A Letter From the Sunken Place
This is not a film review of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” If you have not seen the film, I definitely recommend you watch it.
The Sunken Place
In the movie, The Sunken Place represents the dark place where black people are mindless drones and their sins and fears are amplified in their faces at every corner.
It emphasized the oppression experienced in the lives of the black people in the community visited by the main character. It has become a popular reference representing those who are ignorant to the struggles and oppression of black people in this country.
I’m here to let you know this Sunken Place is not just a dramatic element of a movie. I’ve been there and parts of me are still there. In this piece, white evangelical places are the Sunken Place. I hope this encourages some brothers and sisters to know they are not alone and to shed light on their experience.
The Story of OJ
As a black person in the Sunken Place, my favorite song is “The Story of OJ” by Jay-Z. It reminds me that I leave the house with a name tag: first name, ‘Nigga’ and last name, ‘Problem’. No matter how much I smile, no matter how polite I am, or how hard I try to rise above, I am “Still Nigga” in the eyes of some.
In the Sunken Place, a ‘Nigga’ is one who causes trouble and division, and who is the problem with ‘this’ country. Only those who are quiet, work in the shadows, and never cause the dominant culture discomfort are seen as a good resource.
There is pain in the eyes of black people in this category. We know that we are banks, libraries, and crutches. We are used to keep the social status accounts of the dominant culture full. Those in the dominant culture check us in and out only when needed, and lean on us to ignore the realities of their political, financial, and social contributions to white supremacy.
Most are not bold enough to call me by my first name ‘Nigga’ but they definitely love to address and treat me like my last name ‘Problem’.
I am the problem because I can not stand idle and contribute to the status quo. I am the problem because I believe Black Lives Matter. I am the problem because I am tired of police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men. I am the problem because I kneel with heroes like Colin Kaepernick.
My existence is likened to Bigger Thomas from Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” While in prison, Bigger breaks down and invites readers into his soul:
“They draw a line and say for you to stay on your side of the line. They don’t care if there is no bread over on your side. They don’t care if you die. And then they say things like that about you and when you try to come from behind your line, they kill you. They feel they ought to kill you then. Everybody wants to kill you then.”
These words resonate in my heart as a black man living in the Sunken Place. I see a line drawn with one side expecting me to be composed, polite, and humble. I am expected to be indifferent to the concerns of black people who are not as successful or “lucky” as I. I should never expose my pain, frustration, or anger. If I cross over to the other side with them, then I am met with hostility.
It is never the right time to talk about my pain for the sake of their comfort. Yet it is always okay to talk about what parts of town are unsafe or of the decline of black families. I feel like a cheap mascot in the midst of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation discussions. I watch as others are entertained and intrigued by our black cultures, but only at the expense of my silence.
Is God a White Supremacist?
In the Sunken Place, this is a legit question I ask myself. I expect some will say I need to read the bible more, understand God’s character better, or even go to a different church. The short answer is the God of Nat Turner, Medgar Evers, and Dr. Martin Luther King is absolutely not a white supremacist. In the Sunken Place, the question does cross your mind. Sometimes it is not so easy to label it as foolishness.
My blackness is supposed to be separate from my spirituality in the Sunken Place. If I am concerned with blackness, then I am at risk of being spiritually unhealthy. I see churches champion the causes against abortion and same-sex marriage, but once the idea of social justice or racial equality is mentioned, then the church suddenly becomes at risk of becoming over-run with a “social gospel”.
On Sunday, I sit in a pew and wonder if sins like racism, prejudice, and inequality are important to the bride of Christ. We pray for many things, but when it comes to the concerns and pain of black people, there is silence.
In the Sunken Place, I long for a Jesus, as Lecrae says, without the “Ultra perm, them soft eyes and thin lips.” I long for a space where I am not seen as an angry black man. I long for the light of the true Gospel and not the one drenched in American nationalism. I long to rise from the depths of the Sunken Place and bask in the glory of the new heaven and new earth.
I long for the day where I get out of this place of suffering, pain, and oppression and reunite with my Savior. Knowing this day will come gives me hope despite all of the current hardship.
I end this letter letting you know that I have hope. It is not always easy but hope is there. If you can relate, I invite you to join in the pain and struggle that many of us face. You are not alone.
13 thoughts on “A Letter From the Sunken Place”
“On Sunday, I sit in a pew and wonder if sins like racism, prejudice, and inequality are important to the bride of Christ. We pray for many things, but when it comes to the concerns and pain of black people, there is silence.”
If you really think this is true of your church, I would encourage several things. 1. Meet with your elders. 2. Consider that the “silence” is possibly your sunken place filtering it out to keep you sunken. It may not be, but often our own sunken places prefer to keep us sunken. And considering I’m familiar with your church, I would disagree with the silence. 3. Understand that terms like “social justice” have different connotations to different people because of its association. Some positive, some negative. Someone not talking about it or disagreeing with it doesn’t mean they are necessarily thinking less of you or worse.
Lastly, I’d be glad to have lunch with you anytime, and I’d be glad to go with you to the session if you have these concerns. Find me on Breeze or ask Drew for my info.
I don’t see a claim there of what some don’t experience, she’s talking about what the priorities should be. It’s dangerous to attempt to exegete experience, especially given the fact that the experience of “oppression” isn’t objectively shared among black people. Also, to use the claim “Just because this is not your experience does not mean this doesn’t happen to others” is somewhat self-refuting because that statement itself attempts to argue away her experience. Is all experience equally valid, or just some?
Jeff if you are engaged in these ministries then you need not feel attacked. Join the team against injustice and black oppression. Why defend white supremacy if you are so engaged in helping the disenfranchised? Perhaps it is you who need to listen to the people you are trying to help. Perhaps you don’t think things are that bad? If you were listening though you would know that there has been no justice for black people in the USA and the same is true for my country South Africa. The Bible repeatedly calls the strong to defend the disenfranchised not to negate their experience of oppression so that oppression can continue. I emplore you to please listen.
Just because this is not your experience does not mean this doesn’t happen to others. To love well, one cannot argue away the life experiences of others.
I think the response to Jeff is very telling. I am a black woman who grew up in the inner city of Washington, DC in the sixties. I can say that I never felt oppressed. Sure I experienced some things that could be considered racists. But that did not hinder me from pursuing the things I wanted. I think many Christians today do not know how to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We need to renew our minds. Why are we so focused on ourselves and how we are feeling instead of what is really important. Laying down our lives for the brothers, crucifying the flesh and its desires. We haven’t grasped that basic concept so we have to remind others of how we are victimized. The work of the Holy Spirit changes a person, and when people change maybe society changes. When we love one another we treat people the way we want to be treated. We exhibit the fruit of the spirit. We understand who is the god of this world and what we must do to defeat him. Our fellow citizen is not the enemy. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, oh but wait we really don’t believe the Bible anymore.
This brother is one of my dearest friends. I’ve walked with him through the entire process of writing this article and I’ll co-sign (agree/support) with everything he’s said. But here’s the irony to your comment. I’m white. I live in an under-resourced minority neighborhood. I have the privilege of loving and living next to people very different than my wife and I. Everything my brother has said, I’ve witnessed. I’ve watched the pain and suffering that he (and many other brothers and sisters) have experienced.
Just because you have the privilege not to feel this pain does not allow you can discount the experiences of others that have. So in fact, I think it is you that needs to “find a broader base of friends who will tell you truth you’re not used to hearing or seeing”.
I would humbly suggest that the question of how many white friends Tevin has is neither here nor there. He doesn’t need white friends to explain to him what his life is really like, contra the evidence of his senses. Nor does the undeniable existence of white people of good will, doing good works, take anything away from the reality that Tevin describes. Indeed, the very fact that this comment thread is happening right now would appear to bolster his thesis.
Lord Jesus help him!!!
Thank you for speaking. We are listening to your pain and need to hear you thoughts and heart.
Tevin has more real white friendships than you go to church with. Trust me
Tevin, do you have any white Christian friends? I’m not talking superficial acquaintances, but real friends.
The fact is, there are many white Christians – millions, perhaps – who intentionally live in the places you believe we don’t live, and are intentionally doing the kinds of ministry you don’t believe we are capable of doing. There are many of us who live in the urban poor area of our city, ministering to and feeding the impoverished of all colors – and OFTEN hearing insults like “You just tryna make my baby into a little white boy!” And there are many “white evangelical” churches where our brothers & sisters of different colors are warmly embraced, loved, and drawn into the family – as it should be. Sadly, it seems that you don’t see that.
I know that writing is a lot easier than listening. And I know that having an audience feels better than having a friend who will tell you the truth. Please find a broader base of friends who will tell you truth you’re not used to hearing or seeing.
“… It has become a popular reference representing those who are ignorant to the struggles and oppression of black people in this country.”
I think I may be one of the “ignorant” ones. As a black man who has choosen to be in a strong marriage, raise 3 beautiful girls, hold a solid career, serve in ministry with other black brothers and sisters and live in a free country where all this is possible, could you help me to understand how I’m oppressed? Or am I oppressed and just not aware of it? Am I lucky!?
“I see churches champion the causes against abortion and same-sex marriage, but once the idea of social justice or racial equality is mentioned, then the church suddenly becomes at risk of becoming over-run with a “social gospel”.
“…… We pray for many things, but when it comes to the concerns and pain of black people, there is silence.”
Could you explain how “the causes against abortion and same-sex marriage” aren’t the concerns and pains of black people?
As a white Christian of the type that Billy Graham used to call “evangelical”, all I can say is…this makes so much sense. Thanks, Tevin. I’m listening, and it’s okay if you need to get angry.