Posts tagged black
This Is What Its Like

She sits down in the hard chair using a cushion to soften the feeling. She knows she is in for a long wait. Her hair is washed and ready to go. Netflix is on and she has already decided what she will watch as the woman above her uses a rat tail comb to part and section her thick hair. Her hair is soft and its slight red hue can be seen under the direct light. As the braids start to form, she gets used to the click, click, click of nails taking up the same space to twist the three strands together. After the first movie has gone off, she needs a break to stand, to stretch, to unfold. She turns her neck back and forth as she reaches up to touch what has been done. Progress. She smiles to herself, enjoying the length of the braids. She knows there is still a long way to go, as she returns to the chair. Another movie. And then another. At this point the excitement is completely gone. All there is the sheer will for a finished product, and sleepiness. So much sleepiness. There are more breaks for both. More stretching and laughing. More yawns and shared looks of determination. And then she hears the words, "Last one." Suddenly she is wide awake. Click, click, click... silence. She has done it. With a head full of braids she hugs the soft body of the woman who dedicated her time and energy to this project. She slips her the cash she deserves and runs off for advil and a scarf. She is still in for a long night as she attempts to sleep through the pain, but she is satisfied. The braids mean freedom. The freedom of time because she will no longer have to do her hair in the morning unless she feels like it. The freedom to swim without worry about what her hair is doing or how it looks as she bobs in and out of the water. The freedom to enjoy her summer, to get up and go. 

She never expected. 

She never expected to have a violent encounter with an officer as she grabbed her towel and shimmied into her bathing suit. She flipped her braids around, enjoying them more now that the pain has disappeared. 

She never expected that she and her crew would walk barefoot in the street, wrapped in towels to get away from the startling discord of the party atmosphere and the racially charged words hanging in the air. 

She never expected that the officer would grab her arm. Her feet no longer stable, she is completely confused. Her reaction is to fight. The only time she has ever been treated like this was that one fight with that one girl years ago over some silly stuff. Her body is yanked again. She is trying to talk, to yell, to demand her mothers presence. She can hear her friends calling out to her, she hears in their horrified voices the confirmation that this isn't right. Her body continues to fight as he pulls her braids, yanking her tender scalp. Her body falls. She kicks her legs still trying to regain some measure of dignity. She feels the officer press one knee and then two onto her small frame. She cant breathe. The weight of him and all his gear is too much. She wants her mother. She wants her mother. She cries out, unwilling to let this treatment go unnoticed. She will be heard. 

Her long brown legs. Her braids covering her face. Her cries for her momma. That is what I saw when I watched that video. I saw myself. I saw every black girl I know, but I also saw myself. 

For a moment. For a moment I didnt care about the officers barrel roll or all the white people standing around watching this horrific behavior. For a moment I did not see the houses or the cars or the other teenagers helpless but defiant. For a moment all I saw, all I felt was her. I felt her shock and humiliation. I felt her fear and terror. I felt her outrage. Her sobs exploded through my own body.  

This is what its like to be a black girl in America. 

We look into the faces of the women who love and care for us. We see one another. We share in meaningful moments. We trade secrets. We know things. We know things about hair and patience and waiting. We know about love and laughter and dancing and joy. We know things about beauty and we create it together. And we know that beauty can be shattered. We know about ugliness. We know too well about dehumanization and violence. We know about the power of our voices. We wish we didnt. But knowing our power is a necessary survival mechanism. We know about being suddenly and violently unwelcome. We know about fear and defiance. We know about being publicly stripped of our dignity while others stroll casually by. We know about the walls violence erects so that none can save. We know about people with a repressed conscience, ruled by racism, unable to see us as we are. 

There are already many things you should go read about McKinney. You should read about the history of segregated pools. You should read about housing discrimination and restrictive covenants. You should read about the history of black women in this country. And after you have read all the things, you should take a look at your own life, your own decisions. Who are you trying to keep out of your restricted neighborhood? Your private community pool? How often do you call the police instead of parents over the inconvenience of a teenage party? Who do you assume is or isnt in your neighborhood? Were you hopeful for white neighbors? Do you even see anyone else? When this happens in your neighborhood, will you just watch? Will you use your body to protect children or to ignore them, or to hurt them? Yes, you must learn and reflect and decide how you will be different. 

But for a moment. Before this becomes about you and your actions and your reactions and your thoughts and your assessment and your judgements, i need you to know two things. 

1. I need you to know that she is fully human. I need you to know that she is a full person who exists outside this one moment and also felt every yank, tug, pull, press of what you watch. I need you to know that this is not "just another" anything. This is a moment in this girls life forever. She slept in her bed this weekend, and ate breakfast prepared by her momma, and received phone calls from her girlfriends, and is right now trying to make sense of how her body, mind, emotions and spirit will carry on in the world. She is human. 

2. I need you to know that whatever feelings I had as I watched this unfold, whatever pain I felt, whatever reaction I had, God had tenfold. God felt every yank and pull. God felt every shooting pain and press of the body. God felt her sobs. For God knows the violence of this world, is intimately aware of state-sanctioned brutality. God needs not imagine. God knows. God knows this little girl's pain, a pain she didnt choose and should not have endured. 

Now usually, I would let you post what you want (within reason) in the comments. But you should know that anything that justifies the treatment of this child will be deleted without response. I am not entertaining debates on this one. You will respect the body of this little girl or you will have to go converse elsewhere with someone else. I cant protect her safety in real life, but I will protect it here. 

Talking Points: You bought the lie

So, just yesterday I was encouraging you to speak. I still want you to do that. But I thought it might be helpful to have some talking points: 


You bought the lie that extra force is necessary when dealing with blackness. That we are heartless, monstrous, beastly. You believe our bodies are to be feared. You believe that the police can't treat us the same way because we are far more resistant to authority, far more disrespectful. You believe that it is we who are solely responsible for the dangers officers face. You believe we bring it on ourselves because we couldn't possibly be innocent. For the rest of America we believe in innocence until proven guilty, but for us- there is no question of our criminality. 

You bought the lie that we are especially violent and that the violence is only getting worse. Since shootings are reported like baseball scores on the news, you believe the media's representation of us. You would never know that black-on-black crime has been in decline for the last 20 years. You would never know that many black people have never held a gun. You would never know that only 1% of black people commit a violent crime in any given year. You would never know that this generation of young people commit the least amount of crimes than any generation since the 60s  [1]

You bought the lie. You believe that black-on-black crime is somehow innately different from white-on-white crime. The latter is somehow normal, justifiable, uninteresting and therefore ignored. 86% of white homicide victims are killed by white perpetrators, and because whites make up the majority of the population, it is actually white people who commit the majority of crimes in America, including violent crimes. Whites led black 2-1 in aggravated assault arrests, forcible-rape cases, and larceny theft

You bought the lie that we don't care about our communities. But when was the last time you visited? Black people work tirelessly in their communities to close the gaps afforded to affluent communities. Our churches provide space for afterschool and summer programming. We have to create our own summer job programs and internships. We care deeply about crime and hold marches, prayer walks, protests, and vigils every summer. Our neighborhoods contain pastors, teachers, lawyers and church members who dedicate hours working with young people. We have to come up with our own innovative plans like mobile produce vans. We are independent businesses owners and our restaurants are amazing. Shootings do not define our neighborhoods. But you'd have to spend time there, instead of rolling up your windows and locking the doors as you drive by. 

You bought the lie that the police treat us all the same. We are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than our white counterparts. This would only be acceptable if you truly believe we are 21 times more violent than white people. Do you? If we look at the number of black people killed from 2010-2012, in order for whites to have an equal risk as black people, police would have had to kill a white person every week for those three years. While this is hugely disturbing, Black (and Hispanic) people must also live with racial profiling policies and stop and frisk policies. For real stories of the crimes white people commit and get away with as opposed to the black experience with police, check out #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack. Black people (and other people of color) have a fundamentally different experience with police because they are allowed to treat us as suspicious and potentially dangerous on sight. 

You bought the lie that disobeying the police ought to result in our death. Tamir Rice didn't obey police orders to drop the [toy] gun. Eric Garner was [possibly] selling lose cigarettes. Meanwhile, we have watched white people argue with police and the police are patient- annoyed, but patient. We watch white people point actual guns at them and the police respond by (at least trying) to de-escalating the situation, resulting in long stand-offs before decisions are made to use lethal force. We know that white people can shoot up public spaces, and be arrested alive. Would it be okay for your son, your daughter to be killed for disobeying the police? Would you just shake your head and quietly bury your child? Or would you be outraged? Would you expect greater restraint, better use of training? Would you say its your child's fault for being disobedient? Or is that a line of thought reserved only for black bodies? 

You bought the lie that our kids are far worse, far more violent, far more disrespectful. Today's young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed. Crimes committed by African-American youth have been on the decline for decades, most having been cut by more than 50%. FBI records indicate that black youth account for only 2% of the nations homicides. It is often the perception of disciplinarians and authority figures that over-estimate the age of our youth, and determine that greater force is necessary. We know most recently to be true in the case of Tamir Rice who was assumed to be "about 20". He was 12. And this is not uncommon according to The American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Psychology

You bought the lie that I am the exception. That I am not like "them". It has been pounded into you that the normal black experience is shaped by violence, steeped in brutality, and is inseparable from "thuggery". There is great danger in believing this single story of black America. There is great danger in assuming that anyone's story who falls outside of this narrative is somehow special, unusual, or amazing. The number of black experiences are as great as any other people group. We are not defined by a single story

You bought the lie that our crime is worse. Somehow the crimes of theft, prostitution, even gang banging are worse than other crimes. How is it that a man could be accused of selling loose cigarettes and lose his life? How could we possibly justify this? We distinguish "blue collar" crimes from white collar as if those who do white collar crimes at least get a gold star for receiving the best education before committing their crimes. White, educated men caused the great recession and that is acceptable, but selling loosies is just too much. Get him off the street. 

You bought the lie that our communities are the result of our own "bad decisions". But pick up these books Family Properties, American Apartheid, The Promised Land, or read this article and you will find a much more complex history of black communities that is inextricably linked to white America.   

These lies are all based on the belief that there is something inherently wrong with blackness- that we are especially violent, that our crimes are particularly brutal, that our kids are uniquely savage, that our neighborhoods are inherently bad because its residents are different from white people. If you hold any of these- any of these- even in the deepest recesses of your heart, it is a rejection of the Imago Dei in blackness. The logical conclusion is that only certain black lives matter, that only certain lives are worthy of dignity, of patience, of justice. These are the beliefs that drive excessive force, the beliefs that lead to 911 phone calls about how dangerous we are. These beliefs are leaving us dead on street corners, stairwells and playgrounds.

And they eat at your souls too. These lies make you less human- less loving, less caring, less merciful, less gracious, less understanding. The lies demand that you put up walls, move your home, keep your children separate, keep us at arms length. The lies demand your allegiance, demand your humanity. 

We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. Our lives matter. #blacklivesmatter Until you uproot these lies, you will be ineffectual not only in racial justice but also racial reconciliation. 

Those of you who are breaking the silence, its time to uproot the lies. Its time to declare the human dignity of black life. Its time to identify and unlearn racism. When you speak- you do so with power. When you speak, you do so with conviction. When you speak, you do so believing that our lives are as worthy as yours to be lived.  

[1] Thanks to Katelin Hansen at BTSF blog for your consistent work, especially with this article that was incredibly helpful. 

Bring Yourself
Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click Image to view her portfolio. 

Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click Image to view her portfolio. 

I am learning to bring all of myself to my work. For a long time I thought I had to chop myself into pieces in order to be understood. I thought separating my womanhood from my blackness was the only way I could operate in the world- perhaps the only way to make sense of the world. By separating myself, I believed I could gain control. If I only brought my womanhood to women's conferences, and ignored my race, I could fill up one bucket while ignoring the other. Similarly, in social justice spaces that are dominated by patriarchy, I thought I could stuff my womanhood down, put it on hold, throw it on the back burner and focus on racial justice for a moment. While these are clear spaces where I am highly aware of the "need" to split myself in half, there is a sense that I am regularly doing this. 

I walk into a room and people aren't sure how to react to the black woman standing before them. Is that because I am black or because I am woman? If I was a black man would they respond the same way?  Or if I was a white woman would I have gotten the same treatment? If I am asked to speak about race, do I only tell stories that I am certain involved race only? If someone agrees with everything I think about racial justice but doesn't have a problem with patriarchy, do I get to address that? Or must I split them in half as well- cheering for the justice side but pretend the patriarchy isn't somehow at play in the moment? 

Splitting myself was both a way of survival and a way of believing in the world. Let me tell you, its so easy to find women who care about womanhood and activists who care about racial justice. Finding folks who are willing to take on multiple forms of oppression are significantly harder to come by. 

But this way of survival leaves much to be desired. I want more. I want more than survival. More than half truths. More than sort of allies. More than halfway on board institutions. I want more than dissection- of myself and of those around me. I want wholeness. 

I want to bring the complicated mess that I am to the table because I didn't create the complications. I didn't erect racial injustice, and I didn't build patriarchy. I didn't inform white supremacy, and I didn't write books on a woman's "rightful place". 

I see the world as a black woman. It is the perspective God gave me. It is the lens through which I see the world. Its how I understand the world- how I talk, how I walk, how I think, how I write, how I move in the world. 

Black and woman. This is a gift. Its so easy to forget what a gift this is because patriarchy and racism would have me believe otherwise, would have me believe that I am less than, that the weight of both is too much to carry all at once, that I must focus on just one if I am to be effective. Lies.

I believe in the legacy of black women who refused to be satisfied with lies. I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I believe that I am created in the image of the Divine. I believe that I am at my best when I bring my wholeness to the table. I believe that the weight of racism and patriarchy cant drown me. I believe that I am perfectly made for resistance, for freedom, for community. 

If there are others out there, working to dismantle multiple oppressions, navigating multiple identities, I want you to know that I believe in us. I believe in our wholeness. I believe in our legacy and our future. I believe in our work, in our community, in our sense of self. 

Bring yourself. All of you. And I promise to bring myself, too. We'll practice. And we'll get better. We'll do it together. We'll cheer one another on. And in holding hands we'll find that we are stronger together. In holding hands we will find that oppressive systems don't stand a chance. In holding hands we will find ourselves. We will move closer to the whole being God created. We will live. 

Be brave. Being yourself is resistance.

Black Bodies White Souls

Much has been written about the impact of Michael Brown's death and the protests that followed. As I watched the story unfold, I just felt overwhelmed and unable to write. I really didn't have much to say. My embers of anger didn't stand a chance against the rising waters of numbness. It is my MO to go numb when things get too emotional, too hot tempered, too violent. Sometimes this trait serves me well. My delayed reaction to the emotion in a room is often what makes me a great peacemaker- not because I am so special but because my emotions are often delayed in the moment. My grief, anger, and yes sometimes even the good emotions like joy come later. And so was the case this week. While article after article popped up explaining our hurt, giving voice to injustice, calling officials to action, teaching, prodding, crying, organizing- I was trying desperately to determine what I feel.

Many of you know that smaller stories unfolded even in the midst of the larger narrative. White Christians slow to respond (if at all) + the word "Christian" being used to define all Christians when in reality only referring to white ones + genuine calls for increased diversity and commitment to multi-ethnic churches... My TL was filled with branches stemming from the events in Ferguson. I've read some good stuff. I've read pieces that I'm jealous I didn't write and pieces I'm incredibly grateful folks put into words when I couldn't find any. But the one article that has stayed with me- clanging in my soul was an article posted by @feministajones, with a link to Playboys interview of MLK. There are a great many gems in this interview, and we all would do well to read it from beginning to end, but what I found most intriguing is MLK's response to the question about his mistakes as a civil rights leader. His reply: "Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned."

At this moment in time, I cannot confess to the same shock, disappoint or hurt feelings that MLK describes. I've read too much, been at this too long to sincerely claim that I expected the white church to finally get it right in this present moment of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, John Crawford and Michael Brown. The white church doesn't have a great track record on racial justice, and what's worse, displays very little shame on the matter. (As a quick caveat I will say that I am grateful for the friends of all races, including white who sent messages, wrote posts, shared in the outrage and amplified the voices of black folks- I just wish there were many, many more of you). On the whole the story of Michael Brown and the assault on Ferguson didn't gather the same level of attention of ISIS or Driscoll. Many of the white Christians who changed their profile pictures to stand in solidarity with Christians on the other side of the world, were absolutely silent while black Christians right here in America were in turmoil. 

I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans. 

I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what's always done. 

Far from being offended by its own actions, instead white America- Christians included- remain offended by black bodies.  This is what killed Trayvon and Renisha and Jordon and Eric and Michael. How dare black bodies resist the white will. How dare they fight back when a stranger chases. How dare they knock at 4am. How dare they not turn down the music when told. How dare they sell some cigarettes. How dare they walk in the middle of the street. How utterly offensive for black bodies to disobey whiteness.

Most children growing up in black households know this. It's why I was told never to put my hands in my pockets while shopping, even when I replace items back on the shelf. My parents knew a store owner by thinking I might be stealing could cost far more than prosecution- it might cost my life. It's why black boys are given explicit instructions on how to behave when pulled over by the police- right or wrong. Not because our parents are trying to instill some deep values but because they knew our lives would be at stake. And so our list of how not to be offensive grows-  pull up those pants, don't wear a hoodie, keep your ID on you, cut your hair, be careful of the pictures you take with friends, smile a lot, turn the music down, be a good negro and maybe your life will be spared. But the list can't save us. It never could because the culprit is something we cannot change- our bodies. 

And though I list here offenses that seem only secular- I assure you the white church is no less offended. Sometimes I wonder if they are most offended since God and whiteness are too often synonymous. We sense the offense of our bodies all the time. When Gospel songs are used in service and folks complain. When MLK weekend is the lowest attended weekend of the year. When teaching on race and folks walk out, or worse attack the teacher. When the thought of reading a black theologian never enters the psyche. When black folks have to make a case for discussing injustice. When our way of being is strange, stand-offish, exclusive, unwelcoming, toxic, or the result of groupthink. These moments remind us that our very existence as autonomous human beings is in itself offensive. And so when White folks strike a nerve, or embody a pet peeve- with one another the result is rarely violent. There is too much respect for self and others. But embody that action in the form of a black body and all bets are off. Death is always possible.   

And that is the reality black folks have lived in since arrival on America's shores. Resistance to the white will could result in death. So I'm not giving white, Christian adults anymore easy answers. If you want to know what to do, my answer is this: risk death. Risk the death of your reputation. Risk the death of close ties to your family. Risk the death of your dream home and "safe" neighborhoods. Risk the death of a large congregation. Risk the death of your big donations. Risk the death of your worldview and perspective on American history. Risk the death of your comfort in majority, dominant spaces. Risk the death of your leadership role, of your speaking engagement, of your writing opportunity. Risk never being invited back to the conference. Risk the death of your social and professional circles. Risk what we risk just trying to live. 

Choose a new church home and sit under the teaching of a black preacher for two years.  

Choose a new neighborhood where your fate is intimately tied to the fate of people of color.  

Go back to school and take a history class from a black professor where your academic success lies in his/her hands.  

Choose to be mentored by a person of color every week. You do what they say, when they say it. No excuses.

Choose to go places where you see the stories behind the statistics, where someone can connect history to the present for you. 

Send your kids to a black or brown school.

Need the wisdom of people of color to survive.

If you want to be committed to racial justice, you must do more than read a book at home alone. You must do more than add people of color to your social media lists. You must do more than attend an MLK service or a Ferguson vigil. These are good things. You will benefit from them. But buying our books and reading our blogs and sharing our posts were never intended to BE your journey. These things are to aid you in a much larger commitment to justice and reconciliation in the world. 

Reclaim your soul. Risk death to your comfort. Place yourself under the authority of a person of color. Connect history to the present. Make some lifestyle changes. Root out the offense of the black body from your heart and mind.

Maybe... Maybe we won't have to post pictures of this week alongside some new ones in another 50 years.

I do not believe that racial justice will come only if the white church finally gets it right. History has proven otherwise. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity. A new generation could speak out. A new generation could make a difference. A new generation could turn over laws, vote what's best for black/brown communities, could dismantle systemic racial injustice. A new generation could reclaim the soul of the white church long mired in the mud of power and supremacy. This is your chance. You can join, or you can sit this one out. But as the community of Ferguson showed us- we will stand with or without you.