Dear President Biden,
Her sermon isn’t posted yet, but it probably will be in a couple of days and you could listen to it here, if you’d like. The Dr. Reverend Kelle Brown of Seattle’s Plymouth United Church of Christ was on fire yesterday. Her sermon “The Necessity of Ego-tripping” riffed off of Nikki Giovanni’s 1973 poem “Ego-tripping (there may be a reason),” which Dr. Brown’s daughter paired with dozens of images of powerful Black women in a most incredible video.
Dr. Brown wove together the Giovanni poem, a passage of scripture (Song of Solomon, chapter 1: 5-7) wherein an unnamed woman proclaims “I am Black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem….” and the very real need for oppressed people to find ways to shore themselves up to withstand the scorn and disrespect, if not outright violence, routinely inflicted by people from the dominant culture. Importantly, Dr. Brown explained that the common translations of the Song of Solomon passage either obscure the speaker’s dark skin with euphemisms or say “I am Black, but beautiful” as though being Black is something to either avoid mentioning or is not ordinarily associated with beauty and this lucky woman is somehow an exception. Disappearing, disavowing, and exceptionalizing are all potent forms of violence.
Toward the end of her sermon, Dr. Brown said: “oppression is old and it’s never creative.” I wrote it down right as she finished saying it so as not to forget it because I knew it was important. I initially flashed on the handful of shitty moves the GOP keeps trotting out over and over – various voter suppression strategies, fueling fear (and hate) through manipulation and deception, repeating lies so many times in so many ways that their base doesn’t know which way is up, and projecting onto and blaming their opposition exceedingly brazenly. There are probably a few more tried and true tactics, but these are the ones that leapt to mind and that we see them rotating through – kind of like a radio station that’s required to keep playing the same 10 songs over and over and over.
As I thought more about the sermon statement, though, it occurred to me that the juxtaposition of something being old and something not being creative is both interesting and very scary. If process-oriented phenomena are old, it means they’ve stood the test of time and they’ve been pretty effective at achieving their aims. That oppression can hang in and be effective across the ages without the benefit of being creative suggests that there’s something about oppression that slots neatly into how we humans think, feel, and behave with one another and our own selves such that we don’t need it to be fancy or novel to take hold.
Circling back to Dr. Brown’s sermon (recall the title: “The Necessity of Ego-tripping”), I didn’t get it yesterday at the time, but I think what she is telling us is that oppressors keep trying the same old tricks, which include telling many of us that we’re ugly, we don’t matter, that we don’t need to be counted, and that we’re going to hell and many of have believed these lies, have defined ourselves by these lies. And I think she is telling us that it’s really ok, necessary even, for those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of such hatefulness to stop buying into the crap and cultivate the capacity for some serious, restorative, revolutionary ego-tripping.
Yes, the oppressors, the haters, will pour it on even heavier and thicker in their attempts to break us and they’ll try to get us to turn on each other (e.g., “Damn, she’s stuck up, isn’t she?” “Can you believe the nerve of that one?” “Where the hell does she get off?” etc. until the cows come home). However, I’m having fun imagining all the right-wing minds imploding as we withstand the temptation to give in to self-doubt or say things like “Well, actually, I think she’s pretty damn impressive and I think she’s got some great ideas”. Nice image, right?
May we be safe from malign, if predictable, oppressive tactics.
May we be willing to name the oppression strategies and practice counteracting them.
May we be strong through this transition time because extinction bursts are hard to weather.
May we accept that it’s time for a whole lot of revolutionary ego-tripping.