Subversive Celebrations

The entrance to the seafood restaurant is flanked by a series of large windows. Inside I see white folks sit at the bar laughing, and nursing glasses of wine. Some glance as we pass, following us as we enter through the wooden door. We are here to celebrate Jonathan—our son graduated from college today. At the hostess station a passing thought occurs to me—are we welcome here? There has been a recent spike in micro and macro aggression against people of color. These incidents harken back to the racist Black Codes and Jim Crow laws of the past. Laws enacted to segregate and police and regulate Black bodies and behavior. In Oakland, California a White woman called the police because a Black family was BBQing in the park. In New York, a White attorney had a racist tirade upon hearing café staff talking to customers in Spanish. The videos of these meltdowns have gone viral. They carry a message that People of Color are not welcomed and are in danger in majority white spaces. Rather than just boycotting the Black and Latino communities held a subversive celebration. The Black community came to the park en masse. They spent the day grilling, playing music and dancing the electric slide. When the Latino community arrived at the attorney’s condo they had a mariachi band in tow. The community unapologetically sang Latino songs and shared tacos. These subversive celebrations disrupted the persons and narrative that sought to oppress them. I am encouraged that People of Color sent our own message. We celebrated our right as children of God to be there and not silenced.

Our hostess leads us to a round table in front of one of the large windows we sit as if on display. A memory surfaces of when Jonathan’s preschool teacher put him on display. She told him not to move from the spot where a large X made of silver duct tape laid out on the floor. Like an invisible leash, it was to keep him tethered. Years have passed and I am grateful that he is unbound—against all odds our son graduated, Magna Cum Laude. So, we celebrate rather than fixating on the trauma and dramas of this world that would swallow us whole. We will not talk in hushed tones or code switch to be more acceptable. If need be we will assert our right to rejoice in our victories anywhere and anyhow. In the midst of the feasting and laughter I’m aware of the graciousness of our server. I watch my fellow diners and wonder if God is trying to show me something. I’m taken aback by the diversity in the dining room. This is an uncommon sight in the North Shore of Massachusetts. I survey the room, I see a biracial couple picking off each other’s plate. Seated at a long table are several white women and men, in rapt attention. They listen to a Black woman seated at the head of the table as if holding court. There’s an Asian couple at a small table with their heads in their menu. Three tables draped in white linen welcome a big and boisterous Latino family. A young White girl radiant in her first communion gown, her blond tresses peek out from her long white lace veil. Her parents seem delighted that she is now old and certain enough to partake in Communion. I see how Communion is the ultimate form of subversive celebration.

It reminds me of Jesus, who I am and what Jesus has, is and will do for me.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for His gift of this oasis, a place to break bread and freely celebrate. I know that going forward there will be future indignities and the need to heal from racial trauma. But I am determined to seek and celebrate Christ’s radical joy and hope that arises within and around me.

Sheila Wise Rowe
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