The Fire This Time

Mural of Alton Sterling painted at convenience store near where he was killed

Three years ago this month, I wrote about America’s racist god. As a result of the threats I received, I had to move from a place I loved. I got used to being called a nigger, and to having my university and department faculty barraged by white racists calling for me to be fired.

Three years later, and after countless black deaths by police, I find myself being asked by the editors here at RD to write about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and about the five policemen shot and killed in Dallas.

I know. You want me to say something profound, the hard thing. You want me to say something passionate, something to rally you, something to make you feel like there is hope, and that we’re going to change.

But that’s not what this piece is about.

You see, I’m done believing. I’m done believing that writing words about this shit is going to make it better. I’m done believing that religion will help Black people get justice in America. It isn’t. Black men and women are still dead, Police are still jacking us up and shooting black people for minor infractions, and white Americans are still yelling, “We want to take our country back.”

I’m tired of giving you the fiery words of a prophet. I was right in what I wrote three years ago: America is reaping the bitter fruits of the racist, white supremacist crap it has sown.

What’s next? Hell if I know. I can hazard a guess: the streets this summer will be full of pain and protest. Police will be even more fearful—and trigger happy. White suburbanites will buy more guns to make themselves feel safer, and Donald Trump will look like a savior. Meanwhile Black parents will talk to their children in hushed tones, Philando and Alton’s relatives will cry bitter tears (and be approached by predatory lawyers hoping to catch a civil case) and children will have nightmares and call out for their fathers.

Preachers will ignore, or call on people to pray, but not to act. The rest of us will drink, fornicate and forget.

I’m done saving you, good white folks. You want Black people like me, who like you, to say the prophetic thing, and bail your ass out for not speaking up, for remaining quiet—while you get your work, vacations and scholarship done this summer. Meanwhile, I try to hold it together to write a 800-word piece without crying and wanting to tear my hair out about the pain of my people.

I’m not writing prophetic words to you anymore. You fix this shit. I’m done carrying the cross of America, its false promises of democracy and inclusion, the documents that excluded me and called my ancestors three-fifths of a person. You figure it out.

I’m about comforting Black people now. We need each other. I can’t help you feel less guilty about maintaining a violent, racist, gun-obsessed nation called America.

As for you black folks calling out to Jesus, hoping for redemption, I envy you. You can sing the gospel songs, and hope for redemption. I don’t see it coming. I see fire. I see blood. I see the fire this time.

I long for the day I can pack my bags and leave the United States. I want to live as an expat, returning to visit my family from time to time. I won’t miss much. I won’t miss the horrible cable news, or the sanctimonious preachers, or the respectability blacks who wish we’d all just get out of the streets and stop protesting. I won’t miss the well-meaning white people who try to commiserate, but won’t have a substantive conversation, or commit to fighting for justice and equality for brown and black people. I won’t miss the large majority of the Asian American community that remains silent. And I sure as hell won’t miss the fake Christianity of conservative white evangelicals.

Yes, I am bitter. I am tired. I am broken. This battle is for those who have strength, who have hope. I teach the history of American religion and African American religion. I know better than to have hope in this nation to heal its original sin of slavery and racism.