John C. Richards, Jr.
7 Takeaways From Getting to the Promised Land
As part of my regular reading diet, every year, I read a book a week. This reading habit helps me feed my desire to continue to learn. It also helps me become a better leader, pastor, husband, father, and friend.
This week I checked out Getting to the Promised Land: Black America and the Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement by Kevin Cosby. The book was written, it seems, out of frustration with the neglect of ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) when talking about justice issues surrounding "People of Color," Cosby uses a post-exile Israel as a framework for his argument for the needs of ADOS to move away from an Exodus model of spiritual leadership to one captured more accurately in many of the minor prophets.
Here are 7 other takeaways that I found really helpful from this book:
1. The American Negro is neither totally African nor totally Western. He is Afro-American, a true hybrid, a combination of two cultures.
I think this is an important note. W.E.B. Dubois talks about this double-consciousness in The Souls of Black Folk. This is why Cosby prefers the term ADOS throughout his work, as he feels it best captures who we are. I'm not inclined to use ADOS very often, but do understand why he dos so.
2. Just as Solomon took a great many foreign women for his spouses, so too have our Black leaders espoused many causes foreign to our own plight.
If you can't say ouch, say amen. Leadership in the ADOS community has always been a mixed back. Some leaders in the community focus on the wrong things or have found themselves assimilating and losing their identity or losing connection with the ADOS community. Cosby uses Solomon's biblical examples to help drive this point home.
3. The language of universal struggle has supplanted that of the singularity of the Black struggle.
Here Cosby cautions ADOS leaders and movements against creating a universal language that subjugates our own struggle. For example, using the phrase "people of color" lumps us into a group of folks that don't have the same struggles or issues we have. As a result, working together means we ignore what impacts us and focus on other issues.
4. It is impossible to make a difference if you are not different.
Drawing from the life of Daniel, Cosby shows that Daniel was intent on leaning into his ethnic identity for the sake of retaining that distinction in a culture that expected otherwise. I like what he does here, but do have concerns about the primacy of ethnic identity in some of what Cosby says. And listen, I went to two HBCUs and teach at one. So I'm BLACK, Black. But he's also writing for believers and I didn't see a ton of Christ-centered application here in terms of finding common ground in light of differences.
5. For the white donor class, ADOS institutions are perceived as simply too risky of an investment. It is the continuation of a tradition of exclusion that, in this form, might be called “philanthropic redlining.”
Leading two non-profits led by ADOS men and women has brought me face-to-face with this reality. I had heard of redlining in other areas before, but "philanthropic redlining was new for me. And it's a perfect description of what happens in the non-profit space. ADOS organizations have a hard time raising money for their endeavors because we are often seen as riskier than our White counterparts (even in our own community).
6. Discrimination in the future will not be administered by poor whites and the people who believe in segregation, but by the “liberals” who believe in an integrated society.
This is a quote from Benjamin Elijah Mays (shout out to my alma mater, Morehouse). One of the more nuanced arguments that Cosby makes in the book is that segregation isn't a bad thing. He points out, rightly, that the Brown vs. Board of Education attorneys were arguing for comparable ADOS facilities and not integration. Cosby's point: It's not necessarily a bad thing for ADOS to build their own communities of belonging.
7. ADOS have simply never been given the opportunity of getting inside the “melting pot” of America. Our place has always been to serve as the firewood underneath that pot to get it boiling.
What a great word picture here, using the familiar American trope of our country being a melting pot. One cannot argue with the fact that ADOS have always served as the firewood that helped America become the country it is today.
I enjoyed reading this book. Though Cosby might be a bit caustic and broad-sweeping in his conversation around White Americans, I think he clearly articulates a position that challenges everyone (ADOS or White) to move toward a more beatific vision of America. Pick this book up if you want to challenge the presuppositions of bootstrap ideologies that hold up examples of successful ADOS as proof of our progress. In several short chapters, Cosby blows that theory out of the water.
Watch the video below to see the seven takeaways from this book: