Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lenten Disciplines for Racial Justice

Lent is time when we refocus our minds, hearts, and souls on Christ and his loving sacrifice for us. These 40 days are meant as a time of centering and reflection as we approach the Easter season. It is an opportunity to reconcile our inward beliefs with our outward practices.

This season, what if our Lenten disciplines help us lean into God's heart for justice? What if, instead of chocolate, we gave up some of our privilege? What would it look like to make radical sacrifice for the sake of reconciled body of Christ?

In addition to several good devotional resources available online, here are some practices to help you begin your Lenten journey for justice:

  • Fast from dominant culture news media, instead seeking out news converge from the perspective of marginalized groups.
  • Fast from sporting events and broadcasts that feature racist or appropriative mascots.
  • Fast from fashion and culture magazines that promote narrow beauty standards
  • Fast from books by white authors, substituting for a broader library of choices
  • Fast from TV shows and movies that do not have robust representation of people of color on screen and behind the scenes.
  • Fast from national chains and corporations, instead patronizing small local business, especially those owned by people of color.
  • Fast from fuel. Ride public transit, taking the opportunity to get to know those that ride throughout the year.
  • Fast from products made by companies with unjust manufacturing or hiring practices
  • Fast from being comfortable. Spend these weeks as a guest at another church. Join groups actively discussing tough issues of racial injustice. Listen. Just listen. 
  • Fast from material possession. What items have you accumulated that would better serve others in your community? 
  • Fast from fear. Re-examine who we are told to be afraid of and why. Consider how you might make your church a more welcoming space for folks often greeted with fear.
  • Fast from your desire to be a leader, instead allowing yourself to be led and creating new leadership spaces for people of color.
  • Fast from an attitude of saviourism. Partner with those around you who are already doing good work. 



Personal change begins on the inside, but then bears fruit in what the world experiences from us on the outside. Many of the steps above will take you well beyond the Lenten season, requiring longer term commitments and sacrifice. But isn't that what Lent is really about? Through power of Christ's death and resurrection, we become transformed disciples, setting aside our own worldly desires to act as the hands and feet of God on earth.

O God, we pray for those in our world who are suffering from injustice:
For those who are discriminated against because of their race, color, or religion;
For those imprisoned for working for the relief of oppression;
For those who are hounded for speaking the inconvenient truth;
For those tempted to violence as a cry to overwhelming hardship;
For those deprived of reasonable health and education;
For those suffering from hunger and famine;
For those too weak to help themselves and who have no one else to help them;
For the unemployed who cry out for work but do not find it;
We pray for anyone of our acquaintance who is personally affected by injustice.
Forgive us Lord, if we unwittingly share in conditions or in a system that perpetuates injustice.
Show us how we can serve your children and make your love practical by washing their feet. 
-Mother Teresa

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Friday Fruit (02/04/16)

Wendell Scott's son and grandson,
Frank Scott and Warrick Scott
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

'Trouble I've Seen'

Drew Hart
Check out the MennoNerds-hosted interview with Drew Hart, author of the new book 'Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.' Get your copy here, and then check out some of the highlights below!

'Trouble I've Seen' is a needed next-step resources for those Christians who now find that they can no longer be colorblind and are awakened to the racial injustices occurring in the world around them. It is also a book for Christians of color with lived experience in these issues who are looking for a prophetic voice to articulate in a clear and persuasive way the notions they've sensed in themselves all along. Indeed, it's a book for all those wondering what Jesus would have to say about our racialized society today and what wisdom the bible brings to bear on our predicament.

Early on in his books, names many of the lives that have been lost in recent years to police and vigilante justice and lets us rest in the discomfort of the implications for the Church.  He then methodically walks through the sordid history of race in the United States, and the Church's role in it. He notes that while race is arbitrary (biologically speaking), it is not meaningless (49).

Book cover for 'The Trouble I've Seen' Hart notes that in the height of Jim Crow racism, 7 out of 10 white Christians believed that Black people in the United State received fair treatment. Given such poor self reflection at that time, he wonders how white Christian can imagine themselves to have better perspective on their own oppressive habits today. He reminds us that "being a product of one’s time doesn’t absolve anyone.We are all people of our time. We either renew our minds and become transformed, or we conform to the dominant ideologies that convince us that we are moral despite what is going on around us" (80).

Hart is careful to note the important prophetic call of the Black Church for racial justice, even in the face of White Christian Silence. He laments that "the white church and its monumental failure in this area is one of the great tragedies of American Christian history" (120). He goes on "My point is that the church’s understanding of racism is frequently too thin, narrow, and deficient for it to be antiracist in its witness" (28). Indeed "that Christian piety and oppression could so easily coexist should be horrifying" (72).

Hart observes that "Churches have often been the least helpful place to discuss racism and our white-dominated society" (20), noting that during the few time race is mentioned in our churches it is in isolated and passing ways that do not tackle the hard word of ongoing repentance and revelation. And yet, "though it is common for white people, especially white evangelicals, to talk about being color-blind, there is often no hesitation to speak about black problems...Race isn’t actually avoided, but discussion about racism is" (115).

Hart is also careful to makes special note of the historical and systemic oppression from which he himself has been exempt. For example, he exhorts his readers "please understand: there is no understanding the present without knowing how Native Americans have struggled in their own land just to exist. And unfortunately, white Jesus was the symbol to which they were told to conform" (144). Indeed, "too many in the American church have perpetuated the myth that this land was built on Christian principles rather than on stolen land and stolen labor" (145).

Word art: "Do Black Lives Matter to white Christians?""To be a black American," Hart contends, "is to have to constantly tell yourself that you are somebody, that you are made in the image of God, that you are creative and intelligent" (117). Hence the prophetic significance of the statement BLack Lives Matter. Throughout the book we are reminded that the reality of a brown, poor, disenfranchised, and nonconformist Jesus was ultimately discarded when found to be not good enough for us in our modern lives. We changed our god into our own likeness, giving him the seats of power, infusing him into the dominant culture, and exploited him for our own material gain.

But Hart's book assures us of a hope in the redemption of a racially broken world. His beautiful retelling of the Gospel stories (beginning on page 60 of the book) was helpful in reminding the reader of the subversive nature of Jesus's life and ministry and who ultimately wins the day. Hart reminds us that "Jesus can help us transform how we understand and resist racism in our society. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can help us participate in God’s presence in the world rather than perpetuate racism unknowingly" (73).

Intrigued and want to learn more about 'Trouble I've Seen'? 
Watch the MennoNerds conversation with author Drew Hart!
Also check out the publisher's interactive media for the book
and the publisher's discussion guide, written by yours truly!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Friday Fruit (01/29/16)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Logical Fallacies: Pull Your Pants Up

Red X over the words 'logical fallacy'This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. If you have suggestions for logical fallacies that you'd like to see covered, submit your ideas here.

It's the inevitable counter retort when we talk about blighted communities, failing schools, or racial profiling by police: "pull your pants up."

It's the notion that if young black and brown men would just pull up their pants, the issues that plague them and their communities would suddenly go away. It puts the blame for injustice squarely on the oppressed, and patronizingly suggests that nonconformity with the dominant culture is at the root of their problems.

"Pull your pants up" is prescribed as though the problems that afflict black and brown neighborhoods  only arose when their pants began to sag. But the injustices we see in the United States are centuries old, and predate any fashion trend. Our communities are not undermined by the height of a waistband, but rather by long-standing, systemic oppression that concentrates disadvantage while outsourcing opportunity.

The reality is that even if oppressed communities managed to behave perfectly, their troubles would not go away. Dressing the way the dominant culture wants will not end unfair housing practices or injustice sentencing laws. Speaking the way the dominant culture wants will not end police brutality or income inequality. These practices existed long before sagging jeans, and they won't be stopped just by hiking them up again.

At best, "pull your pants up" is a wringing of hands over a speck in the eye of young men of color, while an unjust society allows the log of systemic racism go completely unexamined. "You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." (Matthew 7:5)

We know that Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers were all shot while wearings suits and that their fine attire did not save them. Archbishop Oscar Romero was wearing his priestly robes, leading Christians in worship, when he was murdered. Respectability will not and cannot save anyone, even if you are dressed in your Sunday best and praying in a church pew.

Sagging pants agitate some opponents to the point of fury. But how quickly we forget 'disrespectful attire' of yesteryear, when long-haired kids were told to "get a haircut and get a real job" and then blamed when run-ins with the police turned violent. Or recall how Madonna first used underwear as outerwear in a manner that is now the ubiquitous summertime tank top. And while her style challenged prevailing sensibility, it didn't prompt the same racialized anger we see raged against sagging pants (yet her trend certainly revealed more actual skin).

Black woman asking "Is my *natural hair* unprofessional?""But won't dressing that way keep them from getting a job and advancing in life?" some reply. If this were truly our concern, we would focus our outrage on the countless times that head scarves, natural hair, dastars, and other culturally-important styles are discriminated against in the workplace. With these policies, we maintain the fallacy that to look 'successful', is to look white, and all others are 'inappropriate.' It doesn't take long before this belief to lead to significant wage disparity and discriminatory hiring practices. If we are truly concerned about the very real issues of employer discrimination, then once again our efforts should be focused on the oppressor, not in changing the appearance of the oppressed.

But I suspect that this is not really what's going on when we say "pull your pants up." Instead, as Bradley Ryder notes, "we’ve allowed our inner-most prejudices to create a set of fashion rules that police use to legally profile would-be criminals." It is used as a rationalization for the prejudices that are already there, and to provide further fodder for the preconceived notions we've imposed, often with devastating consequences.
Street signs: "Clean up after your horse" and "Pull up your pants"
'Pull your pants up' falls into a broader category of logical facility called 'respectability politics,' and its very close sibling 'cultural pathology.' It says that cultures or people are inherently responsible for their own misfortune through some combination of genetics, upbringing, and/or values. It suggests that simply becoming more 'likable' will solve the problems that you face. Indeed, it is at the root of the media's need to uncover all the dark secrets a black victims' life in an effort to determine what they 'did wrong to deserve it.'

The message is "if you become like us, then maybe we'll treat you better." But this path leads nowhere, because there is no end to the cultural hoops that oppressed groups will be asked to jump through.

Derailing conversations on racism into a critique of attire reveals a shallow understanding of the issues at play, and a callous attitude for the lives at stake. It's an unhelpful way to further the dialogue, and misplaces the causal root of the issues.

So to all such critics: pull your pants up, your racism is showing.
Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog