Posts tagged publishing
Made for Whiteness

I used to think I was made for white people. I know that sounds a little crazy, but its true. When I discovered this thing called "racial reconciliation" I was attending a predominately white college where many people of color found themselves constantly teaching white folks about racial justice. Following my undergraduate experience, I got a brief reprieve in Detroit, MI at Marygrove College (the only school I've attended where I was in the majority- it was glorious). That experience has been followed by a succession of employment, projects, workshops and speaking engagements that revolve around helping white people "get it". 

With age comes clarity (sometimes), and for a couple years my thinking around my vocation has evolved. It is true that I've spent the majority of my life in PWI's (private, white, institutions). It is true that much of my teaching (and learning) has somehow managed to revolve around whiteness- white privilege, white ignorance, white shame, and what white folks "need" to get on the bus. Its amazing how white supremacy even invades racial reconciliation. Whiteness has a tendency to always put itself first, and I believed. I believed that white folks were at the center, the great hope, the linchpin, the key to racial justice and reconciliation. I knew that if this was the case, I was capable of bending and contorting myself to be the voice white folks could hear. And for the most part it worked reinforcing my belief that my vocation would always revolve around whiteness. 

And then. I am not entirely sure when the shift started to take place. I suspect it was a subtle turning, a series of conversations, confessions spoken in whispers. Maybe it was in Detroit. Somewhere along the way, I grew up. I dived deep into the complexity of vocation, spun it around, looked at it closely, then backed up so I could see it from afar. I looked in the nooks and crannies, hoping to find my contribution to racial justice and the Church but instead discovered myself. Stripping myself of a simplistic vocation and surface level observations of my journey allowed me to finally see my life and work without whiteness at the center. You know what I found instead? Women of Color.    

Shocking right? Not so much, I know. But this was a real awakening for me. And if you've spent any amount of time in an institution that was only too happy to allow it to define you, you know what kind of revelation I'm talking about here. When I looked beyond a simple checklist- attended PWI's (check), talked about race (check), had an impact (check)- I made a lot of new discoveries but almost all revolved around surviving white institutions as a woman of color.

Peeling back the layers revealed so much.  Secret conversations. Tears the institution never witnessed. Injustices leadership never acknowledged. The work of women of color- often behind the scenes, without titles or official positions. Doing the work. Daily doing the work with their lives.    

Now, I'd have to write a book to explain all the ways women of color have actually been at the center of my racial justice journey. It would take pages upon pages to discuss our hopes and dreams for justice. It would take chapters upon chapters to explain how we are ignored and invisible until its photo time. The terms "self care" have taken on an entirely new meaning- far from bubble baths and good music (both of which are important)- I have learned that self care is political and women of color have to learn how to play. It would take so much to drag the depth of our experiences within PWI's into the light. And thats exactly what I'm going to do.

Drag it into the light.

I am determined to write a book that explores the experiences of women of color who are navigating white, evangelical spaces- hoping that darkness will give way to light. 

Will you come along with me on this journey? Will you pray for me and talk with me? Will you share your stories, your questions, your observations? Will you beat back the darkness and enlarge the light, so I don't have to drag it quite so far? 

Let the journey begin. 


So there has been a recent rise in discussions regarding authors of color and the world of publishing, particularly of Christian publishing. I have been extraordinarily hesitant in giving voice to my thoughts and concerns on this topic because-- you know--- ramifications. One day I want to be a published author, preferably with a Christian publishing house. So lending my voice to anything that would critique said body, just doesn't seem very wise. And yet, this is my voice, these are my thoughts, and I "attack" no specific house, group, or person. I only want to explore some of the ideas fueling the conversation. So basically, I'm doing this scared. Here we go. Well, here I go.  


1. "Race books" belong on everyone's shelf.

So I know that race books and social justice books are considered niche, but I really believe they ought to be considered "general" and placed right along side the "lifestyle" books. Whether we Christians want to admit it or not prayer, leadership, spiritual gifts, and parenting can be more niche than race when we look at our daily lives. Why? Because we can choose whether or not to develop our prayer lives, whether or not to be leaders, whether or not to exercise our spiritual gifts, and many of us are not yet parents… but race is always here. We live in a racialized society and the Church has yet to get its stuff together on this topic. So while we may have a little special section for race and social justice books in our stores, we would do well to rethink this. Race, gender, sexuality, class, abilities- these are LIVED experiences. For as long as we stumble around in the dark trying to figure out how to relate to one another as the body of Christ, we need more books on these topics. We should be drinking them up, thirsting for them. We should be promoting them as books that are just as essential as the parenting books, and the leadership books and the theology books and the teaching books and the teen books. Because what we refuse to realize is that all of our interactions with people contain cultural nuances. Until we address these nuances, the other areas of our lives will suffer. You will be a better teacher if you read and understand race. You will be a better parent if you read and understand class. You will be a better pastor if you read and understand sexuality and gender. You will be a better person if you read and understand how we are differently abled. If you want to make a loving impact in the world, these "niche" books are essential. 


2. We need more. 

When was the last time we complained about there being too many prayer books on the market? When did we decide that we don't need another theology book? Has anyone ever thought there are more than enough leadership books, the world doesn't need one more? Are we ever going to stop talking about parenting? I mean we have been talking about parenting for a looong time, people. Of course not! We produce these books over and over and over again. We expect new ones to pop up. We want to soak in the new ideas. We want to form book clubs and read them with our friends. We go to book stores hoping to find something inspirational on topics that have been printed for centuries. Those with the courage and insight to write on reconciliation and these hot topics ought to be applauded, and we should be asking for more. Publishing houses should be asking for more. Churches should be asking for more. Pastors and leaders should be asking for more. We don't have nearly enough of these books. We need more perspectives, more studies, more tools, more stories. 


3. People of color read books, too. 

There is no lack of Christians of color in the United States. I realize that white folks have traditionally been the audience for Christian publishing houses, and in an age of segregation that made sense. In 2014, it doesn't. If publishing houses have a lack of purchasers of color, there may be an issue with credibility, trust, accessibility, relationships, understanding, medium or funding- but there is not a problem of audience. If there is one thing major corporations have figured out in the last 30 years, its that people of color have serious purchasing power. I am not sure why Christian publishing houses are having a harder time believing or discovering this, but I am not buying the argument that people of color aren't buying/reading/promoting books. If publishing houses only have relationships with white churches, white parachurches organizations, white church leaders, white audiences, white radio/tv stations etc… than it seems to me there is some work to do. Believe it or not, there are black mega churches, black schools, and black organizations. Yep, you guessed it- other ethnicities, too. For the success of authors of color, but also for their own longevity, it might be wise for publishing houses to look beyond a white audience. 

4. I believe in white people. 

I am not entirely sure why we keep treating white Christians as incapable beings. For quite some time, people of color have been reading about sailing, climbing mountains, and canoeing. We've read about blushing, swinging ponytails, bright red sunburns and singing 'round campfires. Some of these are things people of color can identify with, and some we do not. The point is, people of color can follow the analogy, get the point, walk away with a revelation even when the picture being painted falls outside of our experience. Why on earth, do we act as if white people are incapable of the same imagination? If we agree that white people are in fact perfectly capable of stepping outside their lived experiences, why such a focus on needing to "make sure" white people will pick up the book? Is it that we are afraid of challenging the white mind? Are we afraid of stretching, of sharing, of pushing? Are we genuinely afraid that white folks won't get it if I talk about soul food, gospel music, or black history? Are we afraid that when I drop the "g" from this title of this post everyone will be confused? Or is the truth, not that people of color need to write in a specific voice for the white audience- but rather that we don't trust white people want to grow. Because if thats the real fear, then we should start filling shelves with books on courage, and hope and possibilities, and imagination for them, and we should fill the remaining shelves with books that will be practice ground for all of us. Reconcilers have to believe in us all- white people and all other races, too. Otherwise, why are we bothering to write these books at all? 


5. Okay, last one. And this is about my own junk. This is not how anyone has "made" me feel and is therefore more confession than anything else. I am loving the conversation happening about authors of color reaching beyond the topic race. I absolutely believe that authors of color can write on prayer, parenting, leadership, teaching, theology, family, etc. I'm down with seeing more authors of color in every section of the bookstore. But. Sometimes I hear this conversation and I feel as if I am being put down for my desire to write on race. In a strange way the conversation that begins, "of course a person of color can write on race…" feels like my {hopeful} contribution to our bookshelves will somehow be less because it is on race and not on a "general" topic. Now, did I just break down how culture actually permeates almost every area of our lives? Yes. And do I still sometimes feel like my {hopeful} accomplishment of writing a book on race will be considered less of an accomplishment? Yes.

So that is my work to do. We all have work to do. Publishing houses, current authors, hopeful authors and readers. And I truly believe we could be surprised by what the Church might accomplish- how closer we might move towards love- if only we were willing to be inspired by the work.  

**Please check out the recent writings at By Their Strange Fruit for more on the inner workings of Christian publishing.**