Posts tagged violence
Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People

So God created human beings in his own image. Genesis 1:27

As black evangelical leaders, we believe it is important to respond to The Gospel Coalition’s publishing of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Thoughts on Ferguson, a perspective we deem to be extremely anti-black. First, we condemn The Gospel Coalition’s editorial leadership for its moral and pastoral failure in publishing such an anti-black viewpoint. No Christian organization should ever participate in dishonoring the image of God in black people, especially at a time when so many black Americans are in pain. Second, we lament the internalized anti-black racism that Pastor Voddie conveyed in his article and the fact that it has been used to further support White-on-Black violence among Christians. Here, we offer a different perspective, one that we believe honors the image of God in black people.

 

A Brief of History of White-on-Black Violence

Racism is White-on-Black violence.

In 1619, the first twenty Africans were brought over as labor for the new colonies. Within one generation the white majority had defined black people as permanent slaves and non-human property. This created a social order in which black people were only valuable for their ability to support a white dominated society that was economically prospering off of the stolen land of Native Americans and the stolen labor of African Americans. Consequently, a system of White-on-Black violence was born.

This system of White-on-Black violence has defined the last 400 years of American history. For example:

  • Millions of Africans died during the middle passage journey from Africa to the so-called ‘new land’, even before ever stepping foot in America.
  • Slavery lasted for 246 years, beginning in 1619 and ending in 1865.
  • From 1865 until 1945, well over one hundred thousand black people were re-enslaved through the convict-leasing system, in which whites arrested blacks for minor crimes such as changing employers without permission, vagrancy, engaging in sexual activity or loud talk with white women.
  • Simultaneously, white (mostly Christian) Americans sought to retain white control through racial terrorism. About 5,000 African American men, women, and children were lynched by white mobs.
  • Jesus, who was both the Son of God and a poor Galilean Jew living in solidarity withthose under Roman occupation and those vulnerable to crucifixion, has been transformed into a powerful white man. This image is a form of idolatrous systemic white violence against black people and all people of color.[i]

Despite such White-on-Black violence and much more, black people have always resisted. For example, dissident voices like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass rejected ‘the Christianity of this land’ in its complicit endorsement of white domination over black bodies, proclaiming that it had nothing to do with the true peaceable Christ. Protests like these continued until the 1970s, always triggering systemic white backlash.

In the 1960s black consciousness arrived in mainstream public discourse, affirming the value of black people in the face of historical and ongoing White-on-Black violence.  Not surprisingly, the system in which Whites were always on top, responded. Taking a cue from the convict-leasing system, White law enforcement began arresting black men en masse for nonviolent drug crimes. Since the 1970s, the prison population has boomed from about 300,000 inmates to beyond 2 million people caged like animals, a disportionately large number of them black men. Black bodies continue to be controlled by this system of White-on-Black violence.[ii]

Now in the present, black people in Ferguson and around the country are fed up. We are fed up that 1 out of 3 African American males will be arrested and go through the American injustice system at some point in their lives[iii], primarily for nonviolent drug charges, despite studies revealing that black youth and white youth use drugs at comparable rates. Research also tells us that black males are 21 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police than their white counterparts.[iv] Just as critical, schools are being defunded all around the country in many black neighborhoods while prisons are being expanded -- another example of systemic White-on-Black violence.

 

Black-on-Black Violence is an Extension of White-on-Black Violence

The historical and current system of White-on-Black violence sends messages that are so powerful that many black people succumb to them, ultimately becoming defined by them.  Internalized racism, a term first coined by black scholar W.E.B. DuBois in 1903,[v] involves accepting a white supremacist social world that places black people at the bottom, and adopting society’s negative stereotypes about African Americans concerning their abilities and intrinsic worth.[vi]

An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”

Indeed, a research study conducted in 2011 found that internalized racism significantly predicted black male teenagers’ propensity for violence. In other words, the more internalized racism a black male teen possessed, the greater his aggressive behavior, the more positive his attitudes toward guns and violence, and the more at-risk he was for engaging in violent behavior.[vii] Based on these findings, the researcher concluded that a lack of self-respect and/or negative views toward their own race (e.g., internalized racism) result in black male teens’ greater propensity to engage in violence. In essence, “Black-on-Black violence” is simply an extension of systemic White-on-Black violence.

 

Pastor Voddie’s Internalized Racism is Black-on-Black Violence

Black-on-Black violence takes many forms. Propped up by the mighty platform of The Gospel Coalition and the many white people who frequent the organization’s online space, Pastor Voddie was quick to point out the physical Black-on-Black violence that exists in America. However, despite the fact that he is black, Pastor Voddie failed to see the ways in which he engaged in a form of verbal Black-on-Black violence that mirrors White-on-Black violence. By conveniently omitting any discussion of the ways in which the long-standing system of white domination contributes to fatherlessness in the black community, police brutality of black people, negative societal perceptions of black people, the systemic disempowerment of black people, the internalized racism of black people and even Black-on-Black violence, he assaulted the character and worth of black people, suggesting that black people like Michael Brown deserve to be killed. In doing so, he made a statement in support of White-on-Black violence, an argument that many whites have used throughout history.

Just as we are presenting a historic look at the system of White-on-Black violence, the Bible also shows us -- from Exodus to the Gospels to the 1st Century Church -- the forms of systemic violence perpetrated upon the people of God by those in power. In this light, all Christians today should grieve with a people group that has been and continues to be victimized by such systemic violence. Blaming one Black young man for the sowing of such sin is a great disservice to the very people to oppressed people of the world, to whom Jesus consistently showed mercy.

We encourage you to read Dr. Alan Noble’s point-by-point response to Pastor Voddie’s article. Given the long history of anti-black violence in this country, all followers of Jesus must be committed to engaging in the transformative and liberative work of Jesus, which means affirming the image of God in black people and resisting all White-on-Black violence in word or deed.

 

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:

to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

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   By Austin Channing Brown, Christena Cleveland, Drew Hart and Efrem Smith

By Austin Channing Brown, Christena Cleveland, Drew Hart and Efrem Smith

Austin Channing Brown, M.A. is a Resident Director and Intercultural Liason at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.

Christena Cleveland, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.

Drew Hart, M.Div. is a pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Efrem Smith, M.A.. is President/CEO of World Impact, Inc. and the author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church.


[i] Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[ii] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York, N.Y.; Jackson, Tenn.: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2012).

[iii] Ibid., 9.

[iv] Ryan Gabrielson et al., “Deadly Force, in Black and White,” ProPublica, accessed November 30, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white.

[v] Du Bois, W.E. B. 1989 [1903]. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin

[vi] Jones, C. P. (2000). Levels of racism: A theoretical framework and a gardener’s tale.

American Journal of Public Health, 90(8), 1212-1215.

[vii] Bryant, W.W.. (2011). Internalized racism’s association with African American male youth’s propensity for violence. Journal of Black Studies, 42, pp.690-707.

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 Cynthia. For you.

This is for Cynthia. 

And this for you when told that you deserved to be harassed because your clothes are too skimpy, too revealing, too low cut, too high waisted, too sexy, too skinny, too attention grabbing. This is for you because you can't wear anything unflattering enough to guarantee not being harassed. This is for you because you were taught to take ownership for the vileness of strangers.  May this weight be forever cast off; its not yours to carry. 

This for Cynthia.

And this is for you who stared down the barrel of a gun and wondered if today would be the day, the one when you couldn't make yourself small enough, when you couldn't stay out of the way, when your cloak of invisibly was broken. This is for you because no matter how much you gave, loved, sacrificed, offered, released, tried- it was never enough to create permanent change. May nonviolence not be an abstract concept but a practice in every aspect of your life. 

This is for Cynthia.  

And this is for you who couldn't share that you've been sexually assaulted because he is a nice Christian guy with a good GPA and is well liked, and sex isn't a word you use on a Christian college campus. This is for those who were coerced by an authority figure- someone you were supposed to be able to trust. May truth win. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who cannot speak about what happened that day, that night. Who doesn't want to remember but cannot forget. Who must drive by the same spot. Who must go to the same class, same job, same church. Who must sleep in the same bed, or in the same house, or under the same roof. Who cannot trust. Who cannot get away from the trauma. May healing be yours. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who must hide- in closets, in bathrooms, in bedrooms. Who hide the bruises, the scars, the scrapes, the burns. Who hide from family, from friends, from pastors, from coworkers. Who put on your smile with make up, who use visine to hide red eyes, who knows more tricks than anyone should to cover the pain. May visibility finally equal love. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who attend a church that never talks about abuse or harassment or assault or rape. Who has heard numerous sermons on being submissive, but not one on how much you deserve respect and love. Who believes this is Divine. Who believes this is love. May our churches do better for you. 

This is for Cynthia. 

And this is for you who tried to tell, tried to tell the men you loved and were asked 20 questions about what you should have done differently and how you handled that badly and how you should do 25 things differently next time. Who knows there will be a next time. May you be heard by someone who will protect you. 

This is for Cynthia.

This is for you who tried to tell your mom, your girlfriends, your sisters but were silenced instead. Who dropped hint after hint but no understood. Who expected words, hugs, comfort, and a game plan. Who received a lecture on why you must stay. Who expected more. May you be heard by someone who will protect you. 

This is for Cynthia. 

And this is for you because everything hangs in the balance- a home, a family, children, money, career- your entire world. This is for you who risk it all when you attempt to leave. This is for you who loves someone who stays. This is for you who lost someone who had the courage to leave. May freedom and peace be yours. 

 

Cynthia is a woman I loved deeply. She was my parents best friend, who in many ways took on the role of my aunt. She tried to leave her abuser, and when she did was chased out of her home and held at gunpoint in the middle of the street. He shot her and broke the hearts of many- most significantly her children. I still think of her often.

Knowing what can happen to a woman who tries to leave, I have no time for judging why women stay. I hope all of our hearts will be ruled by compassion rather than condemnation. They have enough condemnation in their lives. Choose to sing a different song- of love, of peace, of care.

 

This is for Cynthia, I miss you. -Austin