Pete's Blog

Mary, Don't You Weep

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I listened to the Swan Silvertones' "Mary Don't You Weep" this morning, several times. I was alone, so I could turn my head and snap my fingers without self-consciousness, one of many things I envy in black people. O! Mary don't you weep. Martha don't you mourn. O! Mary don't you weep. Martha don't you mourn. Pharaoh's army has drowned in the sea. So Mary don't you weep. Martha don't you mourn. Pharaoh's army has drowned in the sea. What consolation that is! In the week before Election Day one may be forgiven feeling beset by Pharaoh's army, in this case a horde of sub-reasoning mouth breathers, all hopped up on gibberish, resentment of anyone smarter than themselves (did I hear a Republican say "class warfare"?), and the power that comes of mobs. Above them sits Pharaoh in his counting-house, perfectly happy that millions should suffer and die so that his pyramid might be built. With that in mind, in the spirit of we're-all-niggers-here-now, let me ask a question, indeed veer off on a tangent inspired by those heavenly harmonies. Has any institution in our society done more to help African-Americans than the Protestant church? The abolition of slavery was incubated in it, the underground railroad was financed by it, the education of freed slaves was spearheaded by it, and it was the one institution racist post-reconstruction society allowed African-Americans to use for themselves to win the 20th century's struggle for human decency and civil rights. The Church gave Martin Luther King and thousands like him a pulpit from which to preach the non-violent overthrow of oppression and a moral authority to face down racist violence armed only with The Right. And while this was happening, the Swan Silvertones and all the other black gospel greats of the 20th century were able to console us with the news of Hope and Grace, arguably more accessibly and with greater immediacy than anyone in human history. Pharaoh's army doesn't drown until you believe it will drown. So, with Christmas soon after Election Day it seems worth the time to ask a question. Does the embrace of Kwanza'a, a made-up non-Christian holiday designed to give Black people a more "African" holiday experience, strike anyone as a bit ...ungrateful?

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