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**this post was originally shared at Spice Tithers

Since I wrote a post on white supremacy over the weekend, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about whiteness. And I don’t like it. To talk about whiteness is to saddle up the angry elephant in the room and ride that sucker around.

In America, whiteness is our default. I catch myself in conversations with my husband where I’m describing a new acquaintance and I’ll describe everything about her BUT her race if she’s white. If she’s not, race is the first thing I usually mention. White is my default. Everyone else is other. I’m learning to see whiteness.

And what I’m seeing when I see whiteness isn’t just race. I’m seeing the lies behind the labels. I’m seeing my own fears and biases. (If you want to borrow my mirror on this, there are bias tests that can help you see your own ugly.) This week, I shared this comment on Facebook. It felt like a plea for help, like all confession does.

I don’t condone destruction or looting. I have to ask, though, why collectively we’re more concerned about storefronts and the destruction of property than we are about loss of human life? Why are we more afraid of a large group of unarmed angry black protestors than we are of armed angry white protestors? I’m asking these questions of myself as much as I’m asking any of you guys. When it comes to racism, there may be differing degrees of complicity and perpetration, but we’re all in recovery together. Let’s admit we have a problem…Hi, my name is Cayce and I’ve adopted racist constructs and fears.

Most of the conversations I’ve been having about whiteness go off the rails immediately. The biggest obstacle to productive discussions and reflection comes when a white person I’m talking to says, “Are you calling me a racist?” I’m immediately put on the defensive, and compelled to walk back what I’ve said, etc. because where we live, being called a racist is worse than actually being one. Now, there are a lot of fantastic resources on the web to deal with this particular derailment. (My favorite is this one.)

But the truth is, no matter what facts you give, no matter how you walk it back or try to explain it, the accusation that you’ve called a white person a racist just sticks. So from here on, I’m changing my strategy. If you ask me am I calling you a racist, I’m going there with you:

Yes. You are a racist. So am I. Let’s get some help.

If I’ve learned anything from my walk with Jesus, if someone is calling me out, I will want to fight it. But every confrontation with the truth goes easier for me if I surrender quickly. So, my reputation as a white person with racist attitudes is out there.

There is a fear in facing the whiteness and all the privilege it entails. We can’t seem to look it in the eye. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I think the most likely is this: we like the lie.

Bejamin Corey addresses this at Patheos:

If we admit to the existence of systemic racism in America, it will prove false the American narrative so many of us grew up believing…We can’t admit that systemic racism exists, because that will mean the narrative we were taught about America is a huge lie…If we admit to the existence of systemic racism in America, it makes us guiltyWe don’t want to admit it because we’d have to admit that we’ve been complicit in the sin by not addressing the sin…If we admit to the existence of systemic racism, it would demand costly change.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates nailed it this week in the context of conversations about what’s going down in Ferguson:


We are being told that Michael Brown attacked an armed man and tried to take his gun. The people who are telling us this hail from that universe where choke-holds are warm-fuzzies, where boys discard their skittles yelling, “You’re gonna die tonight,” and possess the power to summon and banish shotguns from the ether. These are the necessary myths of our country, and without them we are subject to the awful specter of history, and that is just too much for us to bear.

Taken all together, the body count that led us to our present tenuous democratic moment does not elevate us above the community of nations, but installs us uncomfortably within its ranks. And that is terrifying because it shows us to be neither providential nor exceptional, and only special in the subjective sense that our families are special—because they are ours.

As Coates points out, we have a distorted view of our history in America. We want the good old story so bad, so we will refuse to see the connections of the evils in our past and the evils in our present.

Squandering opportunities to do it better than we did before.

Squandering opportunities to do it better than we did before.

The Bible makes it clear that there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it’s because despite our lip-service to the contrary, we don’t really want to learn our lesson. But God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. He’s given us the opportunity to start again. He died and brought Himself back so that we could know the liberation of confession, forgiveness, and contrition. He’s given us His Word to bring us hope and to teach us what to do. He’s calling us to stand with the oppressed.

Greg Ogden writes:

The symbol of justice in our society is a blindfolded woman, indicating that justice is blind. The fair judge is dispassionately objective, free from bias, who rationally decides what is right before an impersonal law. On the other hand, the role of the judge and justice in Israel was to actively and redemtively seek to protect the poor from the wiles of the rich and powerful. So strong was the skepticism toward the powerful that the poor in the courts were often viewed collectively as the innocent and the righteous…

Time and again we see God’s prophets rail against the abuses of the powerful. To those of us living under the illusion of “American justice” as it stands today, reading the Scriptures can be disconcerting. We want to explain this aspect of God’s character away with a hermeneutic, “Well, He meant poor in spirit. Well, He meant that for that time, and that culture only. He doesn’t do that to nations or expect that of us anymore.” We just ‘splain these texts away.

To us, Biblical justice feels unfair. It feels like partiality. Because it is.

God in His wisdom, has accounted for our propensity for sin and abuse of power. He has anticipated our behavior, both the individual and the collective, and He talks about it. A lot.

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter…

He also gives us a solution for these problems in confession, repentance, and ultimately, solidarity:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

-Ecclesiastes 4

The privileged among us don’t just stand in solidarity just to be helpful. We are called to need the oppressed. The oppressed keep us accountable for our complicity in oppression. They remind us of the suffering servant Jesus. They give us the opportunity to participate with God in an act of restorative justice. They shatter our insulated, white-informed [un]consciousness with their prayers of lamentation:

We are touching the bibles handed down from our great-grandparents gnarled hands to our smooth, desk-working ones. We are reciting the promises inside them. Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousnessBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 

You promised, we pray, as though we’ve been betrayed. You promised, we repeat, as though we may have been forsaken. But we’d forgotten that we are still walking and that the shadow of death may not look like a hospital bed at the end of a long, storied life, but instead like a city on lockdown, asphyxiating its citizens, imposing a curfew on all who seek justice, donning riot gear and rolling tanks simply to protect a police officer who murdered someone whose skin looked like our own.

(There is still time left, right, Lord? There’s still time, isn’t there, for You to redeem these dark times?)

 Please. Please. Just be patient. We are making our way. But you must understand that it is hard, when we are cordoned on all sides by toxic clouds. Surely, you can empathize with how difficult it is to be clear-eyed while gagging on these cannisters of cover-ups.

-Stacia Brown

We’ve worked hard to build this American narrative: of founding fathers, hearth-tending mothers, courageous colonizers, forbearing minorities, and magnanimous white benefactors. But hard work does not a truth make. We have become like the blacksmith constructing an idol in Isaiah 44:

The blacksmith takes a tool
    and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
    he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
    he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
    and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
    and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
    human form in all its glory,
    that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
    or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
    “Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
    no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
    I even baked bread over its coals,
    I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
    Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
    he cannot save himself, or say,
    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

It’s time to acknowledge the singe story we’ve told ourselves, and admit we’ve bought into a system of oppression. We’ve believed it. We defended it. We’ve taught our children to love it. We have worshipped the idol and laid waste to the image of God that He set before us in the bodies of our black brothers and sisters.

policeAcknowledging the truth about America doesn’t mean I hate it. It doesn’t negate the sacrifice people before us have made with their lives. For the love of God, Christ died for sinners while they were still sinners. We’re no exception to that because we’re American or because we’re white. We’re full of error. And that is an amendable fact if we own up to it.

shirleyWe have to ask ourselves if we have biases that inconsistent with God’s justice. Who gets the benefit of the doubt? Who gets scrutiny? Who do we easily love? Who do we easily fear? These aren’t fun questions. The answers are often embarrassing. But they don’t have to be the last word because we have a remarkable capacity for change.

Am I racist? Yes, but I might not be racist tomorrow. It’s possible to do better. Rather than defending my reputation, I want to change my posture and seek to be saved from this. I have to hold out hope, despite the things I’m seeing to the contrary, that us white people can get it right.

We’re still here!

We’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but we’re still actively sharing resources and having discussions on Facebook. So while we’re away, you can find us there!

We hope to be back soon with fresh posts, including a conversational review by Kate and Cayce of Christena Cleveland’s new book, Disunity in Christ. Grab a copy and join us!

Please sign and share this petition to let Cibu International and Ratner Companies (Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, et al.) know that their offensive product names (ESPECIALLY “Miso Knotty”) should be changed immediately! Thank you.

 

Cibu Facebook ads

Since Tuesday, most of my social media feeds have been full of laments claiming the end is nigh, God’s judgment is on its way. Thanks to this election, America will no longer be the hope of the world. Leaving aside that I believe there’s only one ultimate hope of the world, Jesus, I have to say I’ve been disappointed, near-distraught by the distress of my people over the President’s re-election.

Kate reminded me Tuesday (and Wednesday) of Psalm 146 and it’s command to put not our trust in princes. Yet my brothers and sisters in the white evangelical community are in literal mourning over this election. Yesterday I even heard a DJ on the local Christian radio station consoling her audience, saying “God wasn’t surprised by these results. He’s still on the throne.” (which, for those unfamiliar with our ways, is how we usually comfort those shocked by horrible tragedies. I first heard this comment after 9/11 for instance.)

What we’re missing in our grief over here is the large numbers of people of color who wanted President Obama to win:

Obama’s share of each of those blocs was overwhelming: 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 73 percent of Asians, 55 percent of the ladies, and 60 percent of the kids. New York Magazine

There were lots of white Christians, too, voting for Obama, but in our white evangelical communities (78 percent voting for Romney), we’re completely ignorant of the fact that Christians of color went to the polls and made a different (not immoral, different) choice.

To me, this doesn’t say that we as a Church have an ideological divide to overcome. We have a racial one. And the longer we white Christians (evangelical, Catholic, and everywhere all over/in between) claim our political choices are the only ones Christ would approve of, the bigger that gap between us and people of color becomes.

Racist family vacation

So, I have family visiting. I wouldn’t recommend watching election returns* with your very knee-jerk conservative-libertarian family members, or discussing immigration with them, unless the liquor at your house is plentiful. I’ve been getting through the week with wine and chocolate, but every night I ask myself why I’ve got nothing harder around.

At some point I may write a longer postmortem about this visit, but for now I just wanted to put it out there that my family (who I don’t see very often, due to geography) is/has become way more openly, unapologetically racist in recent years than I remember from childhood, and it’s been freaking me out all week. How racist are they, you ask? Well, someone used the term “wetback” in a ha-ha/nostalgic sort of manner, whilst advocating for self-deportation of “people who know they’re illegal” and ranting about how “it USED to be a PRIVILEGE to be an American citizen.” I mean. This is just a sample of the madness I’ve been dealing with this week. It’s the tip of the crazy iceberg.

And the thing is, I really can’t debate things like that rationally. Logic goes out the window. As soon as my husband or I point out an Actual Fact, someone comes back with “well why don’t we just OPEN THE BORDERS and LET ALL THE MURDERERS VOTE!”

So, given that there’s no chance to challenge any of these opinions using calm, factual discussion, and really no chance of changing people’s minds…I guess I’m looking for other advice on how to deal with my family and their comments. Especially when this stuff begins to happen, as it inevitably will, in front of my two kids. Because having children raises the stakes quite a bit, and my family filters NOTHING. We just kind of let it all hang out. It’s kind of a point of pride.

And if you advocate limiting or cutting off contact due to crazy unapologetic racism, I’d like to hear about that too. In all seriousness. I don’t know if that is on the table for me, right now, with these particular family members, but I find myself wondering more and more if it’s ever justified. Have you done it yourself? Would you? Under what conditions? How bad does it have to be before you say, you know what, my kids just can’t be around THIS?

 

* It’s not being talked/written about as much as I would like, but: President Obama won 73% of the Asian vote in 2012. I’m basically going to be talking about this from now until the end of time. I want it on my tombstone — you all are my witnesses.

You have to watch this clip of Melissa Harris-Perry sounding off on poverty in America. Passionate and full of truth:

Check out the full segment on MSNBC.

Hello, hello. Lots of stuff has been going on that I’ve obviously not been blogging about. Two things this week have gotten my dander up; one of them even led to a very interesting, genuinely productive, 52-comment long Facebook discussion. It’s this news release about a new study from Tufts University researchers about how racism is perceived by black and white study participants:

Whites believe that they have replaced blacks as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America, according to a new study from researchers at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School. The findings, say the authors, show that America has not achieved the “post-racial” society that some predicted in the wake of Barack Obama’s election.

Both whites and blacks agree that anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years, according to the study. However, whites believe that anti-white racism has increased and is now a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

“It’s a pretty surprising finding when you think of the wide range of disparities that still exist in society, most of which show black Americans with worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, home ownership, health and employment,” said Tufts Associate Professor of Psychology Samuel Sommers, Ph.D., co-author of “Whites See Racism as a Zero-sum Game that They Are Now Losing,” which appears in the May 2011 issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Not shocking at all that the white people surveyed felt this way. Still very frustrating, of course. But I was glad that the ensuring discussion I had with friends ended up being about racism and white people’s lack of understanding about it, and not so-called “reverse racism.” As one of my (white) friends said, “I think ‘not understanding racism’ is definitely the culprit — not so much just because of privilege and how it exempts you from certain experiences, but because ‘limited access to certain experiences’ or anything to do with privilege is NOT the definition of racism that most (white) people have been taught. In school and media, racism is basically synonymous with prejudice or discrimination, and most of the kid-aimed stuff is on the level of ‘racist people think other people are not real human beings,’ or ‘racist people think looking different is bad,’ or ‘racist people think you can treat people differently for a given reason,’ and this kind of stuff, which truly most people of our time have been educated to (at least consciously) reject. And prejudice is obviously something that everyone experiences to one degree or another. Then this understanding can persist because most white people don’t discuss the experience of racism (!!! how MORtifying!) with POC. And it takes a while to learn to see.”

This led to many spin-off discussions, one of them related to how race is discussed (or NOT discussed) with children and youth in the classroom — and at home. I think for many parents, the assumption is that schools are “safe spaces” where racism and prejudice will not be an issue; or, if it is, will be perpetrated not by “good kids” but by kids who may already be seen as “lost causes” — just as those adults perceived as “genuine racists” are thought to be rare and irredeemable.

There is also the belief that if well-intentioned parents don’t “raise their child to be a racist” (who does that, anyway?), then their mostly unspoken good intentions will somehow outweigh all of the other negative and prejudiced influences young people are subject to. As if it’s about them and their family and what’s “in their hearts,” as opposed to reality and what is actually said and done.

We talk a good game about how evolved we are, but we still aren’t giving our kids the basic tools they need to be in a school (or any other) environment and deal with these issues. Schools aren’t “safe spaces” — not for a lot of kids — and they never have been. Schools are exactly the places where most people of color first experience racism and/or prejudice. As soon as we’re old enough to begin noticing, society conditions and teaches us to be hugely insensitive to and ignorant of the experiences of ANYONE not exactly like us — this is the default we’re all subject to.

Related to white privilege as default and how it reaches our children, today I came across this blog post by Linda Sue Park (Newbery Award-winning author of A Single Shard and other novels as well as children’s books; see our kids’ reading list!), bringing my attention to NPR’s “100 Best-Ever Young Adult Novels.” Linda wrote:

The initial nominations were made by NPR listeners/readers. 1200 titles were proffered. A panel of judges narrowed the list to 235, and it was once again listeners/readers who voted for that top 100.

Anybody see a potential problem here?

I listen to NPR. I love it. It’s on permalock on my car radio. And I would wager that its demographic is: educated, middle-class or wealthier…and *mostly white.*

I have tremendous respect for the panel that narrowed the list; I have worked with some of them personally. But if NPR had been serious about that ‘very best’ label — as opposed to ‘very best if you’re white, educated, and middle-class’ — it should have attempted a vital corrective by selecting a panel that included at least one person of color.

People get tetchy about this. Of course white gatekeepers are capable of recognizing quality work by people of color–it happens ‘all the time’.

BUT NOT OFTEN ENOUGH.

When we reflect on this question, our focus as a culture is almost always on the ‘creators’–grants and awards and media coverage for authors and illustrators of color. These efforts are essential and laudable.

But to me, what gets almost completely ignored is the absolute necessity of people of color in the gatekeeping roles. The editors & publishers. Reviewers, critics, commentators. Academics. Booksellers. Librarians. Um, panelists. We will NEVER achieve the diversity we seek in books for teens and younger readers until the gatekeepers themselves reflect that diversity.

To have more people of color in these roles would result in a paradigm shift: Not simply more books by and about people of color, but better and more diverse books for everyone.

Park also linked to another blog post by Shaker Laurie, a teacher in Minnesota, who sums it up perfectly:

As a teacher of reading and English in schools with large populations of students of color, young adult fiction about characters of color is high on my radar. Many of my students don’t see themselves as readers when they walk into my classroom. Reader identity and engagement are a huge component of the work we do as we address student reading problems, and when students are handed books full of characters that are unlike them racially, culturally, and socio-economically, the chasm between their picture of themselves and their idea of books and who books are for only widens…

Such an exclusive list isn’t just problematic for teens of color; when white teens are told that the ‘good’ books are all about white people, it normalizes the white experience and bolsters white privilege. For me, growing up in a community that was 99% white, reading was one of the first ways I was able to interact with narratives of people of color. Books lay a foundation on which kids can reflect on social justice and understand that the lives, conflicts, and struggles of people of color are important—that people of color are equal actors in the world. Yes, kids want to read about themselves, and that is important, but it is also critical for kids living with privilege to read about people living without those privileges, not just for some requisite ‘exposure to diversity,’ but because, if we want them to be committed to changing the world, they have to understand it needs to change.

I realize I do go on about the lack diversity in literature, especially young adult fiction, and Linda’s point about “gatekeepers” is an important one. Of course, you might say — and you’d be right — there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to racist influences on our children and in our society. But it’s a maddening phenomenon because it is one more thing teaching and contributing to and normalizing a white-centric view of the world — even imaginary worlds. Kids and teens in the real world deserve something a whole lot better.

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