Ecclesiastes: Who Will Comfort Them?

Vigil for John Crawford shot in WalMart in Ohio
Vigil for John Crawford shot in WalMart in Ohio

“Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed — with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power — with no one to comfort them.”– Ecclesiastes 4:1

Brittany Cooper: ‘If We Refuse to Believe Black Girls, We Call into Question Our Own Witness’

Dr. Cooper
Dr. Brittney Cooper, assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama, has written an excellent column in response to prosperity gospel preacher Creflo Dollar’s recent arrest for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter.

Dr. Cooper is co-founder, along with Dr. Susana Morris, of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a feminists of color scholar-activist group that runs a highly successful blog. Professor Cooper blogs for the CFC as “Crunktastic.”

Here’s an excerpt from When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence:

For the record, we never know the whole story about anything, if it didn’t happen to us. That doesn’t prevent us from making reasonable judgments based on the evidence. Christians use the same type of reason to profess our faith in a God-man, who was born from a virgin, crucified on a cross and Resurrected on the 3rd day. And we believe in his Resurrection, primarily on the basis of the initial testimony of some women who Jesus’ male followers weren’t trying to hear (Mark 16: 1-11). So in my view, if we refuse to believe Black girls when they testify about their experiences, we call the basis of our own witness and our own faith into question. Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance.

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes?

Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.

Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.

Frankly, we need to “radically rethink” our understandings of authority, love, violence, and respect in the Black Church. …

The Crunk Feminist Collective writes about race, feminism, and popular culture from a Hip Hop Generation perspective. The blog, which aims to make feminist scholarship accessible to a wide range of publics, has been acknowledged by writers at the L.A. Times, TheRoot.Com, Clutch Magazine, and New York Magazine, and it is routinely cross-posted on sites like Feministing.com and TheRoot.com. The Collective also does speaking tours, conducts workshops, and engages in a range of activist causes related to women’s issues.

Feast of St. Benedict the African

Benedict the Moro, also known as Benedict the Black or Benedict the African, was born near Messina, Italy in 1526. He was the son of Christopher and Diana Manasseri, Africans who were taken to Italy as slaves and later became Christians. Benedict worked as a field hand until he reached the age of 18, when he was given his freedom. For the next 10 years, he earned his living as a day laborer, sharing his meager wages with the poor and devoting much of his leisure time to the care of the sick.

Although his race and his parents’ servitude made Benedict the object of frequent ridicule, he bore each humiliation with great dignity.  One day, the gentleness of Benedict’s replies to his tormentors attracted the attention of Jerome Lanzi, a young man who had withdrawn from the world to imitate the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  “You make fun of him now,” Jerome Lanzi said of those who were jeering at Benedict, “but I can tell you that ere long you will hear great things about him”.

Shortly after that incident, Benedict disposed of his few possessions and joined Jerome’s small group of hermits.  The solitaires, who originally lived in the hills near Messina, later moved to a new location outside Palermo. After Jerome died, Benedict reluctantly became the group’s superior, and the community prospered under his leadership. When Pope Pius IV directed all independent groups of hermits to become affiliated with established religious orders, Benedict entered the Order of the Friars Minor of the Observance. As a Franciscan lay brother, he worked for a number of years as a cook at the Friary of St. Mary of Jesus in Palermo, and it is said that food multiplied miraculously in his hands. Domestic duties, which gave Benedict many opportunities to perform small acts of charity, were well suited to his quiet personality.  In 1578, however, he was appointed guardian of the Palermo Friary. The illiterate lay brother did not welcome this recognition, but he was obliged, under obedience, to accept his new responsibilities and soon proved to be an ideal superior.

His reputation for sanctity spread throughout the country, and wherever he went, large groups of lay people and members of the clergy met him, kissed his hand, and obtained pieces of his habit. To avoid such attention, Benedict traveled at night whenever he could. When daytime journeys were unavoidable, he covered his face with his hood(ie). Benedict later became vicar of the convent and master of novices.  His ability to expound Sacred Scriptures impressed both priests and novices, and his intuitive understanding of complex theological questions astonished religious scholars. Benedict was said to have the power to read the mind of others, and because of his extraordinary compassion, people from every part of Italy sought his counsel. Benedict never abandoned the austere practices acquired during the days as a hermit.  Although he ate sparingly, he often said that it was proper, as a gesture of gratitude, to partake of foods given as alms. Toward the end of his life Benedict asked to be relieved of all his offices and was permitted to return to his work in the kitchen. He resumed his duties as cook, but his days were punctuated by audiences with poor men and women seeking alms, distinguished people seeking advice and prayers, and the sick who sought cures for their illness. At the age of 63, Benedict contracted a severe illness. He died at Palermo, at the very hour he had predicted, on April 4, 1589.–Adapted from information at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church

Duke Ellington’s D.C.: ‘What we Could Not Say Openly, We Expressed in Music’

Duke Ellington in front of the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

Last week I watched the 2000 PBS documentary Duke Ellington’s Washington. It’s a great way to learn the history of D.C. at the turn of the century – especially the Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, and Shaw neighborhoods around where I live. I highly recommend it for viewing! Here’s a short description of the video:

“Before the Harlem Renaissance, Duke Ellington’s Washington was the social and cultural capital of Black America. From 1900 to 1920, it was this country’s largest African American community. Anchored by Howard University and federal government jobs, this community became a magnet for African American intellectuals and sent a stream of shining talents to the nation for generations. It developed a prosperous black middle class which forged a strong society of churches, newspapers, businesses and civic institutions. Its businesses were black owned and run; its buildings, designed, built and financed by blacks; its entertainment, by and for African Americans. This was a proud and elegant community that flourished despite, or perhaps even because, of Jim Crow, the oppressive segregation that forced blacks to create their own separate destiny.”

The New Yorker (May 17, 2010) also has a great essay by Claudia Roth Pierpont titled Black, Brown, and Beige: Duke Ellington’s music and race in America. Pierpont reviews Harvey G. Cohen’s recently released book “Duke Ellington’s America.” Both the book and Pierpont’s essay are an interesting way to examine race in America through classical American music – jazz. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music,” Ellington wrote in the British magazine Rhythm, in 1931, trying to explain the Negro musical tradition that had grown up in America, music “forged from the very white heat of our sorrows.” All his life, Ellington gave the impression of having been unscathed by racism, either in his early years—color, he said, was never even mentioned in his parents’ home—or during the long professional decades when it defined almost every move he made: where he could play his music, who could come to listen to it, whether he could stay in a hotel or attend another musician’s show, and where (or whether) he could find something to eat when the show was over. The orchestra made its first Southern tour just after its return from England, in 1933, travelling (thanks to Mills) in supremely insulated style: two private Pullman cars for sleeping and dining, and a separate baggage car for the elaborate wardrobe, scenery, and lights required to present a show more dazzling than any that most of the sleepy little towns where they made their stops had ever seen. Ellington made a special effort to perform for black audiences, even when it meant that the band added a midnight show in a place where it had performed earlier that night exclusively for whites. Reports from both racial groups were that the players outdid themselves; it is difficult to know where they felt they had more to prove.

Segregation was hardly peculiar to the South, of course, any more than it was limited, in New York, to the Cotton Club and its ilk. The down-and-dirty Kentucky Club had been no different: even without thugs at the door, there was an unspoken citywide dictate about where the different races belonged. The only exceptions were the “Black and Tans,” the few Harlem clubs that permitted casual racial mixing, and to which Ellington seems to have been paying tongue-in-cheek tribute with the not-quite-meshing themes of “Black and Tan Fantasy.” This was the first number played, after “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at Ellington’s landmark Carnegie Hall concert, in January, 1943, although the piece sounded very different from his twenties hit: taken at a slower tempo, with extended solos, it was twice its original length—so deliberative it seemed a kind of statement—and showed off the burnished power of Ellington’s forties band.

Read the whole essay here.