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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Breivik: "The Lone-Wolf"/"Terrorist" of Oslo

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Over 100 innocent people became victims of Anders Breivik's brutal 'lone-wolf' attack. Er, I mean, terrorist bombing? Or, um, crazed extremist shootings?

It seems our rhetoric for such tragedies changes drastically based on the skin color, religion, and/or country of origin of the perpetrator. Note previous observations of Miss. City Athena at Side Hustle Stories:

"Take a look at these incidents from the past couple years.

A group of men fly planes into a building in protest of a government.
Another man walks into a public area in his workplace and shoots into a group of people.
A man is caught stockpiling weapons and explosives.
A man flies a plane into a building in protest of a government
A man walks into a public area and shoots into a group of people.
A man is caught stockpiling weapons and explosives.

...The first three events are, according to the mainstream media, terrorist attacks. The last three events are, according to the mainstream media, a suicide attack, assassination attempt, and barely worth reporting....The first 3 events where done by Muslim men. The last three were done by white men."*

We can now add to that second group the Breivik attack. At first, the media jumped to the conclusion that Breivik was a terrorist "jihadist" and linked him to Al-Qaida. When news broke of his Christian association, the back-peddling was tremendous. He suddenly became a "lone wolf," an 'assailant ,' 'attacker' (Reuters), or 'gunman' (BBC, CNN).

Breivik is giving wolves a bad name... ;-)
The hypocrisy with which Breivik's religious affiliation is being examined is incredible. The same folks that were so quick to condemn 1.6 billion people based on the actions of 19, are clamoring to explain why Breivik  isn't really a Christian. Yet all similar proclamations made by Islamic religious leaders after 9/11 were to no avail.

Of course, it makes sense to distance ourselves from someone that professes our own faith, yet spreads violence and hatred. But it frustrates me when the pastors and commentators talk about the perversion of scriptures and Breivik's extremist beliefs as though they are the first ones to ever experience such PR issues. Welcome to guilt by association. It sucks, doesn't it?

Note what Glenn Greenwald says in Salon:
[It] is what we’ve seen repeatedly: that Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target. Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn’t Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn't).
Meantime articles like this appear in Christianity Today, reminding Christians to pray for our safety over Ramadan. Yes, I know Christians are being persecuted world-wide, but highlighting Islamic holy days as a cause for particular trepidation is divisive fear mongering. Instead during this time, how about we offer prayers of forgiveness, mutual understanding, solidarity, and love? 

Regardless, fellow Christians, don't worry too much. This Oslo business will all blow over soon. Breivik will be dismissed as a random lunatic, while Muslim women and men will continue to be demonized all over the world.

*Obviously, there are many white Muslims, but it seems that if a terrorist is white, she or he gets excused as an individual, while Muslims of any other race are vilified.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Frank W. Hale

Civil Rights leader and former Ohio State University vice provost, Frank Hale died today at 84 years old. We owe a lot to him as he pioneered higher education access both at OSU and nationally.

He founded the Graduate and Professional Schools Visitation Days program for POCs interested in attending OSU, through which $15 million in graduate fellowship awards were awarded to approximately 1,200 minority students to earn their masters and/or doctoral degrees. Last year he was inducted into the Ohio Civil Right Hall of Fame and OSU's Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center in named in his honor.

Thank you. 

See Also:

Monday, July 25, 2011

New URL!

Just purchased an independent URL! 
Check it out and pass it along: 

All previous links and URLs will still work, as well as previously established email subscriptions and RSS feeds. 
Basically, just keep doing what you are doing to continue engaging in great discussions about race and Christianity!

The Help: A Review

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Kathryn Stockett's novel 'The Help,' examines the lives of three women (two black maids, and a white ally) that write a book exposing true stories of life for black maids in in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. I confess, I approached the book with a bias of suspicion. A white author trying to portray the lives of fictional black folk is dangerous ground. And the fact that a maid working for Stockett's family is suing over the book, is not a good sign.

The scapegoating of the evil-racist Hilly Holbrook is of most concern to me because it is such a dangerous, yet common, practice in white racial literature. Hilly is portrayed in an extremely unsympathetic light, and we are allowed to distance ourselves from her clearly-inappropriate 'racist' views. Thus, we are free to identify with the white-savior heroine (see post: White Savior Complex), congratulating ourselves that we would never be so obviously racist.

These sentiments play into white folks' tendencies to associate the word 'racist' with people that blatantly espouse hatred, rather than examine the nuances of systemic racial advantage and subconscious bias. Similarly, setting the book in the 1960's, invites a congratulatory look on how far we have come, rather than examining the modern consequences of that era. As long as we're not that bad, we must be alright. Macon D of 'Stuff White People Do' notes: "While The Help is about people who risk their lives to challenge the status quo of their day, the book itself does very little to challenge the status quo of its own day." The fact is, the attitudes articulated in the book are still alive and well today, if more hushed.

The obvious (and most oft cited) critique of The Help is Stockett's use of dialect, which is awkwardly exaggerated in her black characters, but nonexistent in her white voices, despite the narrative's taking place in Mississippi. 'Stuff White People Do' calls Stockett's voicing "literary blackface." You can by the movie's trailer that the white characters have a southern draw, so where is it in the text? Its absence is another example of the normalization of white and the otherization of all else.

The trailer also illustrates who this story is about, and to whom it is being marketed. We see seven white faces before any of the main black characters appear, 30 seconds into to clip. The ad has a few short moments of dialogue for the black characters, surrounded by a dominating white narrative. Maybe the movie is more even-handed in its perspective, but the producers make clear their priorities for who gets to tell this story, before we have even entered the theater.

*spoiler alert*
Many have characterized The Help as having a happy ending. But for whom? Yes, the book gets published, but at what price, and who pays it? The success of the book propels Skeeter's career and she leaves Jackson to pursue writing at a new job in NYC. She expresses guilt over leaving Aibileen and Minny to deal with the fallout, but ultimately this is her choice.

Although Skeeter's social life is destroyed, the potential consequences were never as great for her as for the maids that told their stories. It is an adventure for her, a moment of belated teenage rebellion, while she trifles with the lives of those she professes to help. She is young and unencumbered, with the resources to leave town and start over. This is a girl of aspiration that seizes on her opportunity, not a brave self-sacrificing heroine. She barely even earns 'white savior' status.

The book ends with Aibileen looking towards her future with great hope and she contemplates a fresh start. Never mind that she is beyond middle-aged, has just been fired from her job, she has no family, no savings, and no prospects.

Likewise Minny is also portrayed with hope, as she has just detangled herself from an abusive relationship. But again, she has nowhere to live, no father for her children, and a former employer out for vengeance. As we reach the end of the book we hear about the increasing victories of desegregation, but anticipate very little of the trials that the next 50 years, and indeed present day, will hold. Yes, the book ends happily, but it feels disingenuous and short-sighted.

Despite these short comings, I did look forward to my evenings reading The Help. The narrative is compelling, and the story-telling is creative. If it were one of many race-related books on the best-seller list, I may not have been so critical. But the truth is, this is probably one of the few books of racial content that a lot of white folk will read this year, or ever in their adult lives, which means the pressure is on to do the topic justice. And justice is lacking.

Stockett wrote in what she supposed were the words of black women, but if one really wants to hear a black voice, empower a black voice to be heard. Support black artists that create wonderful works that will express exactly what the world is like for each individual, rather than trying to voyeuristically peer into what your imagination supposes it may be for a group.

The Help has rocked the charts, and yet there have been plenty of opportunities to read fiction and non-fiction on similar topics. Check out Octavia Butler or Maya Angelou, for starters. Then go to 'White Readers Meet Black Authors' and immerse yourself in the rich options before you. Once you have read several of those, re-read The Help and decide whether it is still as 'revolutionary' as you once thought.

At the very least, it would have been nice to see some more challenging discussion questions in the back of the book. Perhaps something to spur discussion about modern manifestations of racism or the cultural legacy that we inherit from the era portrayed.    

I hope the book can be a conversation starter, at the very least. I hope that folks won't simply finish it, leaving with a satisfied feeling that they have fulfilled their 'race quota' in their summer reading list. I hope that both the book and the movie can be vehicles to help to break the 'white silence' on race, particularly when it comes to this especially euphemized aspect of 1960's life.

Certainly, there are also issues of class prejudice here that persist today. How do we treat 'the help' today? How do we still maintain these arms-length class distinctions, even if by different modern rhetoric? When is the last time you had a conversation with the people that clean your work place? Do you even know their names? Do you avoid eye contact and awkwardly avoid crossing paths? If these folks are a different race than you are, how does that play into your interactions? Far be it from us to superciliously critique Hilly until we have examined the classist and/or racist plank in our own eye.

At the end of the day, with soaring sales and an upcoming movie, Stockett is profiting very well from The Help. Gee..thank goodness for all those Mississippi maids that made the story possible. I wonder where they are now.

Read the book? Seen the movie? What are your thoughts?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Nelson Mandela

Today is Nelson Mandela's birthday! Celebrate by enjoying his 1994 Inaugural Speech:

"We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.
We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success.
We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.
Let there be justice for all.
Let there be peace for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves."
Read the full speech here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mission and Vision

As BTSF has gained readership, it has become more important to establish some guiding principles of this forum. For this reason, I am taking this week to lay out the mission and vision statements for BTSF.

Much of the concepts stated here have been fleshed out in previous posts. These statements will be included among the tabs at the top of the page to help orient new visitors. Though not all contributors to this blog need adhere to these principles, they serve as a central template with which to conduct our discussions.

Guiding Principles:
  • Racism is a real and pervasive force dividing God's Kingdom.
  • A divided body of Christ hurts our witness to the world, hampers our personal relationship with God, and perpetuates our global sinful brokenness. 
  • Rich diversity is important to God and is part of his vision of a redeemed Kingdom. 
  • The Church has made egregious errors in our racial history, the consequences of which we continue to bear. 
  • The Church also has incredible potential to usher radical racial reconciliation through the model of Jesus Christ. 
  • It is especially important for those traditionally in positions of power and privilege to educate themselves and to take action to redeem broken relationships and systematic injustice.  
  • By God's grace, we have the opportunity to not only right our own wrongs, but to drastically advance racial healing, and to enter into a powerful relationships to reshape the world's understanding of who God is and His desires for us as a community.

             At BTSF, our mission is to facilitate understanding across racial divides by offering essays, resources, and forums for discussion, in a manner that is accessible and respectful to all involved. In particular, we strive to be a safe space for white folk (and others traditionally in roles of privilege) to ask tough questions, learn our racial history, gain an understanding of systematic injustice, and to become empowered agents for change, both within ourselves and for our communities. 
             By approaching racial reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective, we access the model of reconciliation,  justice, and grace that Jesus sets forth, and gain an understanding of the greater impact for the Kingdom that is at stake. We recognize that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, and is counter to God's will for His people. Therefore, we hope in God's promises for a redeemed and reconciled world and are grateful for the opportunity to play a role in their fruition. 

The ideal of heaven:
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9)
Being lived out on earth:
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Mathew 6:10)
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise

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Please welcome guest author Eileen Howard, Minister of Music at C4AP
She shares some good thoughts for what it means to sacrifice our own comfort in worship 
for the sake of reconciliation and inclusivity:

Across America on Sunday, about 43% of the population will go to worship. In most cases, they will worship with folks who are pretty much like themselves. They will mostly be of the same ethnicity, education level, and economic class. In many cases, members of those churches will say that they really would like folks of other ethnicities to join them. Or they want to reach out to folks who are poor, but poor people “just don’t come to their church”. Or they may even be a church that serves the poor throughout the week with meals, clothing and other actions, but those same poor people do not join them in worship on Sunday.

What these congregations may not realize is that, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, their church has a big “Keep Out” sign for those who are different from themselves.

For eight years, I have been the Minister of Music for C4AP in Columbus, Ohio. This intentionally cross-class, multi-racial, inclusive congregation has been worshiping with and working with the poor since its inception, and is around 50% African-American and 50% Caucasian, with a few other ethnicities represented.

In order to invite economic and racial diversity, many of us have had to make a sacrifice of the worship and musical styles dearest to our hearts. It required us to shift our worship from being a comforting retreat, to being outreach. It required making diversity a higher priority than our own spiritual (and social) comfort. The exciting news is that, in doing so, we have found a richness of spiritual growth that we have not previously experienced.

Questions of musical style in worship can and do divide congregations in a hurry. The people who like traditional church music, might not like contemporary Christian music, and the folks who like traditional Black church music may not like a “white” style that they consider boring. Some folks find Country gospel music as grating to them as nails on a chalkboard. 

What’s interesting to me about this whole discussion is that most good hearted Christians are authentically interested in church growth and health, and might be willing to make many sacrifices in money or time. But we never CONSCIOUSLY ask people to make a sacrifice in their music and worship style – a “Sacrifice of Praise,” if you will. 

Here are just a few examples of stylistic struggles with diversity and music in worship:
  • Those who grew up in traditional worship may find meaning and comfort in old hymns and formal and liturgical worship. They may be comfortable with pipe organs, robes, and enjoy classical music and choirs. Some people feel betrayed and fearful about “Contemporary” worship. It feels like what is most precious to them is being discarded. They may be turned off by what they see as the emotional and superficial nature of Contemporary Christian worship music. 
  • Many traditional hymns are in styles that were very popular when they were written at the turn of the 20th century or earlier, but they feel old and stilted to unchurched folk. In addition, back in the day, just about everyone learned how to read music and learned to sing in parts; something that can no longer be assumed. Language was different – more flowery, with a greater vocabulary, and now requires a college education to understand. Many people today just don’t connect with traditional worship. 
  • A lot of traditionally African-American music is focused on personal salvation and sustenance, with less of an emphasis on caring for others and deepening discipleship. Some people find it overly emotional and lengthy. Traditionally black services are often filled with vocal feedback to the pastor or choir that may be perceived as disrespectful by others. 
  •  Many churches that do good work for the poor sing songs about social justice and caring for the poor. Many of these songs have a meditative folk/Celtic quality that may not connect much with non-white cultures. Many songs come from the perspective of being ABOUT poor people, not WITH them. Not surprisingly, not many poor folk appear to be worshiping in the congregations that serve them and there is limited racial diversity. 

So, the dilemma is: how can we have relevant worship that is inviting for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, churched, de-churched, and un-churched, that also has depth of discipleship, and includes both evangelism and social justice? Seems like an impossible task!

Worship at C4AP might be described as “blended worship”, but it really goes way beyond that. It is “transformed” worship. We sing old hymns, but we “rehabilitate” them with new rhythms and sometimes update the lyrics to take out the “thee’s and thou’s”. We sing contemporary Christian songs, but we pick those whose message deepens discipleship. We sing both black and white gospel music, but not always the way folks might have heard it growing up. In some ways, we’ve made every piece of music our own, and given it a fresh style that goes beyond just offering “something for everybody.” 

And it’s not perfect. But over time what we found was that folks, for whom traditional black gospel resonated, started liking some of the pop/rock contemporary Christian songs. And folks who liked peaceful Celtic worship music, kind of got jazzed by modern Black Gospel songs. And folks who didn’t think they cared for opera, have been moved and entertained by our own choir director and owner of BTSF, Katelin.

In the midst of learning to love one another and making a sacrifice of the praise that most resonated within ourselves, we have learned to love the forms of praise and worship most cherished by others who are different from us.

Here’s the spiritual gem I have found: Letting go of “my preferred” music or worship style is practice for letting go of prejudices, stereotypes and labels that divide us one from another. It is relinquishing the worship that suits “my needs” and embracing worship that speaks to my neighbor. It is about loving one another through worshiping together.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Does 'Intent' Matter?

When someone says something hurtful, something ignorant, something that cuts to the quick...does it matter if their intentions are good?

Often good-natured words and actions have unintended consequences. The results are painful and real, regardless of the inflictor's attitude.

When I child drops the heirloom china, she didn't intend for it to shatter. But it's still in a million pieces.
When a drivers hits the brakes 2 seconds too late, he didn't intend to hit the pedestrian. But that person is still just as dead.

Often, we have no comprehension how hurtful we are being, causing great pain through our ignorance. And it doesn't matter how we intended it to sound. Our words enter this world within the context and history of a racialized society. Regardless of the our awareness of it, our words and deeds have power. Focusing on intention shifts the conversation away from the harm being done. Even if we don't intend it, there are consequences that result and wrongs that need to be righted.

On the other hand, intent does matters a great deal in how we choose to respond to a person that hurts us. Though the pain will be present regardless, 'intent' affects whether we scream out in frustration, shake our heads and walk away, or risk an in-depth discussion that could ultimately further God's Kingdom and His reconciliation. It may not soothe the sting in the moment, but knowing that a person means well can do a great deal for our own ability to continue the conversation, rather than escalating the conflict.

Ignorance is the nature of the modern racial divide and it's at the root of much of the racial pain we perpetuate. It results in a lot of ugly statements being slung at people of color. But recall what Jesus said as he hung on the cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." We also must forgive those that wrong us out of ignorance. White folks are dependant on sisters and brothers of color to step out in faith, if not in the good intentions of white folks, then in faith in the Christ that died for reconciliation.

We can imagine Christ's temptation to lash out in response to Peter's ignorance, Thomas's doubt, or Judas's betrayal. I envision Him biting His tongue, breathing deep sigh, counting to ten, and explaining once again to the disciples His mission on earth. He understood that if we get stuck in (legitimate) frustration with the ignorance that is exists, we will remain caught in the divide that Satan tries to perpetuate.

On the whole, I believe that white folk are genuine in their intention to reach out, but equal is our dearth of understanding about how to accomplish it, and our fear of being rejected despite our efforts. Though we may have done little to inspire trust, I implore those we hurt: be brave, be gracious, be patient, be forgiving. Be merciful, in the truest sense of it. We are sinners, but we continue to 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling.' But we are dependent on your faithfulness with us.

Meantime, white folk need to set aside fears of being chastised, and approach racial discussion with hope and humility. Let us all reward courage with patience and holy love. Let us continuously embody God's grace: unearned, unmerited, freely given--just as Christ has personified grace for us all.
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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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