The Witness

Black and Believable

Taelor Gray

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” – Deuteronomy 19:15

“But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” – Matthew 18:16

“And we are witness to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” – Acts 5:32

“This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” – 2 Corinthians 13:1

You will find a recurring theme in Scripture of  truth being established by witness testimony. Crimes were prosecuted, personal disputes were settled, and church discipline was enforced. The testimony of Jesus set the early church on fire—the witnesses being the spark plug. We see it is important to have someone else verify what they’ve seen and heard in order to establish the credibility of the story.

Breaking Point

One of the most frustrating elements of being black in America is trying to convince the majority society that the black experience is real. The reality of discrimination on the job, in school, in shopping environments, or just driving in traffic often seems to invite accusations of exaggeration and over-dramatization. Anywhere on the scale of sympathy—from the alt-right white conservative (low) to the passionate “white ally” (high…?), there is typically a breaking point in black believablility.

Whether it’s in personal conversation, educational seminars, or even a simple news story, many in the white community find a point where they must disengage with the reality of the black experience. We are often pegged as hyperbolic story tellers, embellishing details to the point of eliminating the facts altogether. The ultimate case in point often shows up in the latest news coverage of another black life taken by the police with a typical argument being “we (you) don’t even have the facts yet.”

Deep Roots

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It is easily traced back to slavery, where slave owners would berate and chastise African slaves for acting as if the work conditions were unbearable. They would cast slaves as “emotional” and “lazy” at any sign of complaint or resistance to their inhumane workloads.

In the Jim Crow era, white jurors were often the only ones sitting in the seat of judgment for black crimes. The narrative of slavery and Jim Crow still surfaces today. Black individuals who communicate their plights of suffering are met with scoffs and jeers from privileged peers, often to the entire community’s detriment.

We deserve to be believed. It isn’t an unreasonable request, seeing that we do not lack witness testimony. The fact that I can listen to or speak with a black person from any side of the continent with a similar story of systemic racism is proof there is no fabrication or exaggeration here. The true narrative is one of injustice and the accusations of hyperbole actually serve to ignore the “facts”—just as it did centuries ago.

If scripture itself places such a high premium on witness testimony, why is it so hard to believe black people who have been telling the same story—albeit from difference voices—for hundreds of years? This speaks to the insidious nature of racial oppression in our society, that a certain type of callousness can be developed in the face of blatant suffering. The credibility of the Christian church in this country is so crippled by this callousness that pain-filled distrust rings louder than any theological resolution document.

Gospel Truth

To my brothers and sisters, I feel compelled to let you know you are heard and your cries are not falling on deaf ears. The true and living God does not sleep nor does he slumber in the face of injustice. History tells the story of black people with a resolve not just to endure, but to fight the oppressive forces that seek to impugn our dignity.

To disregard our voices is to disregard our humanity, but unfortunately for the indifferent, we have decided we simply will not go on quietly. We should not be dismayed because our God fights for those who remain on the side of truth. It is his courtroom that determines the veracity of witnesses so we don’t need to be afraid. It is his truth that makes us free. It is a truth in a Savior who does not pacify oppressive circumstances with pretty platitudes. Rather he uses the oppressed to make war against injustices and ultimately rescues those who are his. This is gospel truth.

Would They Believe Us?

On the Def Comedy Jam 25 Netflix special, there is an off-script moment of pure comedy between D.L. Hughley and Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle starts laughing at a teleprompter cue for him to read the line “…because that’s what it means to be black in America.” He asks for another shot at it, but immediately digresses into several minutes of comedic brilliance as he opines about everything from his public school experience to singing (quite accurately) the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At the beginning of this blackout period, he “soberly” asks the question:

“If we told them what being black in America is, would they believe us?”

Sadly, the question is rhetorical. In our society, the answer is mostly no. We must be afforded the dignity of truth tellers if those in the black community are to achieve any true level of reconciliation and healing in this country. We have witnesses; we are witnesses. The conversation goes nowhere if one party is perceived to be consistent liars.

Still, our existence does not hinge on the testimony of white acceptance. Our stories extend beyond the debates and disagreements of our peers, as we display a monument of hope for anyone who has ever suffered injustice. We are believable because truth is universal. May we continue to gather the courage to share our stories, no matter the constant efforts to silence us.

1 Comment

  1. Deborah Miranda

    A question re: Fences, even though the characters, storyline and all are contextually black life, the theme was very universally human issues. Is that a helpful direction as you see it to help white society experience the reality of bring Black in America. It was extremely moving & heart feeling more than what seem to be formula films where the Black person is noble, wise & the White person, & mean, stupid & pig-eyed. All those stereo types can be real but it puts off my wanting to understand.

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