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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fruit (11/30/12)

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. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adoption: Divinely Inspired and Culturally Informed

To wrap up November, which is in National Adoption Month, we revisit Sherie Mungo's compelling testimony, exploring her experiences with adoption. This is the second of a two-part series (originally published 11/27/11).

In my previous post, I ended with the question of whether or not my parents' response to my first racist experience would have been different had they not been Black. Let me first respond to this by saying that I think that all adoption is a labor of love and has the ability to transcend race. Hence, I believe that anyone who finds a place in their hearts to love and cherish abandoned children as their own is fulfilling Jesus’s foremost command to “love your neighbor as your self.” In this context, it doesn’t matter whether the kid you adopt is white, black, pink or silver; what matters is that you show them Christ’s love.

However, adoption does not occur in a cultural vacuum, and adoptive parents cannot always protect their children from the sins of society, such as racism. No matter how much my parents loved me, they couldn’t stop the cruel name calling at the park, or the painful isolation from social events because I was the only “Black kid.” These harsh realizations left my parents feeling angry and helpless, as they would any parent.

Adoptive parents must also realize that despite their Christian intentions, they have internalized worldly biases themselves. While these biases may be unconscious, unawareness doesn’t make their manifestation any less hurtful; in fact, ignorance may make it worse. Yes, even my Black parents exhibited certain aspects of intra-racism that were influenced by their own experiences in the world. They could not escape society’s subliminal messages about race.

If my Black parents were not immune to racial deception that is in the world, I think that we must question how resistant White parents of Black (or any minority) children are to the same temptation. As previous authors have argued on this blog, White parents may succumb to the falsely complacent belief that race doesn’t matter. 

I believe they are partly correct in this argument; race shouldn’t matter. But it does. It matters within the recesses of your own heart, and it matters in society. For example, if your Black child tells you he or she is being excluded from social events, your response will illustrate what you internally believe about race, and how you perceive its manifestation in the external world. White parents must be made fully aware of both these reactions before they can hope to raise a well-rounded minority child. As in my situation, the way that parents react to racist situations will influence how a child will view race for the rest of their lives.

White reactions to minority difficulties is not the only aspect of race and adoption I wish to speak on. As stated in my first post, there was another event that made me ponder race and adoption. I was giving my adoption testimony to a White friend when she asked me “So, are your parents black?” “Of course they are! What else would they be?” was my indignant reply. Her sheepish response has stuck with me since: “Well, you know, a lot of Black kids are adopted by White parents.” 

As I pondered her statement, I begin to think about what this means for minority adoption. Do White people adopt more than minorities? This is a complex question that requires a complex answer. I think we must first understand that the answer is located in cultural norms and values. Minorities (please know that I speak from a Black point of view) tend to do familial and communal adoptions. In other words, they take in children from their own families and communities. This may not be “official” adoption, but the function is often the same.

Yet White parents get magnified as the givers of grace to minority children because of the societal emphasis on a formal procedure. I think it’s safe to say that this preference is rooted in notions of White patriarchy and superiority. To combat this, we need to legitimize these variant forms of adoption.

I do want to close by saying that Black children would greatly benefit from formalized adoption by Black parents. Giving a Black child not only your cultural perspective but official name and place in society is priceless. While there is nothing wrong with taking in kids unofficially, there is something special about officially adopting a child; I should know.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Adoption: Human and Divine

To wrap up November, which is in National Adoption Month, we revisit Sherie Mungo's compelling testimony, a two-part series exploring her experiences with adoption (originally published 11/11/11). 

When speaking to the Ephesian church about the blessings of being redeemed, Paul wrote that God the father “predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” I think that this verse paints a powerful image for the body of Christ: God plans to adopt us back from the grip of the Kingdom of darkness because it gives Him good pleasure.

I feel doubly blessed by this favor since I have been adopted by both humans and the Divine. While I do not presume to say that these two are one and the same, I do think human adoption serves as a powerful metaphor for what God does for His children.

I experienced just how powerful adoption is on November 1st, 1990, when my parents Stephanie and Derek Mungo graciously took me in as their own child. I was three years old, a product of biological parents addicted to crack cocaine with criminal records. My age alone could have been a deterrent for my parents, but coupled with my lingering issues from being a crack baby made me a walking adoption nightmare. They were told that I would need to have special education services and that physical activities would always be a problem for me. 

Despite these inhibiting factors, my parents had an unfaltering faith that I was their child, and even more importantly I was God’s child. This faith gave them the courage to defy the words of man spoken over my life and provide me with hope for my future. Needless to say, twenty two years later I am a graduate level student who has enjoyed a good amount of physical activity (maybe not lately, but I digress). The point is, my parents’ faith helped me to transcend the negative circumstances that I was born into.

So, how does my story speak to race in addition to adoption? When I first started thinking about posting, I struggled to make this connection. I mean, I am a Black woman who was adopted by Black parents; what’s so special about that? Then I remembered two events in my life: 1) my first experience with racism and 2) being asked whether or not my parents were Black.

I do not plan to go into the racist event in detail. Suffice it to say that it was a painful coming of age experience that many POC’s have to go through. I do however want to focus on my parents’ apt reaction to my pain and confusion. As they had experienced similar injustices, my Black parents understood my feelings exactly. They knew the hurt and bitterness that could result from that moment you realize your skin color is cause for mistreatment. My parents responded to my angst with a balance of incisive Black consciousness and Christian grace.

They explained that while racism would unfortunately be an external part of my life, I shouldn’t let that color my view of self worth and value. They also explained while I shouldn’t go looking for racism, I needed to be prepared for its manifestations. Perhaps more importantly, bitterness and non forgiveness were strongly discouraged by my parents. Despite the injustice of prejudice, I had to forgive the perpetrator for their sin of racism just as Christ had forgiven me.

Would my parents have been able to handle this situation with such adroitness if they were not Black? 
In my next post, I’ll explore this question into greater depth.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Friday Fruit: Facing Race Edition! (11/23/12)

Oh...just me hanging with
W. Kamau Bell, Franchesca Ramsey,
and Jay Smooth
Last week, leaders in racial justice from around the country gathered together at the Applied Research Center's Facing Race. It was an amazing time of fellowship and shared mission.

To give you a glimpse into the awesomeness, check out Rinku Sen's powerful opening speech, and then peruse a summary of the weekend's insights via storify. Finally, check out these stories from Andrea Plaid at Racialicious: No Justice, No PeasEnergy Democracy For All; and Junot Diaz Press Conference.

What were your favorite moments at Facing Race? Share below!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Creation Myths: Thanksgiving

There are two sides to history, and it is the winning side whose story is remembered. Such is the case with Thanksgiving.

The Black Commentator suggests that "the Thanksgiving story is an absolution of the Pilgrims, whose brutal quest for absolute power in the New World is made to seem both religiously motivated and eminently human. Most importantly, the Pilgrims are depicted as victims – of harsh weather and their own naïve yet wholesome visions of a new beginning."

There is much debate regarding the very first Thanksgiving. Indeed, there were many ‘days of thanksgiving’ proclaimed after settlers first landed, or survived harsh winters, or experienced plentiful harvests. The earliest Thanksgiving was not celebrated by British immigrants, but rather by Spanish conqueror Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, in Saint Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565.

Over the subsequent century, many other Thanksgivings took place as new invaders and immigrants arrived. One of which, one was held under truly despicable auspices. Thousands of Indians had been killed or sold into slavery during the Pequot War (which began after the British-led nighttime massacre of  Mystic village). Heartened by their 'victory' and the death of thousands of men, women, and children, Connecticut Puritans declared October 12, 1637 a holy day of thanksgiving.

William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony gave the following account:
“Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted...It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of... [The pilgrims] gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.”
The TRUE origin
 of Thanksgiving
The most famous Thanksgiving meal was indeed held by British immigrants in partnership with (and thanks to charity from) members of the Wampanoag Nation in 1621. However, that alliance was only forged subsequent to the enslavement and mass death of the Patuxet Indians, an occurrence which necessitated more acquiescent relationships with the British immigrants in the region thereafter.

However, it was over 150 years later that the familiar story of the 1621 Mayflower Thanksgiving was actually established, in large part due to Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879). Her enchantment with the Pilgrim narrative compelled her to campaign aggressively for the adoption of the national holiday. Her bucolic editorials and petitions shaped the modern conception of Thanksgiving, which became a national holiday in 1863.

This year on Thanksgiving, take time to learn the stories that aren't being told in school. Become familiar with the National Day of Mourning and the Indigenous Peoples Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering, which commemorate the true history of Thanksgiving and honor the many voices that have been silenced.

Wamsutta (Frank B.) James
Read the suppressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, which was supposed to be delivered in Plymouth in 1970 as part of a celebration of the Pilgrim landing. The event's public relations personnel edited his speech because they didn't approve of the history he told in it, but Wamsutta refused to deliver the revised version. Read the words he would have said that day.

The fact that such a sordid history is associated with the day we set aside to ‘thank God’ for his providence should give us pause. In reality, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving because the majority of its population benefits from the fruits of genocide and slavery. Let us indeed set aside time to count our blessings, but let us also be honest with ourselves about the legacy from which those blessings are derived.

See Also: Adam Ericksen's great article discussing similar issues on Sojourners

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Fruit (11/16/12)

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, November 11, 2012

Tuskegee Airmen

In honor of Veteran's Day we're revisiting this post that originally aired on 01/24/12:

Retired Tuskegee Airmen: Ivan Ware,
J. Byron Morris and William E. Broadwater
Formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military pilots and flight crews. While still subject to Jim Crow both in the USA and abroad, our soldiers defended the United States against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Their record was superb. With nearly 1000 fliers trained since their formation in 1941, they damaged or destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft and flew 1,578 missions. Four-hundred and fifty pilots served overseas, with ~150 receiving Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 66 killed in action.

In addition:
Captain Fred Hutchins

  • 3 Distinguished Unit Citations:
    • 99th Pursuit Squadron: for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy
    • 99th Fighter Squadron: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
    • 332d Fighter Group: for the longest bomber escort mission of WWII
  • At least 1 Silver Star
  • 14 Bronze Stars
  • 744 Air Medals
  • 8 Purple Hearts
  • 950 railcars, trucks and other vehicles were destroyed
  • 1 destroyer sunk

If you don't know the story of these airmen, take some time to familiarize yourself with their history through original videos and personal narratives. Read about the racism they faced beforeduring, and after their service in WWII.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Fruit (11/09/12)

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, November 4, 2012

Am I Appreciating or Appropriating? (Part 2)

Here is part 2 from Ms. Maxine (@SideHustleStory) on the difference between 'appreciation' and 'appropriation':

The fact that minority cultures in the U.S. are much more harmed by these stereotypes is just one of many reasons to remember the next step... 

3. Check your privilege
If you’re white in western culture and borrowing from another culture for your art/life/whatever, know that you are doing it from a position of privilege that colors how you see the other culture and how your use of that culture is perceived.

Your privilege will make your work more likely to be recognized and promoted. This partly why when a white person appropriates from a non-majority* culture, the result is more hurtful and harmful than when someone of any race appropriates from Celtic or Italian culture, for example.

Sometimes, checking your privilege means that you might have to change how you plan to use the culture you’re lifting from to make it more accurate to that culture. In fact, working with or including people from that culture in your depiction may be the only way to borrow from that culture without taking advantage of it.

Let’s say you’re a painter who wants to borrow from a Filipino creation myth in creating one of your works. You research the story and take care to accurately represent the themes of the myth. However, in your painting, you depict the figures as white, not Filipino, even while citing the source of the story that inspired the painting.

Even while providing credit and researching into the myth, depicting the people as white erases the Filipinos from their own culture’s story. Using Filipinos as the models for the painting would have been a way to give homage to the culture being borrowed, instead of staying in the privilege of using the models you may be used to seeing.

Revisiting one example from last week, the popularity of the post about wearing a veil was another example of how minority voices are silenced and those of the majority are elevated. Many veiled Muslim women have written about their experiences and yet not received nearly the same amount of exposure as the non-muslim woman who did so . Also, the idea that wearing a veil for a few hours is the same as a lifetime as living as veiled Muslim woman is an offensive oversimplification.

Similarly, the woman who chose to wear a fro for fun/profit wrote about her adventures in complete ignorance of the problems women who choose to wear their natural hair face. She was able to present her experiences as representative of living with an afro, despite being able to take it off at the end of the day. Thus, this is also an offensive example of appropriation, and has the added bonus of perpetuating negative stereotypes.

Another part of checking your privilege is realizing that if you’re in the majority culture, you have the ability to lift the enjoyable parts of various cultures without experiencing the negative parts of actually being a part of that culture. When it comes to art, acknowledge that your privilege may allow your work to be recognized more than others, and your “borrowing” of others’ culture is taking advantage of this situation.

Having a position of privilege means that sometimes there is no right way to appropriate an element of someone else’s culture. If your form of appreciating another culture only serves to hurt the creators of that culture, are you actually doing any good? Instead of appreciating, you may end up offending those around you and further alienating yourself from the cause of racial reconciliation.

It’s not as simple as saying “you’re white, all other cultures are off limits,” nor can we say “the whole world is available for your use and exploitation”. When fabric we think of as “African” actually has a mixed West African, European and Indonesian history, it’s clear that navigating issues of cultural appropriation is beyond Race Relations 101. It’s important, especially as an artist, musician or leader, to strive to be considerate, fair, and receptive to feedback in our efforts to appreciate other cultures through our creative efforts.

If we’re not willing to avoid wearing a fashion accessory or reconsider our art in order to help foster racial reconciliation, why should we be trusted to fight racism and prejudice in other, more difficult ways? 

* Non-majority in the U.S. and other western countries

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Fruit (11/02/12)

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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