Yes, African Slaves Had Built the White House! So What? Toward a More Inclusive American Narrative and Democratic Experiment

Yes, African Slaves Had Built the White House! So What?

Toward a More Inclusive American Narrative and Democratic Experiment

In her recent speech at the Democratic National Convention delivered on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, the first lady, Michelle Obama, has said publicly that African slaves had built the White house in which  she, her husband, President Barack Hussein Obama, and their two daughters Sasha and Malia Obama (a black family), now live. How cool is that? Well, many Americans were not happy about the affirmation of black achievement in American history; some have even questioned the historical credibility of Michelle’s statement; some have even called it a racist attitude, or as we like to call it she is playing “the race card.”

First of all, enslaved Africans in the Americas did not enjoy the mistreatment of slavery and the racial violence and death they endured under this cruel and inhumane system.  Secondly, the majority of enslaved population in the Americas did not earn any wage for their (unpaid) labor. John Hope Franklin who has written prolifically about the dialectic of slavery and freedom in American (Black) history  has observed, “It is an exciting story, a remarkable story. It is the story of slavery and freedom, humanity and inhumanity, democracy and denial. It is tragedy and triumph, suffering and compassion, sadness and joy” (“The New Negro History,” The Crisis, February 1977). Thirdly, in the case of Saint-Domingue-Haiti, for example, African slaves emancipated themselves in 1804 from the yoke of European enslavement, European domination and rule, and from slavery as an institution that degraded and desecrated human life and black lives, in this case. The little country of Haiti, about the size of Maryland, would become the second independent country in the Americas (The United States of America is the first independent nation-state) and the first Black Republic in the Western world. Through the watershed event historians now call The Haitian Revolution (1791-1803), enslaved Africans had made significant and transformative contributions to global history of human emancipation, human rights, democracy, antislavery protest, etc. Fourthly, enslaved Africans in Latin America had also contributed to the freedom and independence of the constituted nation-states in Latin America from the yoke of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism.

Yes, African slaves did build the White house. Some of the historic buildings and splendid architectures in the United States of America were also built by enslaved Africans, which may include the U.S. Capitol, the homes and estates of several US presidents, railways, major American forts, main public works, bridges and seawalls, etc. (For more information, see “5 American Structures Existing Today Built By Slave Labor,”; “The White House Was, in Fact, Built by Slaves,”/ ; “The legend of slaves building Capitol is correct,”

The United States has also graced the world with the presence and achievements of black inventors;  some of the major ones include Charles Drew, Pioneer of the Modern Blood Bank; Daniel Hale Williams, Pioneer of Open Heart Surgery;   Elijah McCoy, Inventor of the Automatic Lubricator; Fred Jones, Developed Refrigeration System for Trucks; Garrett Morgan, Inventor of a Traffic Signal and Gas Mask; George Washington Carver, Invented Thousand of Uses for the Peanut; Jan Matzeliger, Invented an Automated Shoe; Lewis Latimer, Invented an Improved Light Bulb; Madam C.J. Walker, Created a Black Hair Products Empire; Percy Julian, Pioneer in the Field of Synthetic Chemistry; Benjamin Banneker, Astronomy who Developed an Almanac; Ernest Just, Pioneer in Marine Biology and Zoology; Granville Woods, Telegraph and Railway Device Developer; George Carruthers, Measuring and Detected Ultraviolet Lights, etc. (for more information on this topic, see . In addition, on a different note but of equal importance the Haitian immigrant Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is the founder of the city of Chicago. Free black soldier, former slaves from Saint-Domingue-Haiti, have also lost their lives in the US War of Independence for the cause of American democracy and freedom; enslaved Africans from Saint-Domingue also stirred black revolt leading to the American civil war and the emancipation of African slaves in the United States of America.

Enslaved Africans have also contributed enormously to America’s wealth and success in the modern world through their unpaid labor, blood, and death. Africans have also made monumental contributions to universal civilizations. They have made (continue to strive) America and Europe better societies in which the triumph of Western democracy and the fulfillment of its promises could be inclusive and open-ended. We must always remember that Black American achievement is also American achievement; Black American contributions to universal civilization is also American contributions to human civilization; Black history is nothing but a subset of American history.

To admit the various ways that Africans and people of African descent in the Diaspora have contributed to world’s democracy, human emancipation, economic capitalism, and human rights issues will not undermine but complement white American-European history or the historical achievements of non-White American-European people in the world. This is nothing but a first step in acknowledging the dignity and humanity of black folk. Yes, that will also help lessen the power of white supremacy in human history, the myth of the white race, and racial arrogance in global history. The spirit of superiority is parallel to an attitude of arrogance, and a serious threat to human flourishing, partnership, and collaboration in this thing we call life. To avow that my white friend little Johnny has helped me in college to pass my mathematics class is to encourage human partnership and friendship.

A pivotal aspect of the conversation about confronting the meaning of black existence in the American society also entails the recognition and affirmation of the historic contributions and achievements of black and African American people to the American civilization and democracy. Until we also assert that Black people and their ancestors have also made significant contributions to the American society and force the American government to actualize the American ideals into practical life circumstances to all Americans, we will not move a step forward toward a more promising democratic life and justice, racial healing and reconciliation in America.
The history of the American people is not a white history, as many Americans are taught to believe in their history class; it is certainly not a monolithic narrative about the achievements of white European people in America or in human history. The greatness of the American narrative and democratic experiment also involves the enormous contributions and historical legacies of non-white American people such as enslaved Africans, brown Americans, yellow Americans, and white Americans, what have you?

We must also admit that Americans of different color and racial shades, of various cultural practices and traditions, and of different ethnic backgrounds—white, brown, black, yellow, and others—have collaborated to build this great nation. They continue to do so together to realize a more promising American democratic life for the good of all people in America and the world at large. While the worth of the political nation-state in the modern world  is measured by its historic accomplishments and unrelenting strive to promote  the democratic life,  justice, and peace for all  its citizens, as well as political stability and the protection of human life against both internal and external forces, the worth of a racial group,  ethnic group , or an individual should never be assessed by his or her achievements in society or life. The dignity and worth of a person lies in the mere fact that both man and woman, male and female  are created in the Image of God to the glorious praise of the Triune and Eternal God.



Jesus, a Man of Color: Rethinking about the Color of the Historical Jesus and His Redemptive Message of Hope and Reconciliation during the Christian Holy Week

Jesus, a Man of Color: Rethinking about the Color of the Historical Jesus and His Redemptive Message of Hope and Reconciliation during the Christian Holy Week

The color of Jesus does matter in the present time because it could help reshape Christian theology and transform Christian churches in the 21st century, and enhance interfaith dialogue between Abrahamaic and non-Abrahamaic religions. Jesus’ skin color bears tremendous implications on how we should now rethink about theology and race, Christianity and the problem of the color line in the modern world, God’s relationship with the poor, the oppressed, and people of color, and how we should treat those who live in the margins of society.

If one believes that religion can be used as a potential tool to enhance the conundrum of race and ethnicity in the modern world, then Jesus’ non-European flesh matters. If one is persuaded that a non-racialized Christianity and Jesus can help improve racial reconciliation and harmony among Christians of different racial and ethnic background, then Jesus’ skin color is extremely important. If one is convinced that Jesus’ dark body matters, it could potentially be used instrumentally to ameliorate ecumenical conversations between people of different religious persuasions on the planet.

Let’s not spiritualize Jesus’ historical human flesh! Let’s not undermine the important fact that Jesus was a historical person, a Palestinian first-century Jew, and a man of color who chose to live among the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast of the Jewish Diaspora. He was not a white male as traditionally depicted in the American and Western media, and taught in religious, seminary, and divinity schools, and theological textbooks. He certainly did not have any European features nor has he any European ancestors. To affirm these truths is to take seriously the practical and sociological dimensions of Christianity and the Christian message.

To spiritualize the historical Jesus merely as a divine being without taking into account of his true humanity is to undermine his true identity as a person of color. To acknowledge Jesus’ true skin color and ethnicity is the first act of decolonizing Christian theology and an important move forward toward a theology of liberation and a decolonial turn in theological anthropology. Finally, to affirm Jesus’ non-European body is to dewesternize Christianity and Christian theology. Critical theological discourse always involves the process of rethinking about what we believe and practice, and why we believe what we confess and do.

Unfortunately, the Westernized Jesus has been used in the past both in the tragic times of slavery and Western colonization as a tool to make people suffer, to humiliate non-European people, and dehumanize the image of God in humanity. The Christian churches in the twenty-first century cannot continue to stay silent about these pivotal issues that have changed the world, transformed the dynamics and human relations between Western and non-Western people, and continue to have a devastating impact on Christian missions, evangelism, and the message of the Gospel in the world. Followers of Christ are repairers of bridges and light of the world.

The Christian message of Easter affirms that God has raised Jesus from the Dead. The Easter story is a message of repentance and reconciliation, hope and resistance, and love and peace. It is also a profound reflection on the humanity and Jesus’ physical body which God has vindicated. The Easter message is also a message of God’s universal love for humanity: men and women, male and female, the homosexual, the lesbian, the transgender, the disable, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, people of all color, people of all ethnic group. Easter speaks loudly about God’s unconditional love for the world and all people!

The Jesus Christians everywhere in the world confess as both Savior and Lord was a real human being who was self-conscious about his own ethnic identity as a person of color of Jewish background. He was also self-conscious about his underrepresented social class in the first-century Jewish Diaspora and Palestine.

The historical Jesus proclaimed a message of reconciliation and love between people of different social classes, of competing religious persuasions, and of individuals of different ethnic identity and background. Through his message of love and acceptance, he was determined to dispel the ideology of ethnic superiority—what we may call in the twenty-first century society racial heritage and racial supremacy. The message of this same Jesus, a person of color who is the Savior and Lord of White, Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Native Americans, Latino/a, and male and female Christians, provides meaningful lessons and wisdom to help us rethink critically about our common humanity, can help us break down the high racial, gender, and ethnic walls in contemporary Christianity and churches, and improve the human condition in the world.

Moreover, I believe that there are both creative and strategic ways to diminish the power and influence of structural racism in our society and the modern world. There is nothing “essential” about one’s racial identity, designation, or category; if this logical reasoning is valid or justifiable, then we do not need to wait for the great eschatological moment of the Christ or the future life…to work through our racial conflict or to dismantle the power of structural racism in our society. I believe we can undo race! There are equally important human factors that intersect with human racial identity (or racial identities) and shape the human experience in this world; these things include gender, sexuality, culture, ideological worldviews, economics, even religious and political identification. I would contend further that one of the devastating factors contributing to the conundrum of racism in our culture and the modern world is that we have miserably cultivated a low view of humanity and love. At the moment, our collective view of anthropology and love is defective and “messed up.”

Hence, potentially, a more constructive conversation about race and racism must begin with the fundamental question of what it means to be human and to love one another. We would have to deal honestly and responsibly with the existential dimensions of love, which bears substantial implications on human relations and our shared or common humanity. We can learn from Jesus as a person of color who has modeled for us a positive view of humanity/anthropology by intentionally promoting the dignity of all people including the Jew and the non-Jew (i.e. the Samaritan, for example), male and female, the religious and the non-religious. I would argue that the life of Jesus has provided the most useful resources, and meaningful life lessons and strategic methods to recreate a more inclusive, constructive, redeeming, holistic, and optimistic anthropology.

Jesus’ earthly interactions with people—both Jews and non-Jews—and his compassion toward men and women—the rich, the poor, the widow, the oppressed, the leper, the disable— (Yet, Jesus gave special attention to the outcast, the poor, and the disheartened) also provide effective resources to dismantle the power of race in contemporary world. Jesus’ theological anthropology was rooted in the social (lived-) experiences and lived-worlds of the people, as he was conscious about the socio-economic, and political dimensions that have stained the image of God in humanity. In the example of Jesus, we need to foster a view of humanity that is more dignified, inclusive, tolerant, and egalitarian. I suppose the modern conversation about race and racism in both intellectual and popular circles in the American society are missing these vital elements.

In the same line of thought, Christians and Christian churches have failed to respond appropriately to the crisis of race and its related problems because most of the churches in America are plateaued and are not applying the principles of Jesus to deal with life existential issues and to bring healing and comfort to the poor, the oppressed, the disfranchised individual, etc.

On the other hand, as a theologian, I must acknowledge there is indeed a theological aspect of race and racism, as the latter is a clear reflection of human depravity and our shortcoming to love God and our neighbor unconditionally and unreservedly. Racism is in fact a profound theological crisis; it is also an inevitable demonstration of the dark side of humanity. Nonetheless, the disposition in our hearts to sin and not to love another person as we’re supposed to is not an excuse to be racist, for example. We all need to be responsible for our actions and social sins, and make necessary amends or reparations for them. However, God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ made it possible for humanity to achieve redemption in Christ.

The Easter message is also a story about God’s (and Christian) victory over sin and death. It gives us a reason to hang on in this life of uncertainty and despair. Easter is about hope, reconciliation, and love. By consequence, what are/should be the implications of the message of Easter for those whose humanity has been disvalued in our society? What are/should be the implications of the Easter message for the tremendous problem of racial reconciliation and harmony in Christian churches and our society? What are/should be the implications of the message of Easter for the problem of pain, suffering, and global terrorism in the modern world? What are/should be the implications of the Easter message for those who have the political, economic, and religious power and influence over people and to change the present and future worlds?

Happy Resurrection Day!