By Ralph Moore
Special to the AFRO
“Whiteness” was word for the Oct. 20 rainy morning at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore. After the sound of African drums sounded attention, the Rev. Heber Brown III, dressed neatly and non traditionally in a sweater, wrestled oratorically with what he calls the demon of whiteness. He cited Mark 5:14 to talk of the transformation of a “[Once] demonic man [now] clothed and in his right mind.” As he preached the gospel of a soul saved by a liberating Jesus, who cast out demons; he taught about facing up to the truth: that God loves everyone equally. He defined the concept of whiteness as the spirit and personification of the evil that men do. Put simply, whiteness oppresses.
Rev. Brown has taken on the bedeviled whiteness as a historically evil spirit in the world dating back to the 1600s: it stocked the slave ships with captured Africans, it eliminated persons of color and women from constitutional protections during the founding of America, its institutional slavery was unprecedented in history for its permanence and depth of cruelty. Whiteness created and maintained segregation, mass incarceration and mass poverty. Its mission was to maintain its superior status unearned, untrue, unfair and unrelenting by any means necessary. “When you are trying to stay on top, you will tell anybody anything to stay on top,” he preached.
The concept of whiteness as defined by Rev. Brown in his sermon is not so much about race or social status but as a spiritual paradigm. It is about a state of mind. For him, whiteness is an evil spirit comparable to a plague or a disease, oppressively active and infectious in the world.
The congregation filled just about every seat in every pew. The members of the church have been studying ‘whiteness’ throughout the month of October. They have been reading the works of noted thinkers such as Jamar Tisby (“The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism”) and discussing the concept of whiteness in small groups after the service. Their church becomes a schoolhouse where consciousness is truly raised in a spiritual context. They respond to the call of their pastor’s sermon, acknowledging him as a highly effective teacher.
This sermon is like no other heard in most churches. It boldly looks at the state of the world right in the face and asks how the world got this way and what must we do to change it and to fix it? He was insistent that we get our minds right; that we cast out the demonic spirits in the Black community with the fervor of Jesus exorcising demons in the Bible.
He cited the violence ravaging our city as a consequence of whiteness infused in the body and soul of too many young men here. Their rampant violence is the prime tool of whiteness to maintain its presence and effectiveness in oppression people.
It was clear that Rev. Brown understands there are big things happening in the world. It is the mark of real leadership to urge his congregants to countenance and study the evil, oppressive nature of whiteness. More churches should be so bold.
Sunday services begin at 10 a.m. at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, 430 E. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21239