Category Archives: Race and Politics

Infestation

It is the word that the so-called president of the United States used to describe the city of Baltimore while attacking Congressman Elijah Cummings.  Trump wrote on his official Twitter account: “Cummings’ district is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous and filthy place. No human being would want to live there.”

Victor Blackwell, a CNN journalist, later recounted the disturbing pattern of the use of the word when Trump is talking of persons not socially colored white.  Blackwell is in tears at the end.  Baltimore is his hometown.  There are human being there that he knows and loves.

Infestation.  Such an interesting choice of words.  Of all the words at Trump’s disposal, he chooses this one again and again.  It harkens back to Nazi Germany and its use of propaganda to re-create the Jewish people as the enemy.  Its leaders chose this word too.  This word is on the side of extermination.

We would do well to stamp out its use.

Persons who would employ the term or speak indifferently about its use are not students of history and have not considered the danger of having a full circle moment.  Author and activist, James Baldwin wrote in an essay titled “On Being White… And Other Lies,” “… America has paid the highest and most extraordinary price for becoming white.”  Who one has to reject and how often the distance between us and them must be created in order to be accepted into this exclusive community is incalculable.  But, also, how far removed one is from their true self.

White is a lie.  There is no being in it and no belonging for any culture of the world.  Baldwin says, “America became white– the people who, as they claim, ‘settled’ the country became white– because of the necessity of denying the black presence, and justifying black subjugation.  No community can be based on such a principle– or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie.”  No human beings can live here.

Infestation.  It’s more than a word.  It is the subtle suggestion of an act so egregious but necessary for the protection of the lie of whiteness.  And it is no little white lie for millions of lives are a stake.

The Church should take a knee… again

Image result for martin luther king kneelsAt a recent campaign rally in Alabama, the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, called African American football players who kneeled during the national anthem “sons of b—.”  Who he was endorsing and for what position is irrelevant now.  His candidate lost but a kind of radical patriotism has gained newfound momentum and energy.  Political pundits argue that the President is talking to his base, that he is just saying what millions of Americans are thinking: “Shut up and play football.”

While Colin Kaepernick was kneeling to draw attention to the merciless killing of unarmed African American citizens by police officers, the President has polarized the country by suggesting that they were anti- flag and anti- military.  It was no longer about the dead bodies of African American that lay in city streets but the active, reserve, veteran and deceased members of our military.  While countless persons spoke up to correct the narrative, Marvin L. Boatwright, a US Army veteran’s drove the point home loud and clear.  He kneeled in full uniform while holding the American flag as Mr. Trump’s motorcade passed by.

Because it has never been about the American flag, accept to challenge Americans to raise the standard of our existence to the standard it represents.

But, this is not the first time African Americans have protested.  The Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics and Muhammed Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War are not a distant memory.  It is rather that these athletes would protest at all.  Persons have argued that they make millions of dollars to play football, that they have nothing to complain about, that they should be grateful to live in America.  Somehow, money insulates them from social ills or maybe the new silver spoon in their mouths should prevent them from protesting.

Because you can’t be an athlete and an activist at the same time.  Because if persons don’t stand for the American flag and put their hands on their hearts, then they are un- American.  It is again being argued that there is only one way to be American.  If you don’t behave like us and if don’t like our rules, then you can leave our country.

African Americans hear this anytime there is a disagreement on American values and their practice.  There is no mention of kidnapping and enslavement, that the story of African Americans is one of the deepest betrayals of humanity the world has ever known, that the only “native Americans” are those indigenous to it.  It seems that African Americans should be glad to be in the position that we are in, that we are ungrateful, that we owe America some unspoken debt for our freedom.  While we are “free at last” in America, every human being is made free, born free.  We are free at first.

Still, we should be content with the progress we’ve made.  Because at least, we are not slaves, right?  We ought to be grateful for the Emancipation Proclamation.

It sounds like we are Americans by consensus.  By reason of “whiteness,” these persons are more American.  Furthermore, they are judges of who is American and who is not.  Salute the flag or you are out.  Oddly enough, the salute mirrored that of Hitler before 1942.

Rev. Dr. Barber, “architect” of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, called them “sons of justice.”  They protested silently and were met with disapproval from the President of the United States.  Black Lives Matter protested in city streets with a permit and they were considered troublemakers.  Jamele Hill wrote on social media about her disapproval of the President on her personal time and persons asked for her resignation from ESPN.  It seems that it is not a matter of how or where African Americans voice discontent.  It is troubling that they protest at all.

Just be grateful.  Just do your job.  Just shut up and play football.

Like American nationalism, football is a religion in America.  When the two are combined, a social “rapture” is inevitable.  People take sides and those who don’t agree will be left behind.  The NFL responded in support of its players and many teams stood arm in arm as a show of unity.  But, what about the Church?

Persons say they would have marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if they were alive during the Civil Rights movement.  Well, history is repeating itself.  The Church should take a knee again with Colin Kaepernick and in solidarity with the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

Where are the hands and feet, the knees of Christ now?

“Make America White Again”?

make-america-white-again-signJust when I think that I have said enough or said it all as it relates to my views on race, I get a sign.  This time it was a billboard sign created by Rick Tyler of Tennessee who is running for Congress.  Clearly, a play on the Trump campaign, Tyler hopes to “Make American White Again.”  Deep sigh.  And we wonder why African Americans continue to ask for more conversations on race.

When asked about the sign, Tyler said that it wasn’t meant to be racist.  You can read the full story here while I give you a little back story on the history of whiteness, which has its roots in the origins of what is now the United States of America.  Whiteness is a socially constructed difference, a manufactured, capitalistically- driven identity for sale and consumption in America.  It is given to some groups and sold to others in the form of skin bleaching creams, Westernization surgeries, hair relaxers and the like.  The symbol of purity, goodness, perfection, beauty, morality, righteousness, chosen-ness, whiteness takes all the good and the rest take on all that is unclean, bad, wrong, ugly, evil, indecent and rejected.

Making American white again suggests that it began as such.  America was never white as there were persons indigenous to the land that were all but wiped out in an attempt to give the settlers a clean slate.  Making America white has called for the annihilation of countless people, their cultures and languages.  So, Tyler’s attempt would be a first since America has never been white.  It seems that Tyler believed the lies his teacher told him.

To be sure, America was not first America and it was never white.  Pre- Columbian contact, it was Olmec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Purepecha, Toltec and many others.  But, such is the case with whiteness and its memory, when it begins, all other people groups end.

Making America white has always meant the devaluing of bodies not socially colored white.  Compared to animals and small children, who needed the supervision of a slave- holding nation, specifically for the African American, whiteness is defined by the objectification and brutalization of other human beings.  The making of whiteness is costly and other cultures pay the price.

Making America white calls for the building of walls and “tougher immigration laws.”  Because whiteness is to be protected.  And if you are in country legally but there is an attack or if we are at war with your homeland, well then, we will need to relocate you– from the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 to the religious profiling of Muslims in 2016.

These are the options for whiteness: fight or flight.  Stay and protect it, that is raise the cost of living in order to create a mass exodus to keep others out or move into another community and call it redevelopment.  When the neighborhood begins to change, go and create another in order to make the neighborhood white and thus, right, again.

Tyler’s slogan assumes that things are better when people are white, which smacks of Nazism and eugenics.  It sounds as if Tyler is hoping to be elected in order to create more race- based policies for the American people, which would only create more social, interpersonal and emotional upheaval.  His slogan also lends itself to another set of assumptions, all of them wrong, prejudicial, self- serving.  White is not right and the possibility of it being so is unreal.  The fact that he does not understood the outright racist nature of his choice of words should cause him to reconsider his election bid.

Don’t Wait for Donald Trump

donald_trump_speechIt is no surprise to most Americans that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made yet another political misstep and refuses to take a step back to examine himself.  Trump recently said that federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Mexican American born in Chicago and a graduate of Indiana University, is biased against him.  Trump believes that he would not be fair to him because of his ancestry.  According to Trump, his “race” (Please note: Mexican is not a race though some political commentators have described it as such.) disqualifies him from making sound decisions as it relates to the charges of fraud that Trump University faces.  Trump believes that Judge Curiel would not give him a fair hearing because he plans to build a wall at the U.S.- Mexico border as his solution to immigration concerns.

Trump was given an opportunity to autocorrect himself in several interviews but instead doubled down, adding that he did not trust that a Muslim justice would give him a fair hearing either.  At a rally in San Diego, he even turned the tables on the federal judge, labeling him as “a hater, a hater of Donald Trump.”   Persons from his party to include Newt Gingrich have spoken out against him.  Gingrich called his attack on the federal judge “inappropriate.”

But, I would expect nothing less from members of the media and his party, both of whom seek to appear progressive, tolerant and allies when it comes to diversity.  It’s all about the ratings, the votes and of course, the money.  But, they already know who Trump is and what he stands for.  A story released yesterday from The Washington Post finds in two studies a connection between Trump’s rise in popularity and racial anxiety.  So, why keep asking Trump to say what we want him to say?  Why not say it ourselves?

There is a history of damaging and deadly proportions as it relates to the choice to be silent.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about it from a Birmingham jail in August of 1963 and directly questioned the faith and witness of “white clergy” and the “white church.”  He challenged those who questioned the necessity and timeliness of the movement.  For those who wanted him to wait, he had this to say, “We must see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.” Pastor Martin Niemoller learned this lesson perhaps during his seven years in a Nazi concentration camp:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Well, first Donald Trump came for the immigrants and you did not speak out– because you were not an immigrant.

Then Donald Trump came for women and you did not speak out– because you were not a woman.

Then Donald Trump came for persons of Mexican ancestry and you did not speak out– because you were not a Mexican.

Then Donald Trump came for Muslims and you did you not speak out– because you were not Muslim.

Then he came for you– and there was no one left to speak for you.

First, persons dismissed his bid for presidency.  Next, they denied that he would become the presidential nominee.  Now with votes in hand as the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican party, it is not enough to denounce his words.  I am not certain as to what persons were waiting for and what else they need to hear before they speak up, but I would suggest that you not wait for Donald Trump to say what needs to be said.

 

 

A Preacher Talks About Race and the Obama Presidency

ObamaPresidency1-pinterest.com_I read this interview on the Patheos website* and thought that you too will benefit from its insight and courageous truth.

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, and the venerable Rev. Dr. James Forbes, the first African American pastor of the famed Riverside Church, sat down to have a one-on-one reflection of race and the Obama presidency.

KH: Coming to the end of the Obama presidency, it seems important that we gain some clarity on the impact of race over his two terms.

JF: Even people who were not excited about his election had to acknowledge that this is a kind of snapshot of what America could be. There was talk about ‘maybe we have come of age as a democracy,’ and there were even people who announced we have come into a post-racial society. Although it proved to be premature, it was nevertheless a positive moment.

My reaction to his presidency cannot be understood apart from my lens of the experience of being the first African American pastor of a major Protestant denominational church, the Riverside Church in New York City. I experienced the joy of the occasion of my installation, celebrated with over 500 clergy from across the United States. But shortly thereafter, the stubbornness of racialist attitudes could not be discounted or dismissed.  Fairly soon you discover that being the first African American, you’re going to experience the detour of power and authority — the power’s gonna go around you.

Symbolic representation, yes.  Substantive inclusion, problematic. The illusion of freedom to be who you are and to have your work received for what it is cannot be divorced from the lens of race valuation.

KH: And race valuation can be seen in all of the issues that have come so fully into view around police brutality and through the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. All of these connect to the issue of race in the White House.

JF: Yes, so I would like to have the issue raised, how much does race matter?  And when I ask that question, I think Obama’s presidency made it possible for us to discover in living color how deep white supremacy ideology is in shaping the attitudes, the thoughts, the patterns, the practices, the perceptions, in our culture. How deep that stuff is.

KH: I’m looking, for example, at the prevalence of anger of our current candidates, and not just on the Republican side. It seems like anger is almost a badge of honor, but also a privilege that only white people are allowed to express.  I’m thinking about Obama’s restraint, that he so rarely has been able to express true righteous anger.  People have said “he’s so restrained” but if he expressed his anger in the way we’re currently seeing anger, he would become simply “The Angry Black Man.” There’s a box within which one can move.

JF: The problem is not the pervasiveness of white anger and angst; it is the denial of the relationship between the changing demographics and the changing reality about power relations between the races and the exposure of the bigotries—the normalization of bigotry.  Even liberals are experiencing that the diminishment of white hegemony is discomforting and inconveniencing.  The requirement to be in denial about it robs us of the opportunity to do honest and accurate assessment.  It sets us up for identifying scapegoats against which to fling the arrows of anger and resentment.

KH: How would you say that the African American communities across America assess and judge Obama’s presidency differently… or do they?

JF: In Olympic swimming competitions, the score is based on the degree of difficulty of the dive.  I think most black people are aware that the conditions surrounding Obama’s leadership make it almost unfair to try to assess him before you outline with precision what he was up against in trying to do that job.  Most of us think it was not a question of whether there was a level playing field; the question is, was he granted the full power and authority necessary for excelling on the field the presidency itself should be played on?

KH: How do you think the Obama presidency would have been different if it had not been constrained by white supremacy?

JF: All presidents justifiably are critiqued for falling short of the ideals campaigned on or articulated.  They all do.  But in Obama’s situation, if the critique has already been jaundiced by racialist attitudes, is this person being assessed in the light of the power that he has or in the light of a predisposition to discount strengths or factor in restraining circumstances?

Most black people think that we offered a sterling example of what the black culture produced, with Michelle and that grandmother, those two daughters.  We gave America our best.

KH: Yes, our “firstborn,” the “first fruits.”

JF:  Yes, and America trampled all over it.  I almost used biblical language — God gave the world his only begotten son and we crucified him. And some tried to do the same thing to them [the Obamas].

KH: And there has been serious critique from the black community, as well.  Liberals have criticized aspects that felt prematurely compromising of the progressive stance that we would have wished for.

JF: I think Americans think that Obama did pretty good — did very good — given the circumstances he was up against.  Of course, he was far from perfect. The real issue is that the depth of the racism was such that even when he did things that were so obviously contributions to the spirit of America—like his representation in international circles, his extraordinary sensitivity in moments of crisis, and his attempts to be balanced and restrained in extreme provocation—it felt like the assault against him bordered not only on a denigration of this man, but a desecration of the office itself.

KH: If you were Obama’s pastor, what would you say in light of the burden that he’s had to bear as president, around race and other things? What does he need to restore his soul?

JF: From the beginning of Obama’s administration, there have been multiple attempts on his life. If I had only one sermon to preach for the rest of my life, it would be this one:

Mr. President, remember the word of Joseph to his brothers, “You sold me but God sent me.” Joseph discovered that his life was in the hands of a God who had a larger purpose for his life than even he had been aware. When you think about the grace that protected your life against the most threatening vulnerabilities, be reminded of God’s revelation to Joseph—I saved your life so that you might save lives and especially (those) of your people. As a person of bi-racial ancestry, you know that “your people” includes all of us. What a responsibility! We are thankful for what God did for this nation through your courageous and faithful service.

* This interview appeared on the Patheos blog on February 24, 2016.