Tag Archives: racism

On Ferguson.

THOUGHTFUL LINKS
Ferguson, MO has been on everyone’s radar, so I don’t need to roll in here with a big post.

It’s just that I’m really disappointed to see so many people dismiss the entire question of racial inequality and police militarization as just thugs rioting because they’re lazy. Wow. There’s so much racism in that statement, it makes me sick to type it. But it’s black and white on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, sometimes coming out of the mouths of Christians.

So if I may be so bold, here are a few of the great posts & articles that other people have been writing. I appreciate these viewpoints, and hope you’ll take time to read them.

First, a Facebook post & comment from my friend Mark Robinson, a PCA pastor. I’m sorry that I can’t get the “embed” feature to work, so screenshots will have to do.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 7.20.15 PM

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 7.20.25 PM

A few articles:

Not as helpless as we think: 3 ways to stand in solidarity with Ferguson

Anger can be startling, certainly, and it might even make us uncomfortable. But anger is not a sin. Anger is the right and just response to inequity and inaction. When people of color express anger or frustration regarding the racism they have experienced, the worst thing white people can do in response is shrug off those stories as insignificant in an attempt to return to our emotional comfort zone.

Desmond Tutu said, “true reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

#Ferguson #race #whiteprivilege (Em-I-Lis)

[an excellent personal reflection by a mother of two]

The Crucified God in Ferguson (OnFaith)

“You have the luxury of being surprised.”

Is it “Goodbye evangelicalism” or “We join you in your suffering”? (Thabiti Anyabwile/TGC)

Nevertheless, most of what’s been said by evangelical leaders thus far (including my post yesterday) has been a general lament. It’s been the expressing of sentiment. There’s not yet been anything that looks like a groundswell of evangelical call for action, for theology applied to injustice. It’s possible (even likely) that I’ve missed a call for action from my colleagues and peers in the evangelical world. But I don’t think I’ve missed our most influential leaders with the widest reach. They’ve been silent en masse. Today I think we need to be pushed a couple steps ahead.

… This post is a recognition that evangelicalism is useless in its own back yard, with its own neighbors, while it changes its twitter avatars to identify with persecuted Christians half a world away. Evangelicalism should show outward solidarity with persecuted Christians. But it should also be the good Samaritan religion, a religion of justified people who demonstrate their justification in practical acts of compassion for its beaten, robbed and left-for-dead ethnic-other neighbors. Do we see that from national evangelical ministries and leaders? No, we don’t. Ours appears to be the religion of the Pharisee who asks, “Who then is my neighbor?”

 

 

 

A dark tale with Southern roots

This will seem like a very strange followup to yesterday’s post about Christianity changing its response to abuse, but hold on till the end and I think you’ll see the connection.

South Carolina has a surprisingly robust music scene, especially in Columbia and Charleston. (The Upstate really needs to catch up. …. and develop more of a “music scene” to support a couple more good venues for good old-fashioned rock. But that’s an issue for another day.)

One of my favorite South Carolina bands is The Restoration, fronted by Daniel Machado and based in Columbia.

The hubby and I first met Daniel when he opened for some friends of ours at the local Irish pub, and then got a flat tire in the parking lot which not a one of us — even the big burly guys — could manage to break free from the rusted lug nuts. So Daniel packed himself off to our friends’ house for the night, which turned into about a 3-day saga. So I feel a bond with Daniel, one somehow linked to great music, a banjo, South Carolina, and the crappy vehicles that musicians always seem to drive because the Universe is unjust. (In MY universe, musicians would make enough to eat without worrying, and financial analysts would have to drive 17 year old Corollas with rusty fenders.)

We’ve followed Daniel ever since, making the switch with him from The Guitar Show (his first band) to The Restoration, his roots-music band that delves deep into the twisted history of the South.

An encounter with William Faulkner at a USC literature course set Daniel’s sights on Southern Gothic storytelling. He grew up steeped in the Southern civic Christianity that flavors everything down here — God is woven into South Carolina life, regardless of your personal belief.  Here, especially if you’re white, good people respect the Almighty and appreciate the Bible; bad people believe evolution, vote for Obama, and claim to be agnostic. I think the Republican to Democrat ratio here in SC is something like 8 to 1.  I’m not even sure why I bother to vote (because seriously, regardless of party affiliation, my vote does not matter).

The Restoration kicked things off with an incredible album called Constance. I’ve written about it before, when we attended the CD release show, and I highly recommend hitting the newspaper interviews that I’ve linked to in that post.

Constance tells the story of a biracial young man in the 1910s whose rage against the injustice of his life, both economic and racial, blazes into hatred against a particular man as the cause for that injustice.  Like any good Faulkner follower, Constance doesn’t end happy, just like the racial reality of many Southern towns. (The last lynching in South Carolina was in 1947.)

This depressing narrative captured Daniel’s soul, resulting in some pretty amazing art.

The Restoration followed with a sophomore album named Honor the Father. It’s a dark, twisted story of a cultish Bible believer in the 1950s who follows Old Testament law straight into the arms of domestic abuse, murder, and weirdness.  Cheery.

The album spawned a Kickstarter for an indie film – fitting for a story of the 1950s, not all Mayberry as they’re cracked up to be.  You really ought to listen to the album in whole, but definitely check out the film:

Honor the Father from Christopher Tevebaugh on Vimeo.

Diana Bright grasps for a means to escape her husband’s transformation from insecure youth to domineering husband in this musical short about the 1950’s South.

The Restoration released a quick EP back in December, I think, called New South Blues. It crackles with satire toward Christians who speak so often of Gospel but live so much like the broken world we inhabit.

To quote a verse from the title track:

Lo the Facebook lamentations 
About the “spoiling of the nation” 
And how the good ol’ days are gone. 
Oh? They never mention ol’ Jim Crow. 

“In the past, turned the page” 
Muslim witch hunt, Proposition 8 
This is the new South 

and later

In all fairness, the South has no monopoly 
On ignorance and bigotry 
You understand 
We just have the most trusted brand

Whenever I hear Constance or Honor the Father and especially New South Blues, it hurts my heart that so many people see Christians as racist, misogynist hypocrites.

I listen, so that I may remember. And be different.

 

Seeing The Dream 50 years later

When I finally got a chance to look at the world for a moment tonight after work (it’s been a busy week), the world’s feed is awash with commentary on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington.

Actually, the day entered my consciousness because a Facebook friend posted that the Republican absence at the big commemoration on the Mall seemed to offer a conspicuous commentary on Republican attitudes toward racial justice.

So I guess I didn’t even get 30 seconds of uncontroversial peace in which to contemplate Dr King’s rhetorical brilliance, biblical themes, or beautiful words.

MLK justice quote

*****

Let me back up.

I grew up in the North, a land full of its own social injustice, brokenness, and racism and economic inequality.  My dad was a steelworker forced into retirement when he woke up one morning half-blind.  My mom worked at a finance company and her salary kept us fed and a roof over our heads, but even at the best of times I grew up “working poor.”

In an odd soup of conservative social politics, my dad’s union membership, crushing economic realities (Fayette county’s economy died on the table in the mid 80s and hadn’t resurrected before I left for good in the late 90s), fundamentalist Christian upbringing — I went to school.  A small private Christian school.

Everybody descended from a European immigrant who landed in Southwestern PA to work in the glass factories, coal mines, or steel mills.  It was a very white place, but white culture was a lot more interesting where I grew up.  If your last name didn’t include 14 letters with the wrong balance of consonants to vowels, you probably weren’t a native Western Pennsylvanian.

My view of black/white racism was formed primarily through the lens of my dad’s experiences at the mill.  He despised people who wouldn’t work or proved lazy on the job. That derision crossed the color barrier, but he still categorized people by color.  I certainly grew up with a poor immigrant‘s view of racism: “Yeah, slavery would have been terrible.  So was growing up during the Great Depression with no food and an abusive Italian father.”

My school didn’t do Black History Month.  (Did they have that in the 80s?)  It was a good school. Really it was.  But the Civil Rights movement wasn’t part of the curriculum.  Except to hear about the race riots, the Malcolm X violence, and the assassination of Dr. King.

I saw Coretta Scott King on the television sometimes, especially on the anniversaries of the killing or the speeches.  My dad usually changed the channel.

****

All of my education has been white and Christian. I must acknowledge this bias, this direction in my thinking.  I’m happy to live in a much more diverse neighborhood now (we’re unified by our socioeconomic class), but I still drive to my very Caucasian workplace or church in my car, listening to stereotypical white-people music.

I have three college degrees, all of them Christian, all of them surrounded mainly by working class and middle class people of general American descent.   I don’t know where I first heard that Dr King plagiarized his doctoral dissertation – I think that came during my high school years.  But the ad hominem was powerful.  The message of King’s speech was suspect.  He was suspect.  He didn’t see the Bible the right way.  He didn’t really believe the Gospel. He may have even been Communist.

But I wasn’t racist.  No.  Racists did things like the South did – enslaved people, imprisoned them without trial or stripped them of voting rights. We weren’t like that.

My college wasn’t like that either, right? Granted, interracial dating was banned because it was ungodly. And I hardly knew any people of color unless they were international students.  But that’s because “black people didn’t want to come to Bob Jones.  We’d love to have more of them here!”

/ irony

*****

Thankfully, my education finally took a turn for balance. My M Ed coursework at Covenant College introduced me to a view of the Kingdom that values justice, that elevates the humanity of all people because we all bear God’s image.

An understanding of the Gospel that’s bigger than the mess humanity’s in because of our sin and brokenness.

A view of redemption that demands justice in this world and the next.

God calls Himself the defender of the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, the slave, the immigrant, the downtrodden.  A Righteous King is a ruler who tends to the needs of the poor and those who cannot defend themselves.

This is wound into the biblical narrative, now that I realize it’s there.

My first class at Covenant slammed me between the eyes with the idea that capitalism might not actually equal “biblical,” that American democracy was not equivalent to Christian living.

It took me days to recover.

*****

As I taught classes of fresh-eyed middle and high schoolers at NCS, I began reading all the literature that wasn’t even in my school library growing up and certainly not in the (BJUP and Beka Book) textbooks:  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  A Thousand Never Evers.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  Invisible Man.  Black Boy.  The poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.  Their Eyes Were Watching God.

I read Dr King’s speech for the first time in 2003, I think.  It was printed in my 8th grade literature book at the end of a unit on the American experience.  I thought, “Hey! It’s a speech! Maybe I can find it on YouTube.”  Being a first year teacher and always behind, I probably didn’t even read it before showing the speech to the class.

Stunned.

*****

There are days when I feel like I’m just now discovering the Gospel for the first time.  And that I live in a sea of hate.

Republicans had a separate luncheon today rather than join the commemoration at the Mall.  Why is that cool with people?

My fellow Christian Facebookers slam the very idea that we even need to discuss race in America anymore. It’s a liberal agenda thing, a ploy to divert our attention from the real travesties of the world, like Obamacare. On Twitter, some tea party person was giving it to Al Sharpton because he talked about Peace today but urged people to riot over Trayvon Martin a month ago.

Friends, the racial question in America isn’t answered.  The fights breaking out over voting laws aren’t happening in a neat and tidy middle-class vacuum.  The erosion of Miranda rights and checks on the power of the police have a real effect on people in poverty.   Our criminal justice system imprisons people of color at a much higher rate than whites or Asians when they’re arrested for the exact same crime.

*****

When Erskine held a MLK Day event in January, I attended.  It was the first moment in my life — education or work — where I was part of a corporate commemoration of that January holiday (instead of staying home to watch TV).

A coworker at Erskine patiently explains the Black experience to me over our lunch breaks.  …. I had no idea…..

Every lunch break is a new lesson, a new revelation.

*****

Fifty years after Dr King made his speech, I can only acknowledge my own journey out of complicit and stated racism into a biblical understanding of humanity — one that restores dignity to those who were often abused in the name of Christ.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”  ~MLK Jr, Nobel Prize Acceptance speech

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Read more:   King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

A friend’s thoughtful perspective on the Trayvon Martin case

In need of justice

From the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

p175

More African American adults are under correctional control today–in prison or jail, on probation or parole–than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.

Excellent book, and I highly recommend that you take the time to let Alexander pummel you with facts until your conscience kicks in and forces you to acknowledge the racial and social injustice in America’s criminal justice system.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~MLKJr

Not just believing. Acting.

For a variety of personal reasons, I find myself musing these questions lately:

1. Can we make any real progress against poverty, sickness, hatred, abuse?
The sin is in us, in our hearts from the beginning. Yet I believe the Gospel is bigger than our collective and individual sin, and God’s redemption of our hearts will affect  human lives and systems.

2. Must all progress be made individually?
It seems like attempts to reform systems end in failure, mismanagement, or a return to a bad status quo. Is there no “economy of scale” to social work?

3. What is the biblical response to injustice?
If it were clear, wouldn’t everybody be responding?

*****

Ran across this controversial and somewhat jumbled essay (memoir? call to action? position paper?) by Bob Zellner, a man who emerged from his Southern roots to become a Civil Rights activist.  It’s not always easy to follow his point; many of his conclusions do not seem to follow from any stated premises or evidence. His support of unionized labor will anger some; his blunt criticism of Southern mores will offend many.

But I recommend the essay as a thought-provoking weekend read:

Thoughts on Port Huron (written in 2012)

From his introduction:

It’s important what a person believes, so tell me what you think, but more importantly, tell me what you do and have done. In Alabama I saw folks chanting affirmations of faith, knowing they did not mean it. My quest became why people’s actions and beliefs were so far apart. I was fascinated with why so few white Southerners risked life and limb or even ostracism and poverty in the struggle against segregation and racial oppression.

Searching for authenticity, commitment and risk, as well as harmony between belief and action, I sought people doing things challenging and exciting to me. The second of five boys with a schoolteacher mother and preacher father, it was unlikely I would meet Dr. Martin Luther King and Ms Rosa Parks as a college student in Montgomery and become part of America’s most exciting History — the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps it was providential that my Methodist College, Huntingdon, was located in Montgomery, the cradle of the modern civil rights struggle.

My odyssey from KKK to MLK was a stretch. Dad, James Abraham Zellner, a Methodist minister was once a Klan organizer, a Kleagle. He and Mom, Ruby Hardy Zellner, graduated from Bob Jones College now located in Greenville, SC Even though it is now called a “university,” it is not widely known as a hot bed of Southern Liberalism. What’s worse, I was named for Dr. Bob Jones after he performed the marriage of Mom and Dad. In 2012-speak, that means I come from a line of Fundamentalist Terrorist. I must have been a disappointment to Godfather Dr. Bob. Have you ever noticed how fundamentalism and terrorism go together?

The nexus is ubiquitous throughout history. A fundamentalist, Muslim, Christian, or any other can be peace loving and protect those inside his circle. As a fundamentalist, however, his ability and willingness to harm those outside his circle, i.e. infidels, is altered. Not only is the fundamentalist allowed to harm others, his creed may even require him to do so. Presently a fundamentalist, then, depending on circumstances, voila, a terrorist is born. My father, grandfather and uncles in Birmingham were Klan activists. A more ruthless gaggle of terrorist is hard to imagine. Was their Klavern responsible for killing four little girls guilty of nothing more than going to Sunday school at the 16th Avenue Church one September morning in1963?

The last paragraph rings true:

Once, when trapped in a Montgomery church, Ms. [Rosa] Parks helped five students escape arrest, but not before saying to me, “Bob, when you see something wrong you have to do something about it. You must take action — you can’t study injustice forever.

 

You can read more about Bob and his continuing crusade to protect voting rights here:

Activist Issues New Awakening for Voting Rights

It’s hard to make theory (or theology) and practice match.

Recent experiences have drawn my thoughts toward the questions of how NCS as a school can better serve minorities, underprivileged, marginalized, and learning disabled students. It’s like the fences just keep getting higher. Everything about the private school model screams NO TRESPASSING.

The classical school movement — and the Christian school movement in general — hasn’t always done the best job reaching out to those who are not “like us.”

Let’s face it: My church has a lot of white, upper-middle-class professionals in it. The religious diversity among the school community represents a few more evangelical traditions, but everybody is still very much “the same.” Nobody has a tattoo or crazy haircut. Most of the minorities are here because they’ve been adopted (and that’s great — don’t get me wrong). But everyone is basically, homogeneously white.

Our mascot should be a gallon of milk. 

*****
How do we explode the fences? So much of Christ’s ministry targeted the poor, the sick, the needy, the helpless.

But He didn’t have to pay a light bill, buy books, maintain a facility, or meet payroll. Our Christian educational ministries suffer from the economic realities of life in this world. A school is expensive (time, money, emotional investment, wear and tear).

Let’s say for argument’s sake that an Andersonian millionaire dies and bequeaths NCS a million dollars for scholarships and student aid.  Great.  But we haven’t removed the barriers just by offering scholarships. 

Some of our scholarship kids live on the “wrong” side of town. What if mom doesn’t have a car or the gas money to run a kid back and forth to school everyday? The main school population doesn’t live on south or west Anderson. Who’s going to get these kids to school and home again?  What busy family is going to leave home 20 minutes early to drive all the way across town to do a favor?

What about extra-curricular activities?

I can relate to this one …. I grew up on top of a mountain in western Pennsylvania surrounded by frightening, stereotypical “mountain” people. My family had one working car, and my mom always had it at work 30 minutes in the wrong direction.  I never participated in any ex/cr things at school because I didn’t have a ride home. At least NCS  has a pretty good tradition of faculty members pitching in to give rides … I remember my 8th grade English teacher driving me home after we went to a Shakespeare play at a local Penn State campus (one of the only two professional, live, theater performances I  saw during my schooling in PA). After the field trip, Mrs Shawley put me in her blue Ford Escort and gingerly picked her way up the winding mountain roads to my house (buried in the middle of the woods — she could probably hear banjo music…. lol).  The whole ordeal seemed SO awkward for her and for me and for my dad, who was embarrassed that he had no way to pick me up after school on his own.

My family was poor. I’ll say it straight up. My dad had a good job at a steel mill an hour away until he woke up one morning half-blind, with no explanation. I was in 2nd grade. He lost his job immediately (but retained a pension). His income was cut by 2/3. My mom became the sole breadwinner, and from that point on I’m not really sure how she paid all the bills or how we had money to eat. I *really* don’t know how they paid for my Christian school tuition. (That’s probably why we didn’t have much to eat. My dad could cook supper for us through an entire week on $30 of groceries.)

Every day at school at NCS brings constant reminders to some of my students that they aren’t privileged enough to own an iPod or have enough spare cash to spring for YoGo’s after school on a whim. The big field trips in October are an insurmountable barrier.  I understand.  My family never went on a single vacation. We couldn’t afford it. And that’s ok. I had a good life, good parents, good friends. But if something cost more than $50, the answer was no. No letter jackets; no class ring; no extra trips.

Simply providing a gateway into the private school full of upper-middle-class kids isn’t enough. We need to rally around whole families to fill in the gaps of a support network that most Christian families just take for granted

 

*****
What about students set apart by learning disabilities? Again, Christian schools usually can’t afford to hire the necessary special education staff to properly handle kids with significant learning problems. Dyslexia. Dysgraphia. Processing issues. Major reading deficiencies. Kids who don’t ‘get’ math or grammar.

Shouldn’t we be able to craft Christian schools that offer a place to all of the household of faith?  Did God abandon some parents and some kids to wander in an unhelpful  education system because their kids don’t score at the top of the charts?

Praise God, NCS does not follow the popular philosophy of some classical schools to worship “rigor” above humanity, to screen applicants with a standardized test so that only the “A students” remain.  I thank God every day for the C students in my classroom, for the ones who have to struggle and fight for every.little.bit.of.progress — not because I want them to struggle (I hate it), but because those kids are the beautiful feet which will carry the Gospel of peace around the world.

“Smart kids” struggle against laziness and pride and arrogance. Instead, talk to the kid who knows he can’t get math without an extra hour of work. Talk to the kid who knows her reading comprehension is so weak that she will spend hours just trying to grasp a single assignment. You’ll usually find a very hard worker, a student who has learned that determination is worth a lot more than raw talent.  Given a chance to actually learn, those kids will be Kingdom workers worth their weight in gold.

Blessed are the weak, for they will see the strength of God in their weakness.  Shouldn’t our school somehow be a haven for those kids too?

I don’t have any answers here. I’m just rambling.  I’m thankful for the good progress NCS has made on all fronts. I’m glad my classes are as diverse as they are.

But the issue is real.
We need to do more than open our doors and invite the poor, the needy, the struggling, the minorities, the Calvary Home kids to come to school.

We need to cross the road … and pave it.