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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Human Trafficking: Still Enslaved

Please welcome back guest blogger, Brittany Browne! Brittany is a freelance writer with Columbus Messenger, and a recent Racial Justice Coordinator with the YWCA Columbus AmeriCorps program. 

Human Trafficking specifically targets particular groups of individuals within our society. Every year, this billion dollar industry exploits thousand of women and children. But even some of those working towards systemic change fail to address the imperative factors that contribute to modern day slavery.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave an executive order for the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that certain slaves be set free immediately. Nevertheless, complete freedom was not assured (see post Slavery By Another Name), and disparity persists today. Similarly, although trafficking appears illegal, it lives on by preying on discrimination and injustice.

According to The Polaris Project, traffickers prey mostly on females, between the ages of 12-14, likely to be from impoverished backgrounds. 

One-hundred and fifty years after the ordering of the Emancipation Proclamation, and one-hundred and forty seven years after the Thirteenth Amendment took effect, here in the U.S. we are still battling slavery in new forms.
“The research and statistics on human trafficking in America are ambiguous, especially in relation to race and ethnicity. We need to explicitly recognize the connections between trafficking, poverty, migration, gender, racism and racial discrimination to adequately battle and destroy human trafficking in the U.S.”
This quote by Jamaal Bell in the 2010 article titled, Race and Human Trafficking in the U.S.: Unclear but Undeniable should be a reminder to advocates of human rights, and specifically of human trafficking, that the more we try to deny the relation of human trafficking, gender, poverty and race, the more we will continue to fight in vain for the rights of these victims.

If resolving racial discrimination, gender inequality, poverty and class issues remains uncomfortable in our daily discussions (and thus we dismiss the conversation), where is justice truly being served?

Again from Bell: “Seventy-seven percent of victims in alleged human trafficking incidents reported in the U.S. were people of color, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Report. An example of BJS's ambiguity is that 747 out of 1,442 reported incidents recorded no racial or ethnic origin.”

Everyday in our society, it is obvious that we contribute to sexual exploitation by allowing strip clubs, massage parlors, and pornography to be present and active. In similar ways, we participate in labor forced-trafficking through our need for maids within in our homes, and participate in supporting sweatshops through our material greed for the latest technology and gadgets. Not to mention the profits that are now being gained in the U.S. prison system by inmates for below minimum wage is another form of human trafficking (but, I suppose that is another blog post).

Furthermore, The United Nations recently posted an article through USA Today that discusses the lack of money and political will being put into spending to combat human trafficking, making it even more questionable as to how important the issue is on the agenda of our country. It was stated that there is a lack of strong legislation and police training to combat trafficking. Even in the United States "only 10 percent of police stations have any protocol to deal with trafficking.”

M. Cherif Bassiouni, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University in Chicago said, “We must change attitudes of male-dominated police departments throughout the world who place this type of a crime at the lowest level of their law enforcement priorities."

Could it be that this is not a high priority because the victims of human trafficking are not identified with the male gender, caucasian race and upper-class economic status?

Isaiah 43:8 says, “Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf.”

When we open our eyes, we will see that human trafficking, both sexual exploitation and labor-related, is discriminatory in gender, race and class.

The way we choose to engage ourselves in the advocacy and implementation of systemic change should be directly related to social justice issues regarding poverty, gender equality, and racism. It all works together in the recruitment, and maintenance of a 32.4 billion dollar industry that is destroying communities around the world.

Ask yourself, how are you consciously or unconsciously contributing to human trafficking statistics? By avoiding conversations about how trafficking issues relate to gender, poverty and race, how do we perpetuate the problem?

Decades later, we are still enslaved. So, when will we really be set free?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Fruit (04/27/12)

POTUS and Parks
On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings.
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. 

See Also:
Earth Day, Stewardship, and Environmental Racism

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stewardship and Environmental Racism

Like so many other things, pollution and environmental destruction disproportionately affect both people of color and the economically disadvantaged. This phenomenon is often referred to as environmental injustice and ties together the concepts of racial/economic privilege with unequal burden of the effects of environmental abuse.

Environmental racism is "the process whereby environmental decisions, actions, and policies result in racial discrimination or the creation of racial advantages." It is characterized by:
  1. Increased likelihood of being exposed to environmental hazards,
  2. Disproportionate negative impacts of environmental processes,
  3. Disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies, for example, the differential rate of cleanup of environmental contaminants in communities composed of different racial groups,
  4. Targeting and siting of noxious facilities in particular communities,
  5. Environmental blackmail that arises when workers are coerced or forced to choose between hazardous jobs and environmental standards,
  6. Segregation of ethnic minority workers in dangerous and dirty jobs,
  7. Lack of access to or inadequate maintenance of environmental amenities such as parks and playgrounds and...
  8. Inequality in environmental services such as garbage removal and transportation.
A double standard exists when it comes to environmental conditions/practices and what is considered acceptable in a given community. Both low-income neighborhoods and communities of color suffer more health risks due to environmental pollution than their more privileged counterparts. Children of color are 60% more likely to suffer from asthma, and twice as likely to experience lead poisoning. Families of color also live closer to landfills and hazardous waste treatment facilities.

It is an unfortunate fact that 53% of white children breathe air that doesn't meet EPA standards. But the rate increase to 63% for Black children, 72% for Asian American children, and 74% for Latino children. Adults face environmental racial disparity as well. Workers of color in many industries are disproportionately exposed to toxins and chemicals. The large majority of hired farm workers that handle pesticides and herbicides are people of color. Van Jones talks about the economic injustice of plastics (great video!), and even more examples can be found here.

In addition, marginalized communities often have less power to alter their environmental circumstances. It was Bullard's foundational report that first described the futile attempt of an affluent Black community in Houston, Texas to block the siting of a hazardous waste landfill in their community. His research demonstrated that race, not just income status, was a factor environmental justice issues. In addition, Sidney Howe, Director of the Human Environment Center, observed that those creating the most pollution live in the least polluted places.

This disparity is reflected all over the world. In Indonesia, American-based Freeport-McMoRan (the world's largest. lowest-cost copper producer) operates a mine that has been dumping 130,000 tons of waste rock per day into local rivers as a means of disposal. They have also been implicated in numerous human rights violations against the folks that used to live on that land.

In Nigeria, a country producing over two million barrels of oil per day (ranked 10th in the world, and 4th of suppliers to the USA), more oil spills every single year than in in the entire famous 2010 BP Gulf spill. The death and destruction is outrageous, but so is the selective media attention. Many more examples of international environmental justice can be found here. Time and again, communities, countries, and individuals in power impose environmental destruction on those who can least afford it.

In researched this post, I was disheartened to find far more articles detailing the tension between Christianity and environmentalism than those lifting up their natural intersections. What can be done? Pastor Marty Troyer offers other examples of disparity, but also some first steps for change in our own lives (see post: Reverb). We live in a broken world, and part of the consequences is the daily damage we do to the Earth and our neighbors here.  Sisters and brothers, we can do better.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you; or birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; or let the fish of the sea inform you (Job 12:7-8). 

What do you have to learn from the teachers referenced in Job above? Which of Pastor Troyer's suggestions can you commit to in this coming year? Check out Majora Carter's TED talk and what she's doing to combat issues of environmental racism:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Fruit (04/20/12)

Hip Hop Cheerleader
On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings.
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. 

See Also:
Slavery By Another Name
Breivik: "The Lone-Wolf"/"Terrorist" of Oslo
Incarceration: The New Jim Crow

Monday, April 16, 2012

Slavery By Another Name

(Video: 'Slavery By Another Name') 
There is a direct lineage between 19th century slavery, turn-of-the-century prison 'chain gangs,' and the modern 'War on Drugs.' Their strategies and justifications are strikingly similar, and their consequences long lasting.

After the Civil War, the southern economy was left in shambles. Compounding the issue was the sudden loss of free labor that resulted from the abolition of slavery. Southern land owners and businessmen faced severe loss of wealth, and so they embarked on the systematic re-enslavement of black Americans.

These former slave-holders were in luck. The newly ratified 13th Amendment clearly stated that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." Thus came into being a system by which people of color could be disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, convicted, and imprisoned for the benefit of those in power (see post: Incarceration: The New Jim Crow).

Thereafter, states saw a massive expansion of racially-slanted criminal laws (not unlike modern racialized drug laws). Black folk were increasingly detained by law enforcement and rounded-up for trivial offences (reminiscent of modern stop and frisk practices).

According to Douglas Blackmon, "laws were passed to criminalize everyday African-American life. It was a crime for a black man to walk beside a railroad, to speak loudly in the company of white women, to do someone’s laundry without a license, to sell cotton after dark.” The slightest offense, real or fictional, was grounds for imprisonment and forced labor.

As a result of these practices, the incarceration rates soared for black folk, particularly black men. Prisons then initiated policies by which they could lease out convicts as forced labor for local businesses to use as they saw fit. Thus, states and counties participated in the buying and selling of human beings, gaining tremendous profits in the process and maintaining the status-quo for white landowners.

These government-sanctioned institutionalized racial policies resulted in thousands of recently-freed slaves being "forced into industrial servitude, bound by chains, faced with subhuman living conditions and subject to physical torture." The motivation was profit, but since the laborers were no longer considered personal property, any residual motivation to care for the investment was lost.

As a result of this abundant source of cheap labor, industries such as coal mining and railroad construction  flourished. Moreover, arrest rates fluctuated with the labor needs of local businesses. White families recovered from the crippling effects of Reconstruction-era policies, grew with the developing middle-class, and passed on their wealth to future generations.

In the meantime, black families, having yet to recover from generations of bondage, were losing thousands of their sons, bothers, husbands, and fathers to this 'neoslavery.' Those that remained free were faced with share-cropping schemes, anti-voting laws, peonage, and the early manifestations of Jim Crow (both in the north and the south). While the foundations were being laid for the white middle-class through the use of stolen labor, eight decades of stability, upward mobility, and wealth were lost to black families.

It wouldn't be until the 1940's that federal investigations would begin to intervene in such policies. There existed "a constitutional limbo in which slavery as a legal concept was prohibited by the Constitution, but no statute made an act of enslavement explicitly illegal." Perpetrators remained protected, and legislation continued to prove too politically costly to pursue.

It wasn't until 1951 that Congress finally passes a law explicitly banning any form of slavery. The disparities that had already been established by then would prove to be long-lasting. Compounding the situation would be the post-WWII mortgage redlining, academic segregation, and employment discrimination (see post: Academic Admissions). Thus, even white families that immigrated to the United States a century after the end of slavery still benefited from the racialized system that had become so well entrenched.

These policies also left a legacy of association between criminality and race that still exists today. We continue to see selective racialized targeting for arrests, and heightened incarceration rates for people of color, all while prisons and communities profit. Ironically, we tend to attribute these phenomena to some sort of 'black pathology,' rather than understanding the history out of which such policies and attitudes were birthed.

To help restore this context, watch Sam Pollard's documentary 'Slavery By Another Name.' Toward the end of the film, an interviewee states "we want to think of some of these atrocities as things that happened occasionally," but she reminds us to imagine "how it would impact a whole segment of people...Imagine if your child could be picked up, never to be seen again." Sound familiar?

The subjects explored in Pollard's documentary are almost never discussed today, let alone taught in the classroom. On the rare occasion that black history is taught in schools, it typically centers around two periods of time: slavery and the civil-rights movement. Pollard's films bridges the gap, and fills in the blanks as to the foundations of our current disparity.

Watch Pollard's film 'Slavery By Another Name'. What did you learn? How does it affect your life today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Fruit (04/13/12)

On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings.
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...

Video edition!

Weekly Round Up:
  • Urban Prep: Abagond's overview of a school with a vision.

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. 

See Also:
Resurrection and Reconciliation

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection and Reconciliation

Christ is Risen!

Let us reflect on the miracle of Christ's resurrection--a resurrection that reconciled us to God the Father in a way that we could never have done for ourselves: in the act of the cross, God achieved both perfect justice and perfect reconciliation. 

You see, I know I have messed up in my life. I may not have killed anybody or committed grand theft auto, but I know I have hurt people, both intentionally and unintentionally. Sure, I am basically a good person when I am well rested and not pressed for time, but I have lied when cornered, and wished ill for someone when I wanted to get ahead. I have thought I was better than so-and-so at such-and-such. I have had thoughts in my heart that I wouldn't want to share with my closest friends, let alone a holy powerful God, in any sort of intimate way.

And I know God loves me profoundly, but He also loves the people I have been disrespectful to, or have been scornful of. And He kinda wishes I hadn't done those hurtful things to His children and He would like it if I would make it right with them.

If only there were a way that I could apologize for all of those things, or pay some sort of compensation, so that when I saw God in heaven, I wouldn't be so embarrassed. Some way that when He reflects on the times I have been cruel to my siblings on earth, I could say "yeah, but I did X hours of community service to make up for it!"

But how many hours would be enough? And what happens when, as soon as I finish them, I have another angry outburst at my husband, or become jealous of my next door neighbor. And so I have to compensate for those new hurts too...Ad nauseum. There are simply not enough hours in a day, or days in a lifetime to keep covering my tracks.

Enter scene: Jesus. A guy with all the love of the Father, but all the personal experience of the struggles here on earth. He lived His life without accumulating a list of errors and oops that we all collect, which meant that by the time He died, He had no apologies to make, no compensation He needed to pay for His wrong-doings. He could stand before God, totally unhindered and unembarrassed.

Yet when the time came, He reflected on my failed attempts to apologize for myself, and said to God "blame me for the things she has done. Treat her as though she had lived her life perfectly, and let me spend the rest of eternity writing her apology notes, and repaying the hurts she caused. Let us trade places in Your eyes so that she need not feel the weight of her mistakes, but instead can enjoy her time with You, totally guilt free."

And so that is what they did: Jesus took the blame, and I got the promise that, if I want to, I can spend the rest of my existence enjoying an uninhibited relationship with the One who knows me, and loves me, the best.

Reconciliation: With one hand,
He holds to the Father,
and with the other, he holds to us
as we make the journey
Jesus, in the mean time, is a lot stronger, faster, and more powerful than I am. He managed to take the blame for my issues, and deal with all of the consequences of my mistakes, yet sill make it home in time for Easter dinner. Not only mine, but everyone elses's as well.

Without any mistakes of His own, and having the power and wisdom of the Father, He was ideally suited to take care of business. So much so, that having accomplished it, He too can now stand before God, unhindered and unembarrassed. It was His resurrection that demonstrated this ability, this power, to accomplish what I could not do on my own.

It is this miracle that we celebrate on Easter. It is this trading-places that makes me eternally grateful. It is why I follow Him, and try to take His advice on how to live my life. It was on the first Easter that Jesus reconciled us to God, so that we need not feel shame, regret, or humiliation, only bathe in God's love and caring:

 "But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation" (Colossians 1:22) 

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Sisters and brothers, now that we have vertical reconciliation with God, let us work for horizontal reconciliation with each other: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We must continue to Stand in the tragic gap, between what is and what could be. We must remember how Jesus forgave even as He was on the Cross, and learn to forgive one another, be reconciled to one another.

See Also:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Fruit (04/06/12)

Ebony: Dear White Folks
On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings.
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. 

See Also:
I am George Zimmerman

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Am George Zimmerman

Welcome! Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through email or RSS feed.

'It could have been me.' 'It could have been my son.' 'Am I next?'

These are the rallying cries for justice for Trayvon Martin (background here). We recognize that any one of our black or brown brothers could have been walking home that night, only to find themselves the target of racial profiling and prejudice. Any number of them could have  been killed with no murderer brought to justice.

And so we say 'I am Trayvon Martin.'

But how many of us are willing to do the soul-searching necessary to say 'I am George Zimmerman'?
It could have been me. It could have been my son. Am I next? 

Suspicious? Be honest,
is your answer is still 'yes'?
I didn't pull the trigger that night, but I helped load the gun. I've breathed the racial smog and know what it means to see someone's skin and to be afraid.

That February night, I saw you walking down the street, and so I dead-bolted my front door. I heard the gunshot, and pictured you behind the trigger. And I didn't question it when the cop told me it had been white guy, not you, that was screaming.

You there, in your hoodie...I'll answer your question. Yes, you do look suspicious to us. We've seen too many TV shows,  too many newscasts and we've lost the empathy to see you any other way.

We've watched the movies, and we know who's the bad guy. It's never someone that looks like me. I'm always the hero...or at least the victim. We see the nightly news. We know not to walk alone in certain parts of town. We know who they arrest. And we've seen who's dealing the drugs, what they wear, and how they're dressed. The city didn't used to be like this, and we know who's to blame. Ever since they moved into town, the neighborhood just hasn't been the same.

So, we lock the doors on our cars as we drive downtown. We cross to the opposite side of the street and we clutch our purses. We vote for 'Stand Your Ground' because we've got the right to defend ourselves in this dangerous world.

We cringe at the loud base from the car in the next lane, and though we've never actually listened to any, we know rap is from the devil. We yawn through the diversity training we are forced to attend. We flip past the pages of the local newspaper that report the deaths last night in the 'bad' part of town.

We ignore the stats that say that black folk are disproportionately harassed by police, and instead believe that our society is better off having locked away almost a million black men (See post: Incarceration). We ignore the evidence that teachers discourage and hold back students of color, and instead believe that if they've failed out, it was their own darn fault. We ignore our inter-generational accumulation of wealth, and believe anyone unable to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps,' must be lazy, stupid, or both. 

Zimmerman believed these things. He grew up in this environment, with this mindset.
He's not a rare monster. He's not a lunatic. He's a product of our society. And he's not the only one.

It could have been me. It could have been my son. Am I next?  

Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through email or RSS feed.
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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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