Tag Archives: racism

Is there a connection between ‘innocence’ and ‘privilege’? 

I came across this excellent piece by Shannon Gaggero about her realization that her (white, middle-class) kids experience innocence differently than children in other households may.

Put simply, maintaining children’s “innocence” is an opportunity available only to parents who are already working from a position of privilege within mainstream society, usually through a combination of sufficient financial/socio-economic standing, social “capital,” and racial identity.

Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy – A Striving Parent

Shannon describes children’s books, resources, and talking points she uses with her very young kids to help them see injustice and respond to that in appropriate ways.

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Several years ago, my colleague Jack and I were asked by some VBS organizers at our church to teach the “missionary story” to a group of preschool children. [If you know anything about me, you should be chuckling right now…. the last time I worked with preschoolers, I was a high schooler helping out in my small church’s VBS and wondering what I’d done to make the universe assign me such tiny humans whom I didn’t understand at all. (My lifelong habit has been to work with post-pubescent beings.)] Jack doesn’t have kids of his own yet but he’s got a pile of nieces and nephews and seems to be better at translating toddler behavior into something understandable.

Anyway, the missionary story – for those of you who might not have been raised in VBS culture –  is that moment when a VBS worker attempts to compress a complex, nuanced story of someone’s cross-cultural ministry experiences usually in a colonial or post-colonial society into a 5 to 10 minute Golden Book of missionary fervor.

[That comes across as too harsh; I loved hearing missionary stories as a kid because they were human and interesting and a little more connected to what I could envision as day to day life than Bible stories. I’m a little worried that most of the adults in the churches I’ve gone to aren’t aware of the imperialist baggage of white missionary activity among populations in Africa, India, or Asia and how that probably hindered their work for the sake of the Gospel. But that’s a topic for a different day.]

Jack and I had been asked to share a missionary story with pre-K kids for the sake of cross-cultural education. A mission we could get behind for sure. So one of us dug out of our closet a CEF story book about Mary Slessor, the legendary Scotswoman who labored in West Africa for decades and adopted many children who would have otherwise been murdered due to the local custom of treating twins as demon-possessed.

Slessor’s story in the CEF book opens with her childhood, making mention of her upbringing in poverty with a drunken and abusive father. Jack was telling the story on this first day, softening the language into something more palatable for 4 and 5 year old ears: “Her father was a very bad man. He was mean to Mary and to Mary’s mom.”

I’ve told this story myself to groups of kids at Good News Clubs (another high school / college era activity) from a variety of backgrounds. At the time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that some of the kids listening might know far too much about domestic violence. At least I grasped the poverty angle.

But as an adult with several years of teaching experience, I knew this was a touchy moment in the story. I also knew that it might be hard to explain to 21st century white middle-class parents why their little kids were coming home talking about domestic violence. I figured the innocence of church kids would preserve us. Most people raised in similar circles (Christian, conservative, white) don’t clue in to social justice issues until they’re far older.

I’d forgotten about the kid in the room from CHC.  CHC is a local charity, one of the very best I’ve ever known, operating group homes for foster children in our area. Despite nearly shutting down when South Carolina went through a phase of refusing to place kids in group homes in a burst of idealism that hardly matched the dire need for foster care in our state, CHC weathered the storm and – as you might expect – is running at capacity. Their kids attend church with the resident houseparents, and in this case, VBS.

I’ve forgotten his name, this beautiful little boy with curly hair and a toothless smile. He was impish – small for his age, a wicked grin, always into everything, fighting every boundary. I didn’t know his story, but every instinct told me he could be a handful.

Yes. “Handful.”That’s how we describe the children who howl or bite or rage against the dysfunction and/or drug abuse and/or sexual assault and/or generational poverty and neglect which ground up their families and spit them out into a state system that tries to provide a pale resemblance of family life and normalcy. 

This boy, I’ll call him “Mark,” was listening to Jack tell Mary Slessor’s story today. And he knew. He understood. His 4-year-old body knew what it meant in real terms when Jack said, “Mary’s father was a bad man, a mean man.” So he contributed. This was a story he could grasp. “My mommy is bad. She hit my sister on the leg.”

Later, “My mommy tried to hurt me with a knife.”

I wrote about this at the time, but I bring it up again because 7 years later, I still can’t get that moment out of my mind. I was horrified to confront in that moment a glimpse of what this child had already experienced, a sin-drenched violation of maternal instinct. And I was equally terrified that the other kids would realize what he was saying and start asking questions. And that we would soon be in the middle of a preschooler crisis and then a horde of angry parents would appear at our door with pitchforks.

That, my friends, is probably as close as I can get you to a teacher’s inner monologue. Every lesson, if you’re doing it right, teeters on the edge of incredible discovery and deep learning, but that always comes at the risk of stabbing straight into one of the questions we adults cannot answer, like why mothers of 4 year olds would try to stab them. Or why the richest nation on earth has such a drug problem. Or why South Carolina can’t seem to do anything about the generational poverty that chews up its citizens. And if your lesson crosses over into those churning waters where the real learning happens, your animal brain begins to tingle with fearful anticipation of the phone calls you’re going to get from parents or school board members when they realize your discussion of Dickens robbed children of their innocence.

Friends, I ask this in all sincerity:

How can parents know whether preserving the purity and innocence of their children – whether toddler or teen – is wisdom or idolatry?  

I’ve seen this many times in my work with teens and young adults: healing the wounds of dysfunction and pain requires interaction with healthy, functional peers and adults. So if all the healthy, functional families cocoon themselves, who’s left to walk alongside the wounded?

What can this look like, if it’s done well? Is a school community capable of this? Is it a church responsibility? Can a family accomplish this kind of ‘education’ on its own, apart from church or school?

Good reads (and a listen) from late August

I’ve been scrambling to survive a magazine deadline and the first week of class, but I always save at least a few minutes to skim social media or rest with a book.

A few I recommend for your attention:

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (Amazon link)
Visit your favorite local bookstore, grab a cuppa from the cafe, and read the first chapter.  Coates (who is famous for his long narrative and personal pieces about Black life in America for major media) penned letters to his teenaged son, explaining his experience of growing up black in Baltimore. The account is gritty and angry, reminiscent of Richard Wright. Though nearly a century has passed since Wright and others raised their voices against the discrimination and racism of American life, Coates seethes with the same resentment.

Polls show that white Americans downplay the idea that racism affects justice or social mobility in our country. Coates’s account is one voice among millions so perhaps some may dismiss him as an outlier. But you need to encounter his biography and his anger and his hope and his despair honestly and for yourself.

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“I’m from New Orleans, but I didn’t understand why we needed to save it” (Washington Post)

intelligence is not wisdom. My belated New Orleans education forced me to swallow an impossible, and yet an inevitable, fact: the spiritual, the musical, the mystical side of human relations. Sometimes what is important cannot be seen, only felt.

Why is it so hard to value joy over economics? We struggle yet. But New Orleans seems to “get it.” Perhaps flirting with destruction is the only way to enjoy life.

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A tough read about what no white Republican really wants to talk about. So I’m going to post it here in hopes that you’ll have the courage to read it:

“What is the Southern Strategy? It is this. It says to the South: Let the poor stay poor, let your economy trail the nation, forget about decent homes and medical care for all your people, choose officials who will oppose every effort to benefit the many at the expense of the few—and in return, we will try to overlook the rights of the black man, appoint a few southerners to high office, and lift your spirits by attacking the ‘eastern establishment’ whose bank accounts we are filling with your labor and your industry.”

Source: How the GOP became the “White Man’s Party” – Salon.com

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I’m not sure I’d agree with Kennedy on every point here, but his eulogy for Robert Frost provokes great questions about art and its power to affect society through a radical telling of truth.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

Source: JFK on Poetry, Power, and the Artist’s Role in Society: His Eulogy for Robert Frost, One of the Greatest Speeches of All Time | Brain Pickings

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One of the best new songs I’ve run into. I absolutely love this track from The Fire Tonight’s new album.

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Enjoy. I’m already collecting more. 🙂

Worth Reading This Week: Film, Helping the Poor, School Desegregation, and Racism (Oh my!)

Two reads and one listen that are more than worth your time.

I’ll open with what I think is the best of the three, though it will require a longer time investment.

Episodes 562 and 563 of This American Life delve into a topic people stopped talking about years ago: school integration.  “Separate but equal” schools were rejected as a solution by the Supreme Court 60 years ago, yet many inner-city minority students live in a world in which their schools are measurably inferior to the surrounding suburban schools where all the money resides.  As rich schools get richer, we must confront the increasing data that supports continued integration of schools across racial lines as a solution to the achievement gap.

Or to be really blunt about it: The Gospel might mean I should love my neighbor enough to send my kid to a worse school so that families with few other options for their kids can benefit from the effects of my (white) privilege.

Controversial enough for you?  Good. Give it a listen.
Also, if you aren’t shaking with anger and grief during the audio of the parent meeting in St. Louis in 2013, you have no soul.

This American Life: The Problem We All Live With (#562)

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Second, I commend this dense but readable essay that suggests Christians should stop fighting a PR war and focus attention on the daily, hard work of loving the people around us.  It’s not rocket science. But it takes work … when it’s a lot easier just to snap a selfie at a rally or #StandWith on Twitter or complain about how the Church isn’t helping the poor. (That last line is for you, John)

If you Love the Poor for the sake of the Favs and RTs, it will destroy you. Even doing it for the love of others can tear you apart, constantly peeling the onion of intersectionality until you’re a crying mess. Loving the Poor for the praise of Our Father In Heaven, as Jesus told us to do, might involve just as much crying, but it at least gives you something beyond yourself that you can hold on to when you have no idea whether or not you’re actually loving people or loving the thing you’re building for them or loving the way they make you feel.

Loving the Poor: Pics or It Didn’t Happen (from CAPC)

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Finally, this essay about how watching films changes us for the better because it trains our hearts to empathize is well worth a read. Again, a little denser than I’d like for a casual piece, but absolutely worth your time.  Brought back lots of great memories from the time I read James K. A. Smith’s excellent book Desiring the Kingdom.

Irrigating Deserts: How Film Transforms and Causes Us to Love Our Neighbors (From CAPC)

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OK, I lied. One more.

All the hoopla over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman hasn’t produced in me any desire to read it. I’m familiar enough with the shape of the tale and the surrounding metanarrative of how a reclusive author at the end of her life suspiciously agreed to release a manuscript she never wanted published.

This is the first article I’ve read which makes me think perhaps GSAW is worth a read after all.

“I am Atticus”: Racism and Vision in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

It’s about loving your neighbor: The Flag Controversy

For 2 days, South Carolina sits stunned at the news that a sullen 21 year old boy, hyped up on white supremacy nonsense and hoping to start a race war, spent an hour studying the Bible with a group of African Americans at a legendary AME church in Charleston before pulling out his gun and shooting 9 of them dead.

Stunned.

We all struggle to speak, because really, what can I say?

But I can add my voice to the rising tide of others who are willing to be so bold as to challenge the narrative that there isn’t a race problem in America, that this is all caused by angry black people or poor black people or good-for-nothing lazy welfare black people or [insert your other favorite slightly racist but still acceptable conservative statement here].

I can challenge the reality in my state of South Carolina that above our capital, on the grounds, flew one flag yesterday at full mast while all the others were at half: The Confederate flag. The flag that signified the South’s proud assertion that they were sovereign in 1860 and they are sovereign now over any federal mandate.

We could easily get bogged down in an argument over that sovereignty. I’ll leave that to the armchair historians.

But if you think that the value of the Confederate flag as a statement of sovereignty means anything in face of our American white/majority culture that glorifies violence in general as symbolized by the right to own weapons of violence, and refuses to relinquish power over what defines racism — well, here we must disagree.

The question of what SC needed to do with its flag was settled a decade ago with a compromise: remove the flag from the actual statehouse building but fly it on the grounds at the Confederate memorial instead.  Ok, that’s decent I suppose. I’m fine with history.

But the flag. That flag. It nearly throbs with the emotions attached to it by both sides: those who feel like their Southern culture and way of life are being ripped from them and must then clutch to the orange and blue symbol as a rallying cry to keep out anything that suggests we live in a different world. And by those who see in the flag a constant reminder of the lynchings (144 in South Carolina alone), the lunch-counter sit-ins, the beatings that accompanied the Civil Rights marches, the man who was shot dead by a Charleston police officer just two months ago.

Folks, the hate isn’t stopping. And our refusal (as those with power and privilege) to acknowledge this hate, to own it, to take responsibility for the backbreaking work of pushing against the capacity of the human heart to manufacture evil – that refusal is hurting us.

It’s a failure to love.

The Great Commandments are these: Love God (as hard as you can all the time with everything you have) and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Friends, our neighbors are the ones mourning the shots fired and the nine lives robbed from the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on Wednesday.  And our neighbors are telling us that racial attitudes in South Carolina are not fine.

The Confederate flag is not a neutral symbol of fried chicken, biscuits, sweet tea, and big trucks. It’s a physical manifestation of our failure as Christians in South Carolina to give up our “love” for “Southern heritage” (whatever the hell that means) on behalf of actually carrying out our mandate to flood every corner of this dark earth with the Gospel: the Gospel that condemns racism and sexism and classism, the Gospel that enables us to love God and neighbor, the Gospel that recognizes sin and names it for what it is and roots it out. 

I’d like to share Dr. Anthony Bradley‘s outstanding commentary on South Carolina’s moment in the spotlight in the wake of this shooting, as the flag’s presence over the capital — padlocked to its pole so that no one can ever take it down, or even lower it to honor innocent people slain by racial hatred — has moved to the forefront.

Dr. Bradley is a scholar, a PCA minister, and one of the few minority voices within my denomination. The PCA just last week passed a basic statement of repentance for our tainted and murky racial past. Bradley is clearly a brave man to be willing to hang out with us here in all our whiteness and Presbyterianness. And he’s brave enough to say this on Facebook and elsewhere:

The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I
The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I

Calling out this paragraph as the heart of his argument, and it’s a point that may cost me some friends by repeating it:

The spirit of the Confedrate battle flag remains alive and well in South Carolina because conservative Republican evangelical Christians have yet to place “loving your neighborhood” ahead of a romantic idolatry of “states’ rights and the old south.” Until black people become more important than “the Southern way of life” by white Christians, who hold the state’s economic and political power, the community of discourse that produced this shooter could keep producing people who are just as evil.

I don’t *need* for famous people to agree with my point of view, but it’s nice when it happens. 🙂

To save myself from typing:

FB lori comment

A friend of mine teaches at a school in the Greenville area and one of her German students struggled to understand why the Confederate flag is even defensible given America’s yearlong carnival of racial violence and shootings:

Michele student

Of course, it’s hard to find a more eloquent commentator on American flaws than Jon Stewart….. I still can’t cope with the reality that he won’t be a voice for us much longer ….. he had this powerful statement last night in response to the shootings. And I’ll let this be the last word (you can also read this summary at WaPo if you don’t have time for the video):

Among many excellent points, Stewart says:

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.

Update, 11:30am:
This excellent article by a South Carolina native and minority woman is a gentle reminder that South Carolina life is complex and messy, just like life everywhere. I’ll post it here because her viewpoint is important and necessary if we are to move past condemnation into hope:

Social justice is complicated and the lack of it is fraught with local nuance. What I ask from my friends who will and should add to the public conversation on the Charleston shootings is that they consider this before they tweet generalized condemnation.

from “My Complicated Relationship with South Carolina”

Update, Saturday, 1:30pm:

One of the best articles I’ve read in a while, Osheta counsels us to stop talking and listen, setting a trajectory of response that is Gospel-rich. “I’m sorry” and “I’m listening.”

 I’m sorry tames the anger.  “I’m sorry” respects the pain. “I’m sorry” positions you as a friend and not adversary.

I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.

from What I need you to say in response to the shooting in Charleston

Good Reads: Articles I recommend from this past week

I liked last weekend’s ’roundup’ of my favorite reads on the Internets, so here’s another round. I recommend all of these:

College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one. – The Washington Post.
“If we are going to treat college as a commodity, and an expensive one at that, we should at least grasp the essence of its economic nature. Unlike a car, college requires the “buyer” to do most of the work to obtain its value.”  The author continues in this excellent essay to explain why today’s consumerist, assessment-driven view of education results in “trigger warnings,” low student motivation, and bad teaching.

What Overparenting Looks Like from a Stanford Dean’s Perspective | MindShift
N
othing earth-shattering here, but she gently reminds parents that over-parenting isn’t a virtue, no matter how much social pressure exists to push everyone in that direction.

I’m a professor. My colleagues who let students dictate what they teach are cowards. | Vox
About a week ago, an anonymous professor wrote a Vox piece that splashed hard in social media. He wrote that the rising tide of student fears about encountering ideas they disagree with had pushed him away from teaching truly challenging material in the classroom.

This rebuttal, by a female minority professor is a thoughtful piece, one that I highly recommend. Her title is provocative, but don’t make too many assumptions on the front end about what you think she’s going to say. It’s a good read.

Suicide Isn’t About Wanting To Die | PsychCentral
Many people assume that suicidal people want to die. They don’t. They just want the pain to stop. An important read for understanding how to help suicidal people.

Black America is so very tired of debating and explaining |Salon
An important read from a perspective I do not naturally hear within my personal context. The author insightfully parses the causes for the continuing deep and damaging racial divide in America. You might not agree with his viewpoint, but you definitely should read it.

Why did it take 50 years for Calvinists to care about race? How the Mainline saved Evangelicalism | Anthony Bradley
An excellent post by Dr. Anthony Bradley about the PCA, SBC and acknowledging dark racial history in Evangelicalism:  “My Protestant mainline friends are wondering why the Calvinistic Baptists and conservative Presbyterians are so celebratory about the current progress in 2015 given the fact the rest of American Protestantism had these discussions 50 years ago. In fact, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic clergy came to the assistance of African Americans during the Civil-Rights Movement while gospel-centered, grace-centered Calvinists did nothing or supported racial segregation from the Bible. However, even with the half-of-a-century slowness to embrace issues that African American and “liberal” Christians regularly raise, we must give credit wherever credit is due. Progress is progress.”

And don’t miss the bibliotherapy article I posted yesterday.

Understanding the Racial Empathy Gap: The Power of Narratives (Part 1) | Judy Wu Dominick

Understanding the Racial Empathy Gap: The Power of Narratives (Part 1) | Judy Wu Dominick.

^ Recommended blog series happening this week with posts by Judy Wu Dominick, in partnership with Jen Haymaker. The news has been full of race discussions this past year, but Judy has a good way of explaining the issues and where we need to dive in for more thinking, more prayer, more change.

Institutionalized racism sucks

…and it should be a major part of Gospel work to dismantle it.

Good read:
Covenants of Exclusion

If the Fall wrecked human society and institutions in addition to individuals — and institutionalized racism is a perfect example of how sin affects more than individual people — then the Gospel has institutional and social and communal effects beyond my personal redemption.

That’s why Kingdom work radiates out with communal force. Redeemed people live differently — or, at least, we should. If we are content for those effects only to touch our narrow circles, we’re missing something.

I don’t feel guilt necessarily when I read articles like this. But I do feel anger, and one of the godly responses i can have to that anger is to speak up for those who have no voice, to advocate for the weak and unrepresented, to use my white privilege to break unjust structures.