Category Archives: White Supremacy

The Church needs an epistle on race

“Christianity has been almost sentimental in its efforts to deal with hatred in human life.  It has sought to get read of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments.  It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of the people possessed by it.  This reluctance to examine hatred has taken on the character of a superstition.  It is a subject that is taboo unless there is some extraordinary social crisis– such as war– involving the mobilization of all the national resources of the common life to meet it.  There is a conspiracy of silence about hatred, its function and meaning.”

~ Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited

On August 11 and 12, a Unite the Right rally was held, which resulted in persons viewing images gut- wrenchingly similar to the Ku Klux Klan rallies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Images found only in history books and in black and white photos are now in full color.  We could see and hear expressions of hatred on wide screens and with high definition.  (Today, I am watching video that has surfaced of the attack of counter- protesters that resulted in the death of Ms. Heather Heyer and more than a dozen injured.)

With torches burning bright, persons who identify as socially colored white, walked the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, exchanging sheets and hoods for baseball caps, t- shirts and stonewashed jeans.  The image was jarring and disorienting.  I wondered, “So, this is what a hate group looks like now?”  Ironically, it is the torches alone that show me who they are.  Without them, they can fall back in line and into the shadows of society.

Hate has gotten a makeover and while the results are not surprising, this display of bravado causes concern.  I, along with many others, have seen hate in plainclothes but the appearance has never been televised.  Still, this transformation is an external remodel, namely a new wardrobe and name.  This attempt to rebrand does not change the ideology, which is deep- seated, historical and violently protective of a belief in the superiority of socially colored white people and consequently, their domination of the world.

The torch is a symbol much like the Confederate one persons at the Unite the Right protest rallied around that tells me not only what they believe in but what they believe about persons who are not socially colored white.  And the sentiments are not warm and fuzzy.  With the irrational fear of loss of personhood, position and property, of being replaced by persons from other countries and different cultures being repeated among them, these persons feel emboldened to take back their country and take lives in the process.  For them, sharing is not a possibility; it is all mine or nothing.

Believing that the world belongs to socially colored white people and that they are all- powerful, what is the Church’s response to white supremacy?  Because God is the only Supreme Being, the only One who can claim to be all- powerful, right?  How then shall the Church preach after the rally in Charlottesville?  Will the Church denounce white supremacy?  Will it remind followers of Jesus of the community- building efforts of God’s love and Christ’s cross?  Will the Church demonstrate the Spirit poured out on the church in Acts who had all things in common (cf. Acts 2.44; 4.32).  Can we not believe this together?

Will a discussion of racially- motivated domestic terrorism be placed on the liturgical calendar?  Will it be placed on the agenda in our business meetings or will it be business as usual?  Where in the biblical story do we find ourselves and where is Jesus?  Is he in Charlottesville protecting the Confederate statue or does he stand with those who want it removed?

Divided by politics and along socially constructed racial lines, the Church in America is largely divided.  We may worship well together on Sunday morning.  But, on Monday, we put down our cross and pull up our bootstraps.  We return to our worldly ways of rugged individualism, cultural isolation and self- segregation.  We enter shouting matches about the God of love but whisper in our corners of the world about our hatred. Because “good Christian people” don’t talk about that.

So then, I must ask what purpose does the Church serve if it does not speak to injustice?  What does the Church have to say if it falls silent here?  Where can it stand if not with the marginalized, poor and oppressed?  Where does it find its footing if not in places of persecution– unless we deny Christ’s cross?  What books, what letters of the Bible is the Church reading that enable this silence, the absence of introspection and an excused absence when it comes to social engagement and protest?  Because if the Church can’t say that white supremacy is wrong and disavow the social construct of race as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and a supreme heresy to our shared conviction that people are made in God’s image, then perhaps the Church needs an epistle on race.

But, I’m not looking for words; I am looking for living epistles (Second Corinthians 3.2).

Tearing Down the ‘White’ Wall of Silence

Image result for wall of white silence

There has been much talk about the “blue wall of silence,” that is the expectation, the unwritten rule, the code shared among those who wear blue and carry a badge to protect and cover for their fellow officer.  They have to stick together; it is the police officers against a dangerous world.

They will take care of each other.  The police officers take care of their own.  No different than the gang culture, it simply means, “Don’t snitch.”

It’s not unusual.  No one wants to experience betrayal and everyone wants to believe that there are those that they can depend on.  The problem occurs when having their back requires that you and I turn a blind eye and keep our mouths closed when we see them do something immoral and illegal.  Ironically, instead of speaking out against injustice wherever they see it, some police officers keep silent if it comes from within the ranks.

For these folks, there are borders, restrictions, blue lines that should not be crossed.

There is good silence: contemplative silence, meditative silence, shocked silence, where we find ourselves at a loss for words.  All of this is normal silence.  Then, there is bad silence.  When we are a witness to hurt, harm, danger and even death and we say nothing.  Instead, we excuse, defend, deny, rationalize, justify and demonize the person affected– every single time.  It is not a new phenomenon or a new problem.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. openly rebuked his Christian and Jewish brothers who did not speak out and step out in faith with their African American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

I wonder if this same sentiment is true of European Americans, of those socially colored white as a culture.  Is there an unspoken rule, a cultural expectation that persons do not turn on those of their own culture?  I would not be surprised as it would be an expression of white pride, a distortion of appreciation and respect for heritage and history.  To be sure, the same could be said of any other culture who frowns on the airing of dirty laundry.  The difference is the dehumanization, depreciation, devaluing, damaging and even loss of life that happens as a result of keeping quiet.

Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came” is a frightening reminder of the dangerous effects of silence. Still, nothing worthwhile is done without risks.  So, before you speak up, let me offer you these warnings.  Before you open your mouth:

  1. You will have to talk back to yourself, confront yourself, challenge your thinking as it relates to race and its progeny.  What do you really believe?
  2. You will need to deny your deny racialized self, laying down your position of social power due to the privilege of whiteness.  In other words, you will need to turn in your white card.  Who are you really without it?
  3. You will need to reject the lies that have kept you comfortable.  What stereotypes about oppressed groups have aided and abetted your silence?
  4. You will need to accept your responsibility, your complicity in the crimes and cruelties committed against persons that are not socially colored white.  What have you really done?
  5. You will need to release power and control of the outcome, of the land and resources that the social construct of race say are your divine right.  What are you holding onto?

Start answering these questions and the white wall of silence will come tumbling down.

_______________

See also: Jack E. White, “The White Wall of Silence,” Time Magazine, June 6,1999

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” August 1965

 

“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.

Charleston Syllabus

51Y8E43MSEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It is the title of a new book that offers readings on race, racism and racial violence.  Professors Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain, its authors, offer this collection of writings in hopes of strengthening our conversations about race after the Charleston massacre on June 17, 2015.  On this terrible day, twenty- one year old white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Emaneul AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine of its members, including of its pastor.  What began as a hash tag on Twitter with thousands of responses has become a publication.

I must confess that I wish that the course were not an offering.  I am still lamenting the loss of those church members and am in no way prepared to learn lessons from their bowed and bloodied heads.  It is just too soon for me.  So, if you are able to turn the pages of this book, I will give you extra credit.

White Privilege Glasses

CbV33lLWIAA2sCYDeadlines from seemingly every area of my life and stormy weather present a dual problem as to timeliness and motivation.  While this was not on my list of things to do,  I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share this article with you.  Published by the Huffington Post, “See Racism. See John See Racism. Get Some #WhitePrivilegeGlasses” is catchy I admit.  But, the title also points to the need for us to change our lens in order to see what others see.

Frankly, our eyes are not good enough and they are not the only ones.  If we are to see what others see, we must change our prescription.  And we may have to do this more times than eyewear companies have deals.  So, if you buy one, you won’t get one free.  But, we will be closer to seeing more clearly what others see in terms of our social privileges.

Inspired by a video created by the Chicago Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite offers us an opportunity to look introspectively and to challenge what we see within.  What rises up in you when you put on these glasses?  Is it empathy or something else?  Click here to read the full article.