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  • brittain sobey

embrace the outrage


a week ago saturday morning i made my first trip to the detroit institute of art since my return to michigan last year. i met with women from my social justice book club to tour the art of rebellion exhibit. i arrived an hour before we were to meet, unintentionally. but it gave me some time to find the exhibit, wander around a bit in the museum before the group arrived, and grab a cheese biscuit from the cafe. wandering the museum, i was struck by how much of it was dominated by european art. in the past this is the art i would come to museums to see. i was never really interested in art from different cultures. and on saturday i thought for the first time: shame on me. for not valuing the contributions of other cultures and seeing them as less beautiful, for measuring them against the white dominant culture's standard of beauty. i had this crisis of conscience before even entering the art of rebellion exhibit.

once the other members of my book club arrived, we made our way to the exhibit. the first pieces in the exhibit drew my attention to that standard of beauty concept. the first, which i failed to take a picture of, brought attention to the hair styles of african americans and pushed against the idea that african americans should chemically treat their hair to conform to the image of the white dominant culture's standard of beauty. i was particularly drawn to this piece, a screenprint by wadsworth jarrell in the image of angela davis, titled "revolutionary." the words on her clothing start out "i have given my life to the struggle..."


below, the quote by adger cowans stood out to me in this description of the kamoinge artist collective. "we decided that we would form this group to do pictures of our own people. we felt we could do a better job showing the truth of our people, rather than someone else...from somebody else's point of view." someone from the inside is best able to share about their experience. someone from the outside can only give their own flawed interpretation based on realized or unrealized bias and prejudice.


below, the goal of the black arts movement was "to take control of the representations of african americans though the creation of a black aesthetic rooted in the history, culture, and lived experiences of black people. these artists rejected white aesthetics, white ideas, and white ways of looking at the world." rejecting white aesthetics, white ideas, and the white point of view. making a name for themselves, based on their own unique history, culture, and experience. an experience only truly known by those who lived it, not those who watched others live it.


reading these words, considering that we may be placed with a child of color in our adoption journey, i felt determined to have african american art and, therefore, the african american perspective, present in my home. i want to buy a print of the "revolution" piece. so far i've only found it available at the tate museum in london for 50 euros. maybe a christmas gift then! i thought about the pieces throughout my house and it dawned on me that i do have at least one piece of art by an african american artist. one of the pieces in my living room that i found at an art show in austin was made by an african american man. but if we are to be a transracial family, one piece is not enough.

this plaque of 100 black women and girls killed by police was sobering. a plaque next to it had the response of a detroiter. the sentence that stood out to me the most was this: black grief, black loss, black rage must be orderly, or it will be renamed "riot." when i think about the injustices against african americans in our country. how they were kidnapped from africa. brought here on slave ships under inhumane conditions that resulted in the deaths of so many. enslaved. oppressed. 345 years of legalized oppression: the first slaves brought over in 1619, the end of legalized slavery in 1865, but the civil rights movement not until the 1960s. institutional racism that continues today. bias, prejudice, fear. african americans were brutalized by whites. made less than human. still considered so by white supremacists, neo-nazis, the kkk. "black rage must be orderly, or it will be renamed 'riot'." that sentence kills me.


i listented to a podcast of the sermon tim keller preached after 9/11 called "truth, tears, anger, and grace." tim keller shares the story of the death and resurrection of lazarus from john 11. mary and martha, lazarus' sisters, send to jesus for him to come heal their brother when he is sick. because jesus delays, lazarus dies. when he does arrive, mary and martha approach him separately, saying that if he had been there their brother would not have died. it says twice during the account that jesus was "deeply troubled," once after witnessing the weeping of those who loved lazarus (jesus wept as well), and then on the way to see his tomb. keller thinks the translators are afraid of what the original text actually says. he explains that in the first instance, the original word means "to quake with rage." it is translated this way everywhere else it is used in the bible. keller even goes so far to call "deeply troubled" an irresponsible translation. a more accurate translation would be when jesus saw mary and everybody around them weeping, he was filled with rage! in the second instance going to the tomb of lazarus, again it says jesus was "deeply moved." the original word in this case actually means "to roar or snort with anger like an animal." so the best translation, says keller, would be "bellowing with anger, jesus came to the tomb." nostrils flared with fury, maybe even yelling in anger. why is jesus angry in these circumstances? he's not angry with himself, or with those who are mourning the loss of lazarus. he's angry with death. that this is not the way it was meant to be. and he came to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice, to conquer death by his death and resurrection in order to reconcile each of us to a right relationship with god.

below is a photo of the selma to montgomery, alabama march. i was warmed by the presence of whites walking arm and arm with african americans, and hoped that if i were alive back then, i would also have linked arms with them. that i wouldn't have left it to their rage alone, but also made it my own. because god himself rages at injustice. where is my rage? where is the rage of the church, to stand in the gap for the oppressed? be angry at injustice. rage at it. and work to right it. because each one of us is made in the image of god. each one of us has inherent value, equally. once race is not supreme. i was not alive to rage in the 60s, but i am alive now. and oppression and injustice is unfortunately still alive and well. what am i going to do about it?


titus kaphar drew the below, entitled "for trayvon, amadou, sean and mike." a detroiter's response in a plaque next to it read "as a black man looking at this, wading and trudging through this, i see not only the faces of three black boys, but of all the black boys/men we have lost, will inevitably lose soon, and myself..." who will rage for this loss of life? because surely god does. does the church? do i? every time i hear about another black boy/man on the news killed by a police officer or otherwise, i think "oh not another one." that boy or man's loved ones feel his loss deeply. the african american community feels it. i am outside all that. but i cannot be outside of it. i cannot just think "oh not another one." may i, and may we, not become calloused to the loss of a life. may it make me rage each and every time.


the exhibit ended with this piece, black lives matter.


visitors were given the opportunity to respond and hang their response on a wall with other responses. this one in particular caught my attention, presumably written by an african american. "embrace my anger and outrage... knowing it is NOT a natural BLACK state but energy to spark change." yes. all this. yes. embrace that anger and outrage. the rage. not just for the sake of anger and rage, but that it may compel us to initiate change. stem the tide of oppression and injustice. end it. and we have to do it together, linked arm and arm. for the common purpose of recognizing that all of humanity is created in the image of god. not one is superior to another. different is not more or less valuable, different is a beautiful manifestation of the image of god. when we disrespect another human being, we disrespect the image of god. when we think or say that we are superior to another human being, we think or say we are superior to the image of god. we are not. i am not. i must fight to combat the lies, the white privilege i enjoy simply because of the color of my skin.


last tuesday i visited the museum of african american history with a new friend that i met at a racial reconciliation event several months back. she is an african american woman who leads a group of adoptive parents who have grown their families through transracial adoption. i was so excited to meet her at the event and knew i wanted to get to know her more. i thought it was timely that the tour of the museum came just after the white supremacist protest of the removal of a statue of robert e lee in charlottesville, va, which culminated in the death of a counter protester. yes, racism is still alive in our country. to our shame.


throughout the tour i was struck by so many things. the standard of beauty theme emerged again. there were so many biracial figures that made an impact. almost as if they were the bridge between black and white. my friend shared with me that the first black millionaire struck it rich producing a product that allowed black women to straighten their hair. how ironic and depressing, that the product that made them rich was a product used to conform to the white dominant culture's standard of beauty. rage!

in his book adopted for life, russell moore talks about the "abba" cry. i have heard "abba" described as "daddy," calling out "daddy god" in affection. but moore explains that in the context of scripture, it is a scream. "it's less the sound of a baby giggling up into his father's face, and more of the sound of a child screaming 'daddy!' as his face is being ripped apart by a rabid bulldog. it is a primal-scream theology." the night before his crucifixion, jesus was crying out to god for deliverance to the point that he was sweating blood. moore says the abba cry is "the scream of the crucified." moore and his wife adopt two boys from russia. when they visited the orphanage, the babies didn't cry because no one responded to them. they stopped crying because they knew no one was coming. moore calls that realization "dehumanizing in its horror." he and his wife traveled to russia twice during the process of their adoption. when they left the orphanage for the last time before their first return to the states, one of their boys fell back in his crib and cried. he was not ok with being left alone in the dark anymore. moore says "that's where the spirit is leading us, in christ... the spirit leads us to see when we are in enemy-occupied territory, and he teaches us to rage against the machine... the spirit leads us to cry out with the rest of the universe, 'oh god, deliver us from this! this is not how it's supposed to be!'" rage against the machine. deliver us, oh god, from injustice and oppression. this is not how it's supposed to be.

my friend shared with me how there are some african americans who think that the civil rights movement was a mistake, that blacks shouldn't have forced the issue with whites that weren't ready for justice. they should have remained like the israelites in egypt, praying and waiting for their god to deliver them. i was stunned by that idea. i learned in the book between the world and me that there are many conflicting views among african americans. which shouldn't come as a surprise, isn't that the case with every group? do all whites think the same? no. we all as individuals see reality through our own lens, our own experiences. i pointed out that there WERE whites who did come alongside blacks in the civil rights movement. not all were content to see injustice continue as it was. prayer is powerful, yes, but we are also responsible to act. jesus prayed and acted, and he is god.

when we left the exhibit, we had three words on our minds: pray, educate, and act. for the past year i have been slowly opening my eyes to the realities of racial injustice. i am educating myself, not expecting african americans to educate me. i am reading books. listening to podcasts. i just found a new podcast called truth's table and am listening to their two part episodes on colorism. i am attending events to promote racial reconciliation. i am meeting new friends. i am visiting museum exhibits. i am prayerfully considering how god might use me in my unique position as a stay at home mom, preparing to adopt a child of color. i am raging against the injustice. i am just one person, but it starts with one. we all have to do our part in this, and if we do, we might just see that change happen in our lifetimes. i am committed to raising up children that see themselves and every other human being as made in the image of god and deserving of the honor and respect due to one made in the image of god. i am committed to raising up children who have eyes wide open to injustice and oppression, and do not turn their heads away when they see it. i am just one person, and a broken chief-of-all-sinners at that, but god has given me this life for a reason. and intend to use it for his glory, his purposes.

let that rage be used for good. for change. for justice for the oppressed, to the glory of god.

as the response in the art of rebellion exhibit exclaimed, i will embrace my anger and outrage. knowing it is energy to spark change.


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