Tag Archives: racism

“Dear Fellow White People”: An Appeal For Sustained Discomfort

*First posted on UMCLead.com on Feb. 10, 2015. Revised and updated… still unapologetic.

#BlackLivesMatter makes a lot of white people uncomfortable. The impulse of many is to soothe us. Please don’t. We need sustained discomfort. There are a lot of people in this nation who have been very uncomfortable for a very long time. Those of us who have privilege and have been sitting in denial about that, need to feel this discomfort, need to feel this moment.

Sustained discomfort. Sit with that for a minute. Better yet, don’t sit with it: commit to it. Refuse to allow the media to redirect your attention. Refuse to allow the passage of time to diminish the ache in your soul when the world watched that video of Eric Garner’s life slipping out of him; that video of Sandra Bland’s freedom being taken from her. Refuse to be that person who looks back in twenty years with regret. Refuse to be the pastor who was silent.

Know your history. Remember that the protection of all peoples’ rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has been hampered since the beginning of our nation by two things, among many. First, the fact that while we proclaimed the fundamental equality of all people, we simultaneously and ironically denied that equality to many – African Americans, Indigenous Peoples, women, etc. Second, since that time, change has been delayed by the inability of people of privilege who disagree with injustice to endure the lifestyle required to exchange that cultural lie for the truth, both in our cultural philosophy and in our systemic structures.

To put it more simply: we have had equality in word but not in deed, and we have not maintained the solidarity necessary to change that.

To put it even more simply: do not change the channel.

Now is the time. As the movement that has endured in our country for hundreds of years takes on new energy and strategies, we have the opportunity to see change.

However, we must acknowledge that we live in an era when that potential is threatened. We live in an era when news has become entertainment. We live in an era when justice issues have become an ever-changing cycle of temporary fads that we can exchange one for another as soon as something more trendy comes along. We check social media to see what the cool thing to care about is today.

This rapid exchange rate allows those of us who have privilege within this culture to endure sympathetic pangs of sorrow and discomfort in small, manageable doses. We change the channel before it gets to be too much; throwing our attention into a new direction that promises a rush of energy to replace the frustration of that “other” situation we could not change. Or rather, that situation we did not have the patience, stamina, and determination to change.

Our very ability to choose what “causes” to give our attention reveals our privilege. The very fact that we have the option to give up and walk away from a struggle, is the very reason why those who cannot walk away from the struggle struggle to trust us – and with good reason.

What if, instead, we did not approach phrases like “Black Lives Matter” as causes and fads, but as fundamental truths. Truths that are so important that life is simply intolerable for us if they are not universally recognized and implemented.

This is important because so many of these “causes”, both local and global, have at their root the same denial, subtle or outright, of one fundamental truth: black lives matter. To understand the pervasiveness of this, we must examine why our nation is more comfortable with crowds of white men walking the streets in displays of “open carry” then it is with an African American man shopping for a toy gun. To understand the subtlety of this, we must examine why our news media and world leaders paid so much more attention to terrorism in France, than to mass killings in Nigeria. To understand the danger of this, we need look no further than Tamir Rice.

Intersectionality exists in these justice issues, and we must name and acknowledge the connection between violence against Black bodies and violence against Queer bodies and violence against the bodies of 43 teachers below the border in Mexico. All of these lives matter, and all are connected because all pose a threat to power, to privilege and to the status quo. However, while we name intersectionality, we cannot allow that reality to become confused with our channel-changing, issue-switching culture, and cause us to remove our foot from the gas pedal that is driving this movement.

I understand that leaders throughout our nation, in many walks of life, seem to have a general consensus that change should take place – if it takes place – at a gradual rate that people can tolerate.

The reality, however, is that while some of us seek change that takes place at a rate we can tolerate, many have been forced to come to this nation and live in this nation under conditions that have been intolerable from the start. Intolerable is the status quo for many in this nation.

So the real question is whose comfort, whose pace, whose toleration are we talking about?

While we wait for that answer, people are actually dying.

Friends, we cannot endure this pace any longer. The time has come to commit to sustained discomfort. To refuse to shift our attention as the fads come and go. To understand that our very ability to choose to do so reveals our privilege, and our very willingness to do so reveals the fragility of our solidarity with those who have no choice in the matter.

True solidarity means we do not get to make the decisions and we do not get to walk away; we must follow the lead of those most impacted by the injustice in our system, and see it through to the end.

We must plant our feet, and refuse to be moved. Speak our truth, and refuse to be silenced.

We must commit to sustained discomfort not only for ourselves but for all around us, until we are no longer able to endure the denigration of our own humanity that takes place when any one of our brothers and sisters is put down, put in their place, or put away.

Change is coming, and you have a role to play. Do not walk away.

The Whistling Sheriff: Sandra Bland Grand Jury

“It wasn’t me. It was her! It was her!,” Sheriff R. Glenn Smith joked, Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 4.15.25 AMpointing at Officer L. Watts, a female, African American Officer on his force. It was individuals like Officer Watts that Sheriff Smith had referred to repeatedly in the media when arguing that there could not have been any racial component in Sandra Bland’s arrest and death because not all his staff was white.

On hard benches outside of the District Courtroom on the third floor of the Waller County Courthouse sat several Sandra Bland supporters, Officers from the Waller County Sheriff’s staff, and several members of the media. Many familiar faces sought or avoided eye contact as the same officers who had walked past those holding vigil for Sandra Bland now had to sit across from them while members of the press, who had once sweltered in the July heat, typed away on their laptops only a feet away.

When Officer Penny Goodie, of the Prairie View Police Department, emerged from the Courtroom looking dazed, she was quickly ushered down the stairs by a fellow female, African American Officer, S. Rutledge of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, before a voice said that Sheriff R. Glenn Smith was up next.

Emerging from Judge Albert M. McCaig, Jr.’s office, the room next to the courtroom, Sheriff Smith sauntered slowly past the Sandra Bland supporters to the door of the courtroom and took a seat on the bench. After a few minutes a man poked his head out and said to the Sheriff, “You’re good to go!” At which point, overcome with good humor, Sheriff Smith turned to Officer L. Watts and Officer J. Henry and delivered his crowd-pleasing line, “It wasn’t me. It was her! It was her!” before chuckling and sauntering back past the Sandra Bland supporters and into Judge McCaig’s office once again to rejoin his Captain of Patrol, Officer Brian Cantrell, and the others gathered there.

A few minutes later, Sheriff Smith re-emerged from the Judge’s office whistling, as he had been wont to do several times in the preceding hours, and strolled up and down the hall before returning to the Judge’s office once again. It was a ritual that he would repeat several more times before the Officers seemed to tire of our social media reporting from the scene and demanded that “the public” leave at 5:00 pm; forcing everyone down the stairs and out into the quickly gathering dusk of evening, over the protests of local Waller leaders and television reporters who had never experienced such a curfew before.

The intentionality and persistence with which the Sheriff sought to flaunt what he saw as his triumph was unlike anything I had seen outside of slightly comedic scenes in television or on the stage. The exaggerated slowness of the saunter and persistent whistle was akin to a scene out of the early days of silent film, when the characters had to exaggerate their movements to get their point across without the assistance of audio. I was torn, uncertain whether he intended to be menacing or humorous; I suppose it was a little of both, for there have always been those who find amusement in seeking to intimidate others.

IMG_9454I could not help but wonder what these Officers on the bench across from me were really thinking and feeling. Certainly, I knew they were not too fond of me. I recognized Officer J. Henry from that time he walked behind Ranger and I as we sat in front of the Waller County Jail and joked to Assistant Chief Jailer L. Thibodeaux, “Got any room left in there?” (“For what?”) “For these two.” Yet, even so, putting their feelings for me aside, I found it hard to believe that they could feel proud of the behavior that their supervisor was exhibiting.

I have struggled for months to find a word to really capture the Sheriff’s particular brand of unassailable privilege that seeks to flaunt itself. The only word I have been able to quite find to describe it is hubris, but even that word seems to fall short of capturing its essence.

Or perhaps, on second thought, hubris does work. For it was that pomposity in the Greek tragedies that led the men of myth and legend to make decisions out of pride so excessive that it defied even the gods. In the Christian tradition, it was akin to the pride of Saul with his height, Samson with his strength, and Absalom with the flowing locks that were his undoing.

I have spent a good amount of time around the men and women of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office & Jail over the past five months. Enough time to have a certain fondness for some of them that makes me wonder if they feel trapped in the roles they occupy, or if they carry out their duties willingly. Enough time to have a healthy caution around others of them, whom I have watched as they have watched me; doing so long enough to know that the uneasy feeling I have in their presence never goes away. Enough time to know that even if they felt their stories were true, the Sheriff’s Office has wrapped them in so much subterfuge that it would be impossible for them to ever ring true now.

And so it happened, that we found ourselves ejected from the doors of the Waller County Courthouse by some of those same Officers, Rutledge, Watts, and Henry, to stand on the sidewalk outside of the Waller County Courthouse with a cadre of stunned television reporters who could not believe that they had really just been rudely tossed out of the building.

I could not help wondering, as I always do, why was it that the Sheriff always had his African American Officers be the ones to engage when there were people in protest or vigil.

Actually, no, that is not what I wondered. I knew the answer to that, as the well-informed reader will as well. The actual question in my mind was: how did these Officers feel about being used that way? They had to be familiar with the Sheriff’s rhetoric that he could not be racist because they were on his staff. And they had to have noticed, as we all did, that they were always the ones chosen to be on the front lines; from the time when Rutledge and other African American staff were sent into the lobby first to ask protesters to leave, all the way up to tonight, when she was once again put in that position, along with Watts and Henry, while white Officers and staff watched through the frosted glass door of Judge McCaig’s Office.

I know they seem to hate me, and they probably think I hate them; but in truth, I can’t help but love them and hurt for them and wish we could all be set free from the bondage of this patriarchal, white supremacist culture that prioritizes the comfort of white men over the lives of black women: whether it be Sandra Bland or Officer S. Rutledge.

After 4 hours of waiting in the dark, the five special prosecutors finally emerged from the darkened Courthouse and descended the stairs towards the presser. Darrell Jordan, the spokesperson for the special prosecutors approached the microphone and began, “After presenting all of the evidence, as it relates to the death of Sandra Bland, the Grand Jury did not return an indictment…”

Sheriff R. Glenn Smith watched through the glass doors from the hallway above (just as those gathered with him had watched through the frosted glass door of Judge McCaig’s Office), as we now listened to the news that neither he, nor anyone on his staff would be indicted in the death of Sandra Bland.

His victory seemed to be complete.

Yet, it would only appear that way to someone who did not know the way that stories about hubris end.

(Hint: It’s not over.)

My Feet Are Planted

“Don’t you think there is another side of the story,” was his opening line, as I pondered the stranger in front of me with puzzlement. My mind scrambled. What story? What other side?

“What do you mean?” I queried, studying the white collar, Caucasian man, a couple decades my elder.

“Well don’t you think there’s other people who have responsibility?”

“What people? And what responsibility?” I asked, trying my best to remain polite and engaged. Whatever code language it was that we were speaking was one that I either never learned or, more likely, had forgotten how to speak from years of disuse and disarming bluntness.

“Well, Michael Brown. Don’t you think he had a responsibility not to charge at a police officer?”

Oh. Michael. Michael, we are still talking about you. I promise we have not forgotten.

Despite the fact that not a day goes by in my life without a mention of the small community outside of St. Louis that brought national attention to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, I found myself surprised that his line of questioning bent my gaze towards Ferguson.

I was surprised to be questioned about Michael as Baltimore erupted over the killing of Freddie Gray; Chicago demanded answers for the silence surrounding Rekia Boyd‘s homicide; and South Carolina’s old wounds had been laid bare by the murder of Walter Scott.

Part of me wanted to say exactly that. Part of me wanted to simply say “Walter Scott” and walk away, but I knew I could not do that. To direct his attention away from Michael would somehow feel like walking away and leaving Michael lying in the street. But I had taken my shoes off, out of respect, and laid my bare feet against the pavement where Michael’s blood still remains, and I cannot walk away from him now. I will not walk away from him. My feet are planted.

Quickly self correcting, I said instead, “Let’s not get lost in the weeds. You and I could stand here all day and debate whether Michael charged a police officer, but we really have no way of knowing for certain what happened that day in a way that will satisfy both of us. But that is not even the point; the point is that I know that if I charged a police officer, I would not be shot. I could even hit a police officer and I would not be shot.”

He had to agree with me. Seeking to remove my diminutive size from the equation, I pushed the point further.

“And the same is true for you. You know that you could charge a police officer and not be shot.”

My conversation partner could not disagree. The fact that we did not disagree on this point is important. The reason why it is important is not whether or not it is true that I can do what I want to a police officer without being shot; the important detail is that we, as a white man and white woman, believe that it is true that the police will not shoot us. That is what people have called white privilege.

White supremacy, consequently, is the belief that that reality is acceptable. In other words, believing that the police will not shoot me is a part of my reality, regardless of how I feel about that fact. I can cry out to high heaven that it is wrong that I do not have to be cautious around law enforcement while other people do have to be cautious around law enforcement, but it will still be my reality. When, we accept this reality and do not fight against it, however; when we see it as justifiable and acceptable that a black man is more likely to be shot than a white woman, it is then that we have bought into white supremacy. We have accepted the current reality as just. We have become accomplices to a system of white supremacy.

White supremacy does not look like a cryptic figure in a hood. It looks like you and I when we are silent in the face of injustice.

Silence is simply not an option. Our only ethical option is to speak out and act out against a white supremacy system built upon an acceptance, whether active or passive, of white privilege. Our only option is to undermine the very system that seeks, through the offer of benefits and privileges, to purchase our integrity and occupy our souls.

“The point is that we have a real problem in this nation,” I said to him, “that problem lies in the fact that regardless of what Michael did or did not do, the reason he was killed is because he was black.”

Once again, he could not disagree. So we ventured deeper into the footnotes of our minds.

We discussed all the painful history of our nation’s crimes against humanity. The painful reality that it was Christian theologians who, along with European philosophers, created the foundation for our system of slavery, rape and murder. That it was our own beloved Scriptures that were twisted and tortured until the god they squeezed out of its pages could no longer be called love. That it was the words of our own prophets that were wrestled to the ground, bound, whipped, and gagged until they fought their way free and came roaring out like a loosed lion from Sojourner Truth’s throat. That it was the blood of Christ himself that we spilled with every single life we took. That five hundred years of unspeakable cruelty and outright heresy were not going to be undone in the flash of an eye.

That there were theologians who taught that the Indigenous peoples of Africa, the Americas and Australia, were not quite made in the image of God in the same way that the people of Europe were, and thus, it was not murder to kill them. The fact that this encouraged our nation to put in place the 3/5ths compromise, that defined people in bondage as 2/5ths less than a whole person. That this lie, built upon theological heresy, philosophical errancy, and scientific fraud led to a devaluing of life whose repercussions are still felt to this day.

That the fact that the shootings of Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice – are related to this history and not independent of it. That the heresy that many churches taught, that black lives do not matter, is the heresy that we now have a profound responsibility to speak against as clergy.

Once again, he could not disagree. And I loved him for it. It meant there was a chance.

He could admit that his feet belonged planted firmly beside Michael, Eric, Rekia, Walter, Freddie, but would he stand there?

First he tried the ‘use your family as an excuse’ maneuver. “Are you married? Do you have children? Then you wouldn’t understand, it is so much harder when you have others to think about.”

“The question is not whether it’s hard,” I responded, “The question is whether it’s right.”

Yet, there was still one “Hail-Mary” left, the ‘your generation will change things’ maneuver. “I really believe that it is going to be your generation, the Millennials, that will fix this,” he said, making the full turn from active resister to passive ally.

But to be passive and an ally is not a possibility.

“I know you’ve heard people say,” I replied, “that ‘we’ll have to wait until so-and-so dies before we can change the carpet or the organ or the parking.’ Well, my generation does not want to spend our whole life waiting for your generation to die. I don’t want to spend my whole life waiting for you to die. It would be so much better if we could do this work together. Join us; let’s do this together.”

In that moment, he had no maneuvers left, for who wants the world to place their best hope in our own fleeting mortality.

I do not know where his feet will be planted; but I know where my feet are planted.

And they shall not be moved.

IMG_8275

Duke: Cutting Down Nets and Nooses

“Maybe now they’ll stop hanging nooses off trees on campus…” I read the words just moments after I had added my own throwback photo to the avalanche flooding newsfeeds with Duke alumni’s exuberance over their NCAA win.

In the midst of celebrating Coach K cutting down the net as a symbol of Duke basketball’s dominance, the irony was not lost on many that  those were not the only ropes Duke cut down this week.

My breath caught in my throat. I recognized the emotion that has occurred pretty persistently since I began my masters studies at Duke a decade ago. Conviction. It was the awareness that we do not all experience these things the same way. It was the awareness that for many people Duke is symbolic of privilege. It was the awareness that in some neighborhoods of Durham, including the neighborhood where I lived, they still call Duke “the plantation.” It was the awareness that victories are experienced differently by those who feel empowered by an institution than they are by those who feel oppressed by it.

Duke won. Those same words can mean different things to different people.

I went to Duke. That fact has provided me with many opportunities: the opportunity to have a challenging and fulfilling vocation; the opportunity to celebrate wins during March Madness; and the consistent opportunity to reflect on the deep impact of privilege and racism.

Last week, when examples of racism at Duke once again made headlines in the hanging of a noose, the church universal was celebrating Holy Week. In the Christian calendar that is the week in which we remember that our Lord was captured by a lynching mob; condemned to death although innocent; hung with nails and rope on a tree; choked to death by his inability to get a breath; and left hanging on the tree not only to assert the power of those that had killed him, but also to terrorize those that had loved him and to discourage them from following his revolutionary lead.

Chillingly, that is exactly what so called Christians were doing to African Americans in this country up until a few decades ago. In fact, they were even lighting crosses on fire as a symbol of the fervor of their faith before going to perform a reenactment, seemingly ignorant of the fact that they were not playing the role of Jesus or his disciples, but of those that murdered him. The intense psychological terrorism of leaving a body hanging, daring the family to risk taking it down, did not end with the death of Jesus and the era of crucifixions. Neither, some would argue, did it end with the era of nooses and lynch mobs; it just looks different now.

In September, when friends and I met with law professor Justin Hansford in Ferguson, Missouri, he explained to us that leaving Michael Brown’s body lying in the street for hours, in full view of children and family, achieved the same psychological impact that lynching had in the past. In other words, achieved the same psychological impact that crucifixion had centuries before. In other words, regardless of the intentions or factors, was an act of psychological terrorism on the quiet neighborhood.

Remember that: whenever you hear news of a body left lying in the street; every time you hear that no life saving measures were attempted or offered. The impact of those choices falls not only upon the victim, but rather upon the whole community.

Both crucifixion and lynching serve as a method of reminding people who holds the power and privilege. This is a tactic of maintaining power and privilege through fear. Through reminding the oppressed of the power of their oppressor, psychologically traumatizing onlookers, and squelching any attempts at liberation.

Hanging a noose is a tactic by a fearful oppressor intent on maintaining a sense of superiority and power. It is the act of a coward, striving to stave off the inevitability of recognizing their own weakness; striving to protect their illusion of superiority when faced with an equal.

The fact that a noose was hung last week on Duke’s campus is not the fault of every Duke staff, student and alumni; but it is our responsibility to vocally confront and combat racism in all its forms, and to take the time to listen and understand.

It is our responsibility to be just as willing to say, “I went to Duke” when incidents of racism are reported in the news as we are when victories and causes for celebration and school pride are reported.  It is our responsibility to be just as willing to seize upon the opportunity to discuss the importance of anti-racism speech and actions and the struggles of our institution, as we are willing to seize upon the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our school.

I am encouraged by the swift and clear words of the administration and the student government. On the part of the administration, condemning the act and calling for solidarity. On the part of the student government, making the even more bold statement that Duke as an institution struggles with racism.

The fact that those words need to be stated may seem discouraging to some; yet, the fact that they are being stated so publicly is a sign that perhaps we are making progress, bit by bit.

To my colleagues, this is my prayer for us: May the education that we received in theology help us to grapple with the ancillary education that we received in the dynamics of privilege and oppression. May our calls for justice be just as public, vocal and passionate as our cheers for basketball. May our courage to speak and our humility to listen grow with the passing of the years. And may we be vigilant in our callings so that nets will be the only ropes that need to be cut down on ours or any other campus.

Real Talk at Ferguson City Council

“I don’t hate you,” he said, as his eyes locked with mine, pleading – or perhaps demanding – that I believe him. The young man, a representative from the Hands Up Don’t Shoot Coalition had just taken to the microphone after a wait that had lasted hours, as residents and non-residents of Ferguson, Missouri vocalized their frustration with the City Council members sitting, removed from the people, upon the stage.

Dead center in the middle of the elevated dias was the mayor who had claimed shortly after Michael Brown’s shooting that Ferguson had no racism problem. To the mayor’s left, sat the only African American member, and non-white member, of the six person council. The latter gentleman was clearly torn after his timid approach towards the microphone in front of him had ended in a silent retreat back from it; this subtle movement of his neck eliciting a seemingly simultaneous outcry of betrayal from the hundreds of African American constituents gathered in the sanctuary of Greater Grace Church. One could only begin to imagine the turmoil within his soul, as the crowd, longing to hear his voice, longing to have him claim them as family, was met with silence from the stage. Two seats further down sat Councilwoman Kim Tihen, who, while a police officer in 2009, had first beaten an African American man, Henry Davis, and then charged him with destruction of property for bleeding on her uniform.

The young man who had just taken the microphone from its stand and slumped into the chair beside me was clearly exhausted from the hours of waiting in line as voice after voice vocalized their long felt frustrations and fears. Now it was his turn, and he had an important point to make. Many of those who had gone before him had made the argument that this was not a race issue, that this was a justice issue. One woman had said, “It is not about black and white to me anymore, it is about right and wrong.” Others had given passionate speeches about their desire to create a community that was just as safe for white children as for black children. The point had been made time and time again that this was not about race, it was about justice.

“You keep saying it’s not about race,” the young man had said to the crowd, “but it is about race. It is about black and white.” As he began to make his point, an important one, his head swung from left to right and with each rotation, the realization began to dawn on him that he was sitting next to a white woman. The reality seemed to be distracting him until he just stopped fighting it. The rotation of his head ceased completely, and his eyes locked with mine. We were having a conversation.

“I don’t hate you,” he said with the microphone still in his hand, “but this is about race, and we have to face that. But we don’t have to wait for them to do something about that,” he said vaguely waving at the stage where the City Council members sat without taking his eyes off mine. “I don’t mean to single you out,” he continued, “but you are here. And while it is not about me hating you, it is about race, and we have to do something. They’re not going to do it for us.”

For the first time in the entire night, you could have heard a pin drop. I tried to nod as reassuringly as I could. Trying to communicate to him that I agreed with all of his points. Yet tension hung in the air as if a paralyzing fog had filled the room; he had said what needed to be said, but it was a truth that – for a room full of people intent on demanding justice from the authority figures on the stage – was hard to hear.

He had named this truth: we cannot expect the people in power to fix things for us. We cannot afford to wait for them to come around. While it is not about a black man like him hating a white woman like me, it is still about race and it is still about the sin of racism, and it will get us nowhere to avoid that fact. We do have to name it. We do have to begin the hard work within our own hearts, minds and lives to fight against the power that it holds over us, our society, our children, and our futures.

He had named the hard truth that justice and peace are something we have to build with our own hands. True justice and true peace are so inextricably bound up with one another, that the false peace that accompanies injustice – otherwise known as oppression – will always leave a bitter taste in the mouths of those silenced by fear and the threat of violence.

As he walked back to his seat, silence fell over the room, the first and the last silence of the night. I wished I had done more than nod in agreement in a room so large that the gentle bobbing of my head may not have been understood as solidarity. I wished I had gotten up and hugged him, or at least shaken his hand. But the weight of his words, and the heaviness of the calling he had placed on us had left me immobilized to do anything but clap quietly in the middle of a silent room.

I found him afterwards, wading through the crowd of youth from nearly every ethnicity and background imaginable that made up the Hands Up Don’t Shoot Coalition. Tapping him on the shoulder, I said, “I’m so sorry, I did not get to shake your hand in there.”

He blushed, still feeling awkward about singling me out. “I’m so sorry, it’s just that you were right there.”

“No, no. Don’t feel awkward. You had an important point to make and you made it very well. Thank you,” I said.

Walking back to the car with my friend Christian, the intensity of emotions that had been expressed throughout the evening almost made my knees buckle. My stomach was sick with how differently I had been treated by the police than my African American companion, who I loved like a sister, who I would do anything for. Each time I had been walked through security, I had received a warm welcome from the officers; while she had been detained, her body wanded and her bag searched.  My head was pounding and my heart was beating… and breaking… and expanding.

We both knew how the news media had been portraying the quaint community of Ferguson, and how they would continue to portray the events of this evening. For me, however, the strongest and most consistent theme of the night could have been summarized with that young man’s first words to me, “I don’t hate you.” As person after person had approached the microphone, the message that they had was first that they were tired and fed up with being afraid in their own streets and in their own homes. Second, that they would not take it anymore. Third, that their anger was directed specifically against those that had perpetuated inequality, and that they recognized that there were countless white allies in the room.

The people of Ferguson are not fighting a “race war”, they are fighting a war against racism.

They are engaged in the very same struggle that wages in the other 91 municipalities of the St. Louis metropolitan region, the other 49 states and unincorporated territories of the United States, and the other 195 countries of the world. The struggle that though God has called us family, that has not stopped many from seeing brother as threat and committing fratricide as Cain did.

If we truly understand what it means to be the family of God, injustice becomes intolerable, and complacency becomes impossible.

When we see one another as family, we should have “real talk,” just like family does.

We should be able to lock eyes and say, “I don’t hate you. I need you to take action. Together we can change things.”

First Ferguson City Council meeting since shooting of Michael Brown.
First Ferguson City Council meeting since shooting of Michael Brown.
"We are not letting you go back to business as usual, Mayor."
“We are not letting you go back to business as usual, Mayor.”
"We're not just "Black" - we're people! We're human!"
“We’re not just “Black” – we’re people! We’re human!”
"I am Mike Brown. My address is Ground Zero."
“I am Mike Brown. My address is Ground Zero.”
"For me, it's not about black and white anymore, it's about right and wrong. Whatever you do about Darren Wilson i going to affect the whole country - we didn't want that - we just wanted an apology!"
“For me, it’s not about black and white anymore, it’s about right and wrong. Whatever you do about Darren Wilson is going to affect the whole country – we didn’t want that – we just wanted an apology! We are black people, and our lives are valuable! People say we aren’t – but we are valuable!”
"I've got a mind! I'm intelligent! But you stereotype me!"
“I’ve got a mind! I’m intelligent! But you stereotype me!”

Uncomfortable at Christmas

“Take it easy today,” Pauline said, as I dropped off a box of raisins. Then reaching into my pockets I emptied them of the ten eggs I had stuffed in there on my way over from the chicken coop. “We’ve got to do something with all these eggs,” I told Pauline, “I can’t keep up with them.” Thankfully, Pauline had a lot of cakes she was cooking for her daughter in Nassau so I knew some of them would get put to good use. “She’s got her spoiled,” Maxine had teased her sister a couple days before. That was the night that my post-Haiti illness had gotten really bad; the night before I had gone to Nassau to get tests. After that sleepless night, a day in Nassau, and another restful night back here on Eleuthera, I finally had a minute to ponder what I had seen on the televisions in the Nassau airport.

It had been my first television in almost two months, and what I saw made me feel worse than my physical discomfort. The only thing worse than being sick in bed today on Eleuthera was being reminded that back in the States there was sickness in people’s hearts and heads. Ignorance, racism, privilege, sin, pride – that was all I could think of as I watched Megyn Kelly and her predominantly, if not entirely, white panel of commentators insist upon the whiteness of both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ.

Oh Megyn Kelly, I mourned, you picked the wrong week for this. For this is the third week in Advent. This is Mary’s week. This is the week that we are reminded, if we have ears to hear, of what the real purpose of all of this season is. And this defense of the whiteness of Santa Claus and Jesus could not possible be more out of place.

People have been celebrating Jon Stewart’s “take-down” of the debate, as he pointed out that Megyn’s statement “just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it needs to change” was a pretty good definition for oppression.

While Jon Stewart and Jessica William’s commentary, including the video of what Vatican researchers have proposed Saint Nicolas actually looked like, did help me to cope through humor and fact with the confusing and harmful fiction I had seen on my screen – I think there is someone else who can give us a better explanation.

There is another historical figure, a young woman, part of an oppressed minority group within a large empire. She lived in a part of the country that people mocked, saying “what good can come from Galilee.” She was at risk of execution by stoning when she became pregnant without being married, until her boyfriend stepped up and volunteered to be the baby daddy.

So, go ahead, Mary, have at it. What is the whole point of this Christmas thing?
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”

For anyone who thinks that Christmas is something that the powerful, the rich, the dominant, the privileged, or dare I say, the white, should struggle to maintain control of – then you can have that celebration of power and consumerism – and you can keep it. You can purchase and consume all the gifts you want while God “fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.” You can continue to think you have a right to be offended if someone says Happy Holidays to you instead of Merry Christmas, rather than celebrating that they were kind enough to wish you well. You can focus your celebration on your own ability to control – to control what others say, what others think, how others celebrate.

You can continue to fight to maintain your own power and dominance in a nation where the rapid decline in the Caucasian majority population in comparison to persons of color is making you uncomfortable and even a tad bit frightened. Perhaps you will even decide to try to protect the majority status of “white” by extending the definition graciously to include people of middle eastern descent, like Jesus and Saint Nickolaus (you know the way you eventually did with the poor Irish immigrants that I descended from in order to maintain “white” as the majority population by including our hordes of people). Because no matter what you say, the reality that “just because it makes you uncomfortable, does not mean it needs to change” – is a myth that people of privilege are trying to opt out of while imposing on others. So when not only the numbers of persons of color rise, but when their voices also rise to speak a truth that makes the dominant, the privileged, the ones in control uncomfortable – we people of privilege try to flip the script, and by raising our voices louder than theirs think that we can drown out the truth that we do not want to hear.

Whatever you decide to do, and however you decide to celebrate, that is your freedom and your choice and I leave it up to you. All I ask is that you give the rest of the world the freedom to celebrate as they want rather than trying to bully people in the time when we celebrate the birth of the anti-bully God. Some may choose not to celebrate at all. Some may choose to make up their own holidays to celebrate. Some may have other religious celebrations that you have no reasons to disrespect.

Perhaps, most of all, I would ask that you allow those who want to celebrate the birth of their savior as their liberation from slavery to sin and death to do so, rather than imposing upon millions of Christians your own dominant view of Christmas. Step back, please, from making this time of the year a time of oppression by insisting that “just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it needs to change.”

Well, I will tell you what makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when people pretend that Jesus looked like me. I want my Jesus to be Jewish, because I can only understand who Jesus is through the story of the people of Israel – both the suffering that came before him and the suffering that came after. I like that my Jesus is from Galilee, because it gives Archbishop Elias Chacour – the Palestinian, Christian, citizen of the nation of Israel and the leader of the church in Galilee – it gives Elias Chacour the right to joke about Jesus as a kid from this Palestinian leader’s hometown who was always making trouble.

And I like that my Jesus was born to an unwed teenager girl who was an ethnic minority in an underestimated town; because my savior chose to enter the world in one of the riskiest ways possible, when his mother could easily have been stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock; when the king of the region could have slain him as he did hundreds of other young boys at that time. I love that my Jesus chose that because it showed exactly Mary’s point – that Jesus came to lift up the humble, the oppressed, and the underestimated.

Jesus chose to enter the world as an “at-risk” child so that he could bring love and deliverance and hope to all the world calls “at-risk” and puts “at-risk.” As the boot of the world’s powerful came down on the downtrodden, my savior was born to put himself in the way. To join those whose lives hang in the balance below the boot, and to say “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Oh the risk, the suffering and the death that my Jesus endured to bring that message of hope. He went through so much. He gave up so much. And now you want to distort his message and turn it into something else? Another attempt to promote oppression, to remind the downtrodden that you have the power, and to once again say “white is right” even in the very face of the one who came to tear down that kind of oppression.

O Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Manex plays the part of Saint Nick for James Cistern
Manex plays the part of Saint Nick for James Cistern
Ladies night out this week with Maxine, Pauline, Vonnia, and Brenda
Ladies night out this week with Maxine, Pauline, Vonnia, and Brenda
A newspaper cover from before I was "white" illustrating that African Americans in the South and Irish in the North were both an equivalent threat to the nation.
A newspaper cover from before I was “white” illustrating that African Americans in the South and Irish in the North were both an equivalent threat to the nation.
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was "white"
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was “white”
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was "white"
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was “white”