these severe circumstances that there is) progress without any conflict or discomfort?

“A man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men.” ––James H. Cone

If the truth no longer propels us to care, what will? If we can look upon the suffering of our fellow human and remain neutral because we are comfortable, we have lost our humanity. There is no time for neutrality when humans are suffering. Or as Cone says, “There is no time for talk when men are suffering.”

Cone’s words in Black Theology & Black Power were written 50 years ago this year. His preface contains his own newfound truths including a recognition and apology for the sexism within the book (both in his gendered language and leaving out the leadership notes and significance of black women) as well as a new clarity that “we need to develop a struggle for freedom that moves beyond race to include all oppressed peoples of the world,” in accordance with some of the lessons he heeded from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Some may say, “The history books didn’t lie, they only didn’t share the whole truth.” Some may say, “Often times our imperfections are used for ultimate good and slaves were freed, weren’t they?” I, for one, refuse to bow my body or tip my cap to a man whose blatant racism was left out of history so that he might be elevated as some kind of white savior. Lincoln did not free slaves, he did not believe in the equality of our black brothers and sisters. To “free” a human from the labor and life of a slave in language yet to continue to treat them as less-than in any way is to keep slavery alive.

I am not a history expert. I claim no in-depth knowledge about slavery or presidential history. That being said, I do know my history books got it wrong. I do know there is a sitting president who is an undisguised racist and I do not want my nephews reading anything less than the truth in their history books. I do know that I am sorry for my ignorance. I do know we have a long, long, long way to go and we must bind ourselves together so that we can all stand on equal ground or we will continue to fall deeper alone.

And, some may say “How can the Republican party go from the 16th president of the United States to the blatant racism of the 45th president of the United States?” Relearning history makes it not only obvious but abundantly clear. Patterns are being repeated. History covers up racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia––by rewriting history through erasure, by perpetuating lies and therefore perpetuating hatred.

Next time I visit my hometown, I will remember the truth about the namesake of the street which runs through my town. The inevitable thought will make me consider just how many daily reminders we have of unabashed racism. The result will be a reminder to be louder against hatred, bolder against falsities, and clearer about the truth. Because I want my fellow human’s value in this world to be clear, known, and not just a pretty phrase. Because we can’t keep lying about our history. Because I want my nephews reading truth. Because I’m done being another nice neutral white face in the crowd.

“The liberal, then, is one who sees ‘both sides’ of the issue and shies away from ‘extremism’ in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict. Therefore, when he sees blacks engaging in civil disobedience and demanding ‘Freedom Now,’ he is disturbed. Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy all the rights and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the ‘Negro.’ He wants change without risk, victory without blood.” ––James H. Cone

References:
Text from: Black Theology and Black Power by James H. Cone, 1969.
Cone’s references for Lincoln quotes:
First quote by Lincoln: “Reply to Horace Greeley,” 1862, in The American Tradition in Literature, Vol. 1; revised, S. Bradley, R.C. Beatty, and E.H. Long, eds. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962), p. 1567.
Second quote by Lincoln: Quoted in Charles Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (New York: Random House, 1964), pp. 92-93.
(***Image from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” 1978.)

 

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Dear Nashville Statement

Dear Nashville Statement,

I used to hear your voice when I was a closeted LGBTQ+ person in the Evangelical Church.

I recall your commanding tone, almost always spoken by a man telling me which thoughts to think, which words to say, which feelings to feel. I remember your inflection and the flicker of heat in it that hatred brings. I know who you are. And you no longer scare me into thinking your thoughts, saying your words, feeling your feelings. You no longer scare me.

I remember the certainty in your emphasis. The ways you’d enforce your stances on God as if God was something or someone to be fully understood. For years and years, I sat in your pews and watched your men tell me what behaviors made me Christian and what behaviors didn’t.

I avoided reading you for a few days, Nashville Statement. There’s just no longer a place for your harmful rhetoric in my life. But, I’m learning that so much of life is confronting the narratives from which we have been evolving. Much of life is having dialogue with one another to understand our pains and see one another’s truths. So, I took a look today.

And there you were just as I remember.

Another aggressive move towards domination over the beautiful uniqueness of our society. Another frantic jump from fear of who and what is different from you. I wasn’t surprised to read your narrow words and your parochial views. I used to buy into and even parrot this jargon myself. I used to listen to and heed your hate-fueled notions. It is terrifying to think about how much influence you once had over my understanding of God and my fellow human.

I have grown. I have changed. I have evolved.

When I read your words of anxious flailing which leads to monstrous rhetoric, I was not surprised. I knew you would use words that did not come from the mouth of Jesus and morph them into thought that suits a misogynistic group; a group that perpetuates bounded behaviors by rhetoric of nonsensical legalism. I knew it would be man-led and focused on a fundamentalist interpretation of a book that has been translated and interpreted numerous ways at numerous times.

Your words are violent and harmful. Your tone is vicious and degrading. You ruthlessly force thoughts and words about sexuality and gender into the mouth of the risen one who never spoke a word of it, lest for love. The commanding word you use over and over, “deny”, suggests a dismissal of the freedom and infinite love I, and so many others, have found in Christ. You, the words you choose, the the tenets you cling to with white knuckles continues to place more emphasis on a theological certainty instead of loving. Instead of the inexhaustible love of Christ.

And, if you’re willing to let go and look… that boundless love is everywhere.

I see God’s vastness in sexuality and gender. I see God in my heterosexual friends. I see God my Catholic friends. I see God in my Muslim friends. I see God in my Jewish friends. I see God in my LGBTQ+ friends… I see God in the rainbow of our society. Your statement has made it more obvious than ever to me that you love your bogus rules far more than the very people before you. You care more about commanding than the wholeness of people living out their true-selves as created by God, as children of God.

I’ve been rewriting my narrative in the places where you’ve influenced my life and dismantled my personhood. I’ve been removing the poison that diminished who I was— the hatred, the self-denial of who God made me to be, and the parts that didn’t leave room for us all at the table. I have never felt sad letting you go. I am only sad that you remain in such a hate-filled way.

You are not saving anyone with these statements; you are killing them.

Loving your neighbor is not walking them into hating themselves or feeling suicidal. Loving your neighbor is not dominating them with what you think is right or just. Loving your neighbor is sitting with them and listening to them with a longing to catch a glimpse of God. Do we need to go on defining love when Jesus showed us so perfectly what it looks like?

Nashville Statement, I have a promise for you. I promise I will keep turning your tables and covering them with rainbow tablecloths. I will keep inviting those you so blatantly “deny” at your table time and time again. It is not your table. It is not my table. It is God’s table and God longs for us to find a place. So I will keep inviting. And, if you can leave your hatred and certainty at the door, I will invite you too. Because all are welcome. What if you found a place among us all instead dictating the size of a table that does not belong to you?

I serve a God whose artistry in creation is as vast as it can be within us. And this table is not for removing people or telling them to go away. The table was always meant to be shared. Shared beyond our vision. It is for our Muslim neighbors and our Jewish friends to join us, too. It is for our Atheist coworkers and Agnostic family members, too. For what is this table if it is not love, and what is love if it is not shared?

You may not care any longer since I’ve moved on from you, Nashville Statement, but I’ve since made friends who point me to God instead of trying to tell me exactly who God is. They suggest and do not demand. They question alongside me and shake their fist in horror with me. They talk to me and do not jump to argument. They welcome me and don’t need to or obsess over boxing me in to a denomination or sexuality. And we still meet at the table. 

Peacefully. Lovingly. Joyfully.

So, I hope you can peel back your sweaty palms that are so desperately clinging to a narrative that leaves out so many children of God. I know rewriting can be hard. I know reprogramming can be painful. I had to do it when I left you. You know the best part? You don’t have to do it alone. There’s a multitude waiting for us at the table. There’s a gathering waiting for us to be who we are in the God of love. Will you join me?

Cassidy

 

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Responding to Charlottesville – Clarity from Chaos

Day after day we see hatred rise up in the world and our anxious flailing towards ‘what to do’ increases. We become debilitated by both the anger/fear and the possibilities before us. We become blinded to the good we can jump in on. We fail to see the love we can be a part of.

Yes, we must remember to breathe. We must remember to go into ourselves and see what we are to speak love and truth into. We must remember that often where we are to give action is usually a place of palpable discomfort.

And, more than anything, more than ever, we must recall that these are the moments that not only define who we are and what we stand for but are also the moments that reveal that precise truth and love to our children, our friends, our lovers, our families, and even those we disagree with. The children in our lives are watching us and taking cues… are we showing them something worth following? Are we breathing love into their lives? Are we demonstrating the truth of equality for their hearts? Are we standing up for our friends and pointing to love and truth in moments where hatred is so loud? Day after day after day?

Our routes forward are different means of expressing this love and truth, mine is no less or more important than yours. But a common thread is hosted in all those ways; a common thread that is woven into all of our hearts to want what is right, what is equal, what is good, what is loving, what is kind, what is truth, what is just.

I am entirely against white supremacy and the hatred it stands for.

Can we really, for a moment, imagine what it is like to be one our black friends today? Can we really, for a heartbeat, imagine what it is like to be one of our Muslim coworkers today? Can we really, for a breath, consider what it is like to be one of our immigrant neighbors today? We must walk with one another, feel one another’s pain (as best we can) and carry each other’s hearts with tenderness.

Which way is truly forward if we do not first examine the things within ourselves that even subconsciously permit a perpetuation of hatred? How can we really begin if we are not tending also to our own wars within? Whether these are acts of violence against our environment, hatred towards ourselves, or even our fears towards the government or systems of injustice… do they not also point to a tolerance of violence and hatred in some capacity? We must shed ourselves of these things. We must step out of comfort for the sake of all of our lives.

To imply your voice does not matter or makes no difference, is to suggest that there is not a way forward. People hear you: at your job, in your home, with your friends, with your children, your nephews and nieces, amongst your family. People read your words. Your voice and your words MATTER. Your action and presence MATTER. Because it is by unification of bodies and voices of love that we can begin to step forward. And it is in this unification that we hold one another’s trembling hands to do better, to do right, to give ourselves to love and truth. To show real love, we must first be love. To offer hope, we must first risk frustration and fear.

So, what will be our stance in these days? What will be our way forward in love and truth? How will we show the children in our lives what is right?

We say and we’re told that love wins, but we must remember that love winning requires our voices, our actions, our lives…

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An excerpt from Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you… What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am myself, a black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?…And, of course, I am afraid– you can hear it in my voice– because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth.”…On the cause of silence, each one of us draws her own fear– fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we also cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. Even within the women’s movement, we have had to fight and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson– that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, black or not. And that visibility which makes you most vulnerable is also our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind us into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in out corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned, we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and still we will be no less afraid.”

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“I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton

 

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I Wasn’t Ready To Write This

Love alone could waken love.” Pearl S. Buck

There are moments in life that I won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. That doesn’t mean I should sit back and do nothing. I wasn’t ready to write this.

This isn’t another article about names in politics; this is an article about you and me.

The hatred and violence in the world today (as if this were a new thing) is beyond my ability to fathom. It bears the infinite weight of endless agony prompted by fear, self-hatred, other-hatred, disoriented religions, and a reckless abandonment of anything associated with love.

Where are we and what are we doing here?

It is important to note that situations and experiences cannot be compared, for none of them are the same. Each of us relates differently to each of the things happening in the world precisely because we bring our own lenses and our own experiences to them. My lens is one of ignorance, privilege, whiteness, and a very clear sense of my lack of experience with discrimination and/or being in unjust situations.

However, that doesn’t make any one of us exempt from the human race. And if I see a brother or sister in the human race hurting or in danger, how is it not my responsibility to speak up, stand up, and do my part to help love grow where it has died? How is it not my responsibility to stand with, near, or in front of those hurting to remind them the importance of their very lives? Every ounce of love-oriented humanness lost, especially unlike me, diminishes all of our lives and all of our abilities to live out who we are.

I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton 

Names should be spoken. The names of victims, the names of movements, the names of those who need us to keep their balance, and whose eyes we need to keep ours. These truths and beyond deserve to be spoken:

Black lives matter. No one should wake up in fear just because of the color of their skin.

The LGBTQIAA community deserves the right to live their lives openly and without fear.

Muslims deserve to practice openly and peacefully without judgments or assumptions.

And, certainty, this list goes on and on.

If one cannot get a grip on saying any of those sentences because they feel all lives matter or because they disagree with Islam or being gay, then they’re missing the point. We say these things precisely because all lives matter; we say these things because we are less whole when our fellow human is in danger physically, emotionally, or otherwise. And, it is time to listen and time to stand with these lives that are in danger.

Listen. Speak. Stand.

I have never felt so strongly in my life that our silence in such situations only arms us with the precise violence that created these problems in the first place. Some of us fear our own stance — that we might lose friends or go into a rabbit hole of discussions with the “other side”.

Do I want to live a life of love? Then, there’s only one “side” and only one clear evident stance to take. To stand in love with my fellow human beings.

How many times have I hindered my love and compassion because I was worried what others might think? Towards lovers, friends, family, or someone different from me? Countless times. Even now, as my black friends are hurting beyond words, my police officer friends put on their uniform trembling, my Muslim friends attempt to discontinue lies being told about them time and time again, and so on.

Do we enjoy being able to walk down the street without fear of being shot? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to openly love whom we love? So do our neighbors. Do we appreciate being able to openly express our religious beliefs without fear of discrimination, hatred, or violence? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to do our job peacefully? So do our neighbors.

Neighbors. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. We must listen, weep, speak up, and stand up for more than just our own wounds. We must recognize that we share the same wounds – whether I had a part in creating yours or I simply see it; I have a shared responsibility as a fellow human to work towards healing.

Some days I back off of saying something thinking it will pass. Some days I’m so worried about looking good or hoping others will just feel better.

But our silences do not look good and they make no one feel better. Our silences in matters of hate, violence, bullying, and negativity only give power to the oppressor and make the oppressed feel more and more alone.

The world is a scary place. And, we need each other. We need examples of people being who they are in love. We need people to stand up next to their alienated friends and co-workers as they expose parts of themselves that may be difficult. We need to wander into life hand-in-hand with those different from ourselves. We need more compassion and understanding. We need to look at one another in the eye as the neighbors that we already are. We need hope. And hope is not vain optimism. Hope is a weary voice that keeps speaking truth. Hope is our continual emergence in standing with love, in love.

Hope will not be silent…” Harvey Milk

There are moments in life that you won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I wasn’t ready to write this.

I may be wrong, but maybe Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t “ready” to spend his life on the civil rights movement, but he knew something needed to change. Maybe Gandhi wasn’t “ready” for a hunger strike, but he knew that was his part to promote love. Perhaps, Harriet Tubman wasn’t “ready” to help slaves into freedom, but who else was going to do it? And possibly Susan B. Anthony wasn’t “ready” to be the face of the women’s suffrage movement, but she simply stood up for what was right.

I know I can listen, speak, stand, and will continue to. I know I can weep, and will continue to. Whether alone, in the company of loved ones or strangers; our sadness, outrage, and most importantly our aligned stance disarms us into a unified voice that cannot be denied.

Love evokes hope; hope evokes love. And both tell me to stand. They tell me to stand and be myself and recognize those doing the same or needing someone to rise up next to. They tell me to stand near them, to stand with them, but even if alone — to stand.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Audre Lorde