WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 06: Betty Phelps, daughter-in-law of pastor Fred Phelps and a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, demonstrates outside the Supreme Court while justices hear oral arguements in Snyder v. Phelps, which tests the limits of the First Amendment, October 6, 2010 in Washington, DC. Albert Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church after his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006 and members of the church held signs and demonstrated outside his funeral. The church and its members preach that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for Americans’ immorality, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Timothy Dwight Smith is the Editor-and Chief at ContraCritic News, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues.
I grew up in St. Louis, MO reared by a single mother after my father’s murder when I was four years old.
Like many Black and Latino youths living in poverty, hip-hop music spoke directly to my soul and provided chapters in a living testament to my pain. Through the lens of hip-hop I was able to bring into focus many of the world’s ills. Rap lyrics provided answers to why my stomach growled from hunger countless nights or why violence and drugs pervaded my neighborhood.
These songs caused me to begin to view the world as a collection of systems that provided sanctions and rewards depending on skin color and political power.
Although my father was a Pentecostal preacher for 15 years before his death, and despite the fact I attended church into my teenage years –thanks mom– my dad was one of the few ministers I’d ever heard willing to tackle social issues with a mix of biblical authority and cultural sensitivity, instead of the bigotry, dogma, and fundamentalism so many Christians accept as prophetic insight today.
So it is no surprise hip-hop artists appealed to my inquisitive mind more than most preachers ever could.
I’ve probably listened to “So much trouble in the world…can’t nobody feel your pain,” the lyrics by Big Syke (“All Eyez On Me,” 1996), an Oakland, CA rap artist and friend of the late Tupac Shakur, thousands of times. And from the first to the thousands of replays through cd Walkmans, cheap boom boxes, car stereos with detachable faces –you know you had one too!– and now, Ipads and tablets, the heart wrenching response remains the same as it did when I was 13 years old.
The feelings of being alone – in trouble and in pain – knowing no one is coming to rescue you, is debilitating. When we add to it the reasons why: racism, bigotry, political corruption, religious hypocrisy, violence; it becomes suffocating. Such conditions nurture hopelessness and hopelessness deprives human beings of their ability to speak. Voices are lost, often forever.
Reading recent news headlines one would find it incredibly difficult not to believe our nation is going backwards. Of course there’s been victories along the way. Last week the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in every state, this is progress. However, judging by the tidal wave of commentary following the Supreme Court’s ruling, by those who claim belief in a God of love, it’s clear, a large swath of this nation still can’t feel the LGBT community’s pain. I’m convinced after almost 32 years of living in a “Christian” nation that those who believe in heaven are hell-bent on keeping it as racially, culturally, and politically segregated as possible.
But there is other pain as well.
This past month much time and energy has been exerted vilifying an obviously mentally-disturbed White woman in blackface, arguing with the misinformed and bigoted over the meaning of a piece of fabric, and telling lies about racism disguised as mental illness to protect a hate-filled White youth who premeditated and committed, in a house of worship, one of the most heinous acts of domestic terrorism in recent history. Are we better for having engaged these stories in this way?
Has significant progress been made by the talking heads and political and cultural pundits? Has talking around real issues ever moved the ball forward in any area of American life? No.
Pain has been on display, but it remains unaddressed. For example, how can we even pretend to unpack a story like Rachel Dolezal if the Black community isn’t willing to admit and investigate their own internalized colorism? If Black citizens aren’t honest and forthright about how we devalue one another based purely on racist premises: dark skin vs. light skin; good hair vs. bad hair; even Black power, Black is beautiful, and Black nationalism vs. multiculturalism and pluralism. Then how will we ever extricate ourselves collectively from the mental chains of bondage bequeathed to us at birth?
All this denial as Black churches burn like it’s the 1960’s on repeat.
When will White so-called allies understand that it is their responsibility to eradicate White supremacist patriarchy and the religious murder cults fashioned by their ancestors hands, and of which they still benefit from even to this day?
It is not the duty of people of color nor is it within the realm of possibility for us to deconstruct the system of institutionalized racism in this country. Those who built the monster must also destroy him. If Whites lack the will and courage to do so, they are not allies, but cowards merely dilly-dallying in White guilt; straining crocodile tears for Black victims; believing dewy eyes rather than blood will cover their multitude of sins.
The denial of pain is an American trait, even an American value. So much of our identity is dependent on this kind of running away; we’ve perfected escapism at our own peril. The way manhood is defined in America, from the founding of this country to now, is nothing more than a preoccupation with denying pain and pretending as if one is indestructible and without emotion.
Could this be why effeminate gay Black men and transsexual men of color are the most despised and victimized of all, owing largely to unaddressed pain intersecting to plunder Black bodies? Americans have been taught to habitually protect fantasies while destroying reality.
Could this allegiance to controverting pain account for why the majority of domestic violence victims are women who endure years of blacked eyes, busted lips, and broken bones at the hands of intimate partners before reporting abuse? And some women never do.
Has dismissing pain become so much a part of our identity that parents justify instructing their own children to remain silent about rampant molestation within families and religious communities rather than protecting innocence? Is this learned desire to escape reality, to suffocate emotions and plunder others, responsible for why White Americans still find comfort in wrapping themselves in the blanket of indifference rather than using their privilege to shape a better world?
Until we come to terms with this enormous deficit of decency, fairness, and love, pain will remain the leading story on every news outlet for years to come.
But in America, dreams matter more than those who envision them. In America, can’t nobody feel your pain.