Creative destruction: Ferguson, White Responses, and the Gospel

I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about the world Jesus was born into: a world where some Jewish people were exiled, others living under Roman occupation. The Jews in Israel were ruled by one of their own, a royal governor, whose allegiance to his people was never as strong as his allegiance to the Roman state, the source of his power. It is into this system our God comes in the flesh to dwell among humankind. His birth is immediately met with sweeping violence, the loss of a generation of young boys and babies because the mere existence of a Jewish Messiah was too great a risk for the governor to take. For this Emmanuel threatened to completely expose the king’s misplaced loyalty. Christ questioned the legitimacy of the king’s power simply through the defiant act of growing up, of surviving.

Our Emmanuel still comes to us in these times when young people lose their lives to powers that were supposedly installed to protect and serve justice.

KilledByCops_Infographic8Our Emmanuel still comes and flips over tables in our temples, asking us to consider what could possibly be more valuable than the human beings that bear His image? Surely not our places of commerce. Surely not the well-established disorder we absentmindedly worship. I think about the heat and rage in this image of Jesus chasing money changers out of the temple. I can’t imagine a more upsetting scene than a previously patient and peaceful teacher, a devout Jewish man, thrashing about and destroying property His people thought was sacred, devoted to God’s work.

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The Jews were so used to this system. It’s just how it worked. This is how God wants it, right? It was painful to the most vulnerable, yet so familiar and entrenched it demanded cooperation. But Jesus wanted them to see it for what it was: a yoke of oppression. In Luke, He says, “The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” He delivered on that promise, but whether it was in the temple courts or on the cross where Jesus died, surely from the outside, it all looked like destruction.

Austin Channing wrote this week:

I serve a demonstrating Christ. Surely Christ could have stood on the steps of the temple, at the entrance and waved his arm toward the commotion. Surely he could have declared to anyone who would stop long enough to listen, “Do you see what is happening in there?” “Don’t you think someone should stop this?” Surely he could have taken his twelve from stall to stall and quietly pointed out each atrocity before his eyes. Calmly explaining his rationale to each seller, he could have ministered to each one persuading them to do what it right. Surely he could have been patient and kind asking each one to please leave the temple. Surely he could have used humor to catch people off guard. Or perhaps he could have waited- waited until the day was done, until Passover was done, until the Temple was done. Surely he could have… could have done anything other than demonstrate.

But I serve a Christ who disrupts.

In the past week, we’ve seen much agitation in our country. There have been intense and deliberate attempts to discredit the work and motives of the righteously indignant people of Ferguson. For months, for years, even lifetimes for some of them, these folks have been working for a new order that addresses historic and systemic injustices. Scripture says the enemy of God prowls like a lion. It warns us to be sober and alert. Twitter activists keep reminding all of us to #staywoke. I imagine the Enemy’s pace is quickening even now as we collectively and individually consider the possibility that this system we take for granted and call “order,” is in fact, white supremacy: an evil that must be uprooted in our hearts, our churches, and every human institution.

We are told in Scripture to get mentally and spiritually destructive about this:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10‬:‭3-5‬ ESV)

Yet, I’m still seeing white Christians post this malarkey unchallenged by their white friends:

Image links to Organize Missouri's donation page for Ferguson protestors' bail fund

Image links to Organize Missouri’s donation page for Ferguson protestors’ bail fund

So when we see conversations about Ferguson take the ugliest of turns, we must respond with truth that affirms the humanity of all involved. We cannot congratulate any person on the taking of human life. Nor can we sit idly by while people are called or treated as “animals.”

Lord, be merciful, for we are quick to condemn that which we are slow to understand. I thought momentarily about prefacing this whole post with “I don’t condone rioting,” but I’m not going to dismiss what’s been happening that easily. The situation requires inquiry and empathy not qualification or pat denouncements. Such condemnations attempt to keep the pain and anger of this community at a distance, and it reinforces a respectability standard that is unjust and impossible for black people to maintain. Roxane Gay wrote this week:

If we were talking about the murder of my child, I would not be dignified. I would be naked and hideous with my grief. I would rage. If I were murdered in such a manner, I would want people to rage on my behalf. I would want to be remembered loudly, with fire. Such visible outrage could be its own kind of grace.

Don’t misunderstand those words. Violence is not the answer but neither is peace.

White supremacy has been pressing down hard for centuries. Sometimes, folks are going to push back hard, especially when little attention or recourse has been given for their pain.

I believe it’s going to take a lot more agitation before we see progress. The frustration may get worse before it gets better. I do not know if those of us new to the fight have the stamina for it. We are untested and unreliable. We have to be willing to push forward anyway. We have role models among us. Let’s get behind them and learn.

I have hope that things are changing because I know God stands with the oppressed. He kneels to wash their feet and bind their wounds. He does not condemn them even if, in the weakness of their humanity, they falter. He says, when you see them, you see me. What you do to them, you do to me. What you do for them and with them, you do for and with me.

But He doesn’t stop there because He offers hope and conciliation for repentant oppressors, like Paul and Zacchaeus too. He gives second chances and a new calling to those who, in their ignorance or despair, did not recognize Him even as He walked and talked with them for miles.

God’s justice is not [color]blind justice. The only scales in His hands are those He has lovingly removed from our eyes so that we can see our brothers and sisters, and fully commit ourselves to them. If things feel out of balance right now, ask yourself why. Could it be that God has come and is righteously wrecking the former things, so that He can show us once again, “behold, I make all things new.” Sometimes it’s good to be unbalanced.

Perhaps like Isaiah, when we recognize the image of God resting on our black brothers and sisters, we will rightly respond with Isaiah’s confession when he saw the glory of God: “Woe to me! 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.” It’s possible when we do that, He will invite us to join Him in the work He’s already doing.

May all of us who have been missing what God is up to in our day be made new in this generation to stand for justice alongside the oppressed.

**If you’re not already reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, start now.

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

Privilege in Feminism, Part 1: Lessons from Scripture

I’ve been straying from course in our Social Justice Bootcamp on Feminism to talk about topics as they present themselves, but I finally have an opportunity to do both! So this week, we’re going to dive back into what I planned when I started this series, and I’m going to mix in a few recent things as well.

Many of us are familiar with the term, “privilege,” as it describes the social, economic, or political advantages of a particular group of people. We’re used to hearing terms like, “male privilege” or “white privilege.” But today I want to dive into the idea of relative privilege and how it affects feminist activism. Most people think of feminism and they think of this:

Iconic, right?

Iconic, right?

We love Rosie. She’s as tough as any dudebro, though she’s still made-up and small-waisted, and she’s looking us right in the eye showing us that women mean business. But who are we leaving out with this image? What women are omitted when this icon becomes the singular story? As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her famous TED talk:

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

rosie2

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, U.S. Office of War Information

rosie

Robert Valadez, “Rosita Adelita” (image links to artist’s site, posters available for purchase)

So let’s start with two stories (better than one, yes?) from the Old Testament. The first, found in Genesis 16, begins with two women: Sarai and Hagar. Sarai is a well-off older woman, and has been unable to bear children with her husband Abram. Despite God’s promise that the couple would have a child and become parents to many nations, they have been unable to conceive. Living in a patriarchal culture that primarily values women because they can carry children, Sarai becomes desperate and takes the matter into her own hands. In the society of her day, it was lawful for a barren woman to have her servant bear children as her proxy. Sarai avails herself of this option and employs her handmaiden, Hagar, for the task.

Scripture does not tell us if Hagar consented to the arrangement. It’s likely that in that day and culture, Hagar’s vocalized consent would not have been needed. Hagar conceives, and as the years wear on, Sarai becomes jealous of Hagar’s child and Hagar’s new found social position as the mother of Abram’s only son. Sarai demands her husband cast both Hagar and her son Ishmael out of the household, and Abram complies, abandoning his own child to appease his wife.

What we see in this passage, beyond a display of desperation, human selfishness, or faithlessness, is patriarchy at work. Sarai is keenly aware of her [albeit limited] power in this culture, and she is frustrated when her power as a wife is jeopardized by her childlessness. Her power is relative, of course, to her husband’s, and she enjoys a measure of privilege precisely because she is 1) married, and 2) married to a wealthy man. As a woman, her privilege still does not match that of her husband, but she wields enough power to compel Hagar to bear Abram’s child, while maintaining her status as a wife. Hagar enjoys a measure of privilege herself, as the mother of Abram’s child, but her privilege isn’t enough to protect her in the situation, and ultimately, she is abandoned by both her mistress and her child’s father. As women, Sarai and Hagar are both at a cultural disadvantage, but to different degrees because of the relative privileges that patriarchy assigns to them.

Our second story is that of Queen Esther, found in the book of the same name. The book begins with the removal of Queen Vashti, who, in a moment of forbidden autonomy, refuses to come at the King’s command. Esther’s story begins here, in the context of a king who rules with absolute authority, who is surrounded by advisers who are plotting a genocide against the Jewish people. Esther herself is a Jew, but this fact goes undetected by the king’s court as Esther moves through the beauty pageant that is the audition for the next queen. King Xerxes admires her beauty and Esther is made queen. The conflict of the book hinges upon Esther’s undisclosed ethnicity and the impending danger of adviser Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.

Once again we see patriarchy at work, but this time, at a point in history when ethnicity is a governing factor as well as gender. Esther has immense privilege as Queen, but all that is predicated upon the understanding that she is a Gentile. In the culminating apex of the story, Esther goes in to the king to defend her people, knowing full-well that in defying the patriarchal law against approaching the king without being summoned, her royal privilege will not be enough to save her: “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.

And you thought Elsa was a badass.

And you thought Queen Elsa was a badass.

Both of these stories illustrate the challenges women face navigating a patriarchal order. In both cases, women had to make choices about how/when to use their relative privilege. Sarai chose to use her to preserve her own power. Esther chose to put hers on the line for her people. We have two models here of how the moral evil of privilege can be leveraged within patriarchy: for self-promotion (essentially codifying both relative privilege and the patriarchy-at-large) or for the promotion of marginalized people (undermining both the privilege and the patriarchy).

In our day we face the same choices: women can play by the patriarchy’s rules and happily advance as far as the patriarchy allows, or they can actively work against the patriarchy by promoting the voices of the marginalized and sharing risk in solidarity with those groups. When women choose the former over the latter, they are buying into the myth that an oppressive system is selling: competition is fierce and there are only so many seats to be had at the table. Feminism seeks to make the table bigger, and invite marginalized voices to take their place there. Jesus does the same in Luke 14:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Hierarchy creates privilege. Christian feminism works to disarm those powers.

Esther’s story shows how much more complicated all this gets when there are other factors at work besides gender. We see these same forces at work in our society today when it comes to feminism and race. In the next post, we’ll take a brief look at how these two issues have tangled in our American history.

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.

All You Nasty Boys

There are two moments I starkly remember hearing a song differently: one was as a teen when I realized what was really going on in “My Sharona.” Oy. The other was yesterday in my minivan.

For some reason, lately my kids have been obsessed with Michael Jackson; particularly his music. I’ve been picking up CDs at the local library of some of his early work with the Jackson 5 and listening to ABC has quickly become one of our family jams. Yesterday as we were all singing along, something at the end struck me anew: the line where the boys say to the girl they’ve been singing to…

Sit down girl,
I think I love ya’
No, get up girl
Show me what you can do
Shake it, shake it baby, come on now

This seems harmless enough, like they’re asking a girl to dance? Hey, I can be generous. But then I contrasted that with what their sister Janet later sang, in what could have been a response to their request for “entertainment”:

I’m not a prude (no)
I just want some respect (that’s right)
So close the door if you want me to respond (ooh ooh yeah)
‘Cause privacy is my middle name
My last name is Control
No my first name ain’t baby
It’s Janet
Miss Jackson if you’re nasty

Now, I’m not entirely sure I know why this connection hit me yesterday of all days, though I’m now going to have a conversation with my son so all this Jackson 5 isn’t teaching him to catcall women. But I think it hit me hard because of what transpired last week in California and the ensuing hashtag activism of #yesallwomen. (Trigger warning on that link, there’s an embedded video clip of Elliot Rodger’s self-taped diatribe at the top of the piece, clip does not autoplay).

This hashtag effort is getting a lot of well-deserved attention, which is important because women are notoriously harassed in online spaces. And there are many insightful things being written about the layers of significance involved in this horrific event (links to those at the bottom). But, I also know some people are struggling with what this shooting means. There are times when I’m having conversations about misogyny, feminism, patriarchy, and I see my friends glaze over because I’ve gone too far with them in my social assessments. I usually worry about that: that I’m going to lose someone, alienate them, or go too far in pointing the finger at the (oft invisible) misogyny among us.

I’m not worried about that today.  Because women are sharing tips on how not to be raped and telling their daughters to read it, but few people (some, but too few) are talking about how men don’t have to become aggressors (or rapists, for that matter): they are capable of respecting women in a culture that rewards them for doing otherwise. I’m not worried about my audience today because when a man ripped Janet Jackson’s shirt off in front of a national audience, we called her indecent and simultaneously replayed the clip again and again.

I’m not all that scared of offending my readers or my friends because The Washington Post reported yesterday that a Pakistani woman was killed by her family for choosing to marry a man she loved against their wishes, and we think these things only happen “over there” as if woman aren’t killed or abused here in the U.S. for rejecting a man. (trigger warning: graphic image at the link)

Because I saw these two comments on Twitter and even as a woman,  I have to do battle to keep myself from thinking/doing these things, too:

#yesallwomen because people question why women stay in abusive relationships rather than question why men are abusing women.”

“Because we are taught early on that if a boy is abusive towards you, it’s just because he has a crush on you. #yesallwomen”

Because if a white man recorded the diatribe Rodger did about Jewish people instead of going on and on about women, we’d call what happened last week what it is: a freaking HATE crime. (Note: Rodger did include racist invectives in his video and on other occasions and was flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center for previously made statements). Because if Rodger had ranted about Christians and then shot up a group of us, all my brothers and sisters in Christ would be rightly crying persecution.

 Students on Monday protested violence against women in the wake of the shooting spree. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Students on Monday protested violence against women in the wake of the shooting spree. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

I’m emotional about this and I may be dismissed for that, but my question for any dismisser is: why aren’t you emotional about this? How many of us have to die before we start having real problem-solving conversations about violence against women, our unhinged understanding of masculinity, racism, sexism, gun-slinging, all of it?

If Columbine was the wake up call that got us to consider how to work against bullying when are we going to wake up from the nightmare of patriarchy?

I realize that this post may be off-putting. Most of us, myself included, are uncomfortable with open displays of grief or anger. We want someone to fix it. We want to get back to the happy place so bad, we’ll anesthetize ourselves to the truth, avoiding pain at all costs. But lament is powerful. We see it time and again in the Bible and we really suck at it here in the Western world, unless it’s directed at a political candidate. The biblical precedent shows us that lament is cathartic and it moves the heart of God. So I’m having a public sackcloth and ashes moment, in case you want to join me here.

I’ll get back to happy soon enough. For now, I’ll shake my little arthritic fist at the devil and promise him this: my God is powerful, He hears us and those who raise their voices in solidarity with us, and He’s coming for your woman-hating, man-hating nastiness. We will do better. We must.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

A place to act and send your elected officials a “Not One More” postcard.

Links to worthwhile reading on the subject:

Grace Hwang Lynch’s Race, Gender, and Rage: My Peek into the Twisted World of Elliot Rodger (includes discussion of Rodger’s biracial identity factored into the tragedy)

Racialicious’ round-up of articles in Voices: Racism and Misogyny Fuel a California Tragedy (many links from an intersectional understanding of racism and misogyny)

Feministing’s collection of Essential Feminist Writing on the Isla Vista Shooting (several of my favorite bloggers are among these links)

An interesting twist with #yesallbiblicalwomen

Arthur Chu, Jeopardy! winner and blogger’s piece, Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

Noah Berlatsky on how the stigma of male virginity is misogynistic in Elliot Rodger and Poisonous Ideals of Masculinity