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Malcolm & Victimhood

Episode Summary

“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see an American dream, I see an American nightmare.”

Phil opens this episode with some of his personal history growing up as a Black kid in America. He says that he felt like he could do anything he wanted, and did not see himself as a victim. But that he still had a disadvantage being Black in America because he had to overcome other people’s prejudice against him. Phil recounts times when people would tell him that he was “so articulate” and comments that it never made sense that his being articulate should be a surprise, but often people intended this to be a compliment and not a shot at Phillip. Taelor then points out that “racist and White Supremacist ideology does not have to involve intent. It just articulates an observation that has been culturally trained.” In this case, the culturally trained racist and White Supremacist observation, among white Americans, is that Black Americans are not usually articulate.

Next Taelor and Phil tackle the idea that “victimhood keeps Black people from achieving progress.” They point out that there is nothing wrong with being a victim. Anyone can be a victim because victims are made by something wrong happening to them. No one asks to become a victim or seeks to become a victim. So in this sense, it is not wrong to acknowledge something wrong happened to you. Taelor points out that there is, “no notion of what it means to overcome if nothing happened.”

This leads to a powerful discussion of how the common idea of victimhood has been crafted without the input of Black people. In other words, our cultural conversation of victimhood is itself a racist one because it was crafted to make Black and other minority Americans feel bad so that white Americans will not feel bad for creating the culture that has victimized Black and minority Americans. Here Phil points out that it is not the job of Black Americans to work through the guilt that White Americans may feel when they realize their complicity in racist structures. Phil adds that if Christians do feel guilt and wish to do something about it, they can follow the Biblical model of repentance and make things right. Taelor then points out a truth that may be hard for some to swallow: we have all been impacted by the culture of White Supremacy.

One way, that goes hand in hand with looking down on victims, that we have all been impacted by White Supremacy is that we, even and especially in the church, have become too hyper-individualistic. We cannot think communally even though one of the many truths of Scripture is that we are all one body. This is seen in how we respond when we find out that we have reaped benefits at the expense of someone else being made a victim. Here Phil introduces his car analogy that, essentially, if you found you were driving a car that had been stolen from a friend, church member, or even just an acquaintance you should give the car back. However, too many of us would keep the car because we did not steal it and are not the reason why someone else is a victim. Taelor argues that it is because of how much worldly culture has seeped into the church, we need to be educated on how to appropriately respond to victims.

Nearing the end of this episode, Phillip and Taelor move quickly through some serious topics and points that are still bound up in a misunderstanding of what it means to be a victim. For example, Taelor and Phillip point out Malcolm’s understanding that the measure of a society or culture is not based on how the wealthy are treated but on how the poor are treated. Special focus should be given to how the poor became poor in the first place. At some point, someone took more than their share or refused to give back what was not theirs to keep. But too often Christians have born fruit that more closely resembles the Rich Young Ruler than fruit that is in keeping with repentance. However, we have the responsibility as Christians to find solutions. Taelor points out that this is the cost of discipleship. Our transformation into being Christ-like will surely require us to give up power, wealth, or status so that others may have what is theirs.

There is a quick discussion at the end as well about how White Supremacy has affected our theology. Phillip points out that the abuses of power we are seeing throughout the church, but espeically in White evangelical churches, right now are chickens coming home to roost. Our takeaway in all this should not be to feel guilty, but instead to repent. The Gospel liberates us from our shame and our guilt so that we may repent and act to repair whatever damage has been done.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Phillip and Taelor that there is nothing wrong with being a victim?
  2. Do you see a disconnect between a culture that loves to talk about people who overcome great odds to find success but also belittles those who “play the victim”?
  3. Why is it important to note that our culture’s conversation on victimhood has been crafted without the input of Black Americans?
  4. Do you agree that we have all been impacted by White Supremacy? Why?

Transcript

Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain, the show where two Christians offer reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Phillip Holmes.

Taelor Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. We are your hosts.

Holmes: You all know the routine. Before we dive into this episode, I need you all to do a few things for me. Visit our website, makeitplain.co, and download our Make it Plain Discussion Guide. By this point, season two may already be out, but we definitely have season one ready for you. Again, this is a summary of all the episodes from the previous season as well as some discussion questions to keep the conversation going locally.

If you have listened to a few episodes of Make it Plain, or if you’ve been with us since season one, please rate us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If they have a rating system, please use it. But we especially want you to hit us up on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Our goal is three hundred total ratings on Apple Podcasts and one hundred ratings on Spotify. Spotify—if you didn’t know—got a rating system now. So go ahead. It will only take you a few seconds to click it and keep moving.

Gray: Please do listen to us on Spotify and give us good ratings. Because we’re fighting the good fight.

Phil, what’s today’s quote, man? I’m really interested to hear what we’re going to talk about today.

Holmes:

“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see an American dream. I see an American nightmare.”

Gray: I’m going to toss it back to you with reflections on victimhood. I think there is a certain notion that the concept of victimhood for black people sets us back. How have you interacted with that notion, and how has it been communicated to you? Did you at one time ascribe to that notion? And how do you interact with this quote?

Holmes: I think I probably knew that racism existed, but I never felt like was a victim. I still felt like I could do anything. And some of that was me being a bit naive and optimistic. I knew racism still existed, but I didn’t really realize how much you have to navigate white culture in order to be successful.

So, by the time I got to college, I definitely didn’t see myself as a victim. In some ways, I saw myself starting off with certain disadvantages, but even as I got to know a lot of the people that I was interacting with and that I was friends with, I realized that we weren’t really that different. The biggest disadvantage I had—and this is where we get into white privilege and all that—is the fact that I was black, so I had to overcome certain prejudices. When people would have conversations with me, there have been multiple times where people would say, you really are articulate. But they said it in a surprised way. It’s not really a compliment when a white person tells you that you’re articulate (laughs).

Gray: Man. Yeah.

Holmes: It was like, why are you shocked? I’m a student in college.

It’s a compliment to a ten-year-old to tell him that he’s articulate.

(Gray laughs)

Holmes: Because you don’t expect ten-year-olds to be articulate. You don’t expect five-year-olds to be articulate. So anyways…

Gray: Yeah (laughs).

Holmes: You’re not normal, bro. But that’s what this myth communicates. You’re different.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: And for me, as a black young adult, I’m like, no, I’m not that different. Why do you seem so surprised?

Gray: Just to kind of sew up the “you’re so articulate” point, I think there may be well-intentioned, well-meaning white folks who say that with no intent on—

Holmes: One hundred percent there are.

Gray: —communicating a sense of inferiority. But here’s the thing. It’s like, a racist—or probably a white supremacist—ideology doesn’t have to involve intent. It just articulates an observation that has been culturally trained.

Holmes: Right. That’s a really good point, bro.

Gray: So, it’s not about, necessarily, what you mean to do. But it is about what you did. That’s the common experience. But I want to get back to the notion of victimhood. First and foremost, I think, what strikes me about this quote is that Dr. King ends up saying it later in his life.

Holmes: One hundred percent.

Gray: He sits on that—I think it’s the either NBC or ABC interview—

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: —And that’s what he says in reflection of his I Have a Dream speech—which he calls naive. And Malcolm is saying it—and clearly at a time where he can be demonized for it—but I think what he’s trying to communicate is the honest experience of being black in America.

Holmes: Because Dr. King said that when? Post-Civil Rights Act.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: When he had the same rights and privileges Malcolm had.

Gray: Yep. Yep. It just shows that there is a commonality in our experiences, even if we land differently ideologically in certain ways and even our methodology—

Holmes: And oftentimes those differences are exaggerated.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: Like they were with King and Malcolm.

Gray: They’re saying the same thing. And maybe they took a different path to arrive at this conclusion, but the conclusion’s there nonetheless. It comes back to this notion of the American Dream. When I have experienced the most adverse reactions to the concept of victimhood, or black people taking on the experience of victimhood, there’s an adverse reaction from some white folks who believe that that is what actually hinders us from achieving progress. I mean, literally, when I was pastoring a mostly white church in the suburbs, this was literally an intense conversation I had with several of the members, who eventually left the church. It was flagrantly said to me, you guys can achieve what we have achieved. You just don’t work hard enough. You know. You don’t—

Holmes: What?

Gray: Yeah. I know, bro. Like, let me unfold and unpack my trauma for you (laughs). But, again, it’s not about intent. It’s not like he was trying to hurt my feelings. But he was trained to assume that this is a part of our nature—that we’re lazy and that we always complain, and we always find ourselves on the side of the argument that says, we need more help. And we need more resources. Et cetera, et cetera. Instead of an accurate depiction of our experience in this country.

It goes back to an earlier episode where we talked about education. You haven’t been educated about our experience in this country. And first and foremost, if you feel like you need to be educated about the history of the African experience in this country—those who are of African descent, who first came to this country as constructed as the United States of America—we did not come over here as immigrants.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: That’s the American story—this immigration story, where people from all across the world decided to come and make their way here. And you can do anything because it’s the American Dream. We are derailed from that discussion because we came over here as goods and services—as property. Therefore, you can’t access even the best forms of idealism that are identified in The Constitution, in all the founding fathers’ literature and language—because you were included in the original language as a form of property.

Therefore you can not achieve whatever you want. You can not own plots of land. You can not work wherever you want. You can not build a life for yourself and your community. Because you’re being terrorized for the purposes of economies and for the purposes of a governmental structure that was built to oppress you.

So, what Malcolm is saying is we have been victimized. To be able to acknowledge that is not to say that we have no hope, but we gotta start somewhere.

Holmes: There’s nothing wrong with being a victim. When Malcolm says, “I see America through the eyes of the victim”—to your point—he’s not encouraging victimhood.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: But I do think that even the word “victim” has been branded as a bad thing unless the victim is dead.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: But if you’re talking about a victim—people are like, I don’t see myself as a victim. And that’s kind of a thing.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: It’s like, no—you can be a victim as well as a victor.

Gray: Yes. Something happened to you.

Holmes: Something happened to you that was wrong.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: That makes you a victim.

Gray: And it doesn’t have to define you—

Holmes: And it doesn’t have to define you.

Gray: —and your accomplishments.

Holmes: Exactly.

Gray: Right. Yes.

Holmes: Right?

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: But I think that there’s this rhetoric—and again, I think this rhetoric was created by people in power—

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: —to sometimes silence, to muffle, to shame people who have experienced injustice. I also recognize how those in power tend to rebrand phrases in order to make true, real victims ashamed of actually accepting—or highlighting—the fact that they have been victimized.

Gray: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.

Holmes: That’s very dangerous. That’s something that I think we really need to be careful about.

Gray: Yeah. And in order to come to a more heroic conclusion about the way that your life plays out, you’re supposed to suppress the painful things that you’ve been through in your journey in order to highlight the accomplishments that you ultimately were able to experience.

But there’s no notion of what it means to overcome if you don’t talk about what happened. How can I talk about the story of overcoming something if I haven’t been a victim of a certain circumstance that impeded my progress, or created an obstacle for me to actually experience the good? I understand why victimhood or the notion of being a victim is being weaponized against black people. I understand that. But to me, it’s about ignorance and lack of education. It is, again, a type of ideology that was created and crafted in the story of America without the contributions of black people.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: You did not ask us to contribute to this ideology, or to construct the narrative of history in America. You wrote the history books. You told us to study and learn them on your terms, and then at the end of the day, if we say, hey, we think you left some things out. We’re going through some things—we’re being pointed to as people who don’t have the motivation and/or the work ethic to overcome.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: And that disgusts me on another level because it’s dishonest.

Holmes: Mmhmm

Gray: At the end of the day, it’s just dishonest. And then, of course, you encounter people who say, well, all right, say I agree with you—what am I gonna do with this guilt? Well, fam, that’s not my job to help you work through your guilt. I’m just here to tell you what happened. Now, how you respond to that—

Holmes: Don’t you believe the gospel?

Gray: Hey, man, look—we didn’t even get there. But yeah. That’s where we should be as followers of Christ.

Holmes: Right. You do what the Bible instructs us to do with our sin.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: We confess it, we repent of it, and we repair what we can.

Gray: Yeah. That’s the last part—I was gonna say—the thing about confession and repentance to the Lord is it comes with an effect. There’s then a conviction to keep with the fruits of repentance.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: If you truly have repented, it’s not like—it’s the way that the Catholic Church is depicted in the movies. It’s like you get this murderer who somehow finds his way sitting in the booth talking to the priest—

Holmes: Always in New York or Chicago.

Gray: (laughs) Some huge cathedral—and it’s this character who is virtually irredeemable, but somehow finds himself in a conversation with a priest somewhere, and is absolved in that moment. But the absolution doesn’t come with any kind of changed action. It’s just like, oh, now we just deal with the conflict of this character.

Holmes (inaudible)

Gray: I mean, look—that is—okay, if you really want to take it to this level, that is a dramatic depiction because that’s like literally our experience with white folks.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: You have to talk about what happened, and be truthful—

Holmes: Acknowledgment. Yeah.

Gray: —and be honest about what happened. Okay? Maybe that’s the education part. But then, if you’re a Christian, then what I think you’re left within the repentance practice, is a conviction then to go and sin no more (laughs).

You know? You don’t continue in the same action. Like, I got it off my chest, therefore I don’t have to think about it anymore.

Holmes: Yeah. I think to your point, reflecting on actually what has happened historically—that’s the first step. The next step is to think about how has this impacted me?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Ideologically, psychologically—how has this affected me? Because you can remove yourself from the acts themselves, right? That is not something that you did. That blood isn’t necessarily on your hands. But it’s very likely that that culture, that ideology, has been passed down to you. Don’t just assume that you haven’t been affected by it. Because we’ve all been affected by the culture of white supremacy. Black people have.

Gray: Mmhmm. Yep. Yep.

Holmes: More than they realize. Because oftentimes, we start using the tactics that were used against us against each other.

The next step is to—where you can—figure out how can you repair or make restitution? And here’s my example. If somebody steals your car, and he gives it to me as a gift, and I discover later on—or maybe you called me out on it—hey bro, that’s my car.

What are you talking about, man? I got this car from someone.

Well, he stole that car from me.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Well, I had nothing to do with that.

Gray: It’s my car. 

Holmes: I didn’t steal the car.

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: I didn’t know it was stolen.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: I just—

No, bro, you give the car back!

Gray: (laughs) Look, bro. You ain’t gonna have—that’s not going to be a lot of “amens” in the audience for that.

Holmes: Make it Plain wasn’t built for “amens.”

Gray: (laughs) If you can’t say “amen,” say “ouch.” To your point, you’re right, man. If you are a follower of Christ—and of course, we have to make that distinction, because we can’t expect everybody to act in the way, in the nature—the radically sacrificial nature of Christ. You know? At the end of the day, for him to take on the sins of the world was a radical act of sacrifice, because he was perfect. He did none of the things that everybody else did. And yet he took them on in order to save others who did. It’s the beauty of the gospel that he sacrificed in such a way.

So, in the image of Christ, we seek out those ways that we can radically sacrifice. Even if it’s not necessarily all on us. If we want to perceive it in such an individualistic way. And that’s another weakness of our society is that we are trained to be hyper-individualistic. We don’t live communally. You know, what you do is just your fault. What you do is ultimately your responsibility. Your property. Your family. Your vision. Your faith. All of those kinds of things are the way that your life is constructed. And it doesn’t matter if what you do impacts somebody else.

Just worry about yourself. And that’s the way we’re trained to think.

As Christians, again, we’re back to the illustration of the body. That is the antithesis of hyper-individualism. One part of the body affects the other. And you’re interconnected to this, so how can you be indifferent to the pain—the shoulder pain—of the body if you are the elbow of the other side? And you act like it doesn’t exist, or you downplay…it should affect you too if you are a part of the same community.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: That is the transformation work to be communal. So, if I listen to a quote like this, and I’m a white person, I can resist the instinct to say, oh he’s just a victim. You can’t overcome nothing. Whatever. 

All right. If you are able to see the truth, which is to say, yes, you have been victimized as a black person—and yet the guilt is paralyzing—I don’t know what to do with that—how about you ask Malcolm some more questions. Help me understand what you mean by that. Because the guilt is crippling. You don’t know what to do.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: And you might need to be educated as to how to respond.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: You can’t even trust your own instincts, because that’s a lot of times where you get stuck, too. It’s like, all right. I feel the guilt and shame. So let me come up with the solution for your problem.

So, in your example: No, I’m not going to give you my car, but I will give you a bicycle. And you should be grateful that I gave you some transportation. Aren’t you happy? Here’s my solution for your problem. You don’t have transportation, so now you do. Or let me give you a bus pass. My bad, man. But you’re not getting my car. You’re not getting actually what you need to continue in the life in dignity that you had previously, but you’re going to get my version of a solution. 

No. The answer is that you need to be discipled and trained in a new way…

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: …in order for you to make it right.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: If you don’t have that, then you’ll just stay stuck in the cycle of guilt that turns into indifference, that ultimately turns into opposition.

Holmes: Yep. And—because I know analogies always break down at some point. So, I want to address the—because I’m thinking about the other side, and the response to that, right? Oftentimes it’s not as clean as that, right?

Gray: True.

Holmes: It’s not like a possession, where a car is stolen, and then it’s passed down, and there’s a direct connection to the person who—

Gray: Hey, man. It’s your analogy. I was just rolling with you.

Holmes: Oh, no, no, no—

Gray: I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m kidding (laughs).

Holmes: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no. But analogies aren’t supposed to be perfect, either.

Gray: No.

Holmes: People are quick to say, my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. My ancestors—

Gray: Our society benefited from slavery.

Holmes: Yeah. Yeah. Society. Exactly.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: …benefited from slavery. But even after slavery was abolished, black people were marginalized and oppressed, and used. I mean, the sharecropping system—how long did that last?

Gray: Reconstruction.

Holmes: …in the South. So, these things continue to happen decades—for over a century, and beyond—after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: And you can say, how do you know I received any benefits?

How do you know you didn’t?

And if you didn’t, and if every white guy that I talk to—or every white person I talk to—says that they didn’t benefit—well who did? Who’s received the benefits of all of this? Somebody did. Most likely, it’s a collective benefit.

And then there’s also the harm that has been done. Because we’re just talking about material things, in a sense. We’re just talking about material stuff. That’s not even the—the material stuff is not even the worst damage that has been done.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: There is the brand of what it means to be black by outsiders. Now, I’m not talking about how we view ourselves. To some extent, that’s a problem as well, right?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: But how outsiders view us. How the world views us. And then there’s the reality of how it has affected us psychologically, and how far it has put us behind economically in our ability to build our own wealth and pass it down from generation to generation.

I’ve seen how people get hired; how people get opportunities in the South. It’s not about what you know. Everybody knows. It’s about what?

Holmes and Gray: Who you know.

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: Right? So, the networking opportunities that come with being white—like, everybody wants to know, what’s your momma’s name? Who’s your daddy? That’s how the South works in a lot of ways.

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: And I would imagine those things work that way in other places in the country.

Gray: Same. Yep.

Holmes: So if that’s the case, then you begin to see that no, no, no, no, man. There’s a young man that I hired. Love him. Young white kid. Love him. And he got the job because he absolutely deserved it. I can trust him. I depend on him. He’s been with me for a while. But even looking at that situation, like, how did I know about him?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: How did I know about him? Because he was able to accrue an internship where I was working.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Right? That most kids his age wouldn’t have been able to get, because of a connection that he had that most black kids would not have. Right?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Right? So in that situation, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Right?

Gray: Hmm. Hmm.

Holmes: He’s just—and me—the black guy—I hired him because I needed him.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Right? You see my point?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: That’s that network, right? That’s that network.

Gray: That network, bro.

Holmes: I want to transition from that unless you have any other points because I think there’s another point right here we gotta talk about: Malcolm the person.

Gray: Oh yeah, there are many others. But yes. Go ahead.

Holmes: So, notice what Malcolm is doing. People see this, and it can sometimes be a triggering quote.

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: But Malcolm is essentially saying, an accurate view of society is not based on the lifestyles of the rich, the wealthy, and the affluent. That’s not how you measure whether or not a nation is doing well, or is not doing well, or is a great nation, or is not a great nation.

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: You look at their poor.

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: You look at those who are marginalized and oppressed, or who are lacking. You just look at the poor. And then you ask yourselves, how did they get there? And then that’s when you discover there’s been marginalization, there’s been oppression, there’s been injustice…

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: And he’s saying, that’s how you judge whether or not a society is healthy.

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: And do they have the opportunity, or are there multiple barriers and unnecessary roadblocks that make it more difficult to succeed? And that’s what Malcolm is doing. And this is biblical, right?

Gray: Again, these are things that should shape your theology, if you’re committed to follow Christ. For me, the passage about the rich young ruler where this rich young ruler was in a hurry to justify himself to Jesus and tell him all that he knew. And Jesus listens to him and says, okay. Those are the right things to do. But there’s something you lack.

This is a conversion conversation. This is the way I interpret this passage. It’s a conversion conversation. To say, all right. This is what you lack. I want you to sell all that you have. Again. This is getting back to your illustration. You’re gonna have to get rid of that car. But not just sell it. Distribute it to the poor. So, address the people who actually need help. Then come follow me.

This is a work of transformation.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: You can’t just align yourself with an ideology that says it’s Christianity, and then say the right things, without the fruit that comes alongside of revolutionary transformation.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: And a lot of folks like to just exist on the surface level and the idealism of what it means to be culturally aligned with Christianity, but when you talk about the actual cost to follow the sacrificial nature of repair, restitution—all of that stuff just becomes matters of debate and ultimately matters of indifference.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: Because it’s like, oh we can’t do that much.

But you sound like the rich young ruler who walked away sorrowfully because he had great possessions.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: He couldn’t make the exchange.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: It was too much. I can’t give up that much.

Holmes: Yep. Yep. That’s—

Gray: Therefore I’m going to continue in the way that I’m already walking. It’s too much.

Holmes: I’m going to become apathetic…

Gray: One hundred percent.

Holmes: …complacent.

Gray: I’m walking away from Jesus. I got the validation on the things that I did right… But when he told you about the thing you lacked, you didn’t want to give it up, so again, here’s the thing. We’re at this place where we have to identify ourselves in society, and the work that we can do. Are Christians missional?

You know, it’s not good enough to say, we’re a place that teaches the right things. But are we the people that affect our communities? I mean, you’re talking—right—in terms of the place and the context that I minister, I minister in the inner city.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: So, I’m looking at the effects of poverty. I’m looking at what it takes to find the people who are at the lower levels of society and give them hope. I mean, the program that you mentioned—our church is affiliated with a job-readiness program called Columbus Works. Shout-out to Columbus Works. They literally sit down with people who, by all means, could be considered unemployable. You know. They either have records, or they have checkered pasts. They don’t have—they have gaps in their job history. They have all kinds of stuff going on. Not only do they sit down with these folks and help them prepare for job interviews, and help identify their skill sets—they reach out to employers and say, look. These people are the people who you probably wouldn’t look twice at in a stack full of resumes. We’re going to advocate for them.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: So, look at these people that we’re training up. They’ve been passed over, but they need someone to step in and provide some level of mediation for them to have an opportunity to interact with society again. And if they don’t have that mediator, if they don’t have that person to advocate for them, then they’re going to remain on the outskirts of society. And then they’re going to be disparaged from a distance to say, you can’t contribute anything.

Well, what about the barriers?

Holmes: Right.

Gray: What about the work of restitution? What about the work of reconciliation? We are ministers of reconciliation. We have to be missional. But if you don’t want to interact with the problems—if they’re too complicated for you—what you’re saying, a lot of times, when you say it’s too complicated, is that you’ve got to give up too much. You’ve got to give up too much of your idea of what Christ is calling you to, and you don’t get to do that with a person who died on a cross.

Holmes: Yeah, because even if you don’t necessarily like the proposal of what you need to do because we’re not Jesus, so oftentimes when we get proposed plans, they’re flawed. Sometimes they’re really flawed, right? You still have the responsibility to go and figure out a solution. But oftentimes, again, what happens? They walk away with their head down.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: It’s just too much.

Gray: Too much.

Holmes: To your point.

Gray: Too much. And, again, it’s about defining mission. What is the mission of the church in a given local space? It doesn’t look the same in all—but you have to define “mission.” It’s not just about attendance. It’s not just about constructing some kind of social environment that makes everybody feel like they are in a positive place in their life.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: What is the cost—

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: —of discipleship? What is the actual giving up of your life that contributes to a transformative end for people? That helps people? Oh, come to my church so you can escape the cares of this world. You’re gonna meet a lot of nice people who shake your hand and say, “Hi,” but then they’re going to escort you back into your struggle because they actually don’t want anything to do with that. That’s between you and God. 

Then we’re back to hyper-individualism.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: We’ll come together and play communalism for two hours on Sunday, but when it comes to mission, we don’t want to align with that because we’ve got too many issues going on. Our kids are driving us nuts, or our job is hard, and all of that.

Holmes: And here’s…and we can wrap it up after this: if you’re wondering, or if you still have questions about whether or not there are things that you can do, of course, there are things that you can do. And do you know when that is proven? It’s proven when the things that have affected our community begin to affect the white community.

Case in point: the war on drugs. The point is is that—oh man—there’s nothing that we can do. Or it’s too complicated. Well, the war on drugs has been wreaking havoc in the black community for decades. But it wasn’t until the opioid addiction took place that the war on drugs all the sudden became a priority—

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: —for legislators and for certain non-profits—

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: —and for all that. So, there’s never really anything that’s been done—same thing with the criminal system and all that stuff. When something becomes a problem in white America and is affecting the broader culture, all of the sudden now we got plans.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: Right? We got strategies on how to fix that. We can recognize the laws that are causing that.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: So, there are things that you can do. But you have to ask yourself, why is that the case?

Gray: Yeah. And I want to go back to the point you made earlier in the conversation. You said that white supremacy affects black people. White supremacy affects white people, too. It affects people of European descent because of what you just said. So, now you’ve established this war on drugs that essentially is targeted to certain communities, but it affected everybody.

Holmes: Mmhmm. Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a good point.

Gray: Everybody.

Holmes: Negatively effects. Yeah.

Gray: Absolutely.

Holmes: One hundred percent. Eventually, it will get to you.

Gray: Yeah. Well, for Christians, it affects your theology.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: It affects your actual view of Jesus.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: Who you think he actually is.

Holmes: Chickens coming home to roost.

Gray: One hundred percent.

Holmes: Right. So, Malcolm. Famous interview that also got him pushed out of the Nation of Islam—he’s interviewed—what do you think of the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: Malcolm says, listen. All I told them was, like, all this is is chickens coming home to roost. When you have a culture of violence that exists, and you don’t do anything about it, eventually the gun will turn itself and point at you.

So, you see a lot of the stuff that’s happening in the church right now with the abuses of power, and evangelicalism, and people being silenced and oppressed and all that stuff—that stuff has been happening to black people. But this is just chickens coming home to roost.

Gray: Yep. Malcolm got kicked out of his own church for saying that. So, imagine what it means to have a revolutionary perspective on the gospel, and speak in that way. Like, what the implications are for you and your church. Because here’s the thing. The guilt is not the takeaway.

Holmes: No.

Gray: Repentance is the practice that positions us in order to hear from God what to do. You don’t just stay in a place of shame and it becomes immobilization and indifference. You don’t just hear these things—you don’t hear Malcolm say, this is an American nightmare. We’re victims—you don’t take from that, or distance yourself from that just because of guilt. It’s not just about leaving you in a place of shame. The gospel liberates you from that. But what it doesn’t liberate you from is action. It liberates you to act in a way that pleases God and addresses the actual issues of society.

If we’re going to have a collective effect of sin, then we’re going to have collective repentance, and collective motivation, and missional motivation to address it.

Holmes: Yep. Ultimate “home to roost” verse right here. And I’m not even going to offer any comment. Proverbs 22:16: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Chickens coming home to roost.

Gray: Amen, brother. Give us the benediction. AKA the announcements (laughs).

Holmes: The outro, man.

Gray: (laughs) outro.

Holmes: Thanks for tuning into Make it Plain. For more resources related to Malcolm X, visit our website, makeitplain.co. That’s makeitplain.co. Or you can subscribe to the show at Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon, RadioPublic, Google, or via RSS, and never miss a show.

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Join us next week as we continue our reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X.

Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain, the show where two Christians offer reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Phillip Holmes.

 

Taelor Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. We are your hosts.

 

Holmes: You all know the routine. Before we dive into this episode, I need you all to do a few things for me. Visit our website, makeitplain.co, and download our Make it Plain Discussion Guide. By this point, season two may already be out, but we definitely have season one ready for you. Again, this is a summary of all the episodes from the previous season as well as some discussion questions to keep the conversation going locally. 

 

If you have listened to a few episodes of Make it Plain, or if you’ve been with us since season one, please rate us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If they have a rating system, please use it. But we especially want you to hit us up on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Our goal is three hundred total ratings on Apple Podcasts and one hundred ratings on Spotify. Spotify—if you didn’t know—got a rating system now. So go ahead. It will only take you a few seconds to click it and keep moving.

 

Gray: Please do listen to us on Spotify and give us good ratings. Because we’re fighting the good fight. 

 

Phil, what’s today’s quote, man? I’m really interested to hear what we’re going to talk about today.

 

Holmes:

“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see an American dream. I see an American nightmare.”

 

Gray: I’m going to toss it back to you with reflections on victimhood. I think there is a certain notion that the concept of victimhood for black people sets us back. How have you interacted with that notion, and how has it been communicated to you? Did you at one time ascribe to that notion? And how do you interact with this quote?

 

Holmes: I think I probably knew that racism existed, but I never felt like was a victim. I still felt like I could do anything. And some of that was me being a bit naive and optimistic. I knew racism still existed, but I didn’t really realize how much you have to navigate white culture in order to be successful. 

 

So, by the time I got to college, I definitely didn’t see myself as a victim. In some ways, I saw myself starting off with certain disadvantages, but even as I got to know a lot of the people that I was interacting with and that I was friends with, I realized that we weren’t really that different. The biggest disadvantage I had—and this is where we get into white privilege and all that—is the fact that I was black, so I had to overcome certain prejudices. When people would have conversations with me, there have been multiple times where people would say, you really are articulate. But they said it in a surprised way. It’s not really a compliment when a white person tells you that you’re articulate (laughs).

 

Gray: Man. Yeah.

 

Holmes: It was like, why are you shocked? I’m a student in college. 

 

It’s a compliment to a ten-year-old to tell him that he’s articulate. 

 

(Gray laughs)

 

Holmes: Because you don’t expect ten-year-olds to be articulate. You don’t expect five-year-olds to be articulate. So anyways…

 

Gray: Yeah (laughs).

 

Holmes: You’re not normal, bro. But that’s what this myth communicates. You’re different.

 

Gray: Right.

 

Holmes: And for me, as a black young adult, I’m like, no, I’m not that different. Why do you seem so surprised?

 

Gray: Just to kind of sew up the “you’re so articulate” point, I think there may be well-intentioned, well-meaning white folks who say that with no intent on—

 

Holmes: One hundred percent there are.

 

Gray: —communicating a sense of inferiority. But here’s the thing. It’s like, a racist—or probably a white supremacist—ideology doesn’t have to involve intent. It just articulates an observation that has been culturally trained.

 

Holmes: Right. That’s a really good point, bro.

 

Gray: So, it’s not about, necessarily, what you mean to do. But it is about what you did. That’s the common experience. But I want to get back to the notion of victimhood. First and foremost, I think, what strikes me about this quote is that Dr. King ends up saying it later in his life.

 

Holmes: One hundred percent.

 

Gray: He sits on that—I think it’s the either NBC or ABC interview—

 

Holmes: Yep.

 

Gray: —And that’s what he says in reflection of his I Have a Dream speech—which he calls naive. And Malcolm is saying it—and clearly at a time where he can be demonized for it—but I think what he’s trying to communicate is the honest experience of being black in America.

 

Holmes: Because Dr. King said that when? Post-Civil Rights Act. 

 

Gray: Right.

 

Holmes: When he had the same rights and privileges Malcolm had.

 

Gray: Yep. Yep. It just shows that there is a commonality in our experiences, even if we land differently ideologically in certain ways and even our methodology—

 

Holmes: And oftentimes those differences are exaggerated.

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: Like they were with King and Malcolm.

 

Gray: They’re saying the same thing. And maybe they took a different path to arrive at this conclusion, but the conclusion’s there nonetheless. It comes back to this notion of the American Dream. When I have experienced the most adverse reactions to the concept of victimhood, or black people taking on the experience of victimhood, there’s an adverse reaction from some white folks who believe that that is what actually hinders us from achieving progress. I mean, literally, when I was pastoring a mostly white church in the suburbs, this was literally an intense conversation I had with several of the members, who eventually left the church. It was flagrantly said to me, you guys can achieve what we have achieved. You just don’t work hard enough. You know. You don’t—

 

Holmes: What?

 

Gray: Yeah. I know, bro. Like, let me unfold and unpack my trauma for you (laughs). But, again, it’s not about intent. It’s not like he was trying to hurt my feelings. But he was trained to assume that this is a part of our nature—that we’re lazy and that we always complain, and we always find ourselves on the side of the argument that says, we need more help. And we need more resources. Et cetera, et cetera. Instead of an accurate depiction of our experience in this country. 

 

It goes back to an earlier episode where we talked about education. You haven’t been educated about our experience in this country. And first and foremost, if you feel like you need to be educated about the history of the African experience in this country—those who are of African descent, who first came to this country as constructed as the United States of America—we did not come over here as immigrants.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: That’s the American story—this immigration story, where people from all across the world decided to come and make their way here. And you can do anything because it’s the American Dream. We are derailed from that discussion because we came over here as goods and services—as property. Therefore, you can’t access even the best forms of idealism that are identified in The Constitution, in all the founding fathers’ literature and language—because you were included in the original language as a form of property. 

 

Therefore you can not achieve whatever you want. You can not own plots of land. You can not work wherever you want. You can not build a life for yourself and your community. Because you’re being terrorized for the purposes of economies and for the purposes of a governmental structure that was built to oppress you.

 

So, what Malcolm is saying is we have been victimized. To be able to acknowledge that is not to say that we have no hope, but we gotta start somewhere. 

 

Holmes: There’s nothing wrong with being a victim. When Malcolm says, “I see America through the eyes of the victim”—to your point—he’s not encouraging victimhood. 

 

Gray: Yeah.

 

Holmes: But I do think that even the word “victim” has been branded as a bad thing unless the victim is dead. 

 

Gray: Right.

 

Holmes: But if you’re talking about a victim—people are like, I don’t see myself as a victim. And that’s kind of a thing.

 

Gray: Yeah.

 

Holmes: It’s like, no—you can be a victim as well as a victor.

 

Gray: Yes. Something happened to you. 

 

Holmes: Something happened to you that was wrong. 

 

Gray: Yeah.

 

Holmes: That makes you a victim. 

 

Gray: And it doesn’t have to define you—

 

Holmes: And it doesn’t have to define you.

 

Gray: —and your accomplishments.

 

Holmes: Exactly.

 

Gray: Right. Yes. 

 

Holmes: Right?

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: But I think that there’s this rhetoric—and again, I think this rhetoric was created by people in power—

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: —to sometimes silence, to muffle, to shame people who have experienced injustice. I also recognize how those in power tend to rebrand phrases in order to make true, real victims ashamed of actually accepting—or highlighting—the fact that they have been victimized.

 

Gray: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: That’s very dangerous. That’s something that I think we really need to be careful about.

 

Gray: Yeah. And in order to come to a more heroic conclusion about the way that your life plays out, you’re supposed to suppress the painful things that you’ve been through in your journey in order to highlight the accomplishments that you ultimately were able to experience. 

 

But there’s no notion of what it means to overcome if you don’t talk about what happened. How can I talk about the story of overcoming something if I haven’t been a victim of a certain circumstance that impeded my progress, or created an obstacle for me to actually experience the good? I understand why victimhood or the notion of being a victim is being weaponized against black people. I understand that. But to me, it’s about ignorance and lack of education. It is, again, a type of ideology that was created and crafted in the story of America without the contributions of black people.

 

Holmes: Yep.

 

Gray: You did not ask us to contribute to this ideology, or to construct the narrative of history in America. You wrote the history books. You told us to study and learn them on your terms, and then at the end of the day, if we say, hey, we think you left some things out. We’re going through some things—we’re being pointed to as people who don’t have the motivation and/or the work ethic to overcome.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: And that disgusts me on another level because it’s dishonest.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm

 

Gray: At the end of the day, it’s just dishonest. And then, of course, you encounter people who say, well, all right, say I agree with you—what am I gonna do with this guilt? Well, fam, that’s not my job to help you work through your guilt. I’m just here to tell you what happened. Now, how you respond to that—

 

Holmes: Don’t you believe the gospel? 

 

Gray: Hey, man, look—we didn’t even get there. But yeah. That’s where we should be as followers of Christ.

 

Holmes: Right. You do what the Bible instructs us to do with our sin.

 

Gray: Yes. 

 

Holmes: We confess it, we repent of it, and we repair what we can.

 

Gray: Yeah. That’s the last part—I was gonna say—the thing about confession and repentance to the Lord is it comes with an effect. There’s then a conviction to keep with the fruits of repentance.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: If you truly have repented, it’s not like—it’s the way that the Catholic Church is depicted in the movies. It’s like you get this murderer who somehow finds his way sitting in the booth talking to the priest—

 

Holmes: Always in New York or Chicago.

 

Gray: (laughs) Some huge cathedral—and it’s this character who is virtually irredeemable, but somehow finds himself in a conversation with a priest somewhere, and is absolved in that moment. But the absolution doesn’t come with any kind of changed action. It’s just like, oh, now we just deal with the conflict of this character.

 

Holmes (inaudible)  

 

Gray: I mean, look—that is—okay, if you really want to take it to this level, that is a dramatic depiction because that’s like literally our experience with white folks. 

 

Holmes: Right. 

 

Gray: You have to talk about what happened, and be truthful—

 

Holmes: Acknowledgment. Yeah.

 

Gray: —and be honest about what happened. Okay? Maybe that’s the education part. But then, if you’re a Christian, then what I think you’re left within the repentance practice, is a conviction then to go and sin no more (laughs). 

 

You know? You don’t continue in the same action. Like, I got it off my chest, therefore I don’t have to think about it anymore.

 

Holmes: Yeah. I think to your point, reflecting on actually what has happened historically—that’s the first step. The next step is to think about how has this impacted me? 

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: Ideologically, psychologically—how has this affected me? Because you can remove yourself from the acts themselves, right? That is not something that you did. That blood isn’t necessarily on your hands. But it’s very likely that that culture, that ideology, has been passed down to you. Don’t just assume that you haven’t been affected by it. Because we’ve all been affected by the culture of white supremacy. Black people have. 

 

Gray: Mmhmm. Yep. Yep.

 

Holmes: More than they realize. Because oftentimes, we start using the tactics that were used against us against each other. 

 

The next step is to—where you can—figure out how can you repair or make restitution? And here’s my example. If somebody steals your car, and he gives it to me as a gift, and I discover later on—or maybe you called me out on it—hey bro, that’s my car.

 

What are you talking about, man? I got this car from someone.

 

Well, he stole that car from me.

 

Gray: Yeah.

 

Holmes: Well, I had nothing to do with that. 

 

Gray: It’s my car. 

 

Holmes: I didn’t steal the car.

 

Gray: Yep.

 

Holmes: I didn’t know it was stolen.

 

Gray: Mmhmm. 

 

Holmes: I just—

 

No, bro, you give the car back!

 

Gray: (laughs) Look, bro. You ain’t gonna have—that’s not going to be a lot of “amens” in the audience for that.

 

Holmes: Make it Plain wasn’t built for “amens.”

 

Gray: (laughs) If you can’t say “amen,” say “ouch.” To your point, you’re right, man. If you are a follower of Christ—and of course, we have to make that distinction, because we can’t expect everybody to act in the way, in the nature—the radically sacrificial nature of Christ. You know? At the end of the day, for him to take on the sins of the world was a radical act of sacrifice, because he was perfect. He did none of the things that everybody else did. And yet he took them on in order to save others who did. It’s the beauty of the gospel that he sacrificed in such a way. 

 

So, in the image of Christ, we seek out those ways that we can radically sacrifice. Even if it’s not necessarily all on us. If we want to perceive it in such an individualistic way. And that’s another weakness of our society is that we are trained to be hyper-individualistic. We don’t live communally. You know, what you do is just your fault. What you do is ultimately your responsibility. Your property. Your family. Your vision. Your faith. All of those kinds of things are the way that your life is constructed. And it doesn’t matter if what you do impacts somebody else. 

 

Just worry about yourself. And that’s the way we’re trained to think. 

 

As Christians, again, we’re back to the illustration of the body. That is the antithesis of hyper-individualism. One part of the body affects the other. And you’re interconnected to this, so how can you be indifferent to the pain—the shoulder pain—of the body if you are the elbow of the other side? And you act like it doesn’t exist, or you downplay…it should affect you too if you are a part of the same community.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: That is the transformation work to be communal. So, if I listen to a quote like this, and I’m a white person, I can resist the instinct to say, oh he’s just a victim. You can’t overcome nothing. Whatever. 

 

All right. If you are able to see the truth, which is to say, yes, you have been victimized as a black person—and yet the guilt is paralyzing—I don’t know what to do with that—how about you ask Malcolm some more questions. Help me understand what you mean by that. Because the guilt is crippling. You don’t know what to do.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: And you might need to be educated as to how to respond.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: You can’t even trust your own instincts, because that’s a lot of times where you get stuck, too. It’s like, all right. I feel the guilt and shame. So let me come up with the solution for your problem.

 

So, in your example: No, I’m not going to give you my car, but I will give you a bicycle. And you should be grateful that I gave you some transportation. Aren’t you happy? Here’s my solution for your problem. You don’t have transportation, so now you do. Or let me give you a bus pass. My bad, man. But you’re not getting my car. You’re not getting actually what you need to continue in the life in dignity that you had previously, but you’re going to get my version of a solution. 

 

No. The answer is that you need to be discipled and trained in a new way…

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: …in order for you to make it right.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: If you don’t have that, then you’ll just stay stuck in the cycle of guilt that turns into indifference, that ultimately turns into opposition.

 

Holmes: Yep. And—because I know analogies always break down at some point. So, I want to address the—because I’m thinking about the other side, and the response to that, right? Oftentimes it’s not as clean as that, right?

 

Gray: True.

 

Holmes: It’s not like a possession, where a car is stolen, and then it’s passed down, and there’s a direct connection to the person who—

 

Gray: Hey, man. It’s your analogy. I was just rolling with you.

 

Holmes: Oh, no, no, no—

 

Gray: I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m kidding (laughs).

 

Holmes: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no. But analogies aren’t supposed to be perfect, either. 

 

Gray: No.

 

Holmes: People are quick to say, my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. My ancestors—

 

Gray: Our society benefited from slavery.

 

Holmes: Yeah. Yeah. Society. Exactly.

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: …benefited from slavery. But even after slavery was abolished, black people were marginalized and oppressed, and used. I mean, the sharecropping system—how long did that last?

 

Gray: Reconstruction.

 

Holmes: …in the South. So, these things continue to happen decades—for over a century, and beyond—after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: And you can say, how do you know I received any benefits?

 

How do you know you didn’t?

 

And if you didn’t, and if every white guy that I talk to—or every white person I talk to—says that they didn’t benefit—well who did? Who’s received the benefits of all of this? Somebody did. Most likely, it’s a collective benefit.

 

And then there’s also the harm that has been done. Because we’re just talking about material things, in a sense. We’re just talking about material stuff. That’s not even the—the material stuff is not even the worst damage that has been done. 

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: There is the brand of what it means to be black by outsiders. Now, I’m not talking about how we view ourselves. To some extent, that’s a problem as well, right?

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: But how outsiders view us. How the world views us. And then there’s the reality of how it has affected us psychologically, and how far it has put us behind economically in our ability to build our own wealth and pass it down from generation to generation.

 

I’ve seen how people get hired; how people get opportunities in the South. It’s not about what you know. Everybody knows. It’s about what?

 

Holmes and Gray: Who you know.

 

Gray: Yep.

 

Holmes: Right? So, the networking opportunities that come with being white—like, everybody wants to know, what’s your momma’s name? Who’s your daddy? That’s how the South works in a lot of ways.

 

Gray: Yep.

 

Holmes: And I would imagine those things work that way in other places in the country.

 

Gray: Same. Yep.

 

Holmes: So if that’s the case, then you begin to see that no, no, no, no, man. There’s a young man that I hired. Love him. Young white kid. Love him. And he got the job because he absolutely deserved it. I can trust him. I depend on him. He’s been with me for a while. But even looking at that situation, like, how did I know about him?

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: How did I know about him? Because he was able to accrue an internship where I was working.

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: Right? That most kids his age wouldn’t have been able to get, because of a connection that he had that most black kids would not have. Right?

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: Right? So in that situation, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Right? 

 

Gray: Hmm. Hmm.

 

Holmes: He’s just—and me—the black guy—I hired him because I needed him. 

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: Right? You see my point?

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: That’s that network, right? That’s that network.

 

Gray: That network, bro.

 

Holmes: I want to transition from that unless you have any other points because I think there’s another point right here we gotta talk about: Malcolm the person.

 

Gray: Oh yeah, there are many others. But yes. Go ahead.

 

Holmes: So, notice what Malcolm is doing. People see this, and it can sometimes be a triggering quote.

 

Gray: Hmm.

 

Holmes: But Malcolm is essentially saying, an accurate view of society is not based on the lifestyles of the rich, the wealthy, and the affluent. That’s not how you measure whether or not a nation is doing well, or is not doing well, or is a great nation, or is not a great nation.

 

Gray: Hmm.

 

Holmes: You look at their poor.

 

Gray: Hmm.

 

Holmes: You look at those who are marginalized and oppressed, or who are lacking. You just look at the poor. And then you ask yourselves, how did they get there? And then that’s when you discover there’s been marginalization, there’s been oppression, there’s been injustice…

 

Gray: Mmhmm.

 

Holmes: And he’s saying, that’s how you judge whether or not a society is healthy.

 

Gray: Hmm.

 

Holmes: And do they have the opportunity, or are there multiple barriers and unnecessary roadblocks that make it more difficult to succeed? And that’s what Malcolm is doing. And this is biblical, right?

 

Gray: Again, these are things that should shape your theology, if you’re committed to follow Christ. For me, the passage about the rich young ruler where this rich young ruler was in a hurry to justify himself to Jesus and tell him all that he knew. And Jesus listens to him and says, okay. Those are the right things to do. But there’s something you lack. 

 

This is a conversion conversation. This is the way I interpret this passage. It’s a conversion conversation. To say, all right. This is what you lack. I want you to sell all that you have. Again. This is getting back to your illustration. You’re gonna have to get rid of that car. But not just sell it. Distribute it to the poor. So, address the people who actually need help. Then come follow me.

 

This is a work of transformation. 

 

Holmes: Yeah.

 

Gray: You can’t just align yourself with an ideology that says it’s Christianity, and then say the right things, without the fruit that comes alongside of revolutionary transformation.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: And a lot of folks like to just exist on the surface level and the idealism of what it means to be culturally aligned with Christianity, but when you talk about the actual cost to follow the sacrificial nature of repair, restitution—all of that stuff just becomes matters of debate and ultimately matters of indifference.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: Because it’s like, oh we can’t do that much.

 

But you sound like the rich young ruler who walked away sorrowfully because he had great possessions.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: He couldn’t make the exchange.

 

Holmes: Yeah.

 

Gray: It was too much. I can’t give up that much.

 

Holmes: Yep. Yep. That’s—

 

Gray: Therefore I’m going to continue in the way that I’m already walking. It’s too much. 

 

Holmes: I’m going to become apathetic…

 

Gray: One hundred percent.

 

Holmes: …complacent.

 

Gray: I’m walking away from Jesus. I got the validation on the things that I did right… But when he told you about the thing you lacked, you didn’t want to give it up, so again, here’s the thing. We’re at this place where we have to identify ourselves in society, and the work that we can do. Are Christians missional?

 

You know, it’s not good enough to say, we’re a place that teaches the right things. But are we the people that affect our communities? I mean, you’re talking—right—in terms of the place and the context that I minister, I minister in the inner city.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: So, I’m looking at the effects of poverty. I’m looking at what it takes to find the people who are at the lower levels of society and give them hope. I mean, the program that you mentioned—our church is affiliated with a job-readiness program called Columbus Works. Shout-out to Columbus Works. They literally sit down with people who, by all means, could be considered unemployable. You know. They either have records, or they have checkered pasts. They don’t have—they have gaps in their job history. They have all kinds of stuff going on. Not only do they sit down with these folks and help them prepare for job interviews, and help identify their skill sets—they reach out to employers and say, look. These people are the people who you probably wouldn’t look twice at in a stack full of resumes. We’re going to advocate for them.

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: So, look at these people that we’re training up. They’ve been passed over, but they need someone to step in and provide some level of mediation for them to have an opportunity to interact with society again. And if they don’t have that mediator, if they don’t have that person to advocate for them, then they’re going to remain on the outskirts of society. And then they’re going to be disparaged from a distance to say, you can’t contribute anything.

 

Well, what about the barriers?

 

Holmes: Right.

 

Gray: What about the work of restitution? What about the work of reconciliation? We are ministers of reconciliation. We have to be missional. But if you don’t want to interact with the problems—if they’re too complicated for you—what you’re saying, a lot of times, when you say it’s too complicated, is that you’ve got to give up too much. You’ve got to give up too much of your idea of what Christ is calling you to, and you don’t get to do that with a person who died on a cross.

 

Holmes: Yeah, because even if you don’t necessarily like the proposal of what you need to do because we’re not Jesus, so oftentimes when we get proposed plans, they’re flawed. Sometimes they’re really flawed, right? You still have the responsibility to go and figure out a solution. But oftentimes, again, what happens? They walk away with their head down.

 

Gray: Yeah.

 

Holmes: It’s just too much.

 

Gray: Too much. 

 

Holmes: To your point.

 

Gray: Too much. And, again, it’s about defining mission. What is the mission of the church in a given local space? It doesn’t look the same in all—but you have to define “mission.” It’s not just about attendance. It’s not just about constructing some kind of social environment that makes everybody feel like they are in a positive place in their life.

 

Holmes: Yep.

 

Gray: What is the cost—

 

Holmes: Yeah.

 

Gray: —of discipleship? What is the actual giving up of your life that contributes to a transformative end for people? That helps people? Oh, come to my church so you can escape the cares of this world. You’re gonna meet a lot of nice people who shake your hand and say, “Hi,” but then they’re going to escort you back into your struggle because they actually don’t want anything to do with that. That’s between you and God. 

 

Then we’re back to hyper-individualism. 

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: We’ll come together and play communalism for two hours on Sunday, but when it comes to mission, we don’t want to align with that because we’ve got too many issues going on. Our kids are driving us nuts, or our job is hard, and all of that.

 

Holmes: And here’s…and we can wrap it up after this: if you’re wondering, or if you still have questions about whether or not there are things that you can do, of course, there are things that you can do. And do you know when that is proven? It’s proven when the things that have affected our community begin to affect the white community.

 

Case in point: the war on drugs. The point is is that—oh man—there’s nothing that we can do. Or it’s too complicated. Well, the war on drugs has been wreaking havoc in the black community for decades. But it wasn’t until the opioid addiction took place that the war on drugs all the sudden became a priority—

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: —for legislators and for certain non-profits—

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: —and for all that. So, there’s never really anything that’s been done—same thing with the criminal system and all that stuff. When something becomes a problem in white America and is affecting the broader culture, all of the sudden now we got plans.

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: Right? We got strategies on how to fix that. We can recognize the laws that are causing that.

 

Gray: Yes.

 

Holmes: So, there are things that you can do. But you have to ask yourself, why is that the case?

 

Gray: Yeah. And I want to go back to the point you made earlier in the conversation. You said that white supremacy affects black people. White supremacy affects white people, too. It affects people of European descent because of what you just said. So, now you’ve established this war on drugs that essentially is targeted to certain communities, but it affected everybody.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm. Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a good point.

 

Gray: Everybody.

 

Holmes: Negatively effects. Yeah.

 

Gray: Absolutely.

 

Holmes: One hundred percent. Eventually, it will get to you.

 

Gray: Yeah. Well, for Christians, it affects your theology.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: It affects your actual view of Jesus.

 

Holmes: Mmhmm.

 

Gray: Who you think he actually is. 

 

Holmes: Chickens coming home to roost.

 

Gray: One hundred percent.

 

Holmes: Right. So, Malcolm. Famous interview that also got him pushed out of the Nation of Islam—he’s interviewed—what do you think of the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

 

Gray: Yep.

 

Holmes: Malcolm says, listen. All I told them was, like, all this is is chickens coming home to roost. When you have a culture of violence that exists, and you don’t do anything about it, eventually the gun will turn itself and point at you.

 

So, you see a lot of the stuff that’s happening in the church right now with the abuses of power, and evangelicalism, and people being silenced and oppressed and all that stuff—that stuff has been happening to black people. But this is just chickens coming home to roost.

 

Gray: Yep. Malcolm got kicked out of his own church for saying that. So, imagine what it means to have a revolutionary perspective on the gospel, and speak in that way. Like, what the implications are for you and your church. Because here’s the thing. The guilt is not the takeaway.

 

Holmes: No.

 

Gray: Repentance is the practice that positions us in order to hear from God what to do. You don’t just stay in a place of shame and it becomes immobilization and indifference. You don’t just hear these things—you don’t hear Malcolm say, this is an American nightmare. We’re victims—you don’t take from that, or distance yourself from that just because of guilt. It’s not just about leaving you in a place of shame. The gospel liberates you from that. But what it doesn’t liberate you from is action. It liberates you to act in a way that pleases God and addresses the actual issues of society.

 

If we’re going to have a collective effect of sin, then we’re going to have collective repentance, and collective motivation, and missional motivation to address it.

 

Holmes: Yep. Ultimate “home to roost” verse right here. And I’m not even going to offer any comment. Proverbs 22:16: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Chickens coming home to roost.

 

Gray: Amen, brother. Give us the benediction. AKA the announcements (laughs).

 

Holmes: The outro, man. 

 

Gray: (laughs) outro.

 

Holmes: Thanks for tuning into Make it Plain. For more resources related to Malcolm X, visit our website, makeitplain.co. That’s makeitplain.co. Or you can subscribe to the show at Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon, RadioPublic, Google, or via RSS, and never miss a show. 

 

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Join us next week as we continue our reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X.

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.