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The Death of Respectability Politics

This weekend was the anniversary of the murder of Mike Brown.  A year has passed and the country has borne witness to countless uprisings and interruptions. The white left is losing its mind over protestors who dare to disrupt white political saviors with the message that “black lives matter.” The white right reflects on this anniversary with the same mantra they had a year ago: Mike Brown “was no angel.” Everywhere along the political spectrum comes critique of black voices: slow down, wait until the facts are in.

The only facts in my mind this weekend have been these:

mike1 mike2mike3 mike4 mike5 mike6 At the heart of all this commentary about how black voices should respond to black deaths are the unwritten rules of respectability guided by the cultural principles of white fragility. White fragility demands that any challenge to power come forward with respect and deference to whiteness. Dr. Robin Diangelo writes:

The Rules of Engagement

After years of working with my fellow whites, I have found that the only way to give feedback correctly is not to give it at all. Thus, the first rule is cardinal:

1. Do not give me feedback on my racism under any circumstances.

If you do, you break the cardinal rule:

2. Proper tone is crucial – feedback must be given calmly. If there is any emotion in the feedback, the feedback is invalid and does not have to be considered.

3. There must be trust between us. You must trust that I am in no way racist before you can give me feedback on my racism.

4. Our relationship must be issue-free – If there are issues between us, you cannot give me feedback on racism.

5. Feedback must be given immediately, otherwise it will be discounted because it was not given sooner.

6. You must give feedback privately, regardless of whether the incident occurred in front of other people. To give feedback in front of anyone else—even those involved in the situation—is to commit a serious social transgression. The feedback is thus invalid.

7. You must be as indirect as possible. To be direct is to be insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.

8. As a white person I must feel completely safe during any discussion of race. Giving me any feedback on my racism will cause me to feel unsafe, so you will need to rebuild my trust by never giving me feedback again. Point of clarification: when I say “safe” what I really mean is “comfortable.”

9. Giving me feedback on my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience (i.e. classism, sexism, heterosexism). We will then need to focus on how you oppressed me.

10. You must focus on my intentions, which cancel out the impact of my behavior.

11. To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.

This isn’t new. The Civil Rights movement had his own set of respectability expectations. This is why we all know who Rosa Parks is, but Claudette Colvin, the pregnant teen that months before Parks’ defiance refused to give up her seat on a bus, remains obscured by Parks’ respectable image. This is why King himself and many others frequently marched in suits. But Dr. King knew as well as any black person in America today know, respectability won’t save you.

FullSizeRenderThe only way to challenge systems of white supremacy is to challenge the political structures that give it cover, which can be messy. It can appear rude and it will be out of order. These young organizers know that. And so, for their banner, they’ve chosen to honor Mike Brown. Not because he makes a pristine poster child, but because he was a human being gunned down in the street without dignity. They choose Eric Garner whose petty crime of selling loose cigarettes was met with punishment so disproportionately brutal that thousands would take to the streets singing, “I can hear my neighbor crying saying I can’t breathe. Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave.”

They choose women like Natasha McKenna, who contended with mental illness and violent policing until the latter did her in by covering her face, shackling her hands, and tasing her until she died. This movement isn’t playing by respectability rules. I have to say, as a white Christian, I’m here for it.

The cross tells us all we need to know about respectability politics. You don’t get more respectable than the holy, sinless, Son of God. Rome was known for its cruelty, for its arbitrary justice and unmatched power. Yet there amid empire approached a young carpenter whose days and nights were spent with the poor, those who made their living from the land and sea, the politically disenfranchised, the zealots, harlots, and yes, even turncoats who once extracted payment from their own kin for the sake of the empire. He called them to Himself, and He went into their homes in pursuit of them. The company He kept alone could have sent Jesus to the cross.

Jesus dwelled among the radicals because in loving Him, one could not help but be made radicalized. Jesus’ challenge to empirical power was not a direct one. He led no military, He told men to put their swords away when they had opportunity to strike. Yet He confronted power at every turn. He denounced the legitimacy of entrenched institutional power: religious and secular. He stood captive before both the Sanhedrin and Pilate and in those crucial moments before power, as author-pastor Mark Buchanan writes,

Jesus is silent and He commands silence when speaking would gain the most attention, applause, financial support, adulation, self-protection. But He speaks when it costs Him the most.

I thought about Jesus’ silence this week when I saw a video of a young mother refusing to give her full information to the police that were forcefully interrogating her in front of her kids. I thought about Jesus’ speaking and table-tossing when I saw a pair of black women take a Seattle stage set for Bernie Sanders. I saw it when Sandra Bland refused to leave her car and persistently articulated her rights. Everywhere I look in this movement for liberation, I see Christ.

You see, Mike Brown may have been “no angel.” He didn’t need to be. He was a human person like you or I, full of sin and yet made a saint in Christ. Like the alleged criminal on the cross next to Christ, Mike, Eric, Sandra, Natasha…they all suffered punishments that weren’t meant to bring justice. Their deaths were meant to send the same warning to the populace the thief’s crucifixion would have sent: don’t mess with Rome. Rome wins at all costs.

Jesus looked at the thief at His side and promised paradise. He gave the man hope of a place where justice actually would be just, where the meek would reign instead of being rained down upon by the powerful and privileged. In going to the cross and identifying with those He met there, Jesus demonstrated the injustice, utter brutality, and callousness of Roman culture. His death indicted that system the way Mike Brown’s death indicts ours, perhaps not in a temporal sin-fraught court, but in an eternal one that regards black life as sacred, and the marginalization of black lives a systemic sin of great proportion. It is from this place I hear echoes of the refrain, “black lives matter!” It is in those courts that like Isaiah, I say to the Lord, confessing my white fragility and renouncing my own desires for respectable confrontation:

Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

It’s not an easy to thing to do racial justice work as a white person. There are times when we will feel burned by our own legacy. Solidarity often has a sting like death. Will we open our mouths to relieve this commission?

In the book Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism, Curtiss DeYoung writes:

Unjust systems appear normal to those in power, and any change will produce feelings of loss. True reconciliation, through the cross of Jesus, will affect the lives of the privileged. The colonizer has to completely leave the confines of power and privilege and join with those who are colonized. Of the colonizer, Memmi declared, ‘let him adopt the colonized people and be adopted by them; let him be a turncoat.’

This is exactly what protestors have been challenging us to do since Ferguson when they disrupted an orchestral concert singing a requiem for Mike Brown: “Which side are you on, brother, which side are you on?”

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross doesn’t give us a free pass to continue to cooperate with systemic evil. We must speak out about these black deaths, respectability be damned. It is time to work out our salvation here, white folks. This week as I reflect on all that has happened this last year, I want my white friends to count the cost of doing this work well. How freely do we give up space? How quickly do we make demands based on our own entitlement? Are we willing to take on burdens that aren’t our own and become turncoats? What are we willing to risk for solidarity and liberation?

Will we be humble enough to receive correction or will we defensively respond with our “good white person” resume? There’s only one Savior, and it’s certainly not us. White folks, do we truly want us all to be saved from white supremacy?

Captain Irony S. Lostonme: pretending systemic racism doesn't exist since 1992 (or longer)

Captain Irony S. Lostonme: pretending systemic racism doesn’t exist since 1992 (or longer)

Recognizing Systems of Racial Oppression

All week I have been thinking about our recent national election. We saw a shift in power from Democrats to Republicans, but today I’m more interested in looking at a shift we did not see. The Washington Post worked up some interactive graphics on the make-up of the new Senate, and it’s worth a hop to go play around and learn. Not counting a few pending race results, we still have only 20 women holding Senate seats. It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that 1 in 5 seats in a body that holds 100 is not an accurate representation of male to female ratio in America, but I digress on the gender questions (for now). What I want to look at here is this: “About 62 percent of Americans are white, but today more than 90 percent of senators are white. Only 27 racial and ethnic minorities have ever served in the Senate. All of the new senators elected in 2014 are white.”

We could attempt to draw conclusions about which party benefits from the whitening of the Senate, but the truth is, the Senate has long been pretty white, regardless of which party had a majority. So we see that in the halls of power in America, white people hold most of the positions. But let’s put a pin in that for a moment and look at the least powerful people in our society for a moment: the incarcerated.

incarc rate by race & gender - webLooking at this data, we see that the least powerful people in our societythose who have been stripped of their vote, their freedom to walk about and raise their familiesthe incarcerated, are overwhelmingly and disproportionately people of color (and more specifically, black or latin@).

But these disparities are not limited to these spheres, we find them in education, health care, income, housing (including renting), to name a few. All of this is what racial justice advocates call “systemic” injustice. Systemic injustices produce consistently unjust outcomes for people of color in and through institutions (authoritative bodies: churches, government, corporations, etc.) and structures (social systems: criminal justice, education, social welfare).

In the U.S., our conversations about race tend to be about the individualized racism that occurs among individuals or small groups of people (this is one of the reasons we white people are all so terrified to admit we have biases). We are reluctant to zoom out and see the big picture forces at play. But in ignoring systemic racism, we dupe ourselves into thinking we’ve isolated racism and its effects to a few rogue individuals.

And like that systemic racism is gone

And like that systemic racism is gone.

The Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley says this about our hyper-focus on individualized racism:

Given the choice, I prefer a racist (prejudiced person) over a racist system 7 days a week! I can eventually find commonality with a racist on a human level and maybe even cause them to like or admire something about me. A racist system though, prevents equal opportunities on a grand scale for generations to come and it leaves the historic wrongs of the past undone. A racist system makes it seem normal to dehumanize the other. Once that happens, you can think or do anything to that person or group and justify it.

 Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi argues in his book, Kingdom Come, that American Christians, in particular, have fallen prey to the idol of individualism:

As a boy, I was once told to insert my name in John 3:16 in the place of the word world. So John 3:16 says to me, ‘For God so loved Allen that he gave his only Son, so that if Allen believes in him Allen may not perish but have eternal life.’ While this wonderfully expresses God’s love for me, it distorts the true focus of the verse. God didn’t send Jesus to save just me. He sent Jesus to save the whole world…[The] tradition of the Western church, steeped in this individualism, has stamped its approval on narrow conceptions of the gospel that leave us living in ways that do little to change the society around us. Like my childhood rendition of John 3:16, our conceptions of the gospel have been infected by individualism.
When we see the Gospel as a purely individualized interaction, we see the problem of the sin of racism the same way. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith describe this in their book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America:
White evangelicals, without any necessary intent, help to buttress the racialized society. Like their forebears during the Jim Crow segregation, who prescribed kindness toward people of other races and getting to know people across races, but did not challenge the Jim Crow system, present-day white evangelicals attempt to solve the race problem without shaking the foundations on which racialization is built. As long as they do not see or acknowledge the structures of racialization, the inadvertently contribute to them.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to address both the individual sin of racism as well as the collective, systemic injustices in which we live. Not only is this denial harmful to brothers and sisters of color, it prevents white people from living out and experiencing the fullness of the Gospel. Christena Cleveland writes:

[Many] of us who identify with privileged groups exclusively process information about Jesus in relation to our privileged self, our privileged experiences and our privileged social location. It’s no wonder that many privileged Christians wrongly believe that our understanding of Jesus needn’t heavily rely on oppressed people’s understanding of Jesus.  We’ve think we’ve pretty much got Jesus all figured out.

Further, we place a premium on voices that offer information about Jesus that we can easily process as self-relevant and that is easily integrated into our pre-existing knowledge of the world. And we naturally silence the voices offer perspectives on Jesus that challenge our worldview. We like going to conferences, schools and churches that cater to privileged folks. Privileged folks don’t like it when oppressed people get up front and make prophetic statements that threaten our privileged status.  Like the Pharisees in [John 9], the privileged are often blinded by a commitment to an unequal social order and unable to hear from the voices that are needed most.

So how do we move forward as Christians in pursuit of a holistic vision of the justice Jesus commanded in the Gospels? Drew Hart, writing at the Christian Century, shares a re-imagining of church and cultural life:

[It] is pretty evident that Jesus’ kingdom can be known by the manifestation of a community where the poor, lame, sick, and outcasts of society are centralized as honored guests. That is usually the meaning of Jesus’ frequent talk about the banquet table. James understood this as well, arguing that God chose the poor of the world to be heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5). So even when the kingdom of God is found and identified among a particular people gathered around Jesus, we know it is truly so when the last of society are now first. This means that Christian communities in the United States that always privilege white male, wealthy, or educated people hegemonically and hierarchically from the top-down, then they reflect communities in which the reign of God is being rejected for something more akin to the current oppressive social order. The eruption of the kingdom of God concretely in society is clearly tied to the socially marginalized being restored and honored at the center of the community, if we are to take Jesus seriously. Repentance is walking away from participating in the old social order and voluntarily embodying the life of Jesus and participating in the kingdom of God. That requires being in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and reconfiguring our social relationships according to his life and teachings, a radical vision of a reconfigured social arrangement.

This is tough work for people who have, heretofore, preserved systems of inequality through their denial, inaction, or outright complicity. But the hope of Christ can transform us and give us new direction. Christena Cleveland again:

But those of us who check our egocentric (and privileged) bias at the door and look closely at Scripture will see that oppressed folks have an epistemological advantage. We’ll see that the so-called “theologies of the oppressed” that are often relegated to the margins should actually be front and center in our conversations about Jesus. We’ll conclude that the people in our society with the most power are perhaps the least qualified to talk about Jesus. We’ll see that if we truly want to participate in this new, equitable reality that Jesus is creating, we need to allow Jesus to disrupt our inequitable systems that value privileged voices and ignore oppressed voices.

If we’re going to see God’s kingdom manifested in these ways, we first have to commit ourselves to seeing the fullness of the need by recognizing structures of oppression, and then bringing the fullness of the Gospel to bear in all aspects of our communities. It’s my prayer that those of us who are “colorblind” (and those of us who think God is colorblind) will have our sight restored by the power of Christ.

Thirty Seconds or Less

That’s all it takes to make a statement about justice:

It doesn’t take much more time than that to offer a prayer for Marissa Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence currently facing an extensive sentence for non-lethal self-defense. It doesn’t take much longer than thirty seconds to give to her legal defense fund.

December 8th, Marissa's retrial

December 8th, Marissa’s retrial

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free. -Luke 4:18

Sunday meditations: Where do we go now?

Andrew Wilkes, from his piece in the Huffington Post, “Ferguson as Christological Challenge: Rethinking Jesus in an Unjust Society:”

The Christological consensus of American Christendom — and its corollary ecclesial equation — is that our Savior changes persons that, in turn, change the world. No sense of institutional iniquity or social sin here, just an excessively voluntarist, volitional account of discipleship and good works. This Christology does not resemble the Jesus of the Gospels or Paul’s epistles, is politically untenable, sociologically flat-footed, and inadvertently anoints hierarchies of power, wealth, and opportunity. Further, this self-help Savior is a privatized pardoner of individual indiscretions and secret sins — not the Righteous Reconciler, Palestinian prophet, and cosmic Lord of the New Testament. Let us bury the New York Times-bestselling, life coach Jesus, along with the ecclesiology of egoism it implies.

 

Instead, I propose that we restate a conviction that requires interpretation in every generation: Jesus saves us from sin. One sin from which we need saving now is our unjust treatment of and implicit bias about who bears God’s image. The idea that each human refracts, however imperfectly, the qualities of a just and loving God, is a precondition for Christian redemption. Everyone who breathes — even when police officers choke out their capacity to do so — mirrors the ineffable yet discernible attributes of God. Black folks are not candidates for redemption when our inalienable rights, endowed to us by our just and loving Creator, cannot be asserted without rigorous rejoinder. If these things be true, where do we go from here?

To the foot of the cross, equally needed by all, where Jesus redeems the privileged and the precarious — red, yellow, black, brown, and white — by renewing our embodied minds from self-sovereignty, God-hostility, and interior acceptance of ugly, social asymmetries of power, opportunity, and wealth along the fault lines of race. Jesus can save us from sin, especially the sin of white supremacy and all its imago Dei-negating works.

 

Operation Help or Hush is providing supplies for people on the ground in Ferguson.

Stories on housing integration, social networking integration, and churches that have been harassed for serving as a refuge center for Ferguson residents/protestors.

churchAn amazing theological Twitter discussion about Marissa Alexander’s case (image at bottom links to more info).

killjoytweetAnd a piece by Sarah Jaffe and Mariame Kaba and Randy Albelda and Kathleen Geier on the criminalization of mothers.

Stay prayerful, and as Katelyn at By Their Strange Fruit says, let’s “put some feet to our tweets” this week, y’all.

Art by Jawaan Burge (2014)

Art by Jawaan Burge (2014)

 

Where are my white people?

Like many of you, I’ve been glued to social media this week following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve tried working through some of my emotions and thoughts on the subject in those social forums. Some forums are safer for that kind of thing than others. I’m learning that my safety (emotional or otherwise) is important, but not paramount.

As the details in the case continue to emerge, I have hope that the public will can shift toward justice, but I won’t wait for it. You see, this situation is not new. It’s not even a symptom of something. It’s a script we’ve been playing since this nation was founded. It’s the script of white supremacy.

I know that term is loaded, so I’m going to slow down and say it again so you know I’m saying it on purpose: white supremacy. Most of us are familiar enough with history to associate white supremacy with the past. We know about slavery. We know about Jim Crow. We know about the Klan. We think we can relegate white supremacy to those contexts and thereby keep it out of our house. But I’m telling you, it’s still here.

When I talk to my white friends about what’s gone down so far in Ferguson, I get many of the same kinds of comments I’ve heard before: “Let’s refrain from judgment until the facts are in.” “We don’t know why the cop did what he did, but I think cops are great, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.” “With all that looting, what did you expect the police to do? They have to keep order.”

While many of my friends are unaware of it, all of these comments are racially tinged. Before I get into how that works, let’s start with a summary of the facts from Professor Brittney Cooper:

crunkAll week long, the community of Ferguson and its supporters have been trying to keep the focus of this case on the shooting itself. But thanks to the media, the local police, and others, the story keeps getting muddled by other details. Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous anticipated these distractions in her piece, “6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.” You should really read the whole thing, but here are the highlights:

1. Over-Simplified Talk of “Riots”
According to media outlets and some residents, there’s been rioting in Ferguson since the killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. There have been reports of peaceful protests turning less than peaceful, with people confronting cops, throwing things at them, etc. I don’t know if the stories of rioting are true. Most of the video I’ve seen of Ferguson shows the protesters themselves gathered or marching relatively calmly. Angry sometimes, sure. But anger is a perfectly normal response to your unarmed teenage neighbor being gunned down in the street by police (police who have now showed up at your peaceful protest with attack dogs and riot gear).

But let’s get something straight: a community pushing back against a murderous police force that is terrorizing them is not a “riot”. It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion. It’s a community saying We can’t take this anymore. We won’t take it. It’s people who have been dehumanized to the point of rightful rage. And it happens all over the world. Uprisings and rebellions are necessary and inevitable, locally and globally…

2. Looting
Looting is often part of the “rioting” narrative. Peaceful protests that turn violent are often accompanied by looting. During the first night of the Ferguson protests there was looting reported at various locations nearby. Looting—stealing merchandise from vandalized businesses during a protest—happens separate from the actual protest taking place and its actual organizers and participants in every case I’ve ever heard about, anywhere, ever. Looting is often an opportunists’ game.

Looting, too, is about power. When people have nothing and something happens to remind them, in a big way, that what little they do have can be taken away in an instant, including their lives and the lives of their children, they may reach for any semblance of power or control they can get…

3. Celebrities
Please don’t get distracted by celebrities. At times like this, famous people sometimes say really important, helpful, intelligent things. Other times, they open their mouths and the most ridiculous hot ass-garbage comes pouring out. (I’m looking at you, Morgan Freeman/Bill Cosby/Don Lemon.) Then everyone spends all day talking about the celebrity and what they said rather than talking about the issue…

4. The Murder Victim’s Past
I wish I didn’t have to tell some of you that victim-blaming when a Black person is murdered by police is a huge no. That it doesn’t matter if they were on the honor roll, or smoked weed sometimes, or were going to college, or what brand of hoodie they wore, or even if they spent time in jail at some point. That the right to walk down the street without being a target for murder by the police isn’t a right one should have to prove themselves worthy of. That we should all just have that right by virtue of being human beings…

5. Respectability Politics
Respectability politics is part of almost all of the things I’ve listed here already. It plays its part in most of the ways we get distracted when a Black person is murdered by the police. It’s there in the idea that protests should always be non-violent; it’s there in the idea that looting erases someone’s humanity; it’s there in the idea that the victim’s past, if not squeaky-clean by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s standards, makes their victimization less valid…

I understand how hard it is to accept that as a Black person your life means so little in this country that you can be killed by police for nothing. That walking down the street while Black can be the only reason your life, or the life of your son or daughter or father or partner or friend, ends. You want there to be another reason, any other reason.

Yesterday on Twitter, @prisonculture wrote, in response to a tweet suggesting Black people can dress better to avoid being murdered by the authorities: “looking the part” doesn’t help you brother…I’m so sorry. I feel so much compassion for you. How do you absorb & internalize that you are killable, always killable? You create your own fictions. To survive, to live. I understand.

I, too, understand that it’s hard. Almost too hard to bear. Who wants to have to carry these things? Especially when you’re young and dreaming of a life without barriers based on your skin color. But pretending we can “respectable” ourselves out of racism is dangerous. And it will not save you.

6. Lies Mainstream Media Tells You
Please understand and remember that MSM chooses what to show you and what not to show you. Remember how that news station I mentioned showed only looting? Well, by accounts of many folks in Ferguson that night, that was happening while the actual protesters were still protesting, their hands in the air, shouting “Don’t shoot!” at police officers in riot gear who were threatening them. Your MSM isn’t likely to show you that part.

Don’t be distracted by the sensationalized version, by the oppressor’s racist-colored lens that only captures nice police officers trying to do their jobs while animalistic Blacks steal TVs and burn shit down. Get your news from sources who stand in solidarity with oppressed people.

Like me, my white friends are struggling to understand all this. For most of us, these incidents of police brutality, or the racialized murder of black people, feels like a scene from the past because it’s not our present reality. We don’t get stopped by police for just driving down the street. The police come when we call them, and they almost always come to help.

unnamedJust because it’s not our experience, doesn’t make it any less true. As I learned this week trying to explain all this to my white children, these scenes rattle our narratives about good guys and bad guys. And when my kids hear “the talk” about race, respectability, and law enforcement, it doesn’t make sense the way it does when black kids hear it from their parents (who they have seen deal with it, even if it wasn’t vocalized).

Half of the white people I’ve talked to or read have been quick to derail or dismiss these events. The other well-meaning half are shocked by them. Both responses are indicative of a white supremacist culture that shields white people from the daily oppressions of people of color. These events remind us white folks of our complicity and beg our attention to problems that we work hard to isolate to the past.

Look, what we’re watching unfold isn’t news. It’s been happening all this time. On our “post-racial” watch. What we saw this week was the unfolding of a supremacy narrative: first, the preemptive militarization of local police out of fear of angry black people who’ve been denied justice. It worked this way during slavery: when preemptive brutality was used to protect the system of slavery, and used again out of fear that plantation owners would be killed in their sleep by those they oppressed. It worked this way under Jim Crow: when black people could be arrested for going about their daily lives, and it intensified when black people organized to take political action or assert their rights. Violence in America has always been heavily one-sided, as has the fear of violence, and black folks weren’t the creators of lynch mob justice.

unnamed2The demands of the people in Ferguson are for orderly justice. It only feels disorderly because it’s disrupting our normalized structures of white supremacy. The media focus on isolated incidents of looting over the numerous peaceful demonstrations reinforces the “fear black people” narrative. The press ate up the fourteen-page police department story of Mike Brown’s “strong-arm robbery” and left the shooting behind, only later to find out that officer Wilson didn’t even know about the robbery when he approached, shot, and killed Mike Brown (as if that would have justified the killing). Even in stories that featured headlines focuses on the shootings, the thumbnail images shown at the side of the article were usually photos from the robbery camera.

This is how white supremacy has always worked:

Systemic oppression of people of color out of fear or for gain -> People of color no longer endure violence and begin to resist oppression (violently or peacefully) -> White power responds with “See! These people are unruly, we gotta keep a lid on that!”  -> Oppression continues, reinforced by the white narrative of fear

We can’t afford to allow distractions in this situation. I’m calling upon my white brothers and sisters in Christ to get on board here. I don’t care if we’re late coming. We need to be here. I realize it’s uncomfortable, but for our sisters and brothers of color, it can be deadly. We don’t get to wuss out on this. We have to do better than the generations before us.

Blogger and racial justice reconciler Austin Channing Brown broke my heart this week with this truth:

…what I found most intriguing is MLK’s response to the question about his mistakes as a civil rights leader. His reply: “Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.”

At this moment in time, I cannot confess to the same shock, disappoint or hurt feelings that MLK describes. I’ve read too much, been at this too long to sincerely claim that I expected the white church to finally get it right in this present moment of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, John Crawford and Michael Brown. The white church doesn’t have a great track record on racial justice, and what’s worse, displays very little shame on the matter…

I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans.

I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed.

I am ashamed. If you’re feeling ashamed at this point, too, let it change you. Repent and come alongside those whose yoke is too burdensome. Stop telling people who are calling for due process to slow down asserting their rights. White churches tried to tell Dr. King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement the same thing:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

Let’s be different in this generation. Let’s stop telling our brothers and sisters to wait for justice. For the love of Jesus, let’s stop telling them to play things our way.

respectabilityLet’s educate ourselves instead of asking people of color to tell us what racism is or how it works. To that end, I’m going to share a few resources below. Please consider choosing something, one thing, any thing. I do not believe that white people getting on board against racism will save everyone. White people aren’t the saviors. We don’t get cookies for basic human decency. But it’s going to take more of us grappling with the systems of oppression if we’re ever going to topple the thing.
igSo if you’re a pastor, preach on this. If you’re a teacher, study up and teach on it. If you’re a parent, talk to your kids. Get on social media and share articles about Ferguson. Learn how to spot derailments, how not to get caught up in them, and then keep the focus on justice. Sign and share a petition calling for an overhaul of how we police communities of color. Learn about other stories where people of color are being denied justice (it happens to women, too) and read up more stories like Mike Brown’s.

lastwordsWe white people need to go beyond allyship. We need to be accomplices.

This is Kingdom work, y’all. I’m begging my white people: don’t miss it this time.

Resources:

Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess
Douglas Blackmon Slavery By Another Name (link is to the PBS documentary, still online, but there is a book as well)
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva Racism Without Racists
Essential reading from Prison Culture
Reading list from Irene’s Daughters
Field trip! Sankofa Journey with the Evangelical Covenant Church

And follow any of the people I’ve linked to or mentioned above on Twitter. Twitter has been instrumental in reporting news out of Ferguson. If you don’t tweet, you can follow some of these writers on Facebook as well.