David M. Bailey On How Racial Reconciliation Heals While Colorblindness Harms

NEW YORK — David M. Bailey stood at the podium in the City Room of The King’s College in lower Manhattan, expressing his initial frustration with being black and Christian in America. 

He described growing up with lots of questions about living in a nation that many often describe as “Christian” but has historically treated blacks so poorly. The words of Frederick Douglass were part of Bailey’s own awakening.  

Photo by The King’s College Media Lab

Photo by The King’s College Media Lab

“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other,” he said.

“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity,”

King’s, a Christian liberal arts college in New York City, invited Bailey to speak at the beginning of Black History Month. Bailey indicated his God-given mission is to help bring racial reconciliation to the Church. He is founder of Arrabon, a ministry that prepares Christian leaders to engage with reconciliation. He’s also the co-author of “Race, Class, and the Kingdom of God 101 Workbook” and he is executive producer for the documentary “11 a.m.: Hope for America’s Most Segregated Hour.” 

Issues such as race and class can be a hard conversation, he acknowledges.

Having a “mercy umbrella” will allow for a comfortable environment for Christians from all racial background to have those conversations. 

“When we talk about race and class, and things of that nature, it can be very tough and a sensitive topic for all parties involved. And so, one of the things that we do is we set expectations and expect someone to say something either stupid and or racist,“ Bailey said. “So then, when it happens, you aren’t disappointed, and it could be you. So, you know, this is why we give each other mercy umbrellas. So, then we can show grace and learn because you can't learn anything if you're afraid to fail.” 

Bailey explained that many Christian people want to have a “colorblind” approach. But he suggests that may not be the best approach. Rather, he argues that believers of all races should step closer, talk with each and acknowledge color to give a better perspective. 

“Why is it that we don't know that much about our shared story that is non-Eurocentric?” Bailey asks. He noted that words and tensions in the 1960s that upset the status quo led to assassinations of people such as President John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He explained how the trauma and stress of the 1960s led to the well-intentioned idea of a “colorblind society.” 

He gave students, staff and faculty at King’s a history lesson in how “brothers and sisters” who immigrated from China, Japan and Korea to the U.S. sued the Supreme Court to be categorized as “white” so they could have a voice in society and own property. He explained how the Naturalization Act in 1790 gave citizenship to any free white person who was in the U.S for two years. This set the predicated for Ozawa v. United States in 1922, which denied citizenship to Japanese’s immigrants. 

Bailey also addressed how the Declaration of Independenceused distasteful language against Native American’s, referring to the King of England using them as “merciless Indian savages, who's known rule of warfare is on the screen undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. Even in our founding documents there is a narrative that indigenous people aren’t truly human.”

Photo by The King’s College Media Lab

Photo by The King’s College Media Lab

He referenced an analogy to the game of Monopoly and asked what would happen if the crowd of 100 was split into two groups to play the board game, but one group was allowed to start 30 minutes earlier than the other half of the room. The group that started earlier would make many laps around the board, acquiring more wealth and property before the other half of the room got started.

The first group would have dramatically more assets and a stronger network than the second group. He compared this board game inequality to the actual inequality that Africans Americans face every day in America. While Civil Rights give them protections as all Americans, the historic and systemic laws and injustices against them for 400 years have hampered their progress in the game of life. 

With this newfound knowledge and awareness of historical injustice and racism on American soil, the question becomes, “How can we change this.” 

Bailey said the simple answer is culture. 

“Alain Locke wrote this book called ‘The New Negro,’this is a time when African Americans were being defined as lazy and hypersexual, and beastly animal-like folks. And they said, ‘You know what, we can't allow people to define who we are. We are citizens here. And we're making great contributions. And a matter of fact, there's a hub going on in Harlem,’ ” Bailey said. 

This hub in Harlem grew to be called the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that gave birth to the greatest literature, music, and art in the African American culture. The Harlem Renaissance still affects art and literature today. Bailey believes the Harlem Renaissance serves as a model for Christian action. 

“Yes, this is something that we Christians can do because artistic movements are social movements,” Bailey said. In addition to the Harlem Renaissance, he mentions Motown as a cultural force that changed America, before legislation integrated America. 

While culture can help us understand and appreciate other people, reconciling past wrongs and healing collective sin is still needed. And he believes that Christianity offers hope to society for racial reconciliation. He suggests the Christian church and its music allows people a place and a forum to accomplish such healing. 

“We have imagination for individual sin, but not imagination for corporate sin,” Bailey said. “So then therefore, our Jesus can’t really handle corporate sin and systemic sin. All he can handle is individual sin and there's a whole reason for that. But Jesus big enough.” 

Bailey and his ministry have created resources to help in this process. He runs a program called Urban Doxology for young people between ages 18 to 25. “We are teaching about Jesus, justice, reconciliation, theology, songwriting and worship,” he said. “Instead of writing papers, what I have people do is to write worship songs and these worship songs become what we sing in our congregation.”

He believes music is a tool within culture that can create bridges between people. He believes it is a tool that can help him and others achieve the dream of racial reconciliation.

“What I'm going to do is try to change some culture by giving people an imagination of reconciliation and justice in the kingdom of God by putting words of the Scriptures on their mind, in their hearts, both from the Old Testament and New Testament,” Bailey said. 

Princess Jones is an intern with ReigionUnplugged.com and an editorial clerk at The New York Post. She is a recent alumna of Trevecca Nazarene Universityand of the NYC Semester in Journalismat The King’s College in NYC.