Fighting the grief that comes with being Black in America

Susan K. Smith.2 15
Susan K. Smith



Crazy Faith Ministries


In this tumultuous political time, I am reminded of how W.E.B. DuBois wrestled with the question, “How does it feel to be a problem?” when he wrote Striving of the Negro People published by The Atlantic. He said in that in response to the question, he “seldom answers a word,” yet he thought about it, as we all do.

However much we would like to ignore it, our presence to many White people is in fact a problem. They believe we are outcasts here, people who do not belong, though they brought us over here. It was our labor they used and exploited to build this economy. They didn’t want us here, ever; we were a necessary inconvenience that they knew had value beyond words. They built the belief system called white supremacy to keep us in check and violated our very humanity while they depended upon the power of human energy to do the work of building an empire.

But they have caused incalculable grief to us. There is a cloud if grief that hovers over all of us, caused by their violence, their hateful rhetoric and the policies and laws they have created and supported to remind us of our second-rate citizenship. We carry over us and within us grief that will not go away but eases up enough to allow us to live and keep on fighting for justice.

I thought these thoughts this week as I listened to the judge in the Jussie Smollett case give him a 150-day sentence in the Cook County Jail in addition to imposing a fine, community service and probation for 30 months. He was charged with a misdemeanor after being accused of staging a hate crime, but by the end of a trial he insisted upon, he was convicted of a 3rd degree felony and “the book” was thrown at him, as reported by The New York Times.

I don’t know – indeed, nobody knows – if Jussie is innocent or guilty, but what I do know is that my grief at the historical injustice rendered against Black people was aroused when I heard the sentencing. This harsh sentence, even as wealthy White men, and hate-filled white nationalists, many of them, are still running around free in spite of what they did on Jan. 6. This harsh sentence, in spite of the fact that the conduct of a former president has revealed a troubling character at best, and at worst, a criminal, treasonous character. This sentence for a Black man who is accused of having lied about a hate crime seems par for the course is painful to absorb and accept even as we are seeing leniency for people who do not believe in “liberty and justice for all,” and who are doing all they can to destroy this government, as seen during a Fox News report.

The “problem” that the white power structure has with Black people is that we will not stand down. In spite of the hovering cloud of grief that is ever with us, accompanied by anger and justified resentment, we keep coming. We keep fighting and insisting that we will make this country live up to its lofty documents professing “liberty and justice for all.” We carry our grief; it periodically explodes when the assaults on justice and fairness for us become too much, but we keep on trudging through the minefields of white supremacy, insisting that the lives of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be better. Grief cannot keep us from fighting; instinctively, we know that.

I now smile when I think of so many White people telling us to “go back” to Africa, when in fact they stole us from Africa and planted our feet firmly in the Americas. We belong here. We were here when many of their forebears were crossing the Atlantic, winding up on Ellis Island to be processed. I find myself muttering, when I hear that, “No. You go back to Europe.”

The foundation of this country was rotten with white supremacist beliefs from the beginning. It has only become more rotted over time. We need a do-over, but that will never happen. The people filled with racist hate carry guns and start fires; they wreak terrorist acts on anybody they want with little fear of having to be held accountable.

We will continue to live with and carry our grief surely, but we will also continue to fight.


Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. And she is an award-winning author for her latest book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America,” available through all booksellers. Contact her at


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