Last month, my second book, Stakes Is High: Race, Faith, and Hope for America, was published by Chalice Press. Before its official release, I was elated that the book received strong endorsements from academics and activists, alike. Dr. Elaine Heath, the dean of the Divinity School at Duke University endorsed the book by stating, “My hope and prayer is that this narrative of violence against black and brown people in the United States finds its way into homes, churches, schools, and offices of public servants across this nation.” The Reverend Stephen A. Green, national director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Youth and College Division stated, “Captivating and persuasive, Stakes Is High offers a poignant reflection on the social, political, and theological situations of Black people in America.”
Others now have had a month to engage the text. I have been overwhelmed by the positive responses I have received. Stakes Is High is already being added to University and secondary school syllabi, and it is being engaged communally by adult Christian education classes and soon, Masjid youth groups. The book was featured in a Publisher’s Weekly article among new books that “encourage and guide activism”, and editors for Sojourners Magazine have included the book among their four cultural recommendations for April 2017.
Thus far, one of the most personally moving responses came from a white suburban mother who was so moved by the text that she mailed a copy to an incarcerated nephew. Her nephew then shared the text with a Black inmate serving a lengthy prison sentence. After reading Stakes Is High, the Black inmate offered that the book was the first thing that had given him hope in a long time and that he felt as though they had not been forgotten.
Another moving response came from a Muslim mother whose son was recently bullied at his school. A young white classmate approached him and called him a terrorist. Having read my book, she determined that she would also have her grade school sons read the book to increase their awareness of the legacy of racism and hatred in America, to empower them to stand strong in the face of hate, and to encourage them to join the peaceful resistance against these destructive forces in American society. Even my own fourth grader surprised me by saying that he was reading Stakes Is High during his free reading time at school. I inquired what he had learned thus far. He responded, “That racism is real.”
I can think of no greater initial reception to this work, and with the recent release of a free online companion guide to the text authored by a diverse group of pastors and scholars from across the nation, I am even more excited about Stakes Is High’s future engagement. Interestingly enough, the only negative critiques I have received thus far have come from persons who have not even read the book. These are white persons who have judged the book by its cover, and they have taken to social media to express their disdain. Each of them has issued the same criticism: they cannot possibly bring themselves to engage the book due to the use of grammar in the book’s title. Hip hop heads and persons of a certain generation immediately recognized the book’s title as a nod to a seminal cultural artifact, De La Soul’s classic recording from 1996. I consider the song to be an essential part of my personal journey to social awareness and social activism, and it seemed a most appropriate title for a new book addressing the same subject matter in these tumultuous days.
I find the boldness of these people offensive and a gross representation of how some white folk address Black agency in the world. Forget the fact that the book shares the narratives of Black children, women, and men historically and in present day who suffer daily under the unjust oppression of the American enterprise. Forget the fact that in this age of alternative truths, the history of historically Black colleges and universities has been recast as an example of the success of school choice as opposed to being necessarily emergent in a society that made Black literacy illegal and barred Black people from attending white schools. And never mind the fact that slavery has been recast as an instance of immigration for Africans seeking a better life for their descendants in America.
This is the grossest of white privilege, a system empowered by the fatal legacy of notions of white supremacy, one that has always sought to undervalue the voice of others, especially if those voices failed to meet the standard of their Eurocentric notions of respectability. With a few characters haplessly released upon the Internet, they have employed weapons of silence and erasure, suggesting that Black vernacular deems a work unworthy of serious engagement. Undoubtedly, they do so by illuminating a gross hypocrisy. For generations, white people have found our contributions to American culture wildly entertaining, and when at all possible, have sought to colonize and make a commodity out of our culture for their financial gain. Black culture is only acceptable as long as it is entertaining and can be controlled. For some, as soon as our culture strengthens resistance or becomes revolutionary, it is deemed inaccessible, unwarranted, and ignorant.
Stakes is too high to care what some white folk think. It is more important now than ever before that we tell our own narratives, less they be used against us to promote platforms that will further harm our community. Their comfort is not our concern. Although our national obsession has shifted, unarmed Black folk are still being cut down by police. And the promise of the current presidential administration to restore law and order in our inner cities is no less than a national call of open season against Black and Brown people. As Muslim grandmothers and infants are denied entry into our country, and as racists and Anti-Semites continue to be appointed to positions of great influence in our national government, how comfortable or uncomfortable some white people are made with how my community chooses to verbally express our pain and struggle for justice and equality on these shores is inconsequential.
I believe this critique, and other critiques like it, to be a cover for white fragility and white tears. Some white folk have grown weary of our calls for justice now convinced that they are the true victims of history. These are they who believe that all struggles within our community are merely the result of Black pathology, and they fail to see how unjust systems continue to rage against us.
However, you cannot control the agency of my people. Our voice is our resistance. It is not designed for your comfort, nor does it need your approval. It is meant to shake you awake from your slumber that you might join the struggle and challenge notions of white supremacy in the places and spaces to which Black people are often denied access, spaces and places where the stain of notions of white supremacy has been passed down as a birthright to new generations, namely your churches and your homes.
The time is now for movement. The time is now to demand justice and equality for all. Without question, stakes is high. Yet, when it comes to white fragility, white tears, and Eurocentric notions of respectability, ain’t nobody got time for that.