Phyllis Wheatley was kidnapped at the age of 7, packed on a boat with hundreds of other trafficked victims, and then sold in a strange land where she understood neither the language nor the customs. She was purchased by a kind, white New England couple, who treated her well. They named her Phyllis, after the name of the slave boat that brought her to the land of her enslavement. Phyllis Wheatley came to the Christian faith under the preaching of Great Awakening superstar, George Whitefield. She was a fast learner and quickly became an accomplished poet. She became the first African female to be published, and the third American female to be published…no small accomplishment. Her owners set her free, and she married. However, it was remarkably difficult for freed Africans to find gainful employment in a land that enslaved their race, and Phyllis Wheatley died in poverty at the age of 31.
Her brief, brilliant poem, On Being Brought From Africa to America, is the closest thing to an autobiography we have. In it, she deftly says all the things white people wanted to hear: a black person lived in darkness until she found the light of Christ…thanks so much white people! She had to walk a fine line to have her poems published and create a broad audience.
But the poem is remarkable subversive, as I hope my comic illustrates. One of my favorite words of 2016 is “woke,” which means being aware of what’s really going on under the surface of things, especially regarding race and social justice. It’s the idea that some have ears to hear and others are always seeing but never perceiving.
As our culture spins out of control with in-your-face right-and-wrong rhetoric, we become less and less likely to hear each other. I would love for Christians to reclaim subtlety and poetry and art as a way to convey the truth of the gospel.
Let’s face it. Using the term “white privilege” is not going to make white-privilege-deniers woke…it’s just going to piss them off. How can we talk about reality in a way that helps others actually think outside their perspective for once? How can we destroy all our buzzwords and start afresh? How can we hear someone else’s perspective, no matter how different, and agree that everything must change?