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Posts Tagged ‘derailment’

**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.

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As best I can remember, it started in high school. Being told I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed. The form looked something like this:

RACE (choose one)

  • Caucasian (non-Hispanic)
  • African American
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander
  • Native American
  • Hispanic/Latino

I sat in my desk, puzzled. I had no idea what I was supposed to check. I approached the teacher and asked him what he thought I was supposed to check. He advised me to pick whichever option seemed right to me. The other kids in my predominantly white class didn’t seem to be having this problem. They were already filling out other sections of the form. I returned to my desk, still puzzled. I am white, I thought, looking at my absurdly pasty skin. But I am hispanic, I argued with myself. OK, but I’m not Latino, I countered. Yes, but the form means Hispanic and/or Latino. I cannot check “non-Hispanic,” that definitely wouldn’t be true. I checked “Hispanic/Latino.” I would not deny that dimension of my identity.

Obviously there were other problems with this form. There was, for example, no multiracial option to speak of. But the problem for me was that it confused race and ethnicity, requiring me to choose between being white or being hispanic. The form told me that I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed.

Hispanic is not a race. Hispanic people come in all human colors. The t-shirt I acquired at a hispanic multicultural festival in college, however simplistic, attempted to illustrate this: a black person, a yellow person, a white person, and a red person leaping into a bowl with the caption “Diverse ingredients make the best salsa.” We are descended from peoples of many nations and cultures from every populated continent. Many of us are multiracial.

Image

Hispanic. Not all of us like the term. Not all of us use the term. But it includes all these people and more.

Some of us are white. In 2010, the majority of American hispanics (53%) identified themselves as white to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table 2 here). I am a white hispanic woman, even when forms don’t allow it. I’ve got the knapsack to prove it. But despite the high profiles of people such as Cameron Diaz, Martin Sheen, and Alexis Bledel, it seems that a lot of Americans still haven’t caught on. They think of “hispanic” as a race, a race that excludes us from being white and receiving white privilege.

So the denial of my existence continues. Almost a month after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, I started seeing claims here and there that the media had “invented” the concept of a “white hispanic.”

“He’s only a ‘white Hispanic’,” said Bernard Goldberg, “because they need the word ‘white’ to further the storyline, which is ‘white, probably racist vigilante shoots unarmed black kid.’”

“The media then created a special rubric ‘white Hispanic,’” wrote Victor Davis Hanson, “when its narrative of white-on-black crime was endangered by new information that Mr. Zimmerman had a Latino mother, although it normally does not use such terminology for others of mixed ancestry — Barack Obama himself being a good example.”

A Real Clear Politics headline explicitly shouted, “The Media’s Latest Invention: ‘White Hispanic.’”

At least some of the sources of this narrative got the timeline right, as Hanson did, even if they got many other things wrong. Others, such as Goldberg, didn’t even seem to get the timeline correct. Here’s what really happened, chronologically speaking:

  1. The initial police report on February 26 identified Trayvon Martin’s shooter, George Michael Zimmerman, as a white male. This was the basis of the earlier media identification of George Zimmerman as a white male.
  1. On March 15, the Orlando Sentinel published a letter by Robert Zimmerman, the father of the shooter, which claimed: “George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.” This letter led many news outlets to update their previous use of “white” to “white hispanic.”

Looking at the chronology, it’s clear that the media didn’t add “white” to “hispanic” in order to fabricate a “white-on-black crime” story. George Zimmerman was already identified by police as a white man who shot an unarmed black teenager, and reporters later modified Zimmerman’s race with his ethnicity to accommodate his father’s elaboration.

Comments like Hanson’s frustrated me in more than one way. “White hispanic” is not some novel invention of the media. It’s me. Being hispanic doesn’t mean I’m not white and don’t receive white privilege. For the love of God, quit telling me I don’t exist!

But I am also pissed off that Hanson, among others, adopted Robert Zimmerman’s flawed reasoning. The shooter’s father has suggested that hispanics cannot participate in white privilege, are somehow immune to the prevailing racial prejudices of our culture, and cannot act on those prejudices in ways detrimental to people of color. In reality, however, we can and we often do. Because I do exist, I know this from personal experience, and I have something to say. Those of us who are white are often the recipients of white privilege, whether we want it or not, even if some of us contend with other prejudices and discrimination against us on the basis of ethnicity. Everyone imbibes the prevailing racial prejudices and stereotypes of our culture, even if we harbor other racial prejudices, even if we dislike and resist the prevailing prejudices, even if we have family members and friends mitigating their influence on our thinking and acting. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “doll tests” illustrated that even black people can internalize anti-black prejudices to their own detriment. Hispanic people like me and George Zimmerman are not any more immune.

When people raise the issue of Zimmerman being a “white Hispanic,” to me that does not erase the fact that an African American male was targeted and killed. You could be a Latino or white or Asian and still wrongly target an African American male. That’s the issue that we’re looking at…. Whether you’re a black or white Latino, indigenous or mestizo, once you step into the U.S., you begin to get racialized by the way the U.S. defines whiteness because of the way in which the country operates. Even a white Latino at some point gets racialized in the United States, some also get privileges because of the way they look. There is a dominant race framework that everyone is fitting into, that society is defining. That’s the world that we live in. I have a son who has a black mother and a Latino father. And culturally he may be raised with the traditions of Louisiana, Costa Rica and Mexico, but at the end of the day, he’s not gonna be judged by those cultural traditions, he’s going to be judged by what he looks like. (Alberto Retana)

See also: “Conservatives baffled at idea of white Hispanic people: A brief primer on race versus ethnicity” by Alex Pareene.

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Almost ten years ago, I was a new teacher in a mostly-white, private Christian school. Most of my courses were American literature, but in my youth and zeal, I decided to take on a number of electives. One of the new courses I taught was Speech and Debate. It had been but a year since 9-11 and many of my students wanted to give speeches on issues related to terrorism or war. Knowing this, I decided to have them read an essay that pertained to racial profiling, hoping to round out their understanding of current events. The essay was written by an Arab man, but it was written in the 1980’s at the height of American hijacking fears. All of my students wrestled with the author’s point-of-view, struggling to balance their limited sound-bite-fed knowledge of national security issues against his account of being profiled, an obvious act of injustice. The kids were starting to break down some of their preconceptions about race and privilege and were genuinely open to confronting the derailments that traditionally held them captive in conversations about race.

I was excited and wanted to see more of this. In one of my English courses, I had students read an essay written by a black man on the same topic. He spoke of having to cross the street to avoid walking directly behind a white woman. But, unlike my debate students, these students immediately balked at the author’s account. They called him “paranoid” and insisted that he was making too much of things. One of my students, one of the only black members of his class, turned around and addressed his white classmates. He told them about how his mom encouraged him not to wear hats or hooded jackets in a store. He had been educated to keep a low profile and to maintain a respectful tone in the face of authority figures who would not do him the same courtesy. My students listened and empathized, but there were several who remained skeptical that racial profiling was a persistent problem in America, or even an injustice at all.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, I thought about those two classroom situations. Like many of us, I had a visceral response to the news. The anti-racist in me felt helpless and hopeless in the days that followed. Tope’s post on the subject slayed me. As did Jim Vance’s honest and heartfelt editorial commentary on “The Talk” on our local news. I was reminded of my student’s courage in informing his white peers and I began to hope that perhaps we had arrived at a moment where white folks could “get it” when it came to racial profiling, gun violence, or being a perpetual target.

Call it slacktivism if you will, but I started posting everything I could find on the subject on Facebook. I deliberately chose articles that were well-researched or editorials that provided a clear, truthful, but winsome perspective, hoping that my white friends would join the call for justice in Trayvon’s killing. I even sought out faith-based commentary from a pastor, thinking that would appeal to my white Christian friends who remain ignorant of their privilege. A few friends at church told me that the things I was posting “made me think.” I got a couple compliments from unexpected people about the articles I’d posted. Still, I was doubtful that these ideas were taking root. In the anti-racist fight, even in my own prejudiced heart and mind, it’s often one step forward, two steps back.

It’s been a couple months now, and most of the talk on this topic has slowed in my Facebook news feed. Occasionally, a friend will post something as the case against George Zimmerman moves forward, but there is no longer a frantic flurry of commentary on the case as there was in those early weeks. Just recently, I began to see a new conversation on these topics emerge among some of my friends. Unfortunately, the discussion about race, injustice, vigilantism, etc. has been derailed by two common white complaints:

1) White people are killed and no one makes this big a fuss about it.

I saw this sentiment expressed in conjunction with a blog post about the shooting death of UNC student Eve Carson.  The blogger writes:

Was she profiled? You bet she was. Eve was profiled as a Rich, Blue -Eyed, Blond Haired, White Girl. Were there protests, marches and outraged politicians speaking out for her? Did Barack call her family?  Why is it about race only if the victim is black? Why aren’t we outraged when ANY kid is murdered? As a nation, have we been silenced by a politically correct whip? Lets’ be outraged about all murders, all racism, every injustice.

Let’s just ignore the mistaken timeline for a minute (Obama took office in 2009 and Eve was killed in March 2008) and focus on the thrust of this post.  Eve Carson’s murder garnered national attention. Her killers were brought to justice. At no point has there been any implication that race was a motivating factor in her killing.  In fact, her assailants claim they planned to rob her but killed her when she got a good look at them.

Anyone who watches daytime television can tell you that the media and our politicians make a huge fuss about it when a white person is murdered. Even more so if the person is young, female, and attractive by society’s measures. (In that case, the victim is likely to become the center of a Lifetime channel biopic.)

In fact, I’ve rarely seen an Amber alert for a child of color. That’s why organizations like the Black & Missing Foundation even exist: to publicize missing and endangered persons of color because most of the time, the media won’t do it. There is a racial disparity in the way criminals and victims are portrayed in the media.

Eve Carson’s case got the attention of morning shows and talk shows far beyond the scope of local news coverage. Her campus and her town rallied and held vigils. Her killers were apprehended and convicted.  There really is no fair comparison to be made between that case and Trayvon’s. If anything, Eve’s story illustrates by contrast how little we collectively care about a murder like Trayvon’s.

That leads me to the other derailment I’ve seen floating around on social networks:

2) White people are now the target of violence because of the case. We are threatened and should be afraid of retaliation.

Richard Land, prominent spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention made me glad I’ve left that assembly when he said recently on his radio show of black leaders, “They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it’s always Selma Alabama circa 1965.”  Land offered a pseudo-apology for his comments in a public letter written to the current SBC president:

Richard Land, who leads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to SBC president Bryant Wright to express his “deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding” his comments may have caused.

“It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life,” Land wrote, according to a letter released by Baptist Press, the denomination’s official news agency.

This, as the convention prepares to elect a new president, likely Rev. Fred Luter, who would be the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Fearful white folks first point to the New Black Panthers’ offer of a bounty for the capture or death of George Zimmerman as evidence that whites are collectively in danger.  (The New Black Panther Party is unaffiliated with the Black Panthers). They will mention Spike Lee’s attempt to tweet Zimmerman’s address.  Lee apologized for the tweet, having inadvertently tweeted the wrong address, and legally settled the matter with the affected family.

I saw this derailment employed alongside the story of a white Orlando man who was severely beaten by a group of young black men.  The family of the victim claims that Matthew Owens was beaten as part of a retaliation for Trayvon Martin’s death.  Police investigating the crime reported that the dispute between Owens and his chief assailant has been ongoing, and while racial slurs are hurled by both sides, the beating was in no way related to the Trayvon Martin case.

This derailment is one of many historically used to create fear in white people.  Time and again in our history, we have learned about the threat that black men pose.  This derailment says, for black folks to see justice, white people will have to pay: reparations, loss of status, even loss of life.  As white folks, we cannot acknowledge the wrong in Trayvon’s case, much less right it, because to do so endangers us all.

It also diverts the attention from what was clearly a race-based crime onto other crimes in which white people are the victims.  We’re more comfortable with that narrative than we are with a story that allows us to see ourselves in a man holding a gun to a young boy’s head.

As white people, we can continue spinning tales about how people of color are out to get us, coming for our stuff, eager to disrupt our way of life.  Or, we can do better, we can do good, and choose to see the injustices that still exist in our country: including the one perpetrated against young Trayvon Martin.  We can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color, confess the truth about societal structures of sin, and call for justice.

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It’s been quite a while since I regularly wrote here and there is a reason for that. For many months, I have been challenged in my real life to actually live out (!) some of the things I’ve written about in my blogging life, and as usual, I’ve come up short of my own talk.

Let me begin by saying that I love my church. I believe my family is meant to be a part of this particular local body of Christians. Like any church, we have our issues. One of those issues is that while we have a diverse congregation, our church is seated in an area that is predominantly composed of people of color (African-Americans and Latinos, to be specific). I was a part of the church launch and proud to be part of a community aiming to connect with people of all backgrounds. When we launched, our core leadership consisted of several Asian-Americans, a black music director fluent in Spanish, and several white people.

Over the last few years, for reason one or another, we lost several of that initial group. Almost every person of color was [albeit unintentionally] replaced by a white person. When we lost our music director last year, I worried we were losing ground and may be putting our multi-ethnic, fledgling congregation at risk of looking like other churches that had been planted by our home church: white from the top down. Just as I thought we’d hit real trouble, God brought along a young man who was black and Puerto Rican. He was fluent in Spanish and a gifted leader. Our congregation actually got even more diverse, as members of the community saw someone they could connect with at the helm every Sunday morning.

We had some rough business happen last fall where for financial reasons, that young man was asked to leave. He was replaced by a white woman; and, while I was pleased about that to some degree (yay! a woman again!), I struggled with that age-old dichotomy of whose rights/acceptance/ascension come first: [likely white] women or people of color. These two groups are historically pitted against one another and as they say, history often repeats itself. In the days that followed that church decision, I wrote to our pastoral staff, our church elders, and maybe even to Santa Claus, to express my concern that we were backing away from an important tenet of our faith and a vital characteristic of our church in surrendering to homogeneity.

While many in leadership, especially my local pastor, took my concerns to heart, it remained an insignificant factor in finalizing their decision. At an open forum on the topic of our music minister’s dismissal, I voiced my concerns to the highest authorities in person, citing Scripture and asking them to consider the ramifications of such a decision. Several black women shared about the importance of having a role model and leader who “looks like them,” but their gentle attempts at explaining racial identity to our white pastors consistently fell on deaf ears. An Asian woman spoke up in support of our music minister, reflecting on a similar theme, but putting it in entirely different terms and drawing attention to the fact that our church leadership had, by default, whitened over the last two years. Again, a “we understand and that IS important, but…” was handed to us.

I was like a dog with a bone in that meeting. At one point, I asserted to the pastor leading the thing, “I’m just going to have to be the thorn in your side here because I find your answers unsatisfying. This is important to me, as a white person. It should be important to you, too.” Many times I was worried that I was coming off like a nut job. Even the people that wanted our music minister to stay were looking at like I was a bossy lunatic. After I spoke, one of the white pastors told us, in his defense, that he was married to an Asian woman, so he got it. They get funny looks sometimes, so he knew what I was talking about. He said, “I’m not colorblind, I know how important this is, but I won’t be color-bound in my decision.” What he didn’t realize is that he was. He is. We all are.

As the meeting ended, other issues were raised and the pastors demonstrated a stauncher commitment to the decision to let our music minister go. Several of the women of color who spoke during the proceedings came up to me afterward and thanked me for being so aggressive. One woman openly praised God while talking to me about it, thanking Him that a person like me would even know this stuff. I suppose compared to what she had just seen of white people (and perhaps what she knows of us generally), I did come off a little better. I was intensely discouraged by that meeting and despite the warm words of a few women, I felt unheard and more than a little homeless. My husband and I had many conversations about whether to stay or go in light of those events.

Following those days, in the early winter, I had lunch with another white woman in a position of leadership. She asked me about my opinion of those events and I told her what transpired in the public forum. I was careful to guard myself against gossip because she wasn’t there herself, but since it was an open meeting, I relayed some of the back and forth as close to the facts as I could recall. She was comfortable with the pastors’ decision, but what I’d said sparked a conversation on race and soon, we were in it even deeper than I had gone in that meeting.

I tried to talk to her about some of the things I’ve learned and show her my own shortcomings in this area. I told her of incidents where my privilege had blinded me to what others were going through and how reconciliation required both repentance and humility. I got a lot of “well, I don’t see them reaching out to us. Their congregations aren’t integrated. It won’t be like that in Heaven, but maybe that’s just how it is here.” It was acceptance bordering on endorsement. As we talked, she kept eying a black couple to my left to see if they were listening. They were, at times, but that didn’t seem to inhibit her commentary. She went on to say that thankfully, racism seemed to be dying out and that our children probably wouldn’t have these problems. She told me that she often teases her daughter, who is so open-minded in her social circles, “Don’t you have any friends with normal names?”

Normal names. I couldn’t even speak. How do you even respond to that?! I had an answer for everything she had said, but this seemed to cross some invisible gall line that I couldn’t follow her over. Did anyone other than the people of color in my church, I mean any one white person, even care? Did any one of them even know they should care? At what point do you hang on and hope people will understand and at what point do you let go of the rope? I had reached that point. My hands were off. I could do no more. Me, a white person, needed some white allies if I was going to have the confidence to remain in this community.

Then I began thinking about why I felt I needed allies. Why was I looking to other white people for courage? Shouldn’t God be giving me that? Shouldn’t the rightness of my cause be giving me that? The three women of color at that meeting endured flagrant dismissal in their attempt to be a legitimate part of our church community. I thought about how many times they must have wondered, “Should we just go to an all-black church?” I considered that the homelessness and the alienation I felt as a white weirdo had to be just a drop in the bucket of what those women had borne. Sure, I was formidable at that meeting, but much of my indignation was fueled by the fact that I wasn’t getting my way. I wasn’t being heard. I was pissed that the system that always works for me wasn’t working for me. And in my pride and privilege, I was surprised by my ineffectiveness. Here I was doing that white person, “But, I’m a good white person! Where’s my cookie!?!” thing.

It was during this short season of contemplation that one of those women (the Praise lady) and I had a talk that empowered me to stay. She and I were talking about how my husband and I are preparing to become foster parents and the subject of race, etc. came up again. She told me that she and her husband came from an all-black church and intentionally left to pursue an integrated community. She said that they weren’t turning back, even in the face of the great disappointments our leadership was handing down. She reminded me that change is slow and it takes people of goodwill staying and insisting (or in my case, agitating and irritating) for things to get better.

I was, what we evangelical-types call “convicted.” I was told to be patient and endure by a woman who exuded patience and graciousness. I have such a low tolerance for personal injustice. Thanks, again white privilege. And who was I kidding, it wasn’t even fully personal for me. I wasn’t being dismissed and ignored. The people of color involved were being dismissed and ignored. Sure, I got a taste of it for standing in solidarity with them, and I’m proud of that. But that was little league stuff, and in light of the greater struggle against prejudice, racism, and privilege, any injury I sustained was even smaller. I was in a huff and ready to leave before the thing even really got started.

About a month ago, a white woman I’m just getting to know had a conversation with me about fostering. She’d been raised by white parents (her birth parents) and was part of a large family of fostered and adopted children. Her parents had moved into a low-income, predominantly black community when she was a child. Everyone at their church balked at the move (and initially, their ever-growing family), cautioning her parents that their children would be imperiled by that decision. They didn’t care. They trusted God. Over time, the church folks came around. The church became multicultural, with interracial couples and various blends of families from different backgrounds. Families of color joining and becoming leaders in the church. One family’s decision to be different and pursue God’s direction made a difference in their intimidated, ignorant, white church community. But the change was slow. She told me that “these things have a tendency to catch on.” I’m still skeptical that any of this can happen for my church, but still there’s a glint of hope.

Yet, even last week, I got another glimpse at the possibilities. We go to dinner with an assigned group of people once a month over a three-month stint. It’s an activity designed to acquaint every family in our particular church group. Saturday, we had dinner with a young white couple and an Ethiopian family. As it seems to do these days, the topic of race, missions, and ministry, came up. The white couple were educated at a Christian college in Ohio where they learned about white privilege and how Christians can be involved in racial justice. I was kind of shocked, to be honest, at what they had learned at their relatively conservative evangelical school. The couple is planning to lead a team of missionaries to Haiti where they will be establishing a relationship between our church and a local church there. They wanted counsel on how to do missions in light of all they understood about colonialism, imperialism, white savior-ism and the lot. The Ethiopian couple talked at length about what their perceptions were of missionaries back home: how it had been done badly, how it had been done well. They spoke of how trust is cultivated, how one can learn from the other, and how open, strong, healthy partnerships and peer relationships can develop.

The husband talked a bit about his experience with racial profiling, being light-skinned and mistaken for an Arabic person and searched at security stations in airports. He said he always made sure to go to the bathroom before the flight because he knew just standing up during the flight might frighten the passengers. I was appalled and said he shouldn’t do that, nor should he feel he has to do that. He agreed that it was a sacrifice, but said in those situations he still aims to make [white] people comfortable. I knew that many people in our church would not be bothered by such a situation. They may be uncomfortable knowing someone it had actually happened to, but in theory, they have no qualms with profiling, etc. Again, I was reminded that any loneliness I feel in my church because of my convictions is a small offering compared to what is happening right now to my Christian brothers and sisters of color.

When we left dinner, I had a renewed sense of passion for racial justice and reconciliation. The injustices against my new Ethiopian friends, the righteous indignation and humility of my new white friends. It was a lot to take in over one meal. I’m not sure where all of this is leading, but I know there is a great and difficult conversation emerging in our church about race. More than anything else, I am thankful that God is faithful to keep putting me in it. Even when I look crazy or devolve into a total whiner over it.

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The Wall Street Journal had a story last week about a study that shows disparities between white and black perceptions of bias (emphasis mine):

White Americans saw an even steeper decline in anti-black bias: from 9.1, in the ’50s, to 3.6, in the ’00s. But more striking, according to the researchers, was the sharp increase in perceived anti-white bias: Among whites, it shot up from 1.8 to 4.7.

White Americans, in short, thought that anti-white bias was a greater societal problem by the ’00s than anti-black bias.

The researchers described the pattern—which did not vary markedly with regard to age or education levels—as evidence that white Americans see race relations as a zero-sum game, in which one group’s gains must be offset by another’s loss.

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Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party activist and member of the Orange County, California, GOP central committee, is under fire for sending a racist email about President Obama to conservative colleagues. The email reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate,” followed by the image below depicting the President as a chimpanzee.

The email perpetuates the birther myth, which seems only to be gathering steam despite having been refuted several times. As Garrett Epps writes for The Atlantic, “The drip-drip-drip of “birther” propaganda is part of a general, persistent assault on the legitimacy of immigrants and non-whites in American culture. Lurking behind the rhetoric of ‘I want my country back’ is a simple refusal to recognize the citizenship, or even the humanity, of anyone but white males.” This dehumanization is reflected in the depiction of the President as an ape, an image echoing historical associations of black people with brutes that were used as “evidence” of white racial superiority:

[ht Sociological Images]

It’s hard to know exactly, but it seems to me that there’s been a resurgence of this kind of imagery since the ’08 general election campaign (a couple examples here and here).

The racist trope of black people as monkeys is universally familiar in American culture. There’s virtually no way someone repeating this trope would not be at least somewhat aware of its racist implications or history. On top of all that, this is not the first time Davenport has been implicated in racist behavior:

Michael J. Schroeder, an Orange County resident and former chairman of the California Republican Party, also said he was disgusted.

“This is a three strikes situation for Marilyn Davenport,” Schroeder said. “She was a passionate defender of former Newport Beach city councilman Dick Nichols who stated that he was voting against putting in more grass at Corona del Mar’s beach because, he said, there were already ‘too many Mexicans on the beach.’ She was also on the wrong side of the fence with the Los Alamitos mayor and his White House watermelon patch picture. Now, she has managed to top both of those incidents by comparing African Americans to monkeys. She has disgraced herself and needs to resign. If she doesn’t, the Republican Party must remove her.” (The OC Weekly)

So you might be as astounded as I was to read that Davenport is claiming there’s nothing racist about the email, and engaging in derailing “I am not a racist” bingo in response to news coverage of this incident:

Reached by telephone and asked if she thought the email was appropriate, Davenport said, “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people–mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”
Wow. To share an email depicting a black man as a chimp and then take offense at the suggestion that one might be racist is…bold? Clueless? Disingenuous? I don’t know. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates says, it seems these days that despite increasingly vocal and widespread expressions of white racial resentment, there are no racists.

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There is an ostensibly positive stereotype of Asian Americans so ubiquitous that I do not question whether American (and many other) readers have heard or seen some version of it:

Asians are intelligent, studious and hardworking, family-oriented, polite and law-abiding and, through the diligent practice of these virtues in the face of challenges and obstacles, successful. They’ve pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and attained the American Dream.

Major media outlets, sociologists, and politicians have lauded Asian Americans as a “model minority” or “superminority,” a “trophy population” that has moved “from pariahs to paragons” to become “exemplars of hope.” Television shows and movies feature Asian nerds; even portrayals of Asian criminals tend to be unusually intelligent and disciplined.

Who wouldn’t want to be considered intelligent, hardworking, and successful? Isn’t this stereotype complimentary? So what’s the problem? In reality, this “model minority” myth misrepresents the truth, and it’s harmful to both Asians and non-Asians.

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on one of the many ways this racial stereotype misrepresents the truth: income. Those who tout Asian Americans’ “success” often cite, for example, comparable average household incomes of Asian and non-Hispanic white Americans. Frank Wu has pointed out that upon further examination, however, the appearance of parity falls apart. Asian Americans live, on average, in larger households than white Americans, so household income is often shared among more people in an Asian household than a white one. There’s a difference between $45K shared among 3 people and the same amount shared among 4 or 5 people. An Asian American household is also more likely than a white one to include more people capable of and actually contributing to household income—a higher percentage of Asian American women work, a higher percentage of Asian households include non-nuclear family members over the age of 15. The life of a family that earns $45K by pooling the incomes of 3 people is not really comparable to a family that receives the same amount through a single breadwinner. Asian Americans are also more likely than whites to be self-employed, which usually means working longer hours with fewer benefits and greater risk of setbacks like bankruptcy. $45K eked from the family shop is not like $45K with benefits from the corporate job. Asian Americans are also more urbanized than any other racial group, geographically concentrated in states with higher-than-average costs of living. The Smiths’ $45K goes much further in Smallville than the Kims’ $45K does in Metropolis. Wu further points out that “the figures for Asian Americans are rendered unreliable by the careless inclusion of [upper-management] Asians who reside in the United States [for a few years] but who are not Asian American at all.” The income of a Japanese executive living in the United States is counted in the Asian American average even though the transnational executive is not representative of Asian Americans.

Despite the stereotype, Asian Americans have not attained economic parity with white Americans. Asian Americans are still more likely to live in poverty than whites. Some ethnic groups, like Cambodians and Hmong, have poverty rates 3 or 4 times higher. Racial inequalities persist.

And this apparently “positive” stereotype has negative uses and consequences. For a white person who wants to defend the status quo, this popular and widely-believed stereotype is a handy weapon. In conversations about racism, he throws out “Asians have overcome racism through hard work” and the stereotype allows him to achieve, among any who buy into it, three goals at once: he denies that Asians are still harmed by racism, he suggests that any person of color who has not attained similar success just isn’t working hard enough, and he absolves white people like himself of responsibility to work for racial justice. In a stroke, he’s shifted all the work necessary to overcome racism to those who suffer white racism.

A committed white supremacist might deliberately play on this stereotype not to praise Asians but to use them as a tool to denigrate other people of color, promoting his racist agenda and attempting to sow disunity among the marginalized. This has been done in the past, as Wu documents.

But a white person who believes this stereotype need not be mean-spirited to harm people. I recently read a study showing that non-Hispanic white people who believe Asians are smarter than other minorities (70%) and harder working than other minorities (more than 40%) are also more likely to believe that Asian Americans experience no racial discrimination in the job market. Believing that Asians don’t face such discrimination, whites are unlikely to make any effort to remedy it. This is a problem, of course, because Asian Americans do experience job discrimination. They are underrepresented in management, for example, and when they do receive management positions they are paid less than whites in comparable positions. This is not due to their own preference. Research has shown that Asian Americans do not differ from whites in desiring career advancement and management positions. And as I was writing this, Tim Wise called attention to the fact that when Asian Americans lose their jobs, they have a harder time finding work than whites, so their unemployment lasts longer. Yes, Asian Americans experience racial discrimination, and “positive” stereotypes are part of the problem.

We need become more conscious of the racial stereotypes and prejudices we harbor and take the time to examine them more carefully. It’s not just the obviously negative ones that help perpetuate racism and injustice.

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