Posts tagged injustice

It happens every time there is an unjust and inhumane shooting of an unarmed black person. There are many posts, tweets, and status updates that are committed to giving a 'balanced view'. This usually means admitting the racial inequities in America's criminal justice system. Then to balance the other end of the teeter totter it becomes necessary to also admit that there are problems in the black community- black on black crime, fatherlessness, poverty, etc... This plank then rests on calls for love, forgiveness or peace. Done and done. 

While I understand the desire to be balanced, I need you to know that you won't get that here. This itty-bitty corner of the internet is going to be decidedly UNbalanced.  

Why? Because I believe it is fine to say, "This is wrong. Unarmed black people should not loose their lives" and leave it right there. That is enough. These complete sentences in all their unbalanced glory can stand alone. This is a singular thought. It is a thought worthy of being wrestled with all by itself. 

It is not that I am unwilling to talk about these other devastations that plague some communities of color. In fact, I welcome conversation about these realities. But you should know in advance that I don't relegate the conversation on race to shootings and incarceration rates. Racism is far to effective, conniving, and complete to define only these. So lets talk about poverty, but lets do so without forgetting about slavery, jim crow, redlining, white flight, contract sales, and the extraction of wealth from generations of hardworking people of color at the hands of government, courts, real estate agents and landlords. I'm willing to talk about fatherlessness, but not without also talking about joblessness, health disparities, incarceration rates, discriminatory sentencing, the effects of sentencing, the difficulties surrounding all things related to determining and jailing men for child support, and then I'd point to positive statistics on the presence of black men in their children's lives, despite all these difficulties. I won't go on here, but I hope I have made clear that these other issues dont magically fall outside the purview of racism, somehow pure and untouched- existing in some vacuum of black deficiency. No. They are all connected, reinforced time and again in a web of discriminatory practices that lead to hopelessness, fear, isolation and death. 

So I will not be giving any balanced views over here. I believe firmly that to practice love is to disrupt the status quo which is masquerading as peace; and not only that, I will continue to call for repentance from this injustice, leaving forgiveness between the grieved and God. 

I will continue to be UNbalanced until systemic racial disparities are no more. For as long as the system is unbalanced, I will be too.   

Violence of Whiteness
"Running the negro out of Tulsa"

"Running the negro out of Tulsa"

It is not hard to look at mainstream media and find all kinds of images of "scary" black people. Just last week we all watched #pointergate unfold in which a black male activist was turned into a monstrous gangster after posing with the mayor of Minneapolis The image created around his person and work was not one of community builder, activist, or, you know, human. Instead the media was all too excited to make him a body worthy of fear. 

With the violent murders of Trayvon MartinRanisha McBride, John Crawford, Mike Brown and far too many others, America continues to witness the devastating, deadly effects of the fear of the black body. In each instance of the deaths above a white person cites "fear" as the reason or provocation for taking a life. Over and over America believes this is enough. "I was afraid of that big black body, wouldn't you be too?" is considered a reasonable defense. It perhaps holds the best chance for success. It always has. 

And yet I find this image of the monstrous black body puzzling, because it is the violence of whiteness that has proven itself worthy of fear. 

Shall we begin with the violent institution of chattel slavery? Beginning in 1619, Africans are brought to the shores of America, denied even basic human rights and made to be perpetually submissive to owners. For 246 years white America upholds, defends, and sheds blood in an effort to protect the institution of slavery. The historic willingness of whiteness to sacrifice its own humanity and in process deny the humanity of black people, is terrifying. It is white supremacy that has been historically violent.

While America loves to pat itself on the back for abolishing slavery and ushering in the reconstruction era, in doing so it chooses to forget. It chooses to forget the violent institutions that were set up to "keep blacks in their place". In some states the black codes were developed the same year the constitution abolished slavery. For another 100 years, white supremacy is carefully guarded by ensuring black people occupied a permanent second-class status thanks to Jim Crow. But this systemic power was not enough to satisfy. So it perfected mob lynching. Kidnapping black men, women and children, whiteness made a sport of killing black bodies, taking pleasure in lifeless bodies swinging from branches. Daring to take pictures and send postcards once the deed was done, this act succeeded in intimidating and oppressing black bodies. Of the 4,743 recorded lynchings in the US, 3,446 were black according to the records of Tuskegee Institute. The white supremacist propensity for taking pleasure in the destruction of black bodies is terrifying. It is white supremacy that has been historically violent. 

When Jim Crow was finally abolished, white America was not yet done with its desire for violent containment. Race riots in America were yet another invention of whiteness. No longer content to target just one black body at a time, white mobs determined instead to do harm to entire black families, neighborhoods, communities. Mostly happening in the North, whites would terrorize black communities by beating and killing residents and then destroying their property. In 1919 alone, there were 26 race riots that broke out all over the country, leaving more than 100 black people dead, thousands wounded and many homeless. It is white supremacy who has long considered it a right to take the lives and property of black families. It is white supremacy that has been historically violent. 

As African Americans continued to fight for civil rights, white power structures continued to find new ways to practice systemic violence. Contract housing extracted huge amounts of wealth from black communities, leaving them shells of their former selves. The governmental practice of redlining  clearly told black communities they were unwanted, non-members of the cities where they lived. Developments in transportation were often used to physically segregate back communities away from other areas of the city. The right to vote was kept out of reach by a number of evolving laws and policies. How do we even summarize the damage the criminal justice system has done to black communities over the course of American history? It is white supremacy that has found ever creative ways to shut out and shut down black folks from being considered fully American, fully human. It is white supremacy that has been historically violent. 

It was not blacks who enslaved millions of people for financial gain. It was not blacks who lynched thousands of people for entertainment. It was not blacks who regularly invaded the neighborhoods of other communities to wreak havoc. It was not blacks who created laws to disenfranchise others. These are the violent inventions of white supremacy. 

And this is why we sit in anticipation of every decision that involves unarmed, dead, black bodies. This is why we sit on the edges of our seats and wonder whether or not America will acknowledge our humanity this time. This is why we anxiously watch Ferguson. 

It is not African Americans who need to be feared. It is white supremacy that keeps inequality alive, that strips white folks of their humanity, that continues to take the lives of black folks largely without repercussion or consequence. It is not the black body that needs to be resisted but the lie that white equals safety. The lie that white needs to defend itself from blackness. The lie that white means just. We must look at our past and how that past is connected to today. We must choose a new way forward. A way that resists violence, that chooses equality, that finally surrenders to humility, to repentance, to love. We must believe that every win for white supremacy is a loss for us all. 

And I believe it is why Ferguson will march, will be witness, no matter the decision to indict or not. Ferguson has chosen to give voice not only to Mike Brown's death- but to the mass violence of whiteness against black bodies. We wait. We watch. But know this, we do not do so idly. We never have. It is not in our nature to wait without working. Past generations died to enact the rights we have today. Now, our generation seeks equal enforcement.

In Ferguson and across the country we will give voice to unjust systems. Whatever the coming weeks bring, of this you can be sure: we will fight on. 


*I want to acknowledge this this post was limited to African American history. But the violence that white supremacy has enacted over the course of American history includes far more people groups. I also want to acknowledge this is not the entirety of African American history in this country. My purpose is not to explore every area of black history, but instead to reposition the focus of historic violence. I hope I have accomplished this.   


For Weary Friends

I know you thought America couldn't disappoint you anymore. You've been followed in stores too many times. You've had to show your ID to prove who you are too many times. You've been stopped and frisked too many times. Told you look like a "suspect" too many times. You've received enough backwards compliments to fill every pocket you own. You've watched criminalization ravage your community for decades. You read too many "apologies" from actors, politicians, musicians, and friends. Since you were six, you've been navigating the space between "I am somebody" and "all men are created equal". And then came Ferguson.

How could we not be immune? Though we are not at all surprised and can claim no sense of shock, we still feel horrified- dishonored and disrespected as distorted images of ourselves unfold on screens. This is a disease America has refused to treat, and we feel the shivers run down our backs. Numbness overtakes us in between feelings of great sorrow, great anger, great frustration. We find ourselves trying to cry it out, shout it out, read it out, write it out, march it out, and yet it remains. Our feelings. Our emotions. Our desire to be fully human demands our emotions. Try as we might to divorce ourselves, to just not care… Our humanity refuses to let us go. Our feelings must be felt. Even when we wish we couldn't feel a thing.

For days we have been unable to turn our heads from our devices as Ferguson's demands for justice for the brutal death of Michael Brown was met with even more violence. We couldn't sleep knowing our community was standing face to face with police dogs, tear gas and tanks. We couldn't fully focus at work or at school. Between meetings and over lunch we pulled out our phones to keep up as the events unfolded. Shaking our heads in unison, we just couldn't turn away, our ancestors somehow wouldn't allow it. So we watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We had to process our feelings, while we wrote. Defend our feelings, while we wrote. Feel our feelings, while we wrote. 

But as our words came to life on the screens, we realized that having to explain our humanity was in itself dehumanizing. So we turned toward one another. Twitter shout outs, email messages, text messages- anything and everything we can do to shout above the noise, "Hey, you are not walking this alone. Hey, you are not feeling this alone. Hey, you are not writing this alone. Hey, you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone."

Because ironically that is the danger of the work of reconciliation; far too often it feels isolating, lonely, and solitary, but you are not alone.

So go ahead and cry. Weep to your heart's content. Go ahead and shout until the immediate frustration has waned. Go ahead and write- write in words, in phrase, in the language that your heart knows. Go ahead and take a time out. You don't have to hold the line alone. Go ahead and march, sing, write, draw, dance, pray, act until justice is done. 

Don't let them take away your humanity. Feel. Expect. Hope. Pray. Mourn.  

Feel every emotion as it courses through your body. No apologies for feeling feelings. 

Expect America to do better, churches to do better, people to do better, police to do better, politicians to do better. Your expectations of being treated as fully human is not setting the bar too high. 

Hope for better, even as you prepare your children for a world that fears them. Hope for better even as you delete the hateful comment at the end of your post. Hope for better as you work. For this is what the ancestors taught us to do. 

Pray. Remembering a God wrapped in flesh, executed unjustly, knows your pain.

Mourn with abandonment. There are too many tissues in the world to try to stop the tears from flowing. Mourn what is while we work for what could be. Mourn the loss of Michael, John and Eric. Mourn the loss of Renisha, Jordan, and Trayvon. Mourn the losses in your own life, for this is good and right. 

Feel. Expect. Hope. Pray. Mourn. For these are things humans do, and no matter what is said. No matter how many times they call you thug or race baiter, no matter how many times they call you ungodly or unChristlike, no matter how many times they question your humanity- refuse to be dismissed.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. This (I hope) your soul knows full well. 


Swords, Stories and Snowballs

RHE "Ask a racial reconciler" continues!  

In September Rachel Held Evens asked me to be a part of her "Ask A..." series by answering questions about being a racial reconciler. There were many more questions than I could possibly answer in one post (which you can find HERE). So this is a second installment of "Ask A Racial Reconciler" using 3 more questions submitted to Rachel's blog. Hope you enjoy!  


Q: "I am trying to become a racial reconciler, but am finding it amazingly difficult to overcome my anger. I find that Christians, white and black, here in South Africa are averse to changing the status quo unless it advantages their race. I feel like there are only a few of us who want to actually reconcile. I want to go on the journey, but I am just so angry at everything and everyone whenever the subject of race comes up. I want/need help overcoming my feelings and turning these emotional swords into spiritual ploughshares, so tell me, how did you overcome your anger? 

A: I haven't! I still get angry all the time! The work of reconciliation is tough, and though I have never been, my guess is South Africa is not an exception to that rule. Its been my experience that anger is a natural part of the work of racial justice. 

The question instead becomes, 'how do we work through the anger?' And my first answer is, we share it. You need a community of people around you that will nod and say, "We understand," when you share your anger with them. If you don't have anyone around who is just as invested as you are, knows the anger you're experiencing and can say, "been there!" then you need to focus on finding that community. If you are so angry that you believe no one in South Africa (or your city) cares about this as much as you do, you'll start sounding like Elijah in his dark days; we don't want that! I cannot stress enough the need for community in this work. They should be people you can turn to who immediately help you beat that sword into a ploughshare before you cut someone (or even yourself!)

The second thing you may need to do is clarify the work God has called you to do. I think sometimes when we have a passion, we think we have to do it everywhere, all the time, for everyone. Not so. God has called you to many things- a church community, a family, friendships, etc. There is a time and place for the work of reconciliation, but if you are never stopping, always engaged, always going, always 'on', you may find that no one is going to measure up to that standard of investment. For your own sake, clarify the work you've been called to do- in the church, on college campuses, for girls, for educators, for government? Focus your attention on the spaces God has called you and put boundaries around the rest.  

Lastly, it might be time to take a break. Find a spiritual discipline that reminds you reconciliation is the work of the Divine. Reconciliation is not done in our own power, and most people don't move through it quickly. It is a life-long journey to which we are all still growing, still learning, still reading, still asking questions, and still wrestling with our own junk! We need to recognize how little we are in this work for our own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health! Don't forget to keep using that discipline when you begin the work again.    


Q: Most of the members in my church are completely okay with the lack of diversity in our church and are blind to issues of privilege and systemic/institutional racism. What is the best way to begin a ministry of reconciliation in such an environment.   

A: 4 steps!

Step 1: Determine if God has called YOU to the work of reconciliation or your church to the work of reconciliation. I think there are a lot of angry reconcilers out there who really want their church, pastor, elders, etc to care about racial reconciliation but are finding themselves alone in this desire. Lets not assume that both you and your church have been called to reconciliation and multicultural ministry. God might be calling you to do this work elsewhere! Your first step is prayer! 

Step 2: Find a community. Set up coffee dates. Talk with your friends. Network within your church or community. Reach out to others who might also feel called to the work of reconciliation. Discern together how you might proceed as a team. This is not work that should be done alone, especially if your church has been resistant or uninterested. Find community! 

Step 3:  I don't think there is any one format that works universally for introducing a church to systemic injustice. Start a class. Plan a worship service. Bring in a speaker. Go to a museum. Begin a book club or movie night. Start with whatever already moves your congregation- are they moved by movies? Are you always swapping books? Do you have a regular class or Sunday school schedule? Take the format that people are comfortable using, and reformat to teach about systemic injustice! 

Step 4. Story time.  I personally don't know one person who started the work of tearing down systemic/institutional racism because they were moved by definitions, statistics, or historical documentation. All these can be powerful aides on that journey, but the beginning is typically through personal narrative.

As advocates of racial justice, once we've realized the power, reach and devastation of systemic and institutional racism, its extraordinarily difficult to still care about individualized racism. When you want people to care about how racism affects millions in the criminal justice system, you don't want to recount that time last week your black friend got pulled over by the police. When you want people to care about environmental justice, you don't want to talk about your best friend's kid who just got asthma because of the newly built trash incinerator in the hood. When you want people to care about educational justice, you don't want to talk about the one kid at the one failing school who could have really achieved something great.   

But you have to. People are moved by personal stories. Stories matter to us. Stories move us to investigate. Stories move us to dig for more. One story, leads to more stories, and those stories make the case for systemic injustice. Eventually you don't need new stories. You know them. You've heard them. You're convinced that the justice work you are doing matters. But think about when you started. Was it numbers that moved you? Was it a story that you just couldn't shake, that struck you, knocked you senseless? What was the moment when you thought, "I'll never be the same."? Maybe it was a story you were told. Maybe it was a story you lived. Maybe it was when you realized how different your story is from someone else's. But almost always, if you want to move people to care about systemic injustice, you have to start with the individualized injustices. Then increase the opportunities for engagement, experiences, education and, yes, the numbers, too. Like a snowball, start small and keep rolling! 


Q:  Is there a day when white folks get to stop apologizing for all the bad that has happened?

 A: Maybe in a couple hundred years? No, just kidding. Though not intended to be, this is a very loaded question, as can be seen by the conversation that ensued online! So I'd like to take a couple approaches in answering. First I'd like to bring some clarity to what it is that people of color want! For a long time we have used the idea of apologizing or saying "I'm sorry" to respond to instances of injustice. Congress apologized for slavery in 2009. Lifeway just last week apologized to Asians for offensive materials they've published in the past. Don Young had to apologize at the beginning of the year for using a racial slur while describing migrant workers. In 2012, Victoria Secret issued an apology to Native Americans for a culturally insensitive costume in a runway show.  Apologies are all around us! And sometimes when we are sitting in small groups, listening to people of color recount the many instances of injustice faced in America, it seems like white people are being set up to apologize… again.    

In the instance of Congress, Lifeway, Young, Victoria Secret and many others, an apology is entirely appropriate. But it is only a small piece of what people of color want. What we desire far more than an apology is repentance, justice, and sometimes reconciliation.

What we want is to live in an America that acknowledges our histories of pain, many of which were legalized (slavery, internment camps, stolen land, arbitrary citizenship changes, and the list goes on.) 

What we want is to live in an America that no longer subscribes to the supremacy of whiteness.

What we want is equity and equality.  

What we want is to be able to bring our whole selves to the table- our language, our culture, our ideas, our beauty, our community. 

What we want far more than an apology is a world that recognizes us as fully human. We want to live in a world that so respects us that Lifeway, Young, and Victoria Secret can't even conceive these offenses, let alone perpetrate them. 

I'm sure there is more we want, but perhaps this is a good place to start :) 

The second approach I want to take, is to suggest that stories of lament aren't always a set-up for an apology. I personally really enjoy talking about my history, even when its painful. I take great pride in recounting how much my ancestors had to endure from generation to generation. From the shores of Africa to those of America, from being packed in boats to packed in slave quarters to packed in ghettos, from no rights and 3/5 human to a President of the United States. I am proud. But when I recount the pain, I am not expecting an apology. Oftentimes, I am just sharing. I wonder how often white people mistake a desire to be understood with a desire for an apology. Now, I can't say that no person of color anywhere, ever wants an apology! And sometimes an apology is necessary, particularly when an offense has occurred between people. But in the moments of hearing someone share their pain, rather than jumping to the conclusion that you are expected to insert your apology [HERE]… just sit in the pain with them. Be honored that they trust you with their pain. Do something far greater than apologizing. Repent of the system of injustice and work to change it!