Trauma, Race, and Masculinity with Wendell Moss, Part Two

This week we’re continuing the vital conversation about trauma, masculinity, and race between Wendell Moss, a therapist and member of our Teaching Staff, and Sam Eldredge from And Sons Magazine, where this conversation originally appeared. As Sam frames the next part of the discussion, he says there are a couple recent cultural moments he wants to engage with Wendell, moments that seem significant the broader conversation about race: first the release (and stunning success) of Black Panther, and then the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial in Montgomery, AL honoring the victims of lynching in America.

Wendell: “This is a traumatized country. […] Racism has so collectively traumatized us, and to think that it’s just going to go away without these honest conversations, we’re fooling ourselves. Our country, and the Church—we are fooling ourselves.”

As they talk about Black Panther, Wendell emphasizes that its success, and the enthusiastic response from Black moviegoers, wasn’t just about the main character—while it was crucial to see such a powerful Black hero, there was more to it. It was about the place of Wakanda, a place where Black communities exude strength and glory. And it was about an honest, prophetic “villain” character who sees the brokenness in his community and demands something different.

Sam: “It clearly is more than just a well-told film, or a film that finally portrays Black men and women in a powerful light. There is something of longing.”

Wendell: “T’Challa, he displayed a kingship that—damn yeah, that made me proud as an African-American man. […] And the movie also showed the brokenness in the Black community. You have to look at Killmonger, who was often seen as a villain. […] How do you hold a man who clearly made his dream known, to see the oppressed not oppressed anymore. […] He’s the man who holds the ambivalence and the trauma for everybody.”

The conversation turns toward the lynching memorial in Montgomery, which was developed by the Equal Justice Initiative, and the need to honestly wrestle with our history and the harm we have both endured and perpetrated. Just as telling our individual stories is crucial for growth and healing, telling our collective, cultural stories is the only way we can move forward honestly. The events that make headlines don’t reflect anything new, says Wendell. They rip the Band-Aid off what has been there all along, what so many of us have worked long and hard to ignore, forget, or cover up.

Wendell: “I want to invite you to tell the truth about history. Can you finally speak about what our history truly holds? Can we name it? […] I’m not bringing up history to heap on shame and guilt. I believe in Scripture, and the Scripture says the truth shall make you free. Can we tell the truth about our history so we can finally have honest conversations? […] The Church is not exempt. [We can’t just keep] playing Church and acting like the Bible doesn’t address justice.”

The Church is not exempt. We can’t just keep playing Church and acting like the Bible doesn’t address justice.

Sam talks about the tendency to claim ignorance as a get out of jail free card, or to throw out certain buzzwords to show that you know what’s right and that you’re “not like that.” He and Wendell means honest, humble curiosity means a willingness to say “I don’t know” without using ignorance as an excuse—to engage our blind spots with courage and integrity. When Sam asks about recommendations for continuing the conversation, Wendell recommends a few books—Just Mercy, White Awake, Roadmap to Reconciliation. But more than a book, Wendell says he likes to use a question when he’s starting work with men: What is your masculinity based on? Do you need to define what your masculinity is?

Wendell: “I feel like God turned me upside down and said, ‘You need to redefine what masculinity is. Because how you’re currently holding it, it’s killing you. It’s stopping you from entering into your own story, and it’s making you hate your story.’”

Our thanks to the team at And Sons Magazine for letting us share these last two episodes. We’re grateful for the work they’re putting out and the courageous conversations they invite us to pursue.

For more on Black Panther, you can revisit our podcast series with Wendell, Rachael Clinton, and Michael Thornhill. And for more about Equal Justice Initiative and the work of Bryan Stevenson, here’s Dan’s reflection on the vital book Just Mercy.