“When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.” These are lines from the song, “Home,” written by Charles Small. “Home” is a timeless crowd-pleaser and tearjerker from the musical, The Wiz. This Broadway production turned movie is the Black answer to The Wizard of Oz. In both play and film, Dorothy’s longing for her home in Kansas is most poignantly expressed in song. She intones, “I wish I was back there with the things I've been knowing.”
There is a safety, security of home at least for most of us. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to pause and consider our relationship with the place and people associated with our homes. Sudden shifts to working remotely and ad nauseam Zoom meetings have exposed parts of our lives which had been selectively disclosed.
Now people from across the country get to peep into our private spaces.
Not only are our material goods or the lack thereof on blast, but the swaddling clothes of classism come to bear. Wi-Fi conundrums do not get interpreted as merely a cable issue, but as a financial one, suggesting a co-worker or colleague cannot afford better service. And truth is, perchance the individual cannot.
This corona context quickly coerced students to leave colleges and universities and retreat to their homes. Whereas many grumbled about leaving the apex of their social ecosystem, others were anxious about returning to places of fiscal instability, social dis-ease, and familial dysfunction. One cannot discount students who were homeless before going to college and who have returned to homelessness. Administrators of Historically Black Colleges and Universities note this (in)security.
It is existential dissonance to adhere to any mandate to shelter in place when one’s place of shelter is questionable or not existent.
People vulnerable pre-pandemic remain vulnerable during the pandemic. The pandemic is no pretty picture, but a painful panorama of physical, economic, and cultural inequities prior to its onset. What was broken before the virus, is still broken now and will remain fractured for days to come.
Life-work balance was a myth before talk of contact tracing. Today it is the unicorn in the room. Our homes are now offices, daycare centers, educational institutions, and religious facilities. E-learning quite often clashes with e-working, and the idea of e-worshipping seems like another online megillah. How dare anyone attempt to police what we do in our homes. This is not indicative of the “things we’ve been knowing,” and sometimes it does not feel “there’s love overflowing.”
When is home not home? For whom does home feel foreign?
African Americans question America as home. There is a perceived danger in our existence even when we are near or in our homes. The reckless, perpetual killing of Black bodies is evidence. Trayvon Martin was walking home when a no-cop killed him. Botham Jean was in his own apartment when a police office shot him. While on a call for one matter, police officers digressed and shot Keith Lamont Scott at his apartment complex. Playing a game with her nephew did not keep Atatiana Jefferson secure in her house. Sleeping while home was not a safety net for k. #BlackLivesMatters resonates because for racist reasons we are deemed indispensable on playgrounds, at the beach, at the park, in the car, in church, and yes, even in our own homes.
When is home not home? For whom is home dangerous?
Victims of domestic violence are not “at home” during this pandemic. Studies show that domestic violence increases during natural disasters and crises. In a Covid context, where sheltering in place and physical distancing are the norm, isolation is one way in which perpetrators of intimate partner violence inflict abuse. Additionally, the increase in Zoom usage lends towards survivors reliving digital exploitation. Intimate partner violence has not only national, but global implications according to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes.”
When is home not home? For whom is home a house of horror?
Children remain vulnerable to physical harm, verbal abuse, emotional hurt and sexual predatory practices. The shift to online learning means they are home more with their abusers. Without physical access to schools, libraries, religious institutions, or community centers, children are relegated to sheltering with adults who cannot shield them from trauma at their own hands. Targeting children and even pets becomes a means of furthering control in the home. Custody visits via Zoom can be uncomfortable if one parent wants to hide a home location. Sometimes home is just not home.
Hebrews 11:13-14 records, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” The writer was addressing a group who had become disheartened in their faith. Their social context threatened their spiritual walk. In order to encourage this community, the writer pointed to the testimony their ancestors.
The displacement the community was experiencing was not dissimilar to what their foreparents had faced.
Biblical history notes a longing for home. Our current context rubber stamps this continued pining. We are seeking a place to call home, a place where there’s love overflowing, a place where we can finally rest and just be.
Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, author, speaker and teacher, is a Baptist and Disciples of Christ minister who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament from Vanderbilt University. Her latest book is When Momma Speaks: The Bible and Motherhood from a Womanist Perspective. This #WomanistMomma currently serves as Associate Professor and Academic Dean at Chicago Theological Seminary.
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