Category Archives: Race

Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo is actually a group picture

Associated Press

Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing a racist costume and has apologized.  In his 1984 medical school yearbook, there appears someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another in blackface.  Tonight, persons are calling for his resignation.

While I take issue with his decision to wear either “costume” as the history of pain and suffering that the blackface caricature and the terrorist actions of the Klan have caused African American people goes without question, I also can’t help but wonder, “Who stood beside Northam?  Who stood behind the camera to take the picture?  Who arranged the pictures in the yearbook?  Who proofed the final version and sent it to the printer?  Who published it?  Who signed his yearbook?”

Because racism is  a group effort.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but it  also takes a community to raise a racist.  Racism does not happen without consensus, without support, without the agreement that, in this case, African Americans deserve to be mocked.  Racism, this belief that one cultural group is better than another based on the amount of melanin in their skin, is not something persons just come up with on their own. 

The belief in human races and the supremacy of the so- called white man is not to be lumped in with Santa Claus, unicorns and tooth fairies.  No, this lie has an ugly history.  This blackface caricature and the Klan have been around for a long time.  This is hand me down racism, traditional stereotypes and hatred.  Who taught him this? 

Doesn’t he know that pictures of African American men and women were taken while being tortured and lynched?  That crowds gathered for this spectacle of injustice as they were dismembered and burned alive?  That the images were printed and sold as postcards, that persons shared these pictures like they would a photo with Santa Claus?  That the injustices inflicted upon African American people have been photographed and are now filmed from body cameras and cellphones?  That African American people have been seeing these images for a long time?

Did anyone in his family or in his circle of friends, his teachers or classmates tell him that this was mean- spirited, inappropriate, insensitive or racist?  And if not, why not?  This is the real conspiracy, that is to silence our conscious, to go along with this history of bullying, to put it on, to capture it in a frame, to make it apart of our personal memories.  This picture is apart of what he remembers about his time in medical school.

In 2017, African Americans made up almost 20 percent of the population in Virginia.  Tonight, I wonder how they are left feeling about the leader who is supposed to represent them.  There is no need to look at his heart; the yearbook picture is worth a thousand words and represents hundreds of years of humiliation for African American people.  I wonder why he didn’t see this in 1984 and why we still don’t see it now?

Because racism is not out of the picture.

 

 

What’s in the melting pot?

Recently, journalist Tom Brokaw was called out on comments he made on Meet the Press where he suggested that Hispanics were not doing enough to assimilate.  He has since apologized but the conversations continue online, on buses and in taxis, at barbershops and salons, in breakrooms and over dinner as to what he meant and more specifically, what it means to be American.  To be sure, I am glad that he said it out loud.  Rather than pretend or tolerate persons from other cultures, give voice to your fears and the secret checklist that you only take out in with friends and family.

Because you can’t exactly take back that some persons are struggling with whether or not they  “want brown grandbabies.”  As ignorant as it is insulting, it is a racist belief that human beings who are not socially colored white should be treated as unwelcomed and rejected upon sight, that we know all there is to know about the baby boy or girl based on the social coloring of skin.  Most people are descent enough not to call a baby unattractive but to outright reject the possibility of the child, to abort the idea of a little one because they are a member of a culture that others have deemed inferior is heartless.  Persons who espouse this belief are pre-hating, pre- stereotyping, pre- segregating their families.  Before it even happens, they are drawing lines around their hearts and their homes with their tongues.

This is who my family is and who we always will be.  All others: Do not enter.  Keep off the grass.

***

We want persons to become American, to become one of us but how much of themselves must they give up?  Deny?  Reject?  Why can’t they keep their heritage, their culture, their language, their name?  Why do they have to lose themselves altogether?  Who has the recipe?  The measuring cups?  Are we eyeing the amount or is it exact?

When I was a child, I was told that America was a melting pot.  If this were the case, then how is it that the flavors of all the cultures that have entered are not reflected?  That persons after jumping into the pot are still being told to “go back to where you came from”?  This makes me wonder who is in charge of the ingredients?  Who is the taste tester and who is this dish being served to?

Who are we becoming as Americans and who says that we are what our founders and fellow Americans intended?  Who has the right to say that someone is “un-American” and where do these meanings come from?  Frankly, I would like to see the checklist.  I want persons to come to the table and say how they really feel about “brown grandbabies”– because they are not coming but already here.  They are in the so- called melting pot, whether or not you want them to touch you, to rub off on you, to be associated or affiliated or closer still, related to you or not.

I am convinced that we are making a myth, that what is in the pot is a false hero narrative of the founding of this country and of a people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps versus those who choked the life and culture out of people who are indigenous to what is now the United States (Sadly, the names of the people have been snuffed out.) and who tied a rope around Africans to enslave them, to lynch them and then to limit them through segregation and the Black Codes that continue even today.

We have to talk about it; if not, comments like Brokaw’s will merely stir the pot.

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

What are we talking about when we talk about race?

We’ve got to come back to ourselves.  We’ve got to take more than a few steps back and  we will have to step on more than a few toes in the process.  But, let’s begin to walk it back.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Return to the first Word that is certain to be the last Word, Alpha and Omega.

Race is not God’s story with us or for us.  Race is not even a narrator.  It has no speaking role.  Instead, it is a rumor run rampant, a hand me down lie that has never fit our humanity.  An 18th century invention, it has no theological support.  Still, we cheer it on, take it on as apart of who we are.

But this race talk has got to stop.  I call on your tongues to push back.  I ask that your souls not budge, that you not give it an inch or an ear.   Instead, we must listen more deeply as race is simply skin talk, superficial gibber, surface level banter.  When we talk about our skin and its social coloring, we literally have not scratched the surface of our human being and its understanding.

Still, we carry on with our prejudicial assumptions and segregated living arrangements.  But, we must not make room for race.  Because we’ve gotten no where with it.  Carried down through these hundreds of years, carried on the backs of one generation after another, we’ve got nothing but bent back and broken hearts to show for it.  We’ve got to leave it on the side of the road now, admitting that we do not need it to survive but have used it to serve our pride, greed and lust for power.

We’ve got to confess that this has gone too far, gotten out of hand and that we are tied up by our own tongues.  Our freedom is literally on the tip of our tongues.  We need only speak the Word to return to God’s story.  Race has created this distance between us and the Divine.  A hierarchical humanity, this is a step down and far, far away from what God had in mind when God called us by name– not by social colors.

When we talk about ourselves as racial beings and not human beings, we are talking ourselves out of our shared humanity.  Our common denominator is not color but our Creator.  To be sure, race is not a likely substitute, a shoe in and certainly not a stand in, which is why we have to really think about what we are saying about ourselves and each other.  Because we are more than out on a limb or hanging ourselves out to dry when we suggest that the totality of our existence depends on our skin when Jesus came to save souls.

Race and our humanity– not even close

I am not searching for myself.  I certainly will not find her in a crayon box.  I did not wait my entire life to discover that I am a color.  The creation narrative recorded in Genesis is much more meaningful, spiritual and tells me that God breathed into the first human being and he became a living soul (Genesis 2.7; First Corinthians 15.45, emphasis added).  Besides that, the gospel says Jesus came to save sinners, to save souls– not my skin.

So, if you and I are still talking about our skin and its social coloring, then we have quite literally only scratched at the surface of what it means to be a human being.  Johannes Baptist Metz is a great teacher of human being.  He writes of the work of becoming one in Poverty of Spirit.  Metz says,

“Becoming a human being involves more than conception and birth.  It is a mandate and a mission, a command and a decision.  We each have an open- ended relationship to ourselves.  We do not possess our being unchallenged; we cannot take our being for granted as God does.  … Being is entrusted to us as a summons, which we are each to accept and consciously acknowledge.”

Consequently, when we talk about our humanity racially, I wonder what we are really talking about.  Do we even know what we are saying?  Not fully understanding the real task as outlined by Metz, we instead engage in this busy work of the flesh.  It comes to nothing and in the end, we will not be graded on our skin.

The words of race are useless, empty, adding nothing to our humanity.  It is not the test for true humanity, the answer to our lingering questions on identity or the way to becoming human.  Instead,  we must look to Christ’s teachings, his journey and hands for that.  Hands on a cross, we have to pick up our own and deny ourself in order to follow him(Matthew 16.24-26).   Talking about race does not even get us remotely close to him or our selves.