Category Archives: Race and Emotion

Surprise is not a valid response to racism in America

Image result for surpriseRecently, I was talking to a man named Garrett, who I think identifies as a Christian.  He took issue with a recent article published by Relevant magazine that posed the question, “Should Pastors Who Don’t Speak Up About Racism Resign?”  It is an interesting question in light of the recent resignation of Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee.  He spoke out against white supremacy at the VMAs and was later forced to resign for his remarks.  The church thought that it brought too much attention to them and it was not well- received.

But, for Garrett, “Racism isn’t a widespread problem in the church or the country.”  For him, the question was totally unnecessary and was part of the problem.  The question was making racism a big deal.  Asking these kinds of questions and talking about it at all was the reason why there was divisiveness in our country.  But, when I shared with him recent incidents of racialized violence, he suggested that these were the only two, namely Charleston and Charlottesville.  And it was a small amount of people; consequently, their hate didn’t amount to much.  The Ku Klux Klan hadn’t been around that long (They organized in 1866.).  When I shared more names and dates, he moved his argument to laws that support race and racialized violence.  When that was addressed, he stopped talking.

Because when we know better, we often don’t want to do better, respond differently or change our perspective.  Because to answer the question would require the acknowledgement of the truths behind it.  And many of us are not ready to do that.  Instead, like Garrett, we question the question though that’s not a legitimate answer either.

And we know the answer.  Garrett, like so many others, doesn’t care and worse still, he doesn’t care to know.  I am sure that he would have produced more questions if allowed.  He would rather debate the question than discuss the answer.  But, if you don’t know the facts about race and racism in this country by now, you don’t want to know.

So, when we are confronted with the reality of racialized violence, don’t feign disbelief.  “How could this happen here?”  Too many people have died because of it.  Gasps are misplaced here.  Instead, the sound more befitting is lament.

For history tells us that this present reality has never been fully addressed.  Hundreds of years later, what is there to be amazed by?  Opening our mouths in shock is easier than parting our lips during conversations on why and how and when this needs to stop.  It is easier to say, “I didn’t know” versus “What can I do?”  It lets us off the hook.

“I had no idea that this was still happening.”  Pretending as if racism in America is new or at some point disappeared only to resurface in this present moment (and no other) is self- serving.  Because witnesses are called to testify.   We would rather be judge and jury.

It is also perhaps evidence of our avoidance.  We don’t want to deal with race and so we attack anyone who would bring it up.  “There is nothing to see here.”  But there is.  What we don’t want to see is ourselves complicit in our silence, implicated because we have heard this story before and we did nothing to stop it.

Sadly, this response is not new and no surprise.

The Rise of Hatred

hate-header-01This recent report reads like a prayer list for me.  The Washington Post has described 2015 as the year of ‘enormous rage’ and there seems to be hatred to go around.  The rhetoric of this political cycle’s presidential candidates has only added to the tension and division.  So, we hate for racial, religious, economic and political reasons.  There seems to be hatred for most if not all things along with fear and hate crimes to go with it.

But, the social construct of race continues to take the cake.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that chapters of the Ku Klux Klan rose from 72 to 190.  In a similar vein, black separatist groups also increased from 113 to 180.  With anti- confederate flag messages, the increased instances of police brutality which created the Black Lives Matter movement, I do not foresee a decline on the horizon. And the report does not account for anonymous hate groups that meet online (in country clubs or at the dinner table for that matter).

While the SPLC’s definition of hate has been questioned and rightly so as it seems to reflect their personal interpretations and leanings, the numbers are important.  The growth of hatred for people is something that we should pray against, whatever its form and wherever we find it.  Hatred does not heal our relationships and the rise of it only speaks to our wounds.

Perhaps, we should tone down the rhetoric.  Lower the stakes of this next presidential election.  Lower our expectations of what she or he may be able to do for I assure you, it will take more than 4 years or 8 to “save our country” if that is your hope.  And maybe we should lower our voices and listen to what we are saying because hate is such a strong word.

To read the article which discusses the full report, click here.

Praying for our hatreds

“It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate. … We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be.  … The way of prayer is not to cover our unlovely emotions so that they will appear respectable, but expose them so that they can be enlisted in the work of the kingdom.  ‘It is an act of profound faith to entrust one’s most precious hatreds to God, knowing they will be taken seriously.’  Hatred, prayed, takes our lives to bedrock where the foundations of justice are being laid.”

~ Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms As Tools For Prayer

Hatred.  What do we do with it?  More often than not, we act on it and direct it to the person or group of people that we hate.  We speak it or display it with harsh words or actions on picket signs, in public and private practices.

America has a history of hatred that continues to impact the relationships that we as Americans share with each other.  Greed coupled with an unjustified hatred of persons of African descent led to the enslavement of these human beings.  This hatred reduced people to property and saw them as nothing more than objects to be used and exploited.  The persons who “owned” them hated them but loved what they could do for them.  It was a hate- love relationship.

This unfortunate reality and the hate crimes that continue to headline our news speak to our continued misunderstanding of the purpose of human relationships.  We are confused by capitalism, race (and its false promise of supremacy) and other social systems.  But, hatred is a crime against our humanity and the humanity of others.  We do not glorify or praise God in it.

And many of us know this to be true.  Perhaps, this is why we split our identity.  We are black Christians, white Christians, red Christians, brown Christians, yellow Christians, beige Christians.  One part is for God and the other for race.  We know that we are commanded to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us.  But, we have a history to defend.  If we forgive them, then what?

Heal.  Start over.  Trust.  Build new relationships.  Love.  We must take our whole selves to God including the hateful part, the power that empowers us and that we lord over the unforgiven, that maintains our position as judge, jury and jailer.  We must confess our hatred and ask God to heal us of it, to take it away from us.  I am certain that we cannot do it on our own.

Yes, we should praise God for the things that He is doing with us and through us but, we must also talk about our struggles to love and accept all those that God has created.  We must talk to God about our hatred.  He’s concerned about it and He knows what to do with it.

How Race Rejects Us

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

~ Psalm 118.22

Race does not give our lives a chance.  They are not allowed to speak for themselves.  Race says before we are born, “I know you already and I know what you can and cannot do.”  It is a god of our thoughts.

Race tells us where we belong and sometimes, it is no where.  It limits the possibilities of relationship.  It restricts our dreams; they need not apply because race gives them to us.  Right from the beginning, race says based on your appearance, this is what you can do.

This is how race rejects us:

1.  Race rejects our bodies.  Race says, “I does not like its appearance.  I don’t like how your body looks so I don’t want to see it.  It reminds me of things that I fear.  Your body does not look like mine so it must not be beautiful, the right kind or human.”

2.  Race rejects the presence of our bodies.  Race says, “I don’t like your body and I don’t want to see it.  I don’t want it in my neighborhood or at my school.  I don’t want my children to see your body or like it or think that it is acceptable because it is around.  In fact, I don’t believe that your body belongs in my state or my country.  I want your body to get out.”

3.  It rejects the gifts of our bodies.  Race says, “I don’t believe that someone who looks like you is capable to doing this.  Only we are capable of offering good things to the world and its inhabitants.  Someone must have taught you or you must have took it.  This can not your own idea or ability because it does not match my feelings about how you appear to me.”

4.  It rejects the opportunities that our bodies represent and offer.  Race says,You may be a nice person but I’m just not interested.  I can create my own and for my own people.  I can do it myself.  I can do it without you.  Why don’t you do the same?”

5.  It rejects the possibility of relationship.  Race says that persons from different cultures do not go together.  We do not “match” so we don’t belong together.  We must stick with our own kind.  Race says, “Not only do I not want to know you or be around you, but I don’t want to share life with you.  In fact, I am better off without you.”

6.   Race teaches us self- rejection.  Race, says, “I don’t like you so you shouldn’t like you either.  I have rejected you; consequently, there is nothing about yourself that you should accept.  You need to change everything about you; look/ act/ think/ behave like me and then I will accept you.”

7.  Race says that God rejects us.  Race says, “God created you to be a curse, to be a comparison, to stand as the definition of all that is wrong and evil and dark with the world.  Just look at you.  There is nothing about you that you suggests that you should lead and this includes your own life.  You were created to follow the lives of other social colors.  You were created to serve and support.  You are the burden and the burden- bearer.”

So, God created the whole universe, galaxies, bodies of water, continents and billions of people and doesn’t like your culture or mine?  God created some thing that He hates and that He hated so much that He keeps creating us?  Not only that, according to race, God did not put the purpose of our existence into His plan.  Despite the reality of our existence, race says, there is no place for us and no plan for us.

There is a place for insects, animals, fowl and fish but there is no place on earth for you.  Race says, “We don’t have anything for you to do in the earth; please leave.”  And go where?  We belong here just as all of the other created things do.  The rejection of race is absurd.  Its words can’t move anything and no one should relocate based on its beliefs.

The rejection of race is immediate but the acceptance of God is ultimate.  The good new is that we can talk to the God who knows how it feels to be rejected.  He doesn’t have to imagine how it feels but has experienced it first-hand.  Jesus was rejected.  Isaiah foretold it, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (53.3) and Jesus lived it: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1.11).

But, there is always good news.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118.22).  I am so glad that there is a kingdom that is not of this world and it places great value in those who are rejected.

Trayvon Martin: Trying Your Unconscious Beliefs

 After returning from church this afternoon, my husband and I grabbed a blanket and found our favorite spots on the couch in order to watch Meet The Press. “Because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet The Press.” The opening theme was “Race in America” and its roundtable discussed the nation’s emotional reaction to the Trayvon Martin case.  David Gregory said that one thing that caught his attention this week was getting to the bottom of attitudes, suspicions. He cites a portion of Charles Blows essay “The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin” and returns to the point that David Brooks, a New York Times columnist makes: “How do we feel as we encounter young black men in a neighborhood anywhere?”

Brooks also said, “The crucial thing is that when we look at people of other groups, we tend to stereotype.”  He invited viewers to take a five minute online survey, the Implicit Association Test, on the website Project Implicit to examine our unconscious preferences and beliefs. In case, you missed this afternoon’s edition, I didn’t want you to miss the opportunity to do some “soul searching” as President Obama mentioned in his comments about Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was tried in the eyes of Mr. Zimmerman and found guilty of “something.” But, I challenge us to try our unconscious beliefs. Maybe we’re not so innocent either?

Resources

Charles Blow, “The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin,” New York Times, March 16, 2012.

Kyle Hightower, “Congregants wear hoodies, remember Trayvon Martin,” Associated Press, March 25, 2012.

msnbc.com staff, Trayvon Martin death becomes national rallying cry, March 24, 2012.

President Obama, Video: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin,” Washington Post, March 23, 2012.