Tag Archives: White Supremacy

Here’s a thought and a prayer

I went to bed thinking about the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  There was talk of a racist manifesto and the murderer writing about the “invasion of Hispanics.”  El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told reporters, “(It has) a nexus to potential hate crime.”  #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism was trending on Twitter.  This morning, #TrumpsTerrorists has replaced it.  Not surprisingly, persons are linking the 250th mass shooting in America to Trump’s racist rhetoric and the racists chants that followed from the crowd at a North Carolina rally.

The investigation is only beginning.  We don’t even know the names of his victims.  In fact, we know more about the gun he used.  And of course, there are “thoughts and prayers” being offered to the victims and their families.  This word combination has become problematic for many, representing inaction and more of the same from political leaders regarding gun laws.  All talk and no action.

Before persons were finished formulating their responses, finishing up their interviews on local and national news outlets regarding the shooting in El Paso, I wake up to news of yet another in Dayton, Ohio.  It is mass shooting number 251 in 216 days.  We are killing more than days we are living.  And these murders are not the only thing that is on the rise.  Time magazine wrote that white supremacist attacks are increasing in March of this year after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand where at least 50 people were murdered.

White supremacy.  George Frederickson wrote in his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, “White supremacy refers to the attitudes, ideologies and policies associated with the rise of blatant forms of white or European dominance over ‘nonwhite’ populations.  In other words, it involves making the invidious distinctions of a socially crucial kind that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on physical characteristics and ancestry. … It suggests systematic and self- conscious efforts to make race or color a qualification for membership in the civil community ” (Frederickson, xi).  Let me stop here and give you a few thoughts.

Ian Haney Lopez writes in White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race in an introduction titled “Notes on Whiteness, “Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant and ultimately social. … Whiteness (is) a complex, falsely homogenizing term” (Haney Lopez, xxi).  He writes later in a chapter titled “White Lines,” “Appearances and origins are not White or non- White in any natural or pre- social way.  Rather, White is a figure of speech, a social convention read from looks.  As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, ‘Who has seen a black or red person, a white, yellow or brown?  These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality'” (Haney Lopez, 12).

David Roediger writes in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, “White labor does not just receive and resist racist ideas but embraces, adopts, and at times, murderously acts upon those ideas.  The problem is not just that the white working class is at critical junctures manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white” (Roediger, 12).

Nell Painter writes in The History of White People, “Were there ‘whites’ in antiquity? … No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of ‘white’ people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning” (Painter, 1).

James Baldwin pointedly says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”   He also said this in The Price of a Ticket in 1985, “The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself.”

Whatever is true and liberating, whatever is authentic and facilitates our wholeness, whatever makes peace and increases our fellowship, whatever keeps the lies of whiteness and race away, let us think on these things.  And then let us pray like Frederick Douglass who said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Keep it moving.  Amen.

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).

The Race Pass

Image result for a hall pass

Get a pass: “To disregard, to take no notice of something (bad or embarrassing)”

Most of us are familiar with the race card.  A person plays the race card when she or he accuses another of racism.  It is also suggested that this card is played when a person brings race into a conversation, suggesting that an incident was prompted by an underlying racial prejudice or stereotype.  Either way, mentioning race is viewed as exploitive, making a bad situation worse by adding race to the problem and inserting a problem for which there are no quick fixes.

Whatever the reason, when race is mentioned, many of us are tempted to throw in our hands.  All is lost to race– because the work is too hard, too personal, too tedious, too costly.  We would rather persons just play along and leave this card and its reality out– despite the fact that there are entire communities that are being punished and privileged because of it.

But, what about a race pass?  I have been listening to persons talk about the social construct of race, their prejudices and stereotypes in light of this election cycle and “good Christians” are saying bad things about other cultural groups, persons of differing socioeconomic and citizenship statuses.  But, race makes it understandable and comfortable for us and them.

We can say discount the value, diminish the humanity and deny the experience of other people because of the social construct of race.  Race says that they deserve it and that we are well within our right to criticize– because we are the standard bearer and their example.  Race says that they are less than and we are more than human, more than capable, more than deserving and more than ready to lead, to work, to defend, to take what rightfully belongs to us.  Race says that we are what is right with America and consequently, the world.

Never mind the charge to love our neighbor as we love our selves or to be hospitable to strangers, (Mark 12.30-31; Hebrews 13.2).  Forget about the scriptures that call us one people and to unite as the Body of Christ (Romans; Galatians 3.23; Ephesians 2.11-19; Colossians 3.11).  Disregard the will of God for the work of white supremacy, black nationalism and other expressions of color- coded pride.  Steal God’s glory by claiming that human beings are supreme.  We can say and do whatever we want, believing our selves to be justified because of race.

We give ourselves a pass to be judgmental, rude, uncompassionate, insensitive, envious, murderous and hateful.  We use race to put down our cross and follow the desires of our flesh, breathing life into our old nature and its history.  Race is used as an explanation as if God understands our contradiction, as if God accepts this blatant hypocrisy.  Because we are not disciples of Jesus Christ when make cruel jokes or laugh at them, when we posit ourselves as the best of God’s creation and everyone else as the worst, when we walk around as if God left us in charge of all the other cultures of the world, when we believe and behave as if other human beings are beneath us.

As Christians, we don’t get a pass of any kind to walk away from our convictions, to act unjustly and to speak unmercifully to those we share this world with.  God does not love or accept us according to the social construct of race.  Not dealing in cards or the luck of the draw, God does not give out race passes.  So, don’t behave as if you have one.



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.

Praying after Emanuel AME Church Murders

imagesThe recent murder of nine church members to include the pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has hurt me deeply. I am aching in places I cannot touch and for which I don’t believe that there is a salve on the market.  It is one thing to grieve the loss of those from history’s past.  I, like so many others, have watched footage after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  I have even looked at photos of the bodies of the four little girls, distorted by bricks.  I have sat in the sanctuary and listened to the testimony of those who survived this attack of hatred.  But, it is altogether different to be living today and feel like you have been forced to time travel backward, forced to watch something that should never be seen again.

The actions of Dylann Roof are out of order, out of sequence and out of line.  He said to one of victims, “You all raped our women and you’re taking over the country.”  But, these are not his words; they are too old for him.  Instead, they are identical to those used to lynch African American men without due process of law in the 19th and 20th centuries (At the Hands of Persons Unknown is a detailed account of the terror and injustice of lynchings in America.).  Furthermore, African Americans are not taking over the country.  If Mr. Roof is talking about numbers, then he wrong.  It is projected that Hispanic Americans will be the largest minority.  He need only pick up a newspaper or a book and learn of the unequal representation of African Americans in leadership in America.

Still, he is too young to know these words and to draw such conclusions.  He, too, has reviewed footage of the terrorism suffered by African Americans and listened to conversations– but from another angle and perspective.   This poor tortured soul has entered a war, a race war, for which there is no cause, holy or otherwise.

So, what do I say now?  How can I talk to God after this happened in a place of worship?  Most days, I can’t.  I drive in silence.  I sit in the sanctuary in silence, believing God knows and located the words that I can’t find to express the agony that I feel.

Thomas Merton believed “silence is the first language of God.”  Perhaps, this will become my mother tongue as I still don’t know what to say.  Pray with me.