Dr. Alex Gee was fresh from conducting a virtual training on white allyship for 70 people on when he spoke to UMOJA’s Jeff Brown on Monday, July 6. Gee, lead pastor at Fountain of Life Covenant Church and founder of the Nehemiah Center of Urban Leadership Development, has added documentary filmmaking to his portfolio—“Justified Journey,” an account of Gee’s genealogical research and his trip to Mississippi and New Orleans to meet some of his white relatives, premiered on June 29.
Gee also offers advice on what to do with unfilled emotions following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who gasped for breath, while being pressed under the knee of a white police Minneapolis officer for several minutes.
Where should we place our anger now?
Rev. Gee: I think what’s difficult in this time is that we have systemic realities and systematic realities are almost like the Tooth Fairy or Santa clause in that people don’t believe they exist.
People try to point out this reality. This call was just one example ̶ someone quoted her friend saying that ‘systematic racism is something Black Lives Matter invented a year ago.’
And so, it’s hard … the trickiness in placing the anger is that people don’t believe there are systematic realities. We need to place our anger in the ignorance of supposedly thinking people. We have to put our anger in our education system. We teach [in our white allyship class] U.S. Black history . . . we’ve taken 1,000 people through this class now and the quotes are always the same: ‘Why weren’t we taught this?’ Our average student is in their fifties with a master’s degree and they’re floored at what they don’t know. That means people are oblivious to the realities.
And, so people were trying to explain about people putting pressure on their backs and necks and their well-meaning white friends were saying ‘There’s no Tooth Fairy, there’s no Santa Claus,’ which means ignoring people. We need to place our anger in our sense of permissiveness that just made us not anti-racist, it just made us nice ̶ it made us not see color so we didn’t have to have the difficult conversations. And I think we have to be angry at ourselves as Black people for not organizing early and often.
What was the purpose behind “Justified Journey?”
Rev. Gee: I wanted people to understand that my family is not the exception but the rule of what happened to Black families. You got your surname by either ownership or one of your female ancestors was raped. My last name is Welsh — you think about Black people’s name. I am a Gee because of a black rape and ownership. I wanted to show people that. I wanted people to understand the Gee family became wealthy by owning Black slaves and raping Black women and siring Black children. I want them to understand that’s a microcosm of how America was built. I wanted people to take a look at “Justified Journey” to understand that that is how America became wealthy and a superpower. And just like with the Gees, American made sure that those who worked tirelessly for free were systematically shut out of the benefits. So much of what happened in our family happened for Black families in our country. I made so white people would feel different — the way ‘Roots’ caused us to feel different. I want “Justified Journey” to make white people re-think systematic realities. I think that if people’s eyes are open, they have a responsibility to change. I need them to understand that they are wealthy because they are smarter or stronger or better — they are wealthy because they have Black people doing free labor. I did so people understand that you can’t say 60 years of affirmative action has outpaced 400 years of free labor.
How do we begin to restore our spirit?
Rev. Gee: I say we have to understand how our spirit works. I’m a Christian pastor, so I rely on scripture for inspiration. And we’re told that when you’re weeping, joy will come in the morning, that when your heart is heavy God will help you mourn, and we’re told that in our weakness we’re strong. If I lose hope — if I get turned over to anger — then I can’t see light, I can’t hear inspiration. I have to shake those things offs. But I’m not deserving of mindless peons hindering the strength I need to fight this.
My grandparents and my great-grandparents endured way more with the promise of enjoying much less. I’m not going to let pinheaded white racists weigh me down because my success threatens their puny minds. If I just lean into my feelings, they will dictate my response. But if I understand that my spirit is the stronger force within me than my feelings — if I feed my soul with reading and prayer and meditation and community, then I get direction on how to move ahead with this.
And this is when faith becomes important and real. This is not where you run because it’s hard — this is where you lean in because it’s hard.
What’s the best strategy going forward?
Rev. Gee: I don’t think rioting and Black Lives Matter are synonymous. I think we need a multi-level approach to systematic change. We need preachers in the pulpits, we need people taking it to the streets, we need people in the board rooms, we need politicians. We need educators, we need fundraisers. We need a whole lot of Black efforts on many fronts to make this happen. I am appreciative of folks for wording for long-lasting change. This is too big to have one strategy.