a piece by Will Hawkins
For the majority of my life, I have been ashamed of the color of my skin.
Wow, that’s really weird to admit, but it’s true. I was ashamed to be black.
It seemed as if everyday of elementary school, middle school, and even high school I was reminded of the fact that I am a dark skinned, African American male. And it was never a “good” reminder. It was always an embarrassing reminder, one that made me uncomfortable inside of my own skin.
All of the times I was “jokingly” called “nigga” or even “nigger” by my white friends. All of the times I was described as “the really black one.” All of the smirks I received from some idiot whenever there was chicken or watermelon or kool-aid within 100 feet of me. All of the times I was called “oreo” or “white-washed” or “the whitest black guy I know” (really, what do these phrases mean?!) because my parents rose me to speak properly and to educate myself. As if the color of my skin was enough for me to be black but the way I carried myself was not.
I remember trying to be something I wasn’t, trying to act as “black” as I could in order to live up to what the world’s standard of “black” was. I remember overcompensating by trying to be friends with everyone, trying to be as likeable as possible. But on the inside I was dying because I knew I really didn’t belong anywhere (I still get this feeling sometimes). I was too “black” for the white kids and too “white” for the black. I remember all the girls I liked not liking me back and assuming it was because I was black. That may or may not have been true...I was also really annoying in middle school/high school. But this was my reality. This was my experience. I did not like myself. I wished to be someone else. I wished to be something else. I never thought that my parents getting us out of “the hood” would separate me so much from my own identity.
Yes I know, this has been pretty sad so far. But we’re all used to hearing about “sad” things nowadays, right? Don’t worry, things get better. Things changed for me during my junior year of high school, when I began to take my relationship with Jesus seriously. Jesus was the first person I met outside of my family who truly loved me and understood me for who I was. I had never felt such radical acceptance before. So I immediately fell in love with Jesus, and I began to love myself again.
I felt so much love from Jesus because he understood me and knew me enough to see himself in me. This changed everything for me. It’s devastating that the majority of the black experience is not being understood or known by the majority culture. I pray to God this changes.
Because of Jesus (and the many important people God placed in my life, but mainly Jesus), I am now more proud of the color of my skin than I ever have been. I love being black. I love my people. I love my culture. I love where I come from. I’m black and I’m proud.
But there is now a new emotion that is associated with my blackness, and that is fear. Fear of rejection and death, to put it bluntly.
The recent murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille have left me angry, numb, confused, scared, and speechless for the past few days. I haven’t had any words to say to these tragedies for a while. But as I find the thoughts to think and the words to speak, one of the things I am finding at the forefront of my mind is, “Where are the Christ followers? Where is the Church?” I am sad because I wish more Christians could represent the Jesus I met my junior year of high school. The Jesus that fought for my self esteem. The Jesus that fought for me as a whole. The Jesus that knew me and understood me. Don’t get me wrong there are many of you, and I praise God for you. But I wish there were more of you. Things would change if there were more of you.
It’s becoming clearer to me that the church (generally) cares more about evangelism than social justice. The church cares more about saving souls than ending all forms of oppression. I find this interesting because in Luke 4:18-19, Jesus proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (ESV).” We see here that Jesus sought to bring about both spiritual and physical transformation.
So why does the church seem to focus more on spiritual transformation than physical transformation in communities? Jesus cares about both. Why does the church care more about preaching the Gospel than showing the Gospel by ending systemic oppression? Jesus cares about both. Why does the church care more about fine-tuned theology and doctrine than the liberation and empowerment of black lives? Jesus cares about both.
Lesslie Newbigin (a dope theologian who taught me a lot about Jesus) states that “Love and justice are distinct concepts, but where justice is denied love is certainly denied.” He also stated,
“To work for the reformation of structures, to expose and attack unjust structures, and, when the point is reached at which all other means have failed, to work for the overthrow of an evil political and economic order is as much a part of the mission of the church as to care for the sick and to feed the hungry.”
To be a Christian means to be a seeker of justice. It means to fight. Christians, speak up and also act. I still believe that the church is the hope of the world. Black lives do matter. I promise, they do. Will you fight for black lives the way Jesus does? Will you fight for me the way Jesus does? Will you fight with me the way Jesus does? I pray that you do, because each day it becomes more and more of a reality that I could be the next victim of police brutality.
Will Hawkins has a way of bringing people together. He is passionate about making others feel included, loved, and cared for; from the way he smiles to the way he speaks on issues of social justice, love pours from his words and his actions.
He's passionate about the Middle East and is preparing to serve the people there for the next couple years. For more information about his trip, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!