SHOUTIN’ IN THE FIRE

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“Our lives are not just resistance,” writes Stewart. “Our lives are not just lessons. We are not heroes. We are not villains. We are human—as beautiful as we are terrible.” The recognition of Black humanity forms the core of this eloquent book. The author recounts going from a pious childhood (his nickname was Church Boy) to a college career playing football at Clemson, where well-meaning White Christians took him under their wing and deracinated him to the point that he was close to despising not just his fellow Blacks, but his own Blackness: “I had passed into the other world, the white world, and I had become free, and wet, and washed, and clean, and white as snow, and white as white folk desired me to become.” Then came Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the slain parishioners at a Charleston church, and the misgivings came. Stewart turned away. “It wasn’t Jesus nor James Baldwin who radicalized me,” he writes. “It was white people. Apathetic white people.” Drawing on a churchly tradition of vigorous sermonizing, Stewart examines the fruits of that radicalization—e.g., the phenomenon of Black rage, which, though “tricky in America,” is a perfectly appropriate response to injustice. While justly enraged himself, he insists on Black humanity and the necessity of embracing not just the struggle and the anger associated with it, but also the very human impulse to love, embrace, and even forgive: “Jesus does not hurt people in order to love them…he did not cover up his pain by enacting it onto others.” Stewart’s Christian message is broadly ecumenical, with its deeply felt demand that things must change in a society that, as far as Black people are concerned, “loves your production, but…does not value your body.”

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