Posts tagged race
Just Wait

"Just wait a few more generations. Soon all the old people will be gone."

"My children's generation is so much more diverse. They'll be better at this."

"The bigotry will end as the generations move further from history." 

These are statements I hear pretty regularly after discussing racial injustice. They are followed with stories about how much more diverse suburban classrooms have become, or how much diversity was present at a child's birthday party. Proud parents and grandparents are quick to point to any evidence that counters the narrative of the segregation they faced as children. The difference between then and now, rightfully, offers a glimpse of hope, especially in the midst of a racialized tragedy. These statements are filled with hope that we are getting better, that our children will be different as we move further from the civil rights movement of the 60s. Those who make these pronouncements are well-intentioned but ultimately naive. 

The idea that we just need to wait for a generation to die, and then things will be better doesn't take into account the fullness of our racialized society in the following ways: 

1. It assumes that racist ideology isn't being passed down. Its still happening. Now, I don't know how many parents are saying the words, "we are the supreme race," at the dinner table, but the ideology is certainly being passed down in quite normal and therefore insidious ways. Being taught to fear black men, avoid black women, assume Latino's are not citizens, turn Asians into model minorities, and appropriate First Nations culture while dismissing their history… are all being passed down, along with many other assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices.

As long as our language continues to uplift one race over others, center one race instead of our combined stories, and perpetuate the idea of racial inferiority, our children will do the same. Though they may never know the name Bull Conner, they will certainly participate in the dehumanization of others, unless it is modeled for them how to be and do better.   

2. It assumes racism is only interpersonal rather than both interpersonal and systemic. Even if we managed to rid ourselves of all the problematic racial language/notions around us, we still have a problem. Racism is not only about how we treat one another. There are entire systems of racial injustice that must be dismantled, recreated or obliterated altogether.

Our children will be active participants in racial injustice if we do not begin to name, and teach them how to work against injustice. The systems that uplift one race at the expense of another will survive, whether we get our language at the dinner table right or not. To ignore systemic injustice is to minimize racism and misunderstand how unjust systems will continue to thrive no matter how many generations pass. Thats the purpose of a system- to continue regardless of "turnover".  

3. It erases the urgency of now. Placing all of our hope in our children to "get it right" while simultaneously waiting for a generation to pass, is quite frankly not very inspiring. It seems both mean and extraordinarily passive to me. But beyond that, it also creates no sense of urgency. It assumes we can afford to wait. It accepts that injustice is okay for now. Its okay for unarmed young men to keep dying in the streets at the hands of police. Its okay for women to remain defenseless against the systems that are supposed to protect them. Its okay for our health disparities, income disparities, ownership disparities, employment disparities, environmental disparities, criminal justice disparities, mental health disparities, and educational disparities to continue.

No. No. No.

Thats unacceptable. Its unacceptable right now. Today. In this moment. We must believe the loss of life (physical, mental and spiritual) is urgent. 

When will we be sick and tired of waiting? When will our hopefulness turn into demands for change now. When will our own souls break wide open over the injustice perpetuated by our own generation. Will we rise to the hopes and dreams our parents had for us?  

Will we choose to create better for our children instead of expecting our children to fix it? 

Your children may in fact be great at navigating racial conflict. They may be anointed for reconciliation. Im not discounting their potential contribution to the world. But what about your contribution? What if God is calling you to this moment in history? 

The Church who declares a deep belief in the Imago Dei within all people, cannot afford to be apathetic, even if that apathy is well-intentioned. We must get to work while there is work to do. Too many lives hang in the balance. If we choose to remain inanimate, the same racist ideology that has caused so much tragedy in our own lives, will certainly survive into the lives of our children. It has survived hundreds of years; it can last another generation…

Unless we decide we've had enough. 

Unless we decide injustice is an urgent matter now. 

Unless we decide resistance is love. 

Beyond Black & White

Everyone wants to move beyond the black/white conversation. I've heard it more times than I can count. Church leaders, congregation members, training attenders, school administrators all want to know when can we finally stop talking about the history between white and black people in America.  

Despite the widespread desire to stop talking about 'the black white binary', it is essential that we are fluent in the development of race theory if we are to be committed to the work of racial justice and reconciliation. The very idea of race was created in order to establish white superiority and thereby justify the institution of slavery for the profit of white America. Racism was no accident, no misstep, no misunderstanding. It was intentional because it was profitable. Racism continues to be profitable for some and detrimental for others. By getting to the root of the sin, intent, and strategies used to create 'the black white binary', we give ourselves the opportunity to move the conversation forward. By starting here, we can effectively and honestly including the racism experienced by other groups. 

The desire to move so quickly beyond it, does not offer us any real possibility of getting to the root of the conflicts between other groups. We may dig up stems but we never uproot the source. So I do not suggest that it is not valuable to talk about other racial groups and their experiences, both past and present. Rather I suggest that studying this phenomenon from the beginning will allow us to better identify and understand how racism has purposefully been used against (and between) multiple racial groups. By identifying how racism has since impacted various communities- noting similarities and differences-  we can begin the work of dismantling racism, not for one group but for all.  

When we are in conversation with one another and demand that we skip over white black history, we commit the following: 

  • We rob ourselves of the language that can be used to talk about current forms of racism. Racism is not new. By going back to its beginning in literature, laws, and practice we offer ourselves the fullest conversation possible. 
  • We eliminate the lived experiences of history and how history has created the present. When discussing history it is very easy to forget that we are talking about humans who lived- not actors in a movie, but real people. I have often heard it asked, "Why must we keep talking about slavery? It was so long ago." To this I reply that my grandmother's grandfather was enslaved. It may feel far away to you, but to me its only a few generations. I have his picture. I have his handwriting. He remains in my grandmothers memory. He lived. And he was enslaved. His enslavement effected the choices, opportunities, lives of ongoing generations. So we cannot skip over the hard parts because they seem irrelevant. 
  • We reinforce the idea that we are post-racial in any way. I know we like to give ourselves lots of pats on the back for ending chattel slavery and jim crow, but this seems like an awfully low bar. Surely we can do better. Part of the reason we haven't done much better than removing these atrocities is that we refuse to have meaningful conversations about it. We talk around it. We allude to it. We claim spaces where we say we'll talk about it, but then the conversation goes off track, and before we know it- not one mention of how our history is connected to our present.
  • We also rid ourselves of nuance. Racism has presented itself in so many ways, through so many avenues. Housing, criminal justice, environmental justice, health, media, income, job opportunities, education… the list goes on and on. Each has a connection to history. The racial differences that exist within each issue did not pop up from nowhere and often they are connected. We must give ourselves opportunity to explore those connections. 
  • We have a hard time connecting the historical dots that will help us understand the broken relationships between minority groups. By starting at the beginning and analyzing the similarities and differences used to divide minority groups, we give ourselves the opportunity to heal everyone rather than vying for the position of who was victimized worse. There is so much room. We can appreciate the histories of us all. Lets start from the beginning so that we can see all the connections. 
  • Ultimately we allow the lies of whiteness (as a prop to superiority) to survive. For as long as we hop over the beginnings of racism, we allow the root of it to survive, to live on, to be enacted and reenacted.  

There is great value in talking about the histories of others. Each racial group has had a very specific journey with racism in America. Those journeys should be explored and taught with gusto. The number of inspirational stories of survival and resistance should be studied with regularity. I continue to be amazed by the number of connections racial groups have in dismantling the worst of racist systems throughout history. We dismantled the worst of the worst. Now I wonder if we can create- not by moving away from 'the black white binary' but by diving into it and making all the important connections along the way. 

My Faith & Feminism

#FaithFeminisms has been the slowest conversion of my life. There was no flipping of a switch, no church service revelation, no falling to my knees in wonder. The connection was borne slowly, tumbling and kicking inside, peeking out to see if it’s safe, grasping and begging for air. The midwives of friends, authors, sisterhoods, mentors and preachers it has taken to help her live would form quite an extensive list- crisscrossing the country, reaching from heaven to earth.

It almost never was. There was too much of “Eve is the reason sin entered the world” and “Ham’s curse is the reason Africans were enslaved.” What is a girl to do knowing she begins curses with one hand and embodies them with the other?  There was nothing redeeming about my womanhood or my race in Scripture. Eurocentric depictions of the Divine didn’t help either. Sunday school Bibles, archeological documentaries, feature length films all created a white, male God and white, male figures.

But then I grew up. With a great deal of encouragement from incredible role models, I learned to study The Word on my own and found myself. 

I found myself in an African princess who saved the life of Moses by defying the decree of her father Pharaoh. Yes, a princess only too happy to work across ethnicity, class and politics to form a sisterhood that would let Moses live. I found myself in an African woman who would lead a people to freedom alongside Moses (and once again save his life). And they weren’t the only women I found. Far from being naturally inferior beings, I discovered women who took risks.  I found myself between Ruth and Orpah, one who stayed the other who travelled- both making the best decision for her life. I found myself between Vashti and Esther- one who walked away from the palace to preserve her self-dignity and the other who risked her life for the sake of her community. I found myself in Deborah who would lead a battle, Jael who would finish it and Abigail who would stop one from occurring. I found myself in Eve who was not created as an inferior version of Adam but was formed purposefully by the hand of the Divine to be a good and accurate reflection of Truth and Love. I found that Ham wasn’t cursed at all.

My feminism began the moment I learned the Bible was not shaming me. If the Divine was not ashamed of me, I need not be shamed either. These women pointed the way toward a womanhood that was not dependent on male acceptance of who I am or what I want. In them I found courage to choose my own way, to defy social convention, to resist oppression,

Before I knew it, I was maturing. My feminism was finding the intersection of race. It was exploring my own privileges while acknowledging the oppressions. It was expanding to include all women, all races, all classes, all forms of social injustice. It was expanding to seek equality, wholeness, rightness- shalom. It’s still expanding as I walk with friends down intersections unknown to me.

But there are some things I know for sure:

My feminism will always live at the intersection of race. It recognizes the Divine within all black women, all women of color, all women, all people. It doesn’t erase me from the Bible or make me the scourge of it. It proclaims the innate goodness of womanhood.

My feminism isn’t afraid of American history. Doesn’t erase my narrative from the American story. Doesn’t deny slavery, Jim Crow or their consequences for black women. Doesn’t diminish Jim Crow or its impact on black communities. Doesn’t ignore the social statistics of women of color and the ways our suffering lives on.

My feminism breaks through despite being afraid. It builds movements and pushes them forward, thriving on the edges and at the margins. It seeks new ways of being. It imagines beyond what it can see. It’s rooted and prophetic, often risking materialistic desires. It doesn’t need to step on others to rise.

My feminism loves as hard as it fights. It basks in the glow of sisterhood. It nurtures relationships. It gives generously, protects fiercely, laughs freely, weeps courageously, dances with child-like abandon. Like shared wine and chocolate cheesecake with her best friends at midnight, it drinks deeply.  It lives.

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Black Only?

Okay, so perhaps you agree that having a Black History Month does make sense. I mean we all had to know the names of white Americans to graduate to the next grade level, but the histories of people of color have always been optional, elective, or unavailable. But what about the other stuff? 

Black Miss America

Jet Magazine 


Black professional groups 

Black student groups

and other "black only" things in America? Surely if any of these things were "white only" the black community would be in an uproar! Black Twitter would come alive and ruin the careers of anyone who even hinted that we should have white only versions of these things, right?! 

Well, so much things to say. Lets take this step by step. 

Since 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue this country started a recored of European domination that resulted in a number of "white only" practices. Freedom was white only. Home ownership was white only. Literacy was white only. Land ownership was white only. Voting was white only. Politics was white only. Equal representation under the law was white only. (And many of these were white male only.) So America has a pretty steeped history of racial dividing lines, but that history was created by white people. 

When these freedoms became (theoretically) possible for people of color, white folks quickly adopted Jim Crow laws, effectively barring us from occupying the same space as white people. For decades black folks got creative and began our own alternatives.  

Miss Black America was founded in 1968 when black women were not considered beautiful enough to place in the Miss America pageant. In fact, the first first black faces to appear on stage at Miss America did so in 1923… as slaves in a musical number. In the 1930's the Pageant formalized its racism by writing into the rule book that only women of the white race could could compete. A black woman would not place as a contestant until 1970, and wouldn't win until 1984. The racism of the Miss America Pageant did not hold back black women from celebrating one another. 

Jet magazine was started in 1951 when white magazines expressed no interest in presenting the beauty of African American women. In 1965 Harpers Bazaar used a sketch of a black woman as its first African American on the cover, before allowing her photo to appear. Ladies Home Journal didn't feature a black woman on the cover until 1968. Seventeen Magazine's first issue with a black woman on the cover was in 1971. American Vogue didn't place a black woman on their cover until 1974.  Even now, many of these magazines (and others) rarely feature black people on the covers. Magazines like Jet, Ebony and Essence have been sitting on our coffee tables for decades, telling our stories of beauty and success, histories and hopes of the future. 

BET is a relatively new business venture started in 1980, but it stands within a long history of creating our own media, much like black magazines. The creation of black media arguably started in 1827 with the Freedom Journal, our country's first African American owned and operated newspaper. Since the creation of the Freedom Journal, African Americans have produced newspapers, magazines, and yes even cable channels that are specifically targeted to meet the needs of African Americans. But don't be mistaken, when BET was created, MTV rarely showcased black artists in its video line-up until Michael Jackson broke the color barrier in the mid 80s. The creation of BET took new ground by purposefully featuring black artists and their range of music. 

The first historically black greek organization was created as a safe haven for minority students in a white college. Alpha Phi Alpha "initially served as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially, at Cornell." Other greek organizations started sprouting up across the country to meet various challenges and needs. Greek organizations have a history of service, fellowship, academics, and professional networking. 8 of the Divine Nine were created decades before the Civil Rights Movement. 

As segregation ended and America groaned under the weight of no longer discriminating against people of color in hiring decisions, black professionals realized that organizing, meeting, networking and promoting one another was one way to stay on top of professional opportunities. Many black professional organizations were birthed in the 70's- as a way to stay connected to one another, and as an opportunity to be available to the black community. 

I realize that even after this history lesson, someone still has two questions. 1. Why is all of this still in place now that segregation is over and 2. Wouldn't I still be mad if a group was formed for whites only? 

Let me begin with the first question. Many of these organizations, media, and alternatives exist because of resistance to integration, and have consequently been a part of black life for a long time. Alpha Phi Alpha has been around since 1906! It has a long history and tradition that didn't end just because of integration. Generations of black men and women have participated these greek-life organizations. Jet magazine has been sitting on coffee tables for 3 generations in my family. It is a household staple that didn't disappear when mainstream media finally decided to place black women (occasionally) on magazine covers. Our alternatives have become traditions. And we fell in love with those traditions while white people segregated themselves away. That love, devotion, trust and credibility didn't end with integration.  

Ok, on to the heart of your question about a double standard- Black folks can do this. White people can't.

1. Well, first I'd like to remind you once more that many of these were created during segregation (some during slavery). Our alternatives didn't pop up last week to make white folks upset.

2. America has a long, long history of forming white only organizations. KKK anyone? White neighborhood covenants. White Miss America Pageant. White drinking fountains, movie theaters, hotels, bus stations, bathrooms, hospitals, classrooms, and churches. We should not pretend that white only spaces never existed. "White only" was quite normal only a couple generations ago.

3. White only organizations DO still exist. I know we don't want to talk about them, but white nationalist, separatist groups exist around the world, including here in America. The KKK is but one among many, and the organization still has rallys to remind us where they stand.

4. There are plenty of organizations that don't have to write "white only" into their bylaws for African Americans to recognize whether or not we are welcome. There are still plenty of churches that have all white congregations. There are mainstream magazines that can go a year (or years) without acknowledging the existence of people of color. Television shows and movies can have all white casts. Private elementary and high schools can have all white attendance with only one or two people of color among hundreds of students. The Miss America pageant can go years without crowing a woman of color. (And despite having just done so, the crowning of Nina Davuluri was met with a furry of racist commentary). 

5 .Finally, I think its important to note that white ethnic organizations DO exist! I walked by the Swedish American Museum in Chicago last week. There are organizations for German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, French-Americans and so on. They may not be titled "white" but it is doubtful there are many people of color in these clubs, organizations, affiliations, museums, alliances and chambers of commerce. Perhaps if African Americans hadn't been stripped of the knowledge of our heritage we would term our alternatives "Ethiopian-American" or "Nigerian-American" or "Angolan-American" but we don't have that luxury. So Black-American or African-American will have to suffice right alongside European- American organizations. 

Here, I can only speak for myself, but I have no need to riot against these organizations. I have written no letters, stated no outcry, nor rallied Black Twitter around this cause. Just as black-Americans have a long history of organizing for various reasons, so too have other white ethnic groups. But lets be clear, white ethnic organizations do exist. 

So, no, I do not consider black organizations to be racist, nor are they a double standard. All of these ethnic affiliations, in one way or another, have risen from our history of segregation. Their continued existence tells us that our integration efforts may not have been as successful as we would have ourselves believe.

Let us continue in this business of learning each other's history, of celebrating one another, of advocating for each other. Let us work to understand one another and our varied experiences of America, whether historic or current.    


***Update*** It is also important to know that most "black" organizations are not really "black only" the NAACP, Greek-Life, Miss Black America, HBCU's and professional orgs are open to others. In fact, the HBCU where my grandparents attended in the early 50s is now majority white.