by Alex Mikulich
As the Ferguson October protests shut down three Wal-Marts — in support of John Crawford’s family, a black teenager recently shot by a police officer in an Ohio Wal-Mart — among other actions, the church and people of faith need to attend to “the fire next time,” to echo the warning of James Baldwin’s classic.
It is “not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” So wrote Baldwin in an open letter to his nephew, titled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation,” which constitutes the first part of his book The Fire Next Time.
Baldwin introduces his nephew to what sociologist E. Franklin Frazier called “the cities of destruction.” Simply put, cities of destruction isolate and impoverish black Americans and communicate a devastating message: Black lives do not count.
In this context, Baldwin advises his nephew, “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it.”
Black survival means learning to affirm your own dignity and worth as the white world threatens it. The entire white world — the norms by which white Christian churches and society live — creates death and destruction for people of color as whites live a fantasy of innocence and superiority…