Tag Archive | racism

What justice looks like

Murder Victim’s National Memorial Ribbon, by 23USNRETE7 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning, I read this fantastic piece by Shawn Smucker over at A Deeper Story.  What makes it good is not that Shawn’s bragging about being more noble and being the perfect white ally.  It’s good because he’s confronted his own thinking and made real change.

This is what justice looks like.

If every single one of us did what Shawn did–examine our own motivations and actions–we could alter the whole system.  We could make a place that’s safe for everyone.  It doesn’t take much, really, to begin.  We don’t have to start with protest marches.  If you’re at that point, then by all means, go ahead and join in the activism.  That’s needed too.  But maybe you are someone who needs to start smaller.  Maybe you just need to start by noticing.  Shawn writes,

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these boys before. Probably would have just drove [sic] on by. But it will be a long time before I see a young black man walking down the street and don’t notice, a long time before I don’t think of Trayvon Martin.

That’s one thing that has changed for me, too.  When I was at the store the other day, I was in a long line.  Ahead of me was a grandmother and a five-year-old boy.  As we waited, I chatted with his grandma about little boys and girls and how wonderful they are.  The little boy was sitting in the cart behind a giant box.  He peeked around it and grinned at me.  I told him I thought the box was the best part, and he agreed.  Then he showed me his teeth and said he had two brand-new ones; he asked if I liked them, and I assured him that I did.  Like many kids his age, he was completely irresistible in his cuteness, concerned only with being a “big kid” and as yet untainted by the world.  He wasn’t yet worried that a white lady might not like him, might not be a safe person for him to talk to in the store, might judge him or avoid him based on the color of his skin.  To him, I was just the nice woman who liked his grown-up teeth.  After they left, I couldn’t help thinking about the young man he will one day become and the survival skills he will need.

That’s not the world he should have to live in.

Little boys should be able to grow into men without worrying that the clothes they wear could brand them as being “suspicious” or “hiding something.”  They should be able to walk home from the store or a friend’s house without being stopped and questioned by police.  They should be able to express their grief over a court ruling without people assuming the next step is rioting and violence.

Like Shawn, I notice more now.  I’ve had a tendency to believe that as long as I was doing my best to not be a jerk, I was doing okay.  It’s not quite enough, though, because avoidance of negative behaviors and beliefs isn’t the same as exhibiting positive ones.  My interactions with the little boy at the store made me consider that.  Engaging him in conversation, looking into his eyes, I saw him; I understood a little bit about what he likes (being big and talking and making boxes into hiding spaces).  I don’t want to forget that moment, because the minute I forget, I allow myself not to notice people.  I allow myself to go back to not being a jerk instead of actively being kind and loving.  I fail to ask what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes.

I don’t want to forget about Trayvon Martin, either.

What would it take for you to really notice people and to think about them differently from the way you did before?  Would it take talking to them and learning about what they like, what they know, and what they hope for?  Would it take seeing their potential to do amazing things?  Shawn recounts the story of a local young man making a heroic rescue.  His closing paragraph contains the following sentence:

I’ve never driven past a young black man on the street and thought, He could be a hero.

What about you?  Have you ever had that thought pass through your mind?  I can’t help wondering how the world would be different if every time we saw a young person–any young person, regardless of who that person is–we saw that person’s capacity for goodness and heroism.

When that day comes, surely we will see true justice.


This week’s post is part of the Creative Buzz Hop at http://penpaperpad.com and http://gettingliteral.com.  The theme this week is “justice.”  Go visit either of the links above to read more.

The violence of assumptions

We don’t live in a “post-racial” society.

I was saddened and disappointed by the verdict in George Zimmerman’s case; I wasn’t surprised.  It makes me angry that I wasn’t surprised.  That says to me that we white people who are upset (and there are a lot of us) haven’t done enough to be allies.  We haven’t done enough to effect real change.  We haven’t listened well enough.

That said, I was also disappointed by the response I saw from a number of people.  Oh, of course there was the usual racist garbage, usually followed by “but I’m not racist!”  That was to be expected as well.  What bothered me was the reaction from my fellow Christians who typically don’t spout that kind of crap.

There’s this thing in a lot of Christian spheres where grace is reinterpreted to mean “don’t get too angry.”  I was shocked and appalled by the number of Christians exercising this principle and fretting about angry mobs and people going ape-shit over the verdict, rioting and burning things to the ground.  This is disturbing on a number of fronts.

First, it’s racist.  Yes, really.  The assumption that Black people who were justifiably upset and angry were at high risk for violence is a cornerstone of racist thinking.  It reduces people to savages who can’t control themselves in the face of bad news.  Naturally, white Christians, with all the talk of grace and mercy, are precisely the people to be the saviors of the barbaric brown world.  You know, even if the thought occurred to you that there might be riots, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself instead of jumping all over people who express their anger.  That is, if you don’t want to be considered racist, anyway.

Second, I have no idea why anyone thinks angry tweets and Facebook statuses are some indication that riots are imminent.  Seriously?  Ask yourself this: Are you personally capable of being angry about something without rioting?  If you answered yes to that, then perhaps you should give others the benefit of the doubt.  It’s the same slippery slope argument that logically fails to win arguments.  One thing does not necessarily lead to another.

Third, posting pictures of protests is not the same as posting pictures of riots.  Again, protests are not equivalent to riots.  This third thing probably falls into both of the other two categories, but I decided it deserved its own space, given the sheer volume of tweets and statuses referring to the peaceful demonstrators as “mobs” and claiming they’re seeking vengeance.

Fourth, things like “No matter what side you’re on, let’s exercise grace” and “But we don’t know what really happened!” are not helpful.  They don’t further the dialogue, they don’t express compassion for those who are hurting, and they don’t serve any purpose except to make the people writing them feel like they’ve done something.  Honestly, if you’re worried that people might become violent, is tweeting, “Don’t be violent!” actually going to stop them?  It may not be intended to silence the oppressed (though that’s debatable), but it sure does come across that way.  The first thing to say to a person who is angry about racism (or sexism, ableism, classism, etc.) is not, “Don’t do something you’ll regret!”; it’s “What can I do to help stop this oppression?”

I feel the need to say something here about the anger people are expressing.  It’s relevant not only to this situation but to any time people talk about oppression.  This is not the same as being angry because someone ate the food you were saving or borrowed something without asking and put it back in the wrong spot.  This is not the same as being angry with your kid for getting in trouble at school or your spouse for totaling the car by rear-ending someone.  This is not the anger of misunderstanding between friends or of unmet expectations at work.  Anger over oppression does not need to be monitored on the Internet because of some bizarre urge on the part of certain Christians to play Sin Police.  In fact, anger over oppression is the very thing we Christians should be angry about right alongside the oppressed.

I am not condoning violence, though I do understand where it comes from.  I just want to make it clear that it isn’t our job to keep tabs on Twitter hashtags to make sure that everyone knows that violence is wrong.  Sometimes, when we don’t have anything to contribute, it’s just better to stay back and allow people with a vested interest to express their grief and anger.  It’s not necessary to preemptively chastise people because you’re afraid of what might happen in the future.

This is a time to mourn with those who mourn.  If you can’t muster righteous indignation, then at least have the decency to pour your energy into compassion for Trayvon Martin’s family.  That’s a more productive use of your time than chasing strangers on the Internet to tell them you’re worried they might do some unspecified wrong or violent thing out of anger.  And if you can’t even manage that much, then just stay away from the subject.  That’s what the block button is for.


If you’re thinking of coming on here and tone-policing or word-policing me or anyone else, please restrain yourself.


Notable News: Week of April 6-12, 2013

Here we are, the end of another week.  I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here it’s rainy and cold.  I’d like to spend my day curled up with a mug of hot tea and a good book. Sadly, it’s not to be.  I hope you all are more successful in your plans for today.  Meanwhile, here’s what’s going on:

1. About that song…

By now I’m sure many of you have heard the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist,” or at least heard of it.  I’m sure lots of you thought, “Wow! That’s very cool that they’re addressing modern racism.”  Yeah, not so much.  Go listen to the song (if you can stomach it), then read this post over at Shakesville.  This about sums it up:

What’s being described in the song is a White man wearing a t-shirt with a Lynyrd Skynyrd logo, which features the Confederate flag, and expecting Black people to understand it only means what he wants it to mean. That is neither unintentional nor accidental. That is obliging marginalized people to center privileged people’s rewriting of a history to salve their own discomfort with that history.

2. Hope for the future

This post, An Open Letter to The Church from My Generation, has gotten quite a lot of attention.  (This is one where I think you should just avoid the comments.  Not worth the headache.)  She suggests that the real reason young people are leaving the Church (and even their faith) is the Church’s reluctance to accept its position on the wrong side of history.  It’s an eloquent plea for the Church to stop fighting change and instead grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a chat.  Sounds just about right to me.

But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment.

3. About a body

I love this wonderful post by Andi Cumbo.  I think I’ve linked it everywhere except this blog (and now I’ve remedied that).  She puts words to exactly what I want to do–create safe space for my kids to ask questions.  As a child, I knew the hard, cold facts.  But questions were often off-limits because they were strange or embarrassing or “rude.”  Yes, it’s uncomfortable, at least in part because of this generational failure to be open.  It’s necessary, though, if we want our children to grow up with healthier views than we did.

I heard lots of conversations – a friend losing her virginity in a shower, another wearing a “promise” ring, boys and whispers about boobs and third base.  I heard lots of lectures, too – wait until you’re married, God made sex for marriage, women were made to be the helpmeet to men.

But no one talked to me about my body or about sex. No one answered my questions. No one asked if I even had any.

4. Beautiful honesty in struggle

These two posts–about expectations within marriage and about living with rapid-cycling bipolar–are both achingly honest and brutally lovely.  Everyone has challenges, and it helps to know we’re not alone.  Whatever you’re struggling with today, I hope that you find comfort and hope in these women’s words, even in the midst of difficulty.  Today, find a friend or be a friend, and open your heart to listen.

Airing out our unmet expectations didn’t magically transform our despair into joy and contentment . . . But it did allow us to evolve with one another, to reevaluate what our marriage would look like as Christians and feminists… [from Unmet Expectations in a Feminist Christian Marriage]

When depression comes. It’s a black numb night with no stars. Everything becomes about me: about how God is taking special notice of my situation and punishing me. How nobody likes me. How every movement of the world is designed for my special torture.

Mania is all about the stars. Or, rather, the star: Me. Because when I’m manic, you’d be a fool not to notice me, want me, befriend me, sit in the sheer awe of magnificence.[from I is for Me]

5. Christian identity

This fantastic post by Tina Francis about identifying as a Christian and being ourselves was one of the best things I’ve read this week.  The cultural differences are fascinating to me.  One of the things I took away from this post is that the way we come across may not be read the way we want it to when it comes to people who didn’t grow up in our western culture.  That understanding about what Christian discourse looks like makes me think that we Christians need to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking.

Because I did not grow up in the West,  I sometimes find it tough to follow social discourse. This is especially true for the plot lines (read: battle-lines) in the Christian Blogosphere. It’s like watching a game of tennis, with words instead of balls. My head bobs from side to side as I try to understand what each person is grunting about. You say, “Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory”; I hear, “Pee Pee Glibitty Glob.” I find myself lost because I haven’t read the right books, listened to the right music, or watched the right movies. So I don’t always get the references.

6. Naked Pastor takes one for the team

Because David so kindly tackled this, I didn’t have to.  Many thanks!  (And have I mentioned how much I love when men get all feminist?  Remind me to link to some other good ones sometime.)  Anyway, Lee Grady used some loaded terms in his post Six Women Leaders to Avoid.  Go read it if you want some deep feminist rage.  Instead of pointing out traits to avoid in any leader, he used words associated almost exclusively with things many people dislike about women.  Fortunately, David drew a great cartoon and offered a well-written commentary in response.  (Also, when you read the last part about traits to avoid in any leader, guess which well-known preacher came immediately to my mind?)

It’s that old fallacy that men allow women to do what men do but under certain restrictions and expectations. Our club has been dominated by men for centuries but we’re going to now allow women to join. Now these are the rules.

7. Your humor for the day

It is entirely possible that I know and am related to the author of this blog.  Maybe.  I might also be a little bit proud of the person for creating it.  I hope you enjoy the blogger’s take on Hilarious Lambs, More Hilarious Lambs, Even More Hilarious Lambs, and my personal favorite, Too Many Hilarious Lambs.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! Back on Monday for [DUN DUN DUN] 50 Shades of Lambs.

Notable News: Week of October 27-November 2, 2012

Hey everybody!  Happy Friday.  Are you as glad as I am that it’s the weekend?  I’m ready to curl up with a laptop and some coffee and get some work done on my NaNoWriMo novel.  I’m a little over 4,000 words in, thanks to my patient daughter who spent a heck of a lot of time with her stuffed animals yesterday.

In other news:

1. Brave young women learning about life

17-year-old Ela donned a head covering and ventured out into the mall—only to face discrimination.  Every American Christian should read this post.  It will give you something to think about next time you’re tempted to cry “persecution.”

In a somewhat more strange tale, a college student attempted (and failed) to achieve ironic racism.  Instead, she just ended up punched in the face.  I’ll give her credit here, though.  At least she claims to have learned her lesson.  I only hope that she learns that not only is dressing as a racist not cool, it’s also not cool to dress as someone you merely label a racist.

2. Those sexy voting ads

I will admit it: I didn’t think the Lena Dunham ad was cute at all.  Call me square, but I found it more sexualized than sexy (yes, there is a big difference).  I get her point, but I was put off by the ad, and not because I’m conservative.  So in that sense, I think Anne Morse makes a good call.  As for the rest of the crap in Morse’s post, well, just read it for yourselves.  I like how she seems to believe that reproductive rights aren’t an important women’s issue or that the Obama campaign only talks about reproductive freedoms when it comes to women’s issues.  Guess she missed the memo on that whole “equal pay” thing.

3. Okay, I admit it, I’m bragging.

This never, ever gets old.  I’m on Fred Clark’s list of Christian women who blog.  That by itself is exciting.  But I’ve also had three of my posts mentioned in the last 5 or 6 weeks, including my post from Wednesday on reproductive rights and my review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  My sweet, innocent, not controversial at all (cough, cough) blog is getting some love.  If that’s not enough to brighten my week, I don’t know what is.

4. This week in reviews of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Cheers to Team Dan and Rachel!  I suffered through 45 minutes of The View in order to see Rachel talk about the book for 4 minutes and Dan to answer one question about Rachel calling him “Master” during her project.  It was worth it!  (Not only did I get to see Rachel, I got all my chores done while I waited.)  If you missed it, you can watch here.  Then check out all the awesome things everyone is saying about the book at these links:

Book review (and call to arms) – A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans by Jessica Harmon

Eschet Chayil, by Emerging Anabaptist | Ryan Robinson

The Year of Biblical Womanhood, a Review, by Jessica McCracken

 Biblical Sex and Beauty, by The Emerging-Anabaptist | Ryan Robinson

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Tiffany Norris/No Faint Hearts

Struggling with the Bible is Not Unbiblical: #BiblicalWomanhood Review #1, Embracing the Odyssey

Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, by Natasha Crain (Christian Mom Thoughts)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, by Rachel Tan

Why Biblical Womanhood Needs Rachel Held Evans, by Alise Wright

Making Peace With Proverbs 31 {A Year of Biblical Womanhood}, by Suzannah Paul | The Smitten Word

Open Letter to RHE, by J.R. Goudeau/Love Is What You Do (Synchroblog Link-up)

Reviewing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Biblical Woman

“Justice, Simplicity, and Legalism” by Ryan Robinson | The Emerging-Anabaptist

A Year of Biblical Womanhood {Or Accepting that Patriarchal Gender Roles are Part of The Matrix}, by Jessica Bowman

“Reviewing the Reviews of ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” by Matt Mikalatos/Out of Ur

“Being A Woman just got easier” by Emily Ballbach

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Amy Mitchell (Provoketive)

Biblical Submission, by Ryan Robinson | The Emering-Anabaptist

Women of Valor: Finding each other, by Rebecca Kirkpatrick/Bread not Stones

Loving the Bible For What It Is, Not What We Want It To Be, by Ryan Robinson | The Emerging-Anabaptist

Beyond the Majority Experience

I realized something unsettling the other day.  We’re pretty narrow in what we expect kids to read.  I’m guilty of it too, unfortunately.  Clearly I have some research to do.

Looking back on my years being educated in public schools, I’m disappointed by what I find.  Nearly every book I read was written by a straight, white male (most of whom were at least nominally Christian).  That’s pretty sad.  The only required reading written by someone outside of that demographic was To Kill a Mockingbird.  (We had to read The Diary of Anne Frank in eight grade, but it was the play, not her actual words.)

We read Shakespeare, Dickens, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald.  We read a few books by lesser-known authors.  We read plays and short stories, with only two women among them (Joyce Carol Oates and Flannery O’Connor). Even when we read poetry, it was mostly Frost, Whitman, cummings.  I think we might have read one or two by Langston Hughes, but that’s about it.  Even in the younger grades, the only female-authored books we read were excerpts from the Little House series included in our textbooks.

Not a single African-American in the bunch.  No Jews.  (Anne Frank doesn’t count, as it was the dramatization).  No gays.  No one of any other religious or racial demographic.

That’s depressing.

On my own, I chose books authored by all sorts of interesting people.  But I happened to love reading and devoured anything I could get my hands on.  I also had a mother who would recommend books, or strategically place them where she knew I’d find them.  I was lucky.

In high school, much of what we read had at least some parallel with what we were learning in history.  It wasn’t always an exact match, but they ran roughly side-by-side.  I can certainly understand wanting students to read literature relevant to a historical time period.  What I don’t understand is the limit placed on that.  For example, when learning about the Soviet Union (which still existed at the time) in social studies, we were reading Animal Farm and 1984 in English class.  Why weren’t we also expected to read The Communist Manifesto?  Certainly would have been useful information, something from the opposite perspective.  When we studied the American Civil War, we read Huckleberry Finn and The Red Badge of Courage.  But we didn’t read anything at all by Frederick Douglas.

I suppose a case could be made that English class is for literature, which explains not reading nonfiction.  However, even in the general pool of fiction, most of our books were, as I said, written by straight, white men.  I don’t understand the silencing of the voices of people outside that narrow subset of the population.  What is it that we’re afraid will happen if we let those voices speak?  What terrible notions do we think students will have if they read them?  And why do we expect students to do this entirely on their own, without the guidance of their teachers?

There is limited time in a school year, forcing teachers to choose only some of the available literature.  It still seems strange, though, that there wouldn’t be a better sampling of what’s out there.  It’s the job of educators to provide opportunities for their students to be exposed to things they might not otherwise choose themselves.  Why in the world would we want to narrow it down to a single perspective?

For all my friends out there who teach literature:  Expand your students’ minds.  Give them books written by people who aren’t part of the dominant culture.  Encourage your students to see the world from multiple points of view.  Talk about these things.  Don’t be afraid to ask, and have them ask, tough questions.

For all my friends who are parents:  Don’t expect the schools to do this.  Do it yourself.  Give your kids books by all sorts of writers.  Don’t wait, hoping they will discover this on their own.

I know that it takes more than reading a book for us to understand each other.  But making sure we only have one side of the story, so to speak, is a certain way to ensure we never will.  It may be a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Blast to the Past

Every so often, I hear people say (or I read in print) that they wish we could return to the values of fifty or sixty years ago.  On the surface, to many people that may seem like some kind of ideal world.  Children were respectful and had manners, families remained intact, faith in God was publicly acknowledged, and moral principles were upheld.

On the other hand, black people went to separate schools and drank from separate water fountains.  Women didn’t go to college or compete in the job market.  Adopted kids often either didn’t know they weren’t their parents biological children or were introduced as such, implying they were somehow less “real.”  Pregnant girls might be sent away to hide, then be manipulated into allowing someone else to making choices for them.  People were persecuted for unorthodox political views.  Families built fallout shelters and television ads showed children what to do in the event of a bombing (duck and cover, anyone?).

When we wax nostalgic about decades gone by, we fail to admit that we’re still living in ignorance.  “We want to return to an era when values were taught!”  Translation: We want to pretend that racism, misogyny, and homophobia don’t exist.  Brown people are okay, as long as they mix with other brown people and don’t cause us tax burden with their laziness.  Women can work outside the home, as long as it isn’t as a preaching pastor and as long as her husband is okay with it and as long as her man doesn’t take her place staying home.  And for God’s sake, those gay people ought to just go back in their closets where we don’t have to see or speak to them.

With every form of positive social change comes greater responsibility of the people to see it through.  By refusing to admit our own part in racism, we perpetuate it, despite the gains of the last sixty years.  By holding women back in the workplace, in ministry, and at home, we foster the very culture women have spent the last fifty years battling.  By denying basic rights to the GLBT community, we stubbornly turn our backs on the work of the last forty years.

When will we stop believing that life was idyllic in the past?  It reminds me of yet another wonderful quote from CS Lewis.  At the end of “The Last Battle,” when the Seven Friends of Narnia are discussing Susan’s defection, he puts in this gem:

“Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

That is exactly what we’ve done.  We’ve decided that 1950s America is the pinnacle of existence.  After all, the major wars were over, we had technology to make everyone’s life easier, and these pesky [insert your favorite race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation] people kept to themselves.  We could live in our middle-class, white, heterosexual bubbles, enjoying the finest life had to offer.

I don’t want to live in a bubble.

I want messy, complicated craziness, of the kind that only comes from embracing people unlike myself.  I want to understand the hardships faced by other people.  I want to work together for change, making a safe place for everyone to be exactly the people God intended them to be.  I want our churches to be safe havens, unsegregated by any kind of prejudice.  I want my kids to know a world where people respect one another, even when we are different.