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Archive for October, 2009

Between 1882 and 1968, mobs lynched 4,743 people in a campaign of racist terror across the United States. Over 70 percent of the victims were African Americans.

“Strange Fruit” is a anti-racist protest song written by Abel Meeropol and most famously performed and recorded by Billie Holiday.

Meeropol, a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, originally wrote “Strange Fruit” as a poem about the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana, in 1930. He published the poem under the name Lewis Allan in 1936 in The New York Teacher, and later set “Strange Fruit” to music.

The song gained success as a protest song in and around New York and became a regular part of Billie Holiday’s live performances. Her label, Columbia, refused to record the song. Instead, Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record “Strange Fruit” with Vocalion Records. Over time, it became Holiday’s biggest seller.

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Tim Wise explains what white privilege is and the damage it does not only to people of color but to white people as well.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Pathology of White Privilege (Tim…“, posted with vodpod

Homework for the weekend. ;)

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Kate did an excellent post last month called A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-racism for White People and from the looks of things, it’s getting a lot of reads.  It’s a terrific resource for learning more about the fundamental definitions of race, racism, white privilege and for discovering the vast amounts of reading material on the web and in print.  I would also remind our readers (especially those new to the blog) about our Reading List tab at the top of the page.  We’re constantly adding to that page, so if you have recommendations or want to find out more about what we’ve been reading, check it out.

Family business aside, I wanted to address a couple things I’ve been thinking about lately on the issue of white identity development.  So many of us white folks don’t really think much about race.  We know there are racial issues and tensions, but we can generally avoid most of that messiness because it is possible to live lives that are, at least at the conscious level, unhindered by societal racism. But once that veil of “colorblindness” has been lifted, we start to see and feel the pain that our own privilege has cost others, namely people of color.  And that awakening can be a painful prospect.

We’ve already talked a little about white guilt, but let it be said again that guilt is not the goal.  The goal is genuine repentance and contrition. Beverly Daniel Tatum puts it this way in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

These feelings of guilt and shame are part of the hidden costs of racism. (p. 94)

Moving from a place of ignorance or indifference into a place of awareness and activism is a challenging process.  For me, it’s reminiscent of the call that all Christians are given, to join in suffering for the sake of the family-building work of the Gospel.  If we as believers plan to be a part of real racial reconciliation then there will be a cost.  And as white people, much of the cost will come in the form of unsettling, discomfort and an overturn of the status quo.  For people of color, the costs are still there (like having to trust white people’s efforts toward anti-racism), but many of those costs have already been imposed by society in one form or another.

For those of us white people making the journey into anti-racist activism, we have to honestly assess if we are prepared to take these steps.  For some it will be a no-brainer.  They have intimate relationships (friendships, spouses, parents, children) that depend on their willingness to endure racism alongside a person of color.  But for many of us, it has to be an act of the will.  We have to choose to engage and to step away from the dominant influence of our culture.  It is at this point that we may experience a deeper level of internal conflict.  Tatum again:

This new awareness is characterized by discomfort.  The uncomfortable emotions of guilt, shame, and anger are often related to a new awareness of one’s personal prejudices or the prejudices within one’s family. (p.97)

True repentance always requires some sense of grief over the wrongs committed.  This may be more intense if we realize we have been perpetrators of racism. But the way to move through this is to lean into it.  To seek forgiveness.  As Christians we hold tight to promises like that in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

However, humans may be less open to imparting forgiveness.  People of color may be less trusting of well-intentioned white people because of past disappointments.  Lois Stalvey writes about these obstacles to forgiveness in her memoir:

I could never resent the tests [of trustworthiness] as some white people have told me they do…to me the longest tests indicate the deepest hurts…At times the most poignant part of the test is that black people have enough trust left to give it.  Testing implies that we might pass the test.  It is safer and easier for a black person to turn his back on us.  If he does not gamble on our sincerity, he cannot be hurt if we prove false.  Testing shows an optimism I doubt I could duplicate if I were black. (quoted in Tatum, p. 105)

Obtaining forgiveness will likely require time and commitment on our part in order to withstand the scrutiny of those who may be distrustful of our motives.  Nevertheless we must ask for forgiveness if we have insulted someone or otherwise inflicted pain.  The cleanest way to get through the discomfort of being wrong is to admit it, apologize, try to make right, and move on.

At any of these points, there will be temptation to turn back.  White privilege is called privilege in part because it makes life easier for white people.  Even if we are members of an alternatively oppressed group (women, etc.) we still enjoy the advantages of white privilege.  Paul Kivel states in his article entitled I’m Not White I’m Jewish

To some extent my gut-level response as a Jew is similar to the “I’m not white” response of other white people. When the subject is racism nobody wants to be white, because being white has been
labeled “bad” and brings up feelings of guilt, shame, complicity and hopelessness.

Yeah, who wants any of that?  Tatum illustrates the level of sacrifice white people may be asked to make and the pressure for anti-racist whites to regress and assimilate with a story from one of her students.  This young man is hopeful that he can make a difference but is also plagued by persecution (from close friends, peers, and family members) and fears he may not have what it takes to stick with his convictions in the long run:

It’s easy to see how the cycle [of racism] continues.  I don’t think I could ever justify within myself simply turning my back on the problem.  I finally realized that my position in all of these dominant groups gives me power to make change occur…It is an unfortunate result often though that I feel alienated from friends and family.  It’s often played off as a mere stage that I’m going through…By belittling me, they take the power out of my argument…I don’t want it to be a phase for me, but as obvious as this may sounds, I look at my environment and often wonder how it will not be. (p. 100-101)

It’s not hard for me to sympathize with this guy.  Bearing witness to injustice and working to rectify that is a high and difficult calling.  With every, “lighten up, we’re just playing” or “don’t be so sensitive,” we can be discouraged. And we should be realistic about our own potential for failure here.  There will be times when we wished we’d said something.  Or wished we hadn’t.  There will be times when we let ourselves or others down.  There may be times when we feel like we’re fighting a losing battle and the whole world is against us. So why not give up or just go back to the other team?

At those points in my life when my own fortitude has faltered, I am compelled to return to the strongest example of courage and love I’ve known:

[Jesus told them:] In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

It’s also important to keep our struggle in perspective.  Most of us will never be martyrs over this (though there have been white folks who lost their lives in these battles, too).  Many times I’ve heard it said in a church or among friends that it would be easier to die for Christ than to live for Him.  I don’t know if that’s really true (I personally don’t have a death wish) but sometimes it can feel true.

There are white people who have gone before us.  And there are white people working with us now.  White people can join people of color in this good work.  Beverly Daniel Tatum encourages us again:

Though it can also be ‘complicated and lonely’ [for white people,] it is also liberating, opening doors to new communities, creating possibilities for more authentic connections with people of color, and in the process, strengthening the coalitions necessary for genuine social change. (p.113)

I would add that for those of us who are believers, there is also reward in knowing that we are participating in the invitational work of building God’s kingdom: a kingdom where, when all these struggle have come to fruition, great multitudes from every nation, people, and language will live peacefully together, accepting and loving one another and joyfully worshiping God.

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Lou Dobbs, more than any other media personality, is responsible for spreading myths and misinformation about immigrants and Latinos.

 

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This post originally appeared on Moms in the Lobby.  Reposted here with permission.

Newsweek recently featured a web exclusive on How the Media Treat Murder. The article’s focus is on the underreported story of a possible serial killer in the small town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Ten women have been found slain or have been declared missing in Rocky Mount, N.C., in recent years. But the rest of the country hasn’t heard about a possible serial killer stalking the young women in this Southern town of 60,000. The latest victim, Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, was identified on Oct. 12. Why have the Rocky Mount homicides been largely ignored?

“When you think about the famous missing-person cases over the last few years it’s Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, and Laci Peterson,” notes Sam Sommers, associate professor of psychology at Tufts University. All these women had a few things in common—they were white, educated, and came from middle-class families. The victims in Rocky Mount—which residents describe as a “typical Southern town,” and is about 40 percent white and more than 50 percent black—were different. They were all African-American, many were poor, and some had criminal histories including drug abuse and prostitution.

Unfortunately, this level of blindness is an all-too-common characteristic of the media when it comes to crimes against people of color. The article goes on to suggest that national media may be the worst about selecting for race when reporting on crime:

‘Nancy Grace called and wanted to have some of us on her show, but before it aired there was a white woman from Georgia that went missing. The Nancy Grace show was canceled,’ [city-council member and president of the local NAACP chapter, Andre] Knight says. HLN network, which broadcasts Nancy Grace, confirmed that Knight was booked for the show, which was ultimately canceled to profile the disappearance of Kristi Cornwell, a white woman from Blairsville, Ga., who went missing during an evening walk. Representatives from Nancy Grace told NEWSWEEK, ‘The booking was changed due to news that was breaking that day,’ and emphasized the change had nothing to do with the race of the victim. On Aug. 12, Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees covered the story.

I’m no fan of Nancy Grace and this story is partly why. Despite her best attempts to portray what she does as an important service for the social good, her tactics and her focus on certain sensationalized cases suggest she’s mostly out for attention (and perhaps media martyrdom, swoon).

Many times I’ve wondered where are all the missing black kids? or Latino kids? or Asian kids (up until and perhaps beyond the case of Annie Le)? A trip to the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows racially-proportional and accurate alerts to the abductions and disappearances of our nation’s children. According to studies done by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice, non-white children make up 42% of the total number of missing children, while they only comprise 36% of the U.S. population. Yet we rarely see these kids’ cases on the national news.

Much of this has to do with the media’s desire to present a compelling narrative, rather than an accurate report of crime incidents in the community. One MSNBC reporter, Alex Johnson, writing on the subject calls this “Catnip for TV types.” Johnson cites Roy Peter Clark, vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., talking about the way journalists choose a story:

‘The example of a bad murder would be the murder of an African-American person from a poor neighborhood,’ he said. ‘The definition of a good murder is a socialite killed by her jealous husband, the debutante murdered by her angry boyfriend.’When it comes to police stories, Clark said, there is ‘this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.’

Even more frightening is what advocates on the ground experience trying to get media attention for the sake of finding victims or delivering justice for their families:

‘We can’t get a young girl who may be suffering substance abuse and may be prostituting on the national news because they feel she’s not worth the time,’ said Kym Pasqualini, president of the National Center for Missing Adults in Phoenix. ‘But these individuals are no less important to their families, and their families are entitled to the same help’ in getting their cases before the public. ‘We have found that it’s far easier for our agency to obtain national coverage on an individual who society, I think, identifies with,’ she said.

While all of this is alarming and deeply disturbing, it isn’t all that unexpected. When one considers that our justice system has its own virulent strains of prejudice and inherent inconsistencies, it’s not terribly off-base that elements of the media covering crime would more than mirror, even magnify, the problem. Most executions (80%) are carried out against defendants with white victims, even though half of all homicide victims are black. Juries, studies show, are more likely to exact the ultimate penalty against a defendant whose victim is white.

These crimes, particularly the crimes against children, are terrifying realities for any mom. I cannot imagine the pain of a mother denied justice not only by the actual justice system, but again by members of the media who are more intent on selling a story to white America than on reporting the important details about a crime to all of us in this country.

It’s tragic enough when our children are lost. That tragedy is only compounded when our compassion and our attention is likewise missing.

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A few months ago I was drinking some beers with a white friend of mine and we got to talking about racism & white privilege. It was a long and lively night of great conversation. She’s a fellow beginner in anti-racism and a non-Latina who lives and teaches in a predominantly Latino area of a city that is nearly half Latino, so I gave her a copy of Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? She found it immensely helpful, and we’ve continued our dialogue long-distance. Through our conversations, we’ve become more aware of the privileges we experience and discussed various ways to help other fellow white people become more conscious of the problems of racism and white privilege in our society.

Last week, during one of our sporadic phone calls, the topic of racism & white privilege came up again. Does it change the white privilege dynamic when a white person is a minority and occasionally feels marginalized within the local community? Can my white friend experience racism in her neighborhood similar to the way people of color do elsewhere? It was another great conversation.

Any person, of any race, may harbor racial prejudice, consciously or unconsciously. Any person, of any race, can view or treat people differently based on race, consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or not. We probably all do these things at some time or another, even when we do not intend to. My white friend has experienced some real prejudice and marginalization in her Latino community. But can we really call it racism?

We came to the conclusion that even though my white friend is in the minority locally and does, on occasion, experience some marginalization, she is not really experiencing racism in the sense that people of color experience it in the broader context of American culture. At most, she has had a very small taste of what people of color experience, and this is a lesson in compassion, encouraging her in the continuing struggle for racial justice and reconciliation.

We recognized that privilege and marginalization are complex. A person can be privileged in one way (e.g. as a white person) and marginalized in another (e.g. as a woman, a poor person, and/or a member of a marginalized ethnic or religious group). A person of color may be marginalized by whites yet receive more privilege than another person of color.

In the case of my friend, there are times when she may feel marginalized as a white person in her local community, but in the broader context of American society she receives far more privilege as a white person than Latinos do. In America, non-Latino white people still have greater access to and control of social, cultural, political, and economic resources than Latinos. It is still the racial attitudes and prejudices of white people (both conscious and unconscious) that receive dominant expression and systematization in common language, cultural messages, social mores, institutional practices and policies, cultural artifacts, etc. White people continue to have greater access to good schools, jobs, housing, and so forth. If my friend is feeling alone and marginalized, she can “escape” simply by turning on the TV or visiting the next town. She has not reached the point where one of her first thoughts of the day is “I’m white” (as many people of color report thinking about their own race) and she probably never will.

And what about the Latinos in the city where my friend lives? In their local community, their experiences may be positive in many ways. They are not a minority locally.  They are represented in local business and politics. They are not as marginalized on the basis of ethnicity to the same extent that they might be elsewhere, and may even experience some privileges. But this is not so in the broader context of American culture.

Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show a 40% rise in reported anti-Latino hate crimes between 2003 and 2007, the most recent numbers available. In California, the state with the largest Latino population and a state with better hate crime reporting than most, the number of reported anti-Latino hate crimes rose by 54% between 2003 and 2006. And the real national numbers are probably much higher, because many hate crimes are never reported, especially by undocumented immigrants, and police departments and states are reluctant to report hate crimes as such. A 2005 study by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on more detailed and accurate national surveys, found that the annual level of hate crime in America was about 20 to 30 times higher than the numbers reported by the FBI. (The same DOJ study showed that 84% of hate crimes included violence like rape or assault, while only 23% of non-hate crimes did.)

There was also a 48% increase in the number of American hate groups between 2000 and 2007, growth which the Southern Poverty Law Center reports is almost entirely based on the supposed “threat” of Latino immigrants. The SPLC reports that the number of specifically anti-immigrant “nativist extremist” groups in the United States increased by 20% in just one year (2007-2008). These “nativist extremist” groups “go after people, not policy.”

Rather than limiting themselves to advocating within the mainstream political process for tighter border security, stricter immigration controls or tougher enforcement of immigration laws already on the books, these fringe outfits target and confront immigrants [or suspected immigrants] as individuals.

(I add “suspected immigrants” because the FBI stats show an upswing in racially motivated violence against all Latinos, regardless of immigration status. Some of the victims are native citizens of the United States, some are naturalized citizens, some are legal immigrants, and some are undocumented. The great majority of Latinos in the U.S. are citizens and legal residents.)

In other words, whatever safety, community, and success Latinos may enjoy in the city where my friend lives is truly and increasingly threatened in the larger American culture in which we all live.

No, my friend and I are convinced, white Americans are not experiencing racism.

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Marker:

On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues. Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

Read more about the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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