Yes, You Are Black

Dear Prince Ea,

This week, as I was perusing my social media feeds I came across your new video “I Am NOT Black, You Are NOT White.” I was intrigued by the title and clicked. To be honest, I hadn’t heard your work before but I was quickly hooked. Your unique delivery, tight verse structure, and powerful visuals made me go looking for more. With each video I encountered more high quality work and a social consciousness that demands a listen. I know I’ll pay attention every time you drop something new.

But as I searched through the rest of your material, I remained troubled by the poem that had initially drawn me in your direction. Because with every insistence that you were not black I wanted to respond,

“Yes, You are Black. And that is Beautiful!”

I think I know what you’re trying to accomplish. You want people to search out unity and not allow our differences to act as wedges that keep us apart. In that fight, I’m with you. But I don’t think we can truly achieve the unity you’re looking for by denying the worth of our bodies. I know that’s not what you’re trying to say, but I think that’s where you end up.

You compare our bodies to cars and remark that no one would ever confuse the car for you. So then why would people confuse you with your body? But that’s just it – you are your body. To be clear, you are not reduced to your body as if your physical self is all that exists. No, you are a whole person, body and soul. The non-physical is thoroughly important, but so is the physical! This is why we weep when bodies – people – are murdered, raped, exploited, and devalued. Of course there is also non-physical violence happening in each of those instances. And there are times when the non-physical scars are deeper than the physical ones. But the body matters too.

You see, I’m a Christian. And I believe God speaks to us through the Bible, revealing to us who he is and who we are. And God declares that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. He has carefully molded our inmost parts, meticulously crafting each and every person, body and soul. He develops our appetites and our body types, our emotions and the thickness of our hair, our passions and our skin color.

God breathed life into us, setting us on a course of relationship with him. He loved us so much that, when we rebelled against him, he added humanity – body and soul – to himself and dwelled among us. We call this man Jesus. He suffered – body and soul – on the cross to pay for our sins. He rose from the grave – body and soul – in order to give us life. In fact, to prove to his disciples that he was actually back from the dead, he not only spoke the desires of his soul, but he ate with his friends and encouraged doubting Thomas to touch his body. Finally, Christians are promised that on the last day we will all be given new, perfected bodies with our ethnicities intact! Even in heaven we remain body and soul!

You see, our bodies matter! They are beautiful and powerful things, gifts given to us by our Creator! You are Black – and Beautiful! This is not just a label; it’s much more! Our bodies are integral parts of who we are as men and women made in the Image of God. We have intrinsic worth because God stamped that worth into every piece of us, even all the different hues of color present in every ethnic group. Each color and variation should lead us to worshiping the God who made us and values us.

Respectfully, it seems that you have confused the human construct of race which, as you rightly point out, was created to divide people, with the divine construct of ethnicity which was created to highlight people as fearfully and wonderfully made. When people are stereotyped and mischaracterized because of what they look like, we stumble (or sprint) into racism and injustice. This is evil. But when we value the other and celebrate the differences found in our ethnicities, even the differences found in our bodies, then we are operating according to a divine paradigm that brings pleasure to the heart of God.

Yes, You are Black. And that is Beautiful! Blackness, just like every skin color, is an evidence of a lovingly creative Creator. We need not deny our physical bodies in order to find peace and unity. The peace we long for will not be found in denying parts of who we are but in embracing our whole selves – body and soul – and understanding who we are as images of God. The peace we long for will be found when we rejoice in our differences and see them as part of the beautiful tapestry that is humanity. I will join you in your fight against stereotypes and mischaracterizations. I will join you in your fight against racism and oppression. But I will not join you by encouraging people to deny the gift of their bodies. No, my prayer is that people will recognize their Creator-given worth – body and soul. My prayer is that we will all say,

“I Am (             ). And that is Beautiful.”

In Christ,


Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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