The Riots, The Help, and the S & P

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, “Harlem

I find it ironic, the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated recent events; riots in London, The Help (a New York Times bestseller) adapted for the big screen, the S & P downgrade, the reemergence of terms like “tarbaby,” and yet another article on the plight of single Black women.

So much is coming up to the surface. Standard & Poors has so little faith in the U.S. government’s ability to make policies, they downgraded our formerly sterling status as risk-free borrowers. Now we share the AA+ status of nations which include Chile, Abu Dhabi, Spain, and Kuwait. In response, did federal policymakers join together in unprecedented bipartisanship? -insert laughtrack here-

In other news, why do so many people like The Help? I’m currently half-way through the novel, and the stories make me recoil or rage. You gotta love the United States, where some folks will defend the use of historically (and, for the record, presently) degrading terms, or sign off on audacious assertions about the benefits of slavery on the black family, and other folks will purchase and rave about a book where the heroines are oppressed black maids. It’s like the nation wants to forget or remember elements of the Civil Rights movement only on its own terms. Less Manning Marable and more Kathryn Stockett (this article on a particular reaction to The Help is perhaps an echo of this).

If depictions of 1960s black women penned by their former employers (how’s that for irony?) don’t float your boat, there are copious snapshots of black women in 2011 to draw from. From CNN to the Wall Street Journal, there have been a slew of articles expressing concern over the “least married population in America.”

Why, thank you for your concern.

It doesn’t matter that black women have risen phenomenally in a short time within collegiate and workplace ranks (and are, by the way, the unsung cornerstone of black evangelicalism). It doesn’t matter that the rights and privileges that all women in this country currently enjoy were preceded by black women who have always worked, and always had to balance home(s) and work life.

We still just can’t seem to find and keep a good man. Just in case we didn’t notice, we get bombarded with reminders.

These articles attempt to surmise why, and I have to laugh. How many messages are black women bombarded with daily about their promiscuity, sex appeal, bad hair, bad skin, bad bodies, unrealistically high self-esteem (can you believe that Psychology Today actually posted this?), dearth of black male prospects, obligation to hold up the “purity” of the black race, hold down the family, and excel academically and in the office? What of the systematic break-up of the family since people were snatched from African shores and dumped into servitude? What of the educational divide and antiquated models that plague African-American communities, and serve as pre-prisons? What of the stiflingly narrow standard of beauty? DUH!

Seems like many don’t pay attention to the simmer, the rolling boil of the frustration or plight of “them” (you know; those people who aren’t like you), accepted ingrown stereotypes, the traditional segregation of lives based on income, skin color, upbringing. Like happy little frogs in a tall, steel pot, we are soothed by the warmth and let the bubbles tickle our noses.

Soon enough, though, it gets too hot. Something explodes.

Reading about the riots in London seemed like the same song, different verse of the riots in Paris, the riots in New Orleans, the riots in L.A., the riots in Detroit: the festering, persistent powerlessness and injustice that explodes into a frenzied outcry. This time the catalyzing event was a man shot by police (I was under the impression that bobbies didn’t carry guns?). In response, it’s as if a whole cross-section of hurting people screamed “ENOUGH!”, and then cut themselves to relieve the pain with fresh, self-inflicted wounds. I don’t wish to glamorize looting and rioting, because so many people don’t even know why they participate, except for quick self-indulgence. But I understand that deferred dreams dry up, fester, sag, and explode. I understand that this isn’t the first man the police shot, or harassed, or profiled, or beat, or threw the book at. Systemic powerlessness hums in our ears like a baby’s white noise machine until something jars us awake. Like a riot.

I feel like screaming ENOUGH! this week. I see the heart-sick people whose hope has been deferred (Proverbs 13:12, anyone?). People struggling to find jobs, hold on to homes; people striving to retain their dignity or desperate to find love. People who are afraid to change and afraid of losing their grip when things change anyway.

Don’t we have healing in our words, in our prayers, because of our compassionate Lord (who also said, “enough”)? Don’t we possess the Spirit that can cause resurrection? Don’t we serve a Savior who quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 and then rolled up the scroll with authority, like, “I got this”? Who decimates dividing walls?

Enough talking at the people we should be talking with.

In this global roiling, we have Living Water that we can pour over festering wounds and explosive issues. We have Healing Water in which to dip the burns and scars. We know the One who quenches soul-thirst. But we can’t give water to people we don’t touch, or listen to, or people whom we despise.

The conversation can begin with we who are privileged to remain indifferent, but choose to consciously care before things boil over.

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Sharifa Stevens

Sharifa Stevens is a Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised child of the King, born to Jamaican immigrants, and currently living in Dallas. Sharifa's been singing since she was born. Her passion is to serve God's kingdom by leading His people in worship through music, speaking and writing, and relationships with people. Her heart is also unity, inspired by John. Sharifa hates exercise but likes Chipotle, bagels with a schmeer and lox, salmon sushi, chicken tikka, curried goat (yeah, it's good) with rice and peas, and chocolate lava cakes. She's been happily married to Jonathan since 2006...and he buys her Chipotle.


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    Christy McFarland

    Thank you …

    Thank you for your words this morning … I agree. There are few other words I can offer. May we experience and share the Living Water … 

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    Amatullah King

    Beautifully stated

    Sharifa, you continue to inspire me to a better place with your words that lance the wound, and then heal it with truth.  Could not have stated the feelings I've had better.  Your pen is truly blessed.  I want to see you in print!  (yes, I have the Nook, but I still prefer paper, LOL)

    Thank you.