The full episode transcript is below.
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:06
[Intro] How you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture, with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:16
[Intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end!
Latasha Morrison 0:55
Forgive me if I sound a little nasally, but I had to take a COVID test today because I have an upcoming gallbladder surgery. So keep me in prayer. But that said, y’all know I love all our episodes and all of our guests, but today’s conversation unearths elements within the Black community that some of you may not be aware of. So at different points, we’ll cut in to define terminology and make you aware of organizations that you may or may not be aware of for the purpose of context. This was all made easier with today’s guest Dante Stewart. Dante is a writer and speaker who has been featured on CNN, as well as in the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Sojourners, The Witness: a Black Christian Collective, CComment Magazine, and more. Dante writes and speaks about the intersectionality of race, religion, and politics. And if his name sounds familiar to some of you hardcore college football fans, Dante was a cornerback for the Clemson Tigers. He’s currently studying at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, in my hometown of Atlanta. Today, we’re gonna deal with transition in proximity to whiteness. Assimilation is one transition that is made in proximity to whiteness. The perception of how acceptance and respectability can be attained is through adopting the habits and practices of America’s dominant group: white people. This adopting of habits and practices is known as assimilation. What some may know is the seeds of assimilationist thinking are planted in the hearts and minds of Christians through programming instituted by the church. Here’s the kicker: assimilationist thinking can be ingrained in Black people through the Black church. With that said, let’s start our conversation with Dante here. Check this out.
Danté Stewart 2:49
Yeah, actually, yeah, I grew up Pentecostal. Yeah, for anybody who really know Pentecostal, I actually grew up apostolic.
Latasha Morrison 2:58
Did you guys have like all night prayers and all that stuff?
Danté Stewart 3:02
You know we did!
Latasha Morrison 3:04
We don’t do that no more! We don’t do that no more, we need to get back to that. There’s something in that!
Danté Stewart 3:10
My family, my family still doing that. So during July every year, they have convocation, church convention time. And every Friday night of church convention time is the midnight cry, where we’ll have service all week, so churches from Baltimore, Philly, Detroit, all over South Carolina, they’re all coming to like Columbia. And we’ll have church on Sunday through Sunday. So every single day, there is something. And Thursday, to the weekend, is all day—you got seminars and things like that. And then Friday, Saturday, Sunday is the kind of extravaganza. Friday is the midnight crowd. We have the young people service on Friday—brotherhood service on Thursday, so that’s always a big one—and then young people service on Friday, and then the midnight cry, which starts at 12 o’clock and probably ends at 3. I mean, church will end at like 11—we started like 7 and then end at like 11, and people go to Waffle House and then come back.
Latasha Morrison 4:23
Come back for more church! So it started at 7, end at 11, you go get something to eat, and then you come back for the midnight cry. [Laughs].
So let that sink in. Imagine any group of people, young and old, spending that much time in church every week. But it gets deeper. We gotta dig into the history a bit to lay a foundation. Let’s keep going.
Danté Stewart 4:45
Pentecostalism found its kind of origins within the movement of William Seymour. So what’s interesting about Pentecostalism is, much like much of American history, we believe that, you know, every great movement was started by a white man. So it was started and influenced and carried on by white men. And so that’s kind of how the story of Pentecostalism is told through Topeka, Kansas with Charles Parham. But actually, the Pentecostal movement was started by William Seymour. Who, if I’m not mistaken, I think he came from Louisiana—he traveled, if I’m not mistaken, I think came up from Louisiana to Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles. Which Los Angeles, if people are familiar with Azusa Street revivals in the early 1900s, was the beginning of what we now call Pentecostalism. It was started in Azusa Street and Azusa Street revivals where you had all these people from everywhere. I mean, it was an absolutely incredible progressive—
Latasha Morrison 4:49
They was having church!
Danté Stewart 5:18
They was having church! But that wasn’t, the crazy thing was, that wasn’t even simply it. I mean, Pentecostalism was a socially progressive movement in early Jim Crow. You have this movement that is integrated. I mean you got Baptists, you got Methodists, you got Presbyterians coming in. And you know, everybody getting baptized in the Holy Ghost. But it was also a socially progressive movement! It was a movement that became a political alternative to the segregationist logic of Los Angeles during that time. What was interesting, and an interesting story about that movement with Charles Parham. He comes from Topeka, Kansas, because he gets a message about the things that’s going on in Los Angeles. And he comes and observes the movement that’s happening, and you want to know what this white brother says?
Latasha Morrison 6:54
What does he say?
Danté Stewart 6:54
He called it “crude Negro-isms.” And he left. What was interesting is that William Seymour started to deny, or question, whether tongues was a sign of the Holy Spirit, or was love the greatest sign?
Latasha Morrison 7:17
Now you understand a bit of the history and atmosphere of the church Dante grew up in. But now let’s get into his personal upbringing a bit as well. I’m setting up context for a reason, so stay with us.
Danté Stewart 7:29
And they’re both true to our native land, a New Testament interpretation, African American New Testament interpretation of William Seymour and him saying, you know, what is the surest sign of the Holy Spirit? It’s breaking the bonds of segregation. And not glossolalia, as scholars will call, I mean, the Greek term of tongues, glossolalia. And that represented, you know, I mean, that represented a kind of breaking away from—you know, or not even a breaking away, I would say, a certain type of reimagining faith by William Seymour. Which in some sense, you know, Pentecostals would be marked by that: a certain type of reimagination of faith or whatnot. And so, out of that movement, kind of going into the apostolic faith, out of that movement was when apostolic really started to kind of catch traction. And it was all over, you know, the doctrine of whether tongues is the initial evidence of the Spirit, or whether it’s not. And this is where you would see COGIC (Church of God in Christ) and Apostolic. So Black Pentecostals COGIC, and Apostolics. Now this is a super reductionistic kind of history. This is why you know, you have COGIC and like Apostolics because they kind of disagree about, you know, doctrinal stuff regarding tongues. And some of them disagree about women in ministry and stuff like that. So.
Latasha Morrison 8:14
I mentioned football earlier, but that is yet another layer of context. Listen.
Danté Stewart 9:18
Yeah so actually, so actually, I walked on to Clemson. So I was recruited in South Carolina, so I was recruited by a lot of major schools or whatnot, but I wanted to stay in state and…
Latasha Morrison 9:31
…but because you went to a Black high school—because you went to a Black high school, they won’t come into the Black high schools to like recruit right?
Danté Stewart 9:41
Well, nah, South Carolina was. Clemson wasn’t. University of South Carolina was.
Latasha Morrison 9:45
Okay, but that’s something that we—that’s another conversation, about how recruitment happens and what schools they go to, and why we have to like sometimes get our Black kids into white schools or into private schools so that they can get a look at some of these Division 1 schools and stuff like that. But so, okay, so you were recruited by South Carolina?
Danté Stewart 10:12
Yeah, yeah. But then the offer fell through, and then I was like, you know what? I’m walking on at Clemson. So I ended up walking on at Clemson, I didn’t have to try out cuz I mean, they knew me. And I was a pretty good known player or whatnot. So it was just like, you know, “Show up at camp and then you technically on the team.” And so I showed up and crazy, I was the only one that showed up in shorts—in a white shirt and some khaki shorts. Everybody else, you know, showed up because they was already there, so I was just getting there during fall camp, or whatnot. And yeah, ended up having a good career at Clemson. Had a great time. It was fun.
Latasha Morrison 10:53
Playing football in the south.
Danté Stewart 10:56
Latasha Morrison 10:58
I don’t think people understand that. It’s one thing like, okay, southwest, I know Texas has their football. But playing football in the south, like North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, like that’s a whole nother ballgame. Like, it becomes, you become little superstars. Like, you know, when you play football, especially for a college, especially for a college like Clemson, you know, what was that environment like on the football field? Because now you’re walking into this very diverse environment, you know, coming from, you know, Black school, Black church, Black community, and going into Clemson.
Danté Stewart 11:41
Yeah, really. Like it really was. But you know, I’m pretty adaptable. Adaptable oftentimes means, you know, I’m really good at assimilating.
Latasha Morrison 11:52
[Bell dings] He said that he was good at assimilating! Okay, let’s keep going.
Danté Stewart 11:58
And so a lot of times, you know, people say, you know, “hey, I’m adaptable in many environments.” Well nah, not really, oftentimes adaptable means like, you gotta lose, like, a serious part of yourself. And, you know, that’s the thing. And you know this, just the complexities of race, you know, especially with people in your generation—your generation and my generation—it’s like parents, you know, because we were the post-integration generations, it was like, you know, in order for you to make it you can’t be too Black going into these spaces. So, you know, you keep your head down, you do your work, and you handle your business, you don’t get too involved in race stuff. And it’s not that, you know, they didn’t want us to. It was kind of for our own protection, because they knew that to be really Black in these white spaces, you know, oftentimes would work against us. It was oftentimes, you know, penalized and criminalized and demonized or whatnot. And so, you know, going into Clemson, Clemson is a huge bubble for Black athletes. There is Black Clemson, which every major predominantly white institution, for the listeners who don’t know—There is HBCUs and there is PWIs. PWIs = predominately white institution. Clemson is a predominantly white institution. And so at Clemson, you know, predominantly white institutions, you usually have, you know, Black Clemson or Black Georgia, or Black South Carolina. Which tries to cultivate a certain type of, you know, family kind of environment, kind of HBCU experience, within the kind of larger Clemson experience.
Latasha Morrison 13:54
Let’s take a pause. Let’s really let that last statement sink in.
Faitth Brooks 14:00
Wow, this is so good. Let’s take a really quick break, and we will be back shortly. Be prepared to learn something new.
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Faitth Brooks 15:15
Thanks for staying with us. Let’s pick up Latasha’s conversation with today’s guest.
Danté Stewart 15:20
Being at Clemson, being Black at Clemson, I don’t even know if I was necessarily aware because being athletes, especially Black athletes, you get trained so well to not deal with race. To kind of be like, the transcendent race man. Be kind of, you know, like, I’m here to play, I’m a football player first, I’m Black second. And so it’s like that thing, you know, when people talk about Christian identity. So I’m not someone who says, you know, “My first identity is Christian” that’s just not the case. I mean, it’s a meaningful identity. But when I walk outside into the world, you know, the first thing people ain’t seeing, you know, is Christian. I mean, the first thing people see is Black. And that means I need to make sense of that somehow. But when we go to college as Black athletes, we believe the lie that you know, we are first athletes, and then we’re Black second.
Latasha Morrison 16:27
Listen to this story related to a Trayvon Martin demonstration.
Danté Stewart 16:31
In 2012, when Trayvon Martin happened, the Black athletes, some of my Black teammates, ended up doing a photoshoot in hoodies to stand in solidarity with Trayvon. And, you know, I got asked what I was gonna do. And I was like, you know, “Nah, nah, I’m not gonna do it because I don’t want to be a distraction.” And so, I believed the lie, you know, that Black bodies on the field, performing well, was more important than Black bodies being murdered down in Florida.
Latasha Morrison 17:10
Did you catch that? Assimilationist thinking distorts priorities. It gets deeper. Check this out.
Danté Stewart 17:16
The church that I was a part of, no apostolics was around…that’s where, you know, you get introduced as an athlete to FCA…
Latasha Morrison 17:25
When Dante mentions FCA he’s speaking of an organization called The Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Danté Stewart 17:31
And you know, that’s what happened to me. And that really, you know, this was the beginning of assimilation for me. Playing football and getting hooked up with FCA things like that, it’s like, you know, they got Bible study every week, and you know, growing up Christian, you learn, okay, you need to be doing something to feed yourself spiritually. And so you know I would go to FCA, and so then, you know, over time, you just keep going and you start to associate like “yo, this is legitimate, this is the right way of doing things.” Versus, you know, the Apostolic church that I grew up in. And so I learned how to look down on the ways in which I was raised. I learned how to see, you know, that type of way of doing life as “less than” because at the FCA meetings at Clemson, which is I mean, a great meeting, big meeting. I mean, you’re not seeing no preachers that look like you. It ain’t no praise breaks and hooping, it ain’t no, you know, sisters messing with you for acting up. It ain’t no shouting and stuff like that. And so you just kind of learn through this environment.
Latasha Morrison 18:54
I mentioned before that Dante was a sociology major at Clemson. What he says here is so good, listen.
Danté Stewart 19:01
Usually, our social location determines our social value. And those social values, then in turn, kind of shape our social priorities. And our social priorities then in turn shape our social rhythms. And then social rhythms in turn shape how we name, see, and imagine the world. And so that would be what you know, C. Wright Mills the sociologist will call the sociological imagination—how people make sense of the world. And what I failed to realize in college, and a lot of times what we fail to realize, is that none of us are walking into a neutral story. There is no such thing as a neutral kind of religious environment. There’s no such thing as a neutral story. There’s always a story here before I got here that’s inviting me to see myself as a certain type of person and kind of embody a certain type of action. And so with FCA, as we understand kind of the history, you know, it’s a movement that’s deeply immersed in white evangelicalism. And being deeply immersed in white evangelicalism, the kind of values, priorities, and rhythms and kind of the ways that they make meaning and purpose and make sense of faith is oftentimes and in a very real way, very much different than the way Black people learn how to make sense of the world, or how to make sense of faith. And so going to FCA kind of was, you know, the beginnings of that kind of assimilation for me, and being in proximity to whiteness and saying, you know, “hey, this is right, this is normal, this is true, this is what we should aspire to.” Rather than seeing it as “this is different, this is meaningful to some people, this has limitations and potentials, and this should be critically engaged.” And so I didn’t necessarily have that. And so that represented for me, you know, a culture shock during that time while I was at Clemson. And I mean, when I went all in, you know, I was, you know, I was all in.
Latasha Morrison 21:28
Assimilationist thinking and behavior can become a way of life for some, but in Dante’s case, there was an awakening. I don’t want to spoil it, so let me let him tell you about it. This is great.
Danté Stewart 21:40
So for me, you know, the catalytic event, you know, for me really was Alton Sterling. Yeah, it was really, you know, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and then Trump. Which woke me up, kind of, you know, which showed me, yeah I need something different. So, while I was connected in Clemson at FCA, you know…So I graduated in 2014, and then my wife and I, we moved out to California because she was in the Air Force and we got stationed out there. So then being in FCA, instead of picking an apostolic church, when we moved, I chose, you know, a white church. And so back to social location, and social value, and social priorities. And so a priority for me was, you know, being connected to a church, but it was, you know, associated being connected to a church with being connected to a white church. So we was out there and so then fast forward to 2015, we’re now back in Augusta, we got stationed in Georgia. And then the same thing happened, you know. I chose the white church, and what’s crazy is my wife actually, you know, didn’t really dig the church. But, you know, because I was so concerned about being in ministry, you know, I was just head over heels about being involved in ministry.
Latasha Morrison 22:16
There are gonna be some white Christian pastors and leaders that will either be shocked, hurt, or offended by this next statement. But let me say this, if there’s a white leader or pastor that can hear this next statement, and their reaction is ambivalence, then for you that statement will be a heart check. Let’s listen.
Dante Stewart 23:28
I was part of a church here and chose the church here and my wife did not want to go. It was a Southern Baptist Reformed Church. Yeah, it was an interesting process. Um, you know, the sad part about that was, you know, I kind of, you know, because of my, you know, just associating, you know, white with “right” you know, it was like, I forced us to stay. You know, Black women oftentimes are not only just undervalued, but they’re invisible in these white spaces. And you know, when we as Black men get in these spaces, we do everything that we can to sustain it and keep it. And they opened up opportunities for me, I was a young charismatic Black dude, and I could speak Reformed theology with the best of them. And then Alton Sterling happened—I’ll never forget. Alton Sterling, and seeing Alton Sterling get murdered. And I mean, I could see it right now and just his red shirt and his khaki shorts. And Tasha, that thing tore me up. It wrecked me. It wrecked me because I didn’t know how to make sense of it. And going to this white church, nobody was really trying to make sense of it. Then the next day Philando happened. And it’s just like, I know I’m angry, but I don’t know why I’m angry. I know I’m like, like, really mad and really want to say some stuff. And I know I don’t want to be around any white folk. But I mean, I’m around them, and, you know, I can’t really be too honest about what I’m feeling because you know, we learn real well to hide your emotions.
Latasha Morrison 23:38
Yeah. Why don’t we learn? I just want to get into that a little bit. Why do you have to, in those environments, why do you have to learn to hide your emotions? What is the fear?
Dante Stewart 25:40
I think it’s moreso fear from white people. Like Eddie Glaude, in his book, “Democracy in Black” has a chapter entitled “White Fear.” Um, I don’t think white brothers and sisters know how to handle the force and the complexity of Black pain and rage. So, as a group, I’m not saying like—and I think this is important. When I speak of white people, because I say that, I talk about white people all the time and I talk about white Christians all the time. You know, I’m talking about as a group. White people, and particularly white Christians, you know, on the one hand I think it’s from their side, they don’t know how to deal with it. Because for them to deal with it is for them to deal with themselves, and white people in this country, you know, collectively, have not necessarily dealt with what their apathy, their complicity, and their complacency on matters of race and white supremacy means.
Latasha Morrison 26:59
I feel encouragement is needed at this point. So I asked this question.
What encouragement do you have? You know, what do you want to say to the predominately white church right now, especially those who are resisting this work of racial healing and reconciliation and racial justice? Which, you know, all of those line together. You know, because we, you know, you’re only gonna have healing through reconciliation, you know what I’m saying? And you’re only gonna have reconciliation through racial justice. So what would you say to, you know, Black people, you know, that are out there right now? And then what would you say to the church?
Danté Stewart 27:48
Hmm, I would say read James Cone’s book “I Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.” I mean, that’s for me, that’s hands down. That’s just hands down.
Latasha Morrison 28:10
To our stories, to our history.
Danté Stewart 28:11
I mean, yes, yes. Yes. I mean, there are so many Black writers out there. I mean, there’s so much Black literature. I mean, I’m looking around my room right now and there’s just so many books in here written by Black people. And too often, you know, because of the lack of access, and books are expensive, too. I think we kind of, you know, limit our ability to be connected to our tradition.
Latasha Morrison 28:51
And sometimes it’s laziness. [laughs]
Danté Stewart 28:52
You know, yes, yeah, and laziness, I would agree. I would agree. But I would say, you know, if we want to get free, there is no freedom without literature and critical engagement with literature. It just, I mean, our whole faith is built on literature. Legit. Like, our Christian faith has been kind of given to us through a certain literary kind of mechanism. Through the written text. Toni Morrison, in her excellent essay “The Site of Memory” she talks about Black literature. And she says that Black literature, you know, allows us to ponder the actual, but imagine the possible. And so when I think about that connection to Black literature, it will help us ponder the actual—what’s going on in this moment, what has been, what has been going on. And when I say Black literature, I’m not even talking about like reading Black Christian literature. I’m talking about reading Black people in general. I mean, all the way from reading Frederick Douglass to reading James Baldwin to reading Toni Morrison, reading Audre Lorde, to reading even writers today like Eddie Glaude and Imani Perry. Or theological writings, like Kelly Brown Douglas and James Cone, and Delores S. Williams, and M. Shawn Copeland, who is my favorite theological thinker today. Engaging with this literature, is what I would say for us as Black people. For white churches, you know, I don’t even—it’s hard because, you know, on the one hand you have white churches who actually are trying. But then you have white churches that’s not really, really concerned.
Latasha Morrison 30:52
Yeah. Speak to the ones that are trying.
Danté Stewart 30:55
To the ones to the ones that are trying, I definitely want to encourage the ones that are trying. This year has presented white Christians with questions they, I mean, years past they’ve been forced to deal with, but they kind of like, “forget it, not really invested in it.” But this year, has presented a particular, you know, kind of catalytic moment for white churches and white Christians to really legitimately change. And I would say, I know it’s cliche, you know, keep going and keep trying and keep wrestling. But I think that’s legitimate advice is, you know, you will never—it will never feel like, you know, we actually doing it always, like the right thing and the good thing. But I think as we just try and just show up every day, as white Christians trying to show up every day, and show up in ways, you know, that generate legitimate forms of solidarity. I think, you know, even if the demographic makeup of one’s church doesn’t change, the kind of spiritual, political and religious and moral kind of bent and framework of one’s heart and a heart of one’s congregation can show that congregation is a just church.
And I would say, you know, keep going and keep wrestling, keep trying, keep thinking, keep praying through it. And, you know, hopefully one day, as we try and generate forms of legitimate solidarity, not simply with Christians, but I would even say, you know, even interfaith forms of solidarity—because as Christians, you know, we’re not trying to create a Christian nation, but we’re trying to be Christians in a society that we want to become more loving and just. And so racially that means that we have to think through like, forms of sharing and common life together with people who are different than us. In the political world. In the social world. And so I think I would encourage, I would even encourage Black Christians that way, as well. I would encourage us that way to say, you know, I mean, not everybody’s gonna agree with your politics. I mean, they may call you a liberal, progressive, woke, whatever. But I think, you know, loving our neighbor matters more than what people call us.
Latasha Morrison 33:58
To understand assimilationist thinking and those who have been freed from that thinking presupposes that it is a way of thinking that supplants foundational pillars of one’s own culture and heritage to a view, a standard deemed more appropriate by the dominant culture, which in this case is whiteness. We will unpack this idea of transition in proximity to whiteness in upcoming episodes. Hopefully by gaining this understanding, the thing foremost in our hearts and minds is to continue to build bridges and not walls.
Faitth Brooks 34:35
If you are a member of the Donor’s Table, you get access to today’s unedited episode. Go check it out!
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast! To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization, and/or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, GA. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the senior producer. Brittany Prescott was our transcriber. Please join us next time! This has been a Be the Bridge production.