What Was the Date?

It’s all a blur. And time is basically irrelevant at this point. It doesn’t matter what day it is, it never feels like that day to me and I am always surprised when I find out. And if I tell you a story of something that happened in quarantine, please be aware that it could have taken place two days ago or mid-March. So I get it, dates can be hazy. But I really need someone to try. For the people in the back, i’m asking the people in the front: What was the date? When the complete viciousness of our history lost its teeth? When a country built on land that was stolen through cruelty (torture, genocide) and then built with cruelty (the torture and genocide of slavery) and then reluctantly (when forced through civil war) gave up its most blatant forms of cruelty, only to regroup to reshape and refashion them (Jim Crow, lynching, massacres, mass incarceration, poll taxes, redlining, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) – when did that entire system built for and by white supremacy cease to have an effect? Because that is your premise when you want to “wait for all the facts” when you see us (Black people) being routinely over-policed, by both police and regular-degular citizens who for some strange and completely untraceable reason feel they have the right (almost like a birthright…) to determine when/where/how we can live and move and have our being. Inconveniencing us (at best) and slaughtering us (far far too easily) in ways and for “reasons” that you would never begin to consider reasonable if the shoe was on a foot in your family.

But we are in your family, white christians… allegedly. And yet, your power structures look no different (and often much worse) than “the world” with the seats at your tables held predominantly by white men. While your silence on issues of injustice is deafening, your platitudes as empty as they are plentiful and your support of cruel (hello old friend!) and corrupt characters disappointingly sickening. All of which is double baffling when you consider that a tenet of the faith for most of you is that we all are fallen and prone to sin; yet it is somehow unfathomable to you, that you (yes you), a product of a white supremacist root system might actually have a racist bone (or two or more) in your body… and I figure that it must be because you know the date. So please, just give me the date.

But in the meantime, forgive me if I have a hard time telling the difference between “saints” and sinners, and clearly prefer one over the other.


Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Miss Misrepresentation

I was already on my way out, but the brown little Black girl was the final straw. Well, the first final straw. It has been over two years now and I have gone on to go much farther in leaving church than I would have ever thought possible. But that’s a story for a different day. Anyway, we were standing outside the venue where church was being held that week. It was before service and after service, so I was coming or going or staying, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Anyway, two kids were playing. A brother and sister. Running around and jostling each other, the way kids do before and/or after church, but you know the saying: It’s all fun and games until somebody messes up somebody’s hair. So when the younger brother reached out to mess up his older sister’s hair, the game came to a sudden stop. And as Big Sister turned her attention to fixing what Little Brother had done, I turned to Little Brother with a laughing, but real reminder: “Come on man, you know better — you never touch a black woman’s hair.” 

“NOT BLACK!” The words were fast and panicked. And Big Sister was upset. With me. Her brother completely forgotten as she turned her full focus on correcting me. “My hair is brown. Brown. Not black.” And after years of instigating and being part of “diversity” conversations that culminated with leadership favoring “organic” change over making intentional choices, when I looked at her, this brown little Black girl, so upset over a cultural joke she misheard, distraught at the thought that something brown would be called Black, and already heavy with a burden I recognized from working so hard to be rid of, I knew I had to go. 

To be completely fair and clear: the church I was part of did not cause that little Black girl’s discomfort with being associated with Black. That need to draw a distinction between brown and black, that automatic aversion to Black as a descriptor — that’s the signature work of America. That church did not do that. But there was nothing about that church that was undoing it. Based on what types of people were (and were not) consistently deemed worthy of being seen, heard and followed, the messages I had to sort through about myself, my worth, my purpose as a Black Christian in church weren’t any different than the ones I faced as a Black American in the secular world. And with a healthy dose of Trump voters on staff, that church definitely wasn’t helping me feel any safer or more hopeful about America in general. In the fight for equality, there was no rest for the weary, no sanctuary in that particular sanctuary. And as someone I used to know, used to be fond of saying “If you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.” And for all it’s posturing, that church wasn’t helping. 

Representation matters. Where we see people and what we see them doing matters. And when we get used to seeing certain types of people in certain types of positions, it matters. We subconsciously begin to not only associate, but disassociate certain traits, strengths and status with certain demographics. I remember bringing a white male friend to that church for the first time and the speaker that day was not just a white male (no surprise there, there was a 9/10 chance), but happened to be one that happened to look very much like him. It was his first day and he could already (literally) see himself in leadership. Imagine that. No seriously, women and people of color (and especially women of color!) — you better imagine that. Because your actual glimpses of it are going to be few and far between (specifically sometime during Black History Month, Mother’s Day and immediately before/after the women’s conference). 

And why is that? The first stab I ever took at addressing the diversity-slash-representation topic was two or three years in, after a mid-week service when a brand new white boy was unveiled as a new associate pastor. He was the MC for the evening. And he was bad. So bad. So so bad. Like seriously, and I cannot stress this enough: bad. So I texted the lead pastor… “Hey, next time the roster opens up, howsabout we slide a woman and/or a person of color in there??” and his response was… agreeable? “I’d love that! So let’s pray for God to send one!” Send one? I remember looking around, at a crowd heavy with women and people of color, and wondering how not one of us was sent… 

And that’s where this all this “representation” talk gets super dicey, super messy and super important, super fast. Because when Christian leaders couch their leadership choices as God’s will, God’s revelation, God’s choice — they make harmful assertions about God. Riddle me this: When it comes time for this all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictably creative God, who created such a wild, varied and colorful array of humanity, to choose someone to represent Him; why would He continuously makes the same standard, uninteresting and predictable choice? It’s a real puzzler. And very troublesome. Which is why we need to start calling it exactly what it is… 

Conversations about diversity are awkward and often difficult; and as marginalized people trying to coax often reluctant leaders to engage in awkward and difficult exchanges, we have had to learn how to cushion all the blows: being overly appreciative of any little effort, allowing for certain false equivalencies, overlooking boundary oversteps and softening language. So when we address issues of diversity in leadership, we tend the name the problem as gently as possible, and always as something that is a struggle for us that we need the powers-that-be to assist with — Let’s talk about how you (well-intentioned leader) can help us (disappointed minority) with the lack of diversityThank you (champion among men) for being willing to hear us (needy women) re: our issue of under-representationBless you (white savior) for being willing to explore solutions to our (complaining Blacks) lack of representation… but what if we started calling it what it actually is: 

the action or offense of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something. 

Leadership teams, church staffs, pastoral rotations and church boards that consist primarily of white men are misrepresentations. They give a false and misleading account of the importance, ability and significance of white men. Of women. Of people of color. Of women of color. Of everyone. And worse: they give a false and misleading account of the nature of God. Of God’s will and of God’s all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictable heart. And misrepresentation is always harmful. For everyone involved. Even you, White Male. With your restricted view of who God can use, coupled with your colossal (colonial) mandate to lead people in God’s will, which almost always seems to be the call of someone who looks/thinks/lives like you… how can you not be a bit of a self-important monster? Favor ain’t fair, amiright? So why should you be? And why shouldn’t you congratulate yourself (and be congratulated!) for just being willing to humor conversations about how you can help the under-represented? 

But what if… Here’s an interesting humble thought experiment: What if we (the long-suffering marginalized) have actually been sent to help you (over-represented demographic) give up some of your power? It’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it… and you, white male, literally can not. No offense, but you just don’t have the range. 

But honestly, and unfortunately, neither do a large number of your followers. Years and years of misrepresentation have done their job. And we (everyone/anyone who is not you) has gotten so used to seeing you lifted as the standard, our own imaginations and expectations have been stunted. We’ve settled into accepting the way things are as the way they’re supposed to be. And we credit every minor concession as a revolution, because we’re not completely convinced the God we believe in, believes in us. 

But God does. So much so, that They has left it up to us to see “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” So we each have to do the hard work of taking stock of the spaces we occupy and asking ourselves: Is this as it is in Heaven? And when it’s not, we have to speak up. Speak truth to power. Speak truth in love. Speak. And when the time comes, step out. Of our comfort zones. Of line. Of places that foster misrepresentation. For others. For ourselves. For God’s sake. And for all the brown little Black girls who need spaces that see them and show them differently; churches that actually reflect Heaven instead of mirroring America. Because it’s not going to happen without intentional and sustained effort; and if you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

A Quiet Place: An Extremely White Parable of Black Life

Left to my own devices, I NEVER would have seen A Quiet Place. But as the designated plus-one of a friend in the industry, it was my duty to attend the screening premiere, so I did. With great fear and trembling. Horror movies are not my cup of tea. When I went to see Get Out last year, (with great fear and trembling, dragging equally reluctant friends along) I was only doing it for the culture. And I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. The fear stoking was expected, the thought-provoking was not. But there must be something in the water because the kids these days are Making Horror Movies Great Again. (Says I, with my completely inadequate knowledge of the history of horror movies, but I digress…) 

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white that it just touched my hair. The closest we get to a person of color is when John Krasinski’s character tries futilely to reach out to Japan in Morse code. But it’s fine. It makes sense – the whole film is centered on one family and this one family happens to be white.  And what is this white family doing? They are trying to survive after earth has been overrun by mysterious and (seemingly) invincible monsters who hunt by sound.  In order to stay safe, they need to stay quiet. 

Does that remind you of anything? Anyone? Any certain people? No? 

It took me a while, too. Mostly because I was annoyed with choices made by the family in the opening scenes. As a family of five (mom, dad, 3 kids) they are out on a post-apocalyptic shopping trip – all barefoot, tiptoeing through emptied streets and deserted stores, communicating with looks and sign language. We quickly figure out that quiet is key, but we don’t know why yet. And it’s not exactly clear how quiet they need to be or how high the stakes, because the youngest of the children is given, what is in my opinion, a nonsensical amount of freedom to run around – grabbing and very nearly knocking a loud toy off a shelf.  Then later, when walking home, in a formation that is SO STUPID it can only be ascribed to plot contrivance; the little troublemaker makes a noise that sets off a sequence of events that reveals how very high the stakes actually are. And how imperative their silence is to their survival. 

But, I’ll be honest, I initially felt more apathy than empathy for that oblivious little kid, because if he would have just followed what he was told and kept quiet instead of acting like… any normal child would under normal circumstances… wait… do you hear it yet? 

If he had just been quiet, if he had just complied… 

Alright, this isn’t a quiet place, so I’m going to stop tiptoeing – in their relationship with the thing endangering them, the white people in this movie aren’t seen (the monsters are blind) and are safer the less they’re heard. The white people in this movie live in a reality where reasonable sounds and reactions can result in unreasonable danger and death. The white people in this movie might as well be Black people in America. 

It’s the fear of not being able to protect your children from a rather brutal environment.

Emily Blunt (on the underlying theme of A Quiet Place)

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white, that for a moment, I felt White. For a moment, I understood the ambivalence toward victims of America’s monsters. I didn’t blame them for the presence of the monsters, but I did, fault them for not being better at playing by the rules of the monsters. But only for a moment. When there a came a point where we as the audience realized the monster had a weakness, but the white people didn’t know yet I turned to my friend and whispered “They need to hurry up and figure this out.” Because I was invested. I wanted the people to triumph. No one should have to live in constant quiet dread of monsters. 

But I’m not convinced White America is truly invested in finding and revealing the weaknesses of our monsters. Their children aren’t the ones in perpetual danger. 

Anyway, A Quiet Place is beautifully shot (shout out to upstate New York); with hardly any dialogue the acting is fantastic (everybody does a phenomenal job but Emily Blunt is a BEAST) and a few plot holes/contrivances aside, it’s scarily enjoyable and thoroughly thought-provoking. It invites the viewer to imagine how they’d fare in a world where being heard comes with a high risk of being harmed. And perhaps, taking it a step further, to ponder, who they more actively sympathize with in the real world – the silenced or the monsters? 

A Quiet Place is an extremely White movie that is an accidentally accurate parable of Black life. So even if you’re not horror fan, it’s definitely worth seeing.  Do it for the culture.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.