Psalm 22 and my racism struggle
By the Rev. Amiri Hooker
Editor’s note: The following is the third narrative accepted for publication in the Advocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. The Advocate will select as many as 10 narratives to be published in the Advocate, one a month for 10 months. See guidelines, here.
In Psalm 22:9 (“But you are he that took me out of the womb: you did make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts”), the psalmist makes the point that how in the midst of their suffering, God allowed the people to find hope for the future even while they were connected to their earthly mother. The text seems to suggest that in times of need, God provides needed motherly wisdom or mothers’ wit to enable you to thrive.
I would like to share my experience of having four such mothers and how the maternal nature of God has been a blessing. My mothers’ teaching led me to a place of tension where I see racial harmony as the new Promised Land for this generation’s chosen people.
A mother is usually responsible for the nursing and rearing of her progeny, for their physical constitution and growth, their exercise and proper sustenance in early life. She is responsible for a child’s habits, including cleanliness, order, conversation, eating, sleeping, manners, and general propriety of behavior. She is responsible for the principles that her children entertain in early life. For her, it is to say whether those who go forth from her womb shall be imbued with sentiments of virtue, truth, honor, honesty, temperance, industry, benevolence and morality, or those of a contrary character—vice, fraud, drunkenness, idleness and racism.
Yes, while a mother teaches great virtues, the disfavored characteristics are oftentimes also indoctrinated into the children who have grown at her breast.
My biological mother, Claudette, passed onto me a pain and a real sense of mistrust for white Southerners. She also passed onto me a sense of mistrust of the white race in general and a view that they needed to be kept in a certain relationship place. But most importantly, my mother passed onto me a pride in who I am and the culture that I had the miracle of being born into. She was clear to extol that blacks have traditionally learned and operated in two different registers, which gave rise to Du Bois’ “double consciousness.”
My mother pointed out that many professional blacks often say they can’t wait to finish work so they can go home and be black, or in other words, be themselves. She was quick to emphasize that black Americans have been expected to learn specific rules and conventions that benefit “well behaved” minorities within and between the white and black worlds, and yet, they are faced with mostly negative racialized impressions, experiences and interactions when encountering the white community.
These racial slights that occur daily were often confusing for me in my youth and cause a myriad of emotions from pain and sadness to anger and self-hatred. Like Du Bois, I felt the weight of this tension on his soul as he expressed the difficulties that black Americans are faced with being too white for blacks and too black for whites. I also wondered how I can positively engage in the larger world and the multiracial church. I never had the luxury of thinking that a white cop or white man in a pickup truck were there to protect and serve; there was always a sense of mistrust ingrained in my mind.
I am thankful to God that I was able to move from the point of no trust to a place of hope. The source of the blessing has been three women who I often refer to as my three white mothers.
My three white mothers serve as an example of what everyday people can do to improve race relations and interrupt the racism that occurs every day. None of these mothers were famous as a civil rights worker. They were persons who, because of the love of God in their hearts, gave me a much better understanding of the future hope of ethnic harmony and racial unity.
The first of my white mothers was a church and community worker from the General Board of Church and Society. Kathleen gave me a view of a white woman who loved the black children she was surrounded by and who showed me love. She took time to walk through the Christian as a Ministry book and tell me that God could call me to serve a church that was larger then the local black church.
The second of my white mothers gave me an image of leadership on the Annual Conference level. June was the conference director over youth ministry, and on more than one occasion she reminded me that dealing with race is a two-way street; both races have to work together to understand the small areas that need repairs. She always said separating us by race was old-fashioned thinking and we needed to think and act toward the future of oneness. She was not colorblind; so many times we had to clarify what experiences I had as a young black boy growing up in Bennettsville versus her experiences as a white woman in Summerville.
The third of my white mothers really gave me an understanding of ministry when I was an undergraduate student. Marie was a small brown woman from the island who was the Student Life Office Manager. Although she was brown-skinned, in her home she was considered white. She showed me how different racism in her island heritage was from what we understood in America. She showed me my blackness was not unique but could be a strength. She quietly went about her business of ending racism within her sphere of influence. She invited her friends—black, Native and others—into establishments known to be white only. She purposely walked into “colored only” and “white only” churches and worshiped. I learned from her that worship is about God and not dependent on the prejudices of the worship setting.
This is a time when the idea of black lives mattering has been pushed to the forefront of the needs to discuss diversity in the church. I feel comfortable dealing with the struggles of white privilege and African-American double-consciousness because of the mothers who have protected me and given me hope during my formative years.
Hooker, 43, is an African-American male who pastors the St. John-Wesley Chapel Charge in the Florence District.