Leonard Lovett, Ph. D
Jeremiah 31: 15 “The Lord spoke to me saying; In Ramah there is bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children and she cannot be comforted for they are gone.”
Bruce Jenner, a male announces that he is a woman, makes the cover of Vanity Magazine, and is applauded from the Whitehouse and throughout the global village for his courage in self-disclosure. Rachel Dolezal, a white female announces that she is black, and sets off a debate about race that rivals the beginning of a World War. The underlying myth fueling the debate is that we have a choice about changing our gender, but not our race. Jenner has been hailed as a hero, while Dolezal has been labeled by certain media pundits as a fake imposter for attempting to announce who she claims to be. What drives the debate is American hypocrisy and denial about race. Deep within our psyche most of us are racially prejudiced until proven otherwise. One real incident will trigger our racial xenophobia and before there is resolution we will have chosen sides. If you have chosen sides in this debate it is an indicator that you are more than likely prejudiced. Prejudice means to pre-judge another without having the facts. Prejudice linked with power becomes racism. We tend to confuse bigoted behavior as being racist, but it is not. When such behavior is linked with the power to subjugate others, it becomes racism. The facts about Rachel Dolezal come to us in media bytes and constitute only a partial picture of her life. The late Dr. James Tinney, Pentecostal scholar and activist, holder of a doctorate in political science from Howard University, was genetically white and reared by a black woman he claimed as his grandmother. As a personal friend I noted that he claimed to be black and never connected with his whiteness. Anyone who knew James can attest to the fact that he was candid about being black.
In my pilgrimage I have met many ebony black skinned people who acted as though they were white and rejected anyone they encountered who was black. They were clearly labeled negro-peans by blacks who could not handle their rejection. If blackness is simply skin color then Dr. James Cone, Charles A Briggs professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, was wrong. Cone the “Father of Black Theology” emerged in the late sixties and early seventies as a proponent of what was considered a highly controversial theological posture. In his primer, Black Theology and Black Power, he contended that God was on the side of the oppressed and Jesus was indeed black. For Cone blackness was a condition of oppression rather than skin color. For Cone the black experience was the entry point for “ontological blackness.” Ontology is a metaphysical term that deals with “the nature of being.” Within Cone’s theological analysis of Black Theology it is possible for whites to become black if they meet the criteria of oppression. Rachal Dolezal could enter the purview of the black experience if she comes not as an imposter to pimp blackness as a way of “getting over” but with a deep sense of genuine commitment. To enter the black experience any other way would be an insult to black womanhood everywhere and an uneventful troubled existence.