Posts tagged white
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. 



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. 

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.**