BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Friday Fruit (02/01/13)


On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...


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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The School-to-Prison Pipeline (Part 1)

7-year-old, special-ed student was handcuffed after becoming upset during an Easter-egg decorating activity. The police were called, and they escorted the boy from the school before his mom was able arrive to take him home. She felt "it's like they're trying to get rid of him." The NYPD defended their action, saying that the boy was "acting in a threatening manner."

12-year-old faced misdemeanor charges after refusing to clean up his spilled milk in the school cafeteria. The five-foot, 100-pound 6th-grader was tackled by a police officer after belligerence and 'talking back.'

There is a national trend of "criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children". There are hundreds of examples of children being arrestedhandcuffed, and charged with crimes for misbehaving in schools. These incidents disproportionately affect children of color, as well as those with mental disabilities. Indeed, these demographic factors greatly influence what mischief is considered 'kids being kids' and what is deemed criminal behavior.

Black and Latino children are much more likely to be suspendedexpelled, or arrested than their white compatriots for the same conduct. The National Education Policy Center has found that most suspensions are against Black students, and that ~30% of Black males in middle school have been suspended at least once. Furthermore, schools that are comprised of large Black and Latino student populations are more likely to be targeted by building searches. These trends in schools closely parallel the profound racial disparities seen in arrests and prosecutions in the adult word (see post: Incarceration: The New Jim Crow).

While the children in each of the above examples were indeed misbehaving in school, there is question as to whether the involvement of law enforcement was necessarily in each case. Adults are naturally given authority over children, but those adults hold the same biases and stereotypes that affect us all. As a consequence, children of color lose the right to due process at a early age because the 'truth' is assumed to the version told by their teachers and principles.

For this reason, the United States Justice Department recently released an investigation finding that the constitutional rights of school children are being violated. They report that "children arrested in local schools become entangled in a cycle of incarceration without substantive and procedural protections required by the U.S. Constitution." Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division asserts that “the systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust.” The specific rights violations committed by the Mississippi law enforcement division that was investigated include:
  • "Failure by MPD to adequately assess probable cause that an unlawful offense has been committed prior to arresting children at local schools; 
  • Failure by the Lauderdale County Youth Court to provide children with proper procedural due process, including by making untimely and inadequate probable cause determinations;
  • Failure by the Lauderdale County Youth Court and the Mississippi DYS to provide children procedural due process rights in the probationary process, especially with regard to alleged probation violations; and
  • Failure by all entities to ensure substantive due process for children on probation by incarcerating children for school disciplinary offenses without any procedural safeguards."
Often, arrests are made in response to non-violent offenses like 'disruptive conduct' or 'disturbance of the peace;' essentially, children are being criminalized for throwing temper tantrums. According to the ACLU, "students have been arrested for throwing an eraser at a teacher, breaking a pencil, and having rap lyrics in a locker."

In response to horrifying school shootings, the national instinct is to increase security forces in public schools (see post: The Pathology of Mass Shooting). Alan Singer suggests that "public fear of school violence was ignited by the Columbine shootings in 1999. Although the perpetrators were white and the incident had nothing to do with race, black and Latino students in inner-city schools increasingly became the target of the anti-crime, anti-violence programs." We buy into the media narrative of rampant gang violence and drug peddling on school property, which feeds into our hyper-vigilance.

But the heightened security is often misdirected. Across the country, suspension are on the rise, particularly as a punishment for dress-code violations, and cellphone use/possession. What once called for a trip to the principal's office, is now cause for arrest. Administrators meet teenage defiance with drawn weapons and handcuffs. Singer reports that "97 percent of the suspensions were for minor infractions that could have been treated as educational rather than disciplinary problems," according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Check out the videos below for more compelling stories of child-arrests, and stay tuned next week for a look at the polices that perpetuate the school-to-prison and the lasting consequences it has on our children.

From the ACLU: Should disorderly conduct or disruptive behavior be enough to warrant arrest? How would you feel if you or your child were arrested at school? Have you ever seen any instances of the school-to-prison pipeline operating?

Continue to part 2...



Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fruit (1/25/13)


On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...


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.

Monday, January 21, 2013

You Can’t Separate King From Christ!

Please welcome back guest author Ramon Mayo. Be sure to check out his new book, 'His Story, Our Story' available for Kindle and other e-readers.  It's a black history devotional taking readers through 31 days of God's hand in the African American experience.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day set aside for us to remember and honor the achievements and the values that Dr. King stood for. But who are we truly honoring? What man are we remembering? Many times our national agenda is filled with holes, or the characters and stories are lifted out of context in order to promote another agenda, and this is certainly the case with Dr. King.

The truth is, you cannot separate King from Christ. The goals that he pursued and the methods he used to pursue them were all shaped by a desire to not only worship but to imitate Jesus Christ in a divided America. King was martyred not because he was a politically correct mascot. King was martyred because he was a disciple who was following counter-cultural principles espoused by Jesus Christ.

Some of these principles were:

Love for one’s enemies. King’s non-violent method of protest was based on the methods of Gandhi. The method was Gandhi’s, but the message was Christ’s. King found the method, but he rooted it in a Christian love ethic straight out of pages of the Sermon on the Mount:

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:39-48

Anti-racism, -materialism, and -militarism. King knew that these “isms” were connected and
were in opposition to Jesus’ kingdom. He saw how racism, materialism, and militarism were an evil trinity that corrupted mankind and gave his life to fighting against them. Jesus spoke out against these evils as well. Jesus’ parable of the rich fool as a warning against greed is a full on attack against materialism. His praise of Gentile faith flies in the face of racism. His blessing of the meek and declaration of their reward is the opposite of power hungry military might. King and Jesus were on the same page against racism, materialism, and militarism.

All human beings are made in the image of God. King as well as Jesus believed that every life mattered because all human beings were made in the image of God. There was inherent value in every human life and that is why social injustice is something to be fought against. There is no one that God does not care about and all of us are equal before God.

Although the Christian past is littered with examples of religious fanatics who used the Bible to oppress and subjugate people today, let’s remember Martin Luther King Jr. as one who chose to follow Jesus with a vision of equality and liberation for all. He was more than a mascot for a kumbayah circle of tolerance. He was a drum major for justice marching to the rhythm of Jesus the King

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Fruit (01/18/13)


On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...


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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

That Mascot Doesn't Honor Anyone


The Washington R****ns name and mascot* (and the many like it) rely upon caricatured stereotypes of those who have been historically subordinated. These negative images are promoted for the entertainment and profit of the dominant culture. Though there are, of course, varying perspectives within the many diverse native communities, this practice has long been decried as inappropriate.

The consequences are real. In 2005, the American Psychological Association released its 'Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots,' which cited the many "harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people."

Given that most such mascots are associated with schools, we should be particularly vigilant. But as of 2006, over 2,500 elementary and high schools use American Indian mascots. Thus, at an early age we promote the idea that stereotyping marginalized groups is acceptable.

Sports fans routinely claim they are 'honoring' Native American cultures by painting their faces red and sticking plastic feathers in their hair.  But perhaps if we truly wanted to honor indigenous cultures, we would begin by honoring their repeated requests to cease and desist with such mockeries. If we really wanted to honor, perhaps we would take the time to learn the true historiescultures, and stories, rather than promoting monolithic and inaccurate images. If we honestly wanted to honor, we might show interest beyond the moments in which we are simply interested in appropriating for our own gain.

Of the most common sports mascots, most are animals (Eagles, Bears, Falcons, Lions) or objects (Rockets, Jets, Sox, Rockies). What does it say when we add to this list teams like the Chiefs, Braves, and Indians? Even when other human beings are used as mascots, it is as a profession, not as a race or ethnicity itself (Packers, Steelers, Cowboys).

People of color are often otherized to the point of being not fully human. We see the manifestations of this tendency is the use of people as props in advertisements (links NSFW), and as Halloween costumes. When we lose our compassion for each other as fellow human beings, objectification and dehumanization facilitate violence and the devaluation of life.

Some of the ease with which we employ such objectification speaks to the invisibility of native cultures within our daily lives. Would you paint your face black, wear an afro wig and prance around the football field trying to imitate your perceptions of black people? Would you lead a pep rally including a fake communion ceremony and selling plastic toy crucifixes as souvenirs?

Given the history of white culture's relationship with American Indian populations, continued profit through the use of caricatured imagery seems particularly heinous. Yet it is all too commonplace. It ushers an environment where it is appropriate for opposing teams to shout things like "hey, Cowboys, finish off those R*****ns" or "Kill the Indians!”

And yet, as a nation, we continue to cling to our mascots like graven idols. We cite years of tradition, argue that offense wasn't intended and so it shouldn't be taken. But ultimately, majority culture shouldn't get a say. It's not about pleasing the crowd's desire to be entertained. We have been repeatedly asked to cease our behavior and yet we have patently refused. Indeed, “when someone says you are hurting them by your action, if you persist – then the harm becomes intentional.”


What does that say about our heart for our neighbor? This neighbor from whom we've stolen land and maligned for generations. The issue of sports mascots is one small piece of a much larger network of injustices against American Indian nations. Most of these issues continue to be ignored or ridiculed.

We need to consider seriously what is at stake when we prioritize our own team pride over the humanity and respect of our sisters and brothers. Are we really more loyal to a mascot than to the reconciled body of Christ?


Have you attended a school that uses imagery of American Indian stereotypes as a mascot? How would your community react to calls for change? What would be your witness? 

Take a look at this great video that drives the point home (but check out this commentary as well):




*Due to its use as a racial slur, BTSF and others choose not to employ the official name, out of respect for those traditionally targeted by the term. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Fruit (01/11/13)


On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...


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 6, 2013

Les Misérables: Valjean or Javert?

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. 
The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness. 
~Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Misérables

The story of Les Misérables follows Jean Valjean who, having spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, is released on parole. Meeting with severe discrimination as a convict, Valjean breaks his parole and begins a new life under an assumed name.

After a life-altering encounter with a priest, Valjean gives his life to God. He becomes a gentle and respected man, eventually running a business and becoming a town mayor. He offers kindness and aid to those around him because he remembers what it was like to be hungry  But his legalistic prison guard Javert is always in close pursuit, threatening to destroy everything Valjean has worked so hard for.

Jean Valjean
It is easy for we in the audience to champion and sympathize with Jean Valjean as we watch the most recent film adaptation of this old story. But what about when we leave the theater?

Both Javert and Valjean are Christian men, acting in the name of God. But as Morgan Guyton notes, they represent two different Christianities and "Javert's Christianity is winning big time in today's America."

When we leave the movie theater, we return to world where sentencing is harsh and biased (see post: Incarceration: The New Jim Crow). Laws allow 150-year sentences for ancillary criminal involvement, and the Javerts among us are happy to seek maximum punishments.
Javert

After serving their time, former-prisoners often have no jobs and no homes to which to go, and are faced with sharp discrimination when seeking either:
"Convicted felons need to find a place to sleep, but can’t get access to public housing because of their felony conviction. If their families live in public housing, the families can get evicted from their homes for housing a felon. They need to find a job, but employers can legally discriminate against them. They need to eat, but felons can be denied food stamps for the rest of their lives."

With no job, no house, no food, and no allies it's no wonder that there is a 70% recidivism rate. Valjean too would have returned to jail but for a grace that is too often denied in our modern world.

But hear what Isaiah 61:1 says: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound." Do we take that scripture seriously?

Fantine
Audiences also sympathize with Fantine, the working girl whose life we watch crumble, eventually leading to her prostitution and death. But if we knew she was turning tricks on our own street corners would we in reality treat her with the same scorn as Javert does?

Fantine is a teen mom who, having refused the sexual advances of her employer, is fired and is unable to get a new job. Her cries for help are unheeded and she struggles to make ends meet, bit-by-bit selling everything she has to stay current on her child-support payments.  Having played the role in the the recent film, Ann Hathaway notes that Fantine is "living in New York City right now; she’s probably less than a block away.”


When we see someone digging through a trash dump, or sleeping on the park bench, we're not humming "Do you hear the people sing?" Instead, we're averting our eyes and clutching our purses.

Donald Heinz at Sojourners asserts that
"Javert speaks for all self-made men who believe in the infallibility of the economic order and of the law that sanctifies it. Who know they deserve their fortune, who are quick to judge, who are suspicious of mercy, who enforce the arrangements that keep people in their proper place."
In Javert's world, it is "more unjust to steal bread to feed a starving child [than] to starve children with an economic system that makes bread unaffordable to their mothers, even if it's perfectly legal. " Likewise in our world, "default and amnesty are the twin unforgivable sins of modern capitalism and the penal court."

Guyton poses an interesting question that I will rephrase: if the police were to pick up a kid (with sagging jeans and an attitude) who had stolen your car, would you pretend you had actually given it to him, and remind him he forgot to take your MacBook?

Christ's death lavished God's grace upon us to a magnitude that we can hardly comprehend. Yet we are so stingy with it in return. We cling to our own accomplishments as though we could take credit for even a single breath we draw (see post: Saved from Meritocracy). We dismiss our won shortcomings as innocent mistakes, and scorn the downfall of others. Praise God for His mercy on Javert and Valjean.

Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. 
We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers.
~Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Misérables


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Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Fruit (01/04/13)


On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...


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.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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