Life with Jesus / race / Social Justice

There Is An Answer to Racism

…and “coming together” or “stop the hate” ain’t it.

The Baby’s lovely bipap machine had Alex and I up at 4am this morning and then I flopped around in bed for an hour and a half, blowing my nose and feeling an impending allergy attack coming. I finally got up at 5:30am, determined to go to yoga, but then on the way, I started to feel my gall bladder pain and didn’t want to risk an ER visit, so I went to Starbucks instead, where I sat, without children attached to my body or asking me approximately one bazillion questions, and drank a frappucino while I browsed facebook.

On the way home, the morning DJs of a local Christian radio station were talking about Obama’s tweet in response to the Charlottesville nightmare, which has set a record as being the most liked tweet in history.

What followed was a really misinformed discussion about the tweet and what it suggests the solution to our current racial upheaval should be. I finally slammed the radio off when one of the men tearfully (not joking) shared a story about how he gave a tennis ball to a Haitian orphan “with no mommy or daddy” on a short term  mission trip and he realized that this little boy “just needed love”. (What the? HOW DOES THAT HAVE ANYTHING REMOTELY TO DO WITH ANYTHING? Why did God have to reveal to you that a child needs love? Did you think that Haitian children somehow didn’t need love? Anyway, I digress.)

I have noticed that white people love to say, “Love will win” or “We just need to come together” or “Stop the hate on both sides”. White liberals/progressives/Christians, in particular, really dig this idea that kumbaya will solve this.

Here’s the problem with it.

Let’s say, for a moment, that you have been repeatedly kicking someone, who did nothing to instigate the kicking. You are not kicking them in self-defense. You are kicking them because you are in power and you are a butthead. The person finally gets tired of you kicking them for no reason and they punch back. A third person, an observer, now says, “You guys just need to make peace.”

Do you see how that third person’s judgement is unfair? The person being kicked lashed out precisely because they were being kicked. While, sure, they could have chosen to continually be kicked without resorting to punching, I think we all can understand how frustration and anger could build and that lashing out is a natural, human response to being kicked repeatedly.

That observer’s response to that situation makes it sound as if both parties, the kicker and the kicked, have a responsibility for what happened. It’s addressing the punch and the kicks as if they are equal. It gives equal weight to the offense taken by the kicked and the kicker. (i.e. the kicker complaining about being punched is the same as the kicked complaining about being kicked).

And they are most assuredly not the same.

For the record, the “kicking” that occurs to marginalized people is not limited to groups of Nazis terrorizing a city. It includes:

  • unequally funded schools
  • unequal access to healthcare
  • being forced to attend a school that is named after someone who enslaved your ancestors
  • State violence (via the police and immigration officers)
  • Voting restrictions and disenfranchisement
  • seeing people who look like you absent in politics/media
  • redlining
  • not having access to loans for businesses or home ownership
  • being forced off your ancestral lands and then having corporations build pipelines, with the government’s blessing, through the lands that you still hold on to
  • poor government assistance programs that keep people stuck in cyclical poverty
  • being penalized in your job for not adhering to cultural “norms”, like choosing to wear dreadlocks
  • poor media presentation that presents your group of people as a stereotype, with no depth
  • always having to represent your group instead of getting to be an individual (i.e. if one Muslim does it, all Muslims must do it)
  • laws and policy that make it legal to discriminate against you
  • being racially profiled in public all the time
  • being asked to continually educate and “show grace” to the people that are oppressing you
  • having your culture be turned into a parody, a costume, or a business
  • continually being blamed for being stuck in poverty
  • being told that you’re playing “the race card” or “identity politics” when you bring up how systemic racism affects you
  • having to defend why you deserve basic human rights
  • working with people who make jokes at your expense (and then get gravely offended if you call them out on it)
  • And much more!

I am not going to tell people of color (or any marginalized person) how they should respond to oppression. Some build bridges, some don’t. It’s not my job to tell POC (people of color) what they should do (or that they should do anything). One of the hosts this morning advised listeners that they should go out today and “love someone who hates the color of their skin”. For the love. That is so tone deaf, I’m surprised dogs didn’t start howling. He is clearly NOT talking to white people there, so he’s telling people of color that they need to go hug someone who hates them.

White people, that is not our job. It’s not helpful. It’s not brave. It’s not right.

Most of us are not Nazis, right? When we watch the violence in Charlottesville, we do not see ourselves in the faces of screaming, torch-bearing men. We are observers of that violence.

Post-Charlottesville or any race-based conflict, telling POC and white supremacists that they need to “come together” is definitively NOT the answer. Obviously, white supremacists aren’t going to do that, so that lays the burden of solving this issue on POC.

It ain’t their problem to solve.

If we feel the need to insert ourselves into the situation at all, then we need to:

  1. realize that we are part of the group doing the kicking. Whether we mean to or not, we benefit from the kicking (see chart below)
  2. confront the kicker, preferably before the next punch

46cb8a7c7863d77e74c752256b94e014-iceberg-doodle

As a white woman (especially in the Southern Christian tradition), I have been socialized to avoid conflict at all costs. It’s much easier for me to tell two people that they should make peace (no risk for me) than for me to confront someone and tell them to quit being a racist asshole (or I can do it nicely). Regardless of how I do it, they might yell at me! Or hurt me! Or fire me! Or be mean to me!

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that white liberals/progressives/Christians see racism is an issue. I’m glad that they are feeling empathetic and that they are paying attention.

If you’re feeling prickly about this post, please know that I am not trying to kick you. We need you.

But, if you really want to make a difference, touting platitudes that place the blame for racism equally on the backs of the oppressed isn’t the way to do it. And I know it doesn’t feel like platitudes to you. Jesus sure does talk about loving our enemies. The problem is when we decide that it’s more important to tell other people to love their enemies instead of us rolling up our sleeves and worrying about whether we are doing so. If we say that we hate white supremacy, then our enemies are abundant.  Confronting my racial biases and trying to figure out how I can love people better by using the right terminology or fighting unfair laws where I live has made me feel more human.  I don’t want to see anyone consumed by hate. I want everyone, including white supremacists, to feel truly human. By confronting white supremacy when I see it, I am loving people, even if it makes them angry or uncomfortable.

all_are_precious_in_his_sight_by_nessie905-d7ywhw1-640x522

We want this to be true, but our world doesn’t reflect it. Saying it doesn’t make it true. Let’s work to make it true.

I once went to a yoga class and the teacher caught me staring at a guy who was doing a headstand (How could I not, right?). She told the class (and pointedly looked at me) to “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”

People of color, including Christians of color, are talking about their response- whether to punch or not. Believe me. They don’t need our input. We can trust them to do what God is telling them to do.

No, we need to keep our eyes on our own mat. We need to stay focused on the kicker. We have got to get better about calling out white supremacy where we see it. If your boss consistently passes over your coworkers who are POC for promotions, if your local police department stops and arrests POC disproportionately, if your dad doesn’t acknowledge the personhood of undocumented immigrants or gay people, if your state legislature is literally voting on a law that makes it legal to run over protesters who are standing in the street, then you need to be brave. That’s where we need you to expend your energy.

And, yep. It’s uncomfortable and risky and hard and far too easy for us to brush off, but that is why racism has been so persistent. There will always be a handful of true buttheads who are vocal and loud about their racism. But the vast majority of us remain silent about all of the ways that marginalized people are being kicked, which makes us complicit in the kicking.

Let’s speak up (in the right way to the right people).

(As always, I’m here to help. It’s not on POC to educate white people about racism. Some of them want to and that’s great, but no one owes it to us to explain their oppression. If you have questions, want resources, need support, I want to help you.)

 

7 thoughts on “There Is An Answer to Racism

  1. Did you see the tweets from @nhannahjones? Very thought provoking for me. And I agree…if I’m to say we need to love our enemies and submit to one another, that is directed towards the white community. The POC that I know have already been an excellent example of that for years.

  2. Certainly plenty of white Christians are saying the kinds of things you’re describing in this post. But those are a minority in my own news feed. Many of my white friends are at the level of acknowledging privilege and that they are complicit in a system that perpetuates injustice. They are not interested in putting blame on “both sides” or telling people of color to stop the hate or not punching when they’ve been kicked. They are vocal about their opposition to white supremacy and racism. I think this is a more common vibe from “progressive white Christians” than the one you’re describing in this post.
    But the growing edge, where my progressive white Christians friends (and myself) need help — is in the action part. We have so many questions:
    – How do we take action as non-politicians in a way that affects systemic change when the systems that perpetuate this injustice are enormous and deeply entrenched?
    – How do we take action in ways that are focused and don’t just flit from cause to cause randomly, based on whatever headline just happens to be out that month?
    – How do we take action when we are very skeptical that political activism is a pathway for systemic change? Because after all, we’re decades past the legislation that followed the Civil Rights Movement and yet here we still are, stuck in the mess and deeper issues of ideological systems that don’t get uprooted by surface level policy reform.
    – How do we take action when can barely manage getting out of bed, going to work, managing kids school and activity schedules and slamming back to sleep again?
    These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with — and the questions my white progressive friends should be asking if they’re not asking them already (and many of them are).
    What do you think?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Charles (as always!)

      So, I try to give the benefit of the doubt for most people, especially the ones that would have read this blog (or care/speak about racism in any way). The people that I know don’t *mean* to equate the two. I think that saying things like, “We just need to come together” or “Everyone should just pray”, people are genuinely trying to relate to the situation and try to make things better. They are trying. For me, it comes down to intent vs impact. While someone might not *mean* to say that black people and white supremacists should come together, the impact of those statements equate the two sides. So, I want to keep that in our heads- doing this work means evaluating impact and not intent. That doesn’t mean that everyone jumps down our throats or we never offer grace to one another but it does mean that we can be corrected (cause nobody’s perfect!) and that we should be exhorting each other to continue to think about the impact of our words, not just our intent.

      Wanted to make that clear.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re hearing some different things in your circles. That’s encouraging and I think you’re right to be pointing people to action. Denouncing white supremacy is kind of like “duh” but we have to do it vocally right now because our world is bananas.

      To your questions!

      – How do we take action as non-politicians in a way that affects systemic change when the systems that perpetuate this injustice are enormous and deeply entrenched?

      I can only answer this for myself. Systemic racism is enormous and overwhelming and persistent. We do not change (or dismantle) systems easily. We take small bites. As I’ve been a part of Faith in Texas, I’ve learned alot. We put all of our goals out there (fair hiring ordinances, marijuana cite and release, end broken windows policing, end mass incarceration) and then we evaluate which ones we can win the quickest. Those are the ones we go for first. You do it a step at a time or you get overwhelmed. I know, for sure, that the Faith in Texas organizers (and organizers everywhere) have had seasons where they are overwhelmed but the small wins keep the momentum going and they help attract new people to the work, which helps build the critical mass needed for bigger wins. So, short answer, you take it in small bites.

      – How do we take action in ways that are focused and don’t just flit from cause to cause randomly, based on whatever headline just happens to be out that month?

      This differs from organization to organization. Some organizations are reactionary and try to capitalize on big events. This invites new people in (sometimes only on a surface level) and can make some changes (see: airport protests). Other organizations do have long term plans and are less reactionary, so they stay focused on fair housing, for example, even when Jordan Edward’s death happened. One group that does this really well, always has a coherent message, is Mothers Against Police Brutality. They are supportive of other groups and other issues but their focus is always police brutality. I have a good book that talks about nonviolence resistance movements (which can feel seemingly random and sporadic) that I’ll let you borrow.

      – “How do we take action when we are very skeptical that political activism is a pathway for systemic change? Because after all, we’re decades past the legislation that followed the Civil Rights Movement and yet here we still are, stuck in the mess and deeper issues of ideological systems that don’t get uprooted by surface level policy reform.”

      “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”- MLK The Civil Rights era did make great legislative strides. It also created huge backlash, even legislative backlash (like around voting rights). The book “White Rage” describes this phenomenon really clearly. Organizing is two steps forward, one step back. I don’t think that the 1960s was successful as we were all led to believe in the heart area and so that’s why we have persistent racism. It’s why I grew up in a culture that led me to believe that we were in a post-racial society, when we for sure aren’t.

      Political activism is important because it offers immediate protection from the “kicking”. It’s not long term because if someone makes a law, someone else can come along and unmake it. Long term, we have to be changing hearts and minds- education and religion are the important players here. We need room for both political action and heart/mind work if we’re going to make a long term difference.

      – How do we take action when can barely manage getting out of bed, going to work, managing kids school and activity schedules and slamming back to sleep again?

      This is the important one, right? This is the one that we all need to really grasp. Let me answer this with a story: One of the Faith in Texas organizers is a formerly incarcerated woman who, recently, has been very outspoken about us needing to invite more directly-impacted people into leading the work. I freaking love this idea but the problem is that I know almost no directly impacted people. So, I pulled this organizer aside and said, “HEY! What can I do to help with this?” (thinking that I could run a check-in table at an outreach event or carry water bottles as we go door to door). Her answer? “Go get your people. Keep talking to white people. Keep challenging people and holding them accountable.”

      To be brutally honest, I freaking hate that answer, but it is the answer that we get over and over when white people ask POC what they can do. I’ve thought about it and I don’t like that answer for two reasons:
      1) me going to South Dallas, say, and doing work there isn’t risky for me. I’m not having to challenge anyone I know or deal with awkwardness. It’s clean.
      2) (Brutally honest again) Even though I know it’s wrong, there are times where I want to take action publically (and in view of POC) because I get something out of it- admiration, encouragement, a leg to stand on, you name it. This is called performative allyship, where I’m not actually doing the work to put POC first, but because I’m getting something out of it. I know that I do it sometimes and I try to catch myself.

      Performative allyship is, I think, one of the major speed bumps that we need to look out for. White people (myself included) often think that “taking action” means we have to be on the front lines- at all the meetings, marching in Austin, protesting in the streets. None of those things are bad or unhelpful. But they aren’t what’s needed most.

      So, to answer your question, you don’t have to add anything extra to your schedule to confront white supremacy. What POC really need us to be doing is to be teaching our kids about racism, challenging (or shutting down) the racist dad at the soccer game, talking about biased hiring practices at our jobs, making things awkward at the Thanksgiving table when uncle Bob uses the term “wetback”.

      This is what I struggle with. I would rather add things to my busy schedule than have to be “confrontational” and “uncomfortable”, but that’s the point. If we don’t do it, if we don’t have the tough conversations with white people, then someone else has to live with the unchecked racist attitudes. To be a true ally, I think it has to cost us something- and probably something more precious than our time or our money. It’s going to cost our comfort.

      haha. Second blog post! Did that answer your questions? I’m happy to clarify or discuss further.

      • Thanks, Beth, this is really helpful.

        Good point with MLKjr’s quote about a law keeping him from getting lynched. I see a place for political activism, but as we’ve discussed elsewhere, as a pastor my heart and mind are really in the heart/mind part of the strategy. But I am willing to say it is a both/and and not an either/or.

        I’m actually quite relieved by the answer your friend gave you that you freaking hate! Haha! That you should simply work on bringing your white friends along. You are such a activist beast and it overwhelms me to think about following in your footsteps with all the other commitments I have made and am pursuing.

        This was a liberating paragraph for me: “you don’t have to add anything extra to your schedule to confront white supremacy. What POC really need us to be doing is to be teaching our kids about racism, challenging (or shutting down) the racist dad at the soccer game, talking about biased hiring practices at our jobs, making things awkward at the Thanksgiving table when uncle Bob uses the term “wetback”.”

        I can do that. Right where I’m at. In the relationships I’m embedded in. I’m more than happy to create an awkward moment for some white friend if they are spouting racist nonsense! Haha.

        Another question: What place is there for intentionally cultivating relationships with POC, as a white person?

        Another thought from a fantastic post I read today. It would help me (and all white Christians) to practice confession and receive absolution for ways we continue to participate in complicit behavior or racial biases. Read this and tell me what you think: http://www.missioalliance.org/confession-evasion-christians-incapable-racial-healing/.

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