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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Friday Fruit (1/31/14)

Cheerios doubles down with another
super-cute Super Bowl commercial 
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.

    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Fred Korematsu Day

    On January 30th, we celebrate 'Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution,' in honor of his birthday. Korematsu (是松 豊三郎) is the first Asian American to have a day named after him.

    Korematsu was living in California when Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942, stripping American citizens of their legal rights, and allowing their indefinite imprisonment without due process. Thousands of Americans of Japanese descendants were removed from their homes and detained in internment camps (See post: Racial Profiling and the Japanese American Internment). Having broken no laws, hundreds of thousands suffered the undue loss of their freedom and property.

    Rather than surrender to military detention, Korematsu went into hiding, only to be captured and arrested several weeks later. He contested his detainment as unconstitutional, but in their 1944 ruling on Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of  Executive Order 9066.

    It was later shown that during the course of the proceedings, Solicitor General Charles Fahy suppressed legal documents that stated "there was no evidence Japanese Americans were disloyal, were acting as spies or were signaling enemy submarines." Through it all, white Americans either voiced support for the internment program or simply remained silent. Indeed, the ACLU largely sided with the FDR administration.

    Korematsu and his family were eventually sent to the Topaz internment camp, where he had a horse stall for his living quarters. He was forced to work long hours in the labor fields, receiving $12/month. After his release, Korematsu was still strapped with a federal conviction, affecting his ability to get work, even above the racial discrimination faced by his peers.

    Having spent his early years as shipyard welder aiding in the defense of the USA, he worked welding water tanks in Utah. He soon learned he was being paid only half of what his white colleges were earning. After asking for equal pay, he was threatened with arrest and was forced to leave his job.

    Receiving the
    Presidential Medal of Freedom
    Four decades after his arrest, Korematsu's conviction was finally vacated. To the judge, he said "According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American....I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color." He continued, "If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people."

    Though his name was cleared as an individual, the 1944 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 still stands today. In Korematsu's words, "As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country."

    After September 11, 2001 Korematsu fervently urged the public not treat American Muslims as Japanese Americans had been treated during WWII. He also spoke out against detainments in Guantanamo Bay, maintaining that “full vindication for the Japanese-Americans will arrive only when we learn that, even in times of crisis, we must guard against prejudice and keep uppermost our commitment to law and justice.”

    With Rosa Parks
    To his death, he maintained “I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country.” He knew that  "No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy."

    January 30th is Korematsu's birthday. How will you remember his legacy?

    "Don't be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years." 
    - Fred T. Korematsu

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    Friday Fruit (01/24/14)

    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.

      Sunday, January 19, 2014

      The Origins of MLK Day

      Today, it seems everyone tries to co-opt the name and message of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr for their own cause. His name is invoked to promote everything from gun laws and shoe sales. Politicians know to quote him if they want to get elected, and you can bet every school child knows his name (even while the rest of Black history is ignored).

      He's one popular guy and revered guy--as he should be. But he's not always had that status. The battle against naming a national holiday after him was fought tooth and nail. And it's final adoption across the country was more recent than you might think.

      Less than a month after King was killed, Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan introduced the first legislation to create a national holiday to honor him. Three years later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference submitted a petition with 3 million signatures in support of a national MLK holiday. But the bill met significant opposition in Congress and had trouble gaining much traction.

      Rep. John Conyers Jr.
      Many of the objections to King's work sound terribly familiar today. As is often the case, so-called moderates believed the pace of progress be slowed. At the time, author David Garrow suggested that “a lot of younger people today probably aren’t aware of just how virulent that open segregationist racism against black people was.”

      Hours after King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, Senator Strom Thurmond argued that “the Negroes in this country own more refrigerators, and more automobiles, than they do in any other country,” (an argument often re-used today). He continued, “no one is deprived of freedom that I know about.” Indeed, shortly before his death, a national Gallup poll showed that only 33% of Americans felt positively about King and his work.

      Fifteen years after Kings death, a second petition for a national MLK holiday was submitted to congress, this time with the backing of 6 million signatures. Corretta Scott King, along with Stevie Wonder (listen to his song and watch his interview) and several other celebrities, were able to convince Congress to reexamine Conyers's bill.

      The House managed to pass the bill with a 338 to 90 vote. After his decision to support the bill, New York Republican Representative Jack Kemp stated that “I have changed my position on this vote because I really think that the American Revolution will not be complete until we commemorate the civil rights revolution and guarantee those basic declarations of human rights for all Americans and remove those barriers that stand in the way of people being what they are meant to be.”

      Wonder and King
      The Senate, on the other hand, had more trouble in changing hearts and minds. Opponents emphasized King's opposition to the Vietnam War, and continued to level allegations of communist affiliations. North Carolina Democratic Senator Jesse Helms led a long filibuster to pressure the FBI to release their files on King. The FBI had profiled King for several decades and at one point even sent him a letter "that suggested he kill himself to avoid embarrassing personal revelations hitting the media." Helms hoped that some of these indiscretions would come to light and prevent the forming of a national holiday in King's honor.

      Nevertheless, the Senate eventually passed the bill 78 to 22. President Reagan signed the bill on November 2, 1983, at which point Coretta King declared "This is not a black holiday; it is a people's holiday." Similarly, as the bill was being argued in the House, Conyers had stated "I have always viewed it as an indication of the commitment of the House and the nation to the dream of Dr. King. When we pass this legislation, we should signal our commitment to the realization of full employment, world peace and freedom for all.”

      The first national observance of MLK Day was in January 1986. At the time, only 27 states honored the holiday. Famously, Arizona fervently resisted the its adoption. All three Arizona House Republicans (including current Senator John McCain) voted against the 1983 bill, followed three years later by a public referendum in which 76% of Arizonans voted against the holiday (prompting Public Enemy's single 'By the Time I Get to Arizona'). As a result of Arizona's continued resistance, the 1993 Super Bowl was moved from Tempe, AZ to Pasadena, CA in protest.

      "A day on, not a day off"
      It wasn't until 2000 that the last state legally recognized the holiday. In the same year it removed the confederate flag from its statehouse, South Carolina passed a bill to recognize the day, concurrently removing several Confederate holidays from the official calendar.

      Even today there is reluctance to observe MLK Day. In fact, it has taken some significant whitewashing to get him to that place, with many of his more soul-convicting speeches ignored. His stances on povertysystemic racism, and black pride are often pushed under the rug. But they are essential to who he was, and the lessons we should take from him.

      Rather than reading his speeches or acting on his legacy, many schools continue normal classes on MLK Day. Most employees are expected to report to work, even in places that regularly observe Columbus Day and President's Day. In 2007, 33% of employers gave employees the day off.

      Unfortunately, those that are excused from work take it as just that...a day off work. Instead, let's use MLK this year to follow the lead of recent US presidents and use it as "a day on, not a day off." Let's use it to serve one another and increase justice and equity int he world around us. Find some practical ideas here

      Friday, January 17, 2014

      Friday Fruit (01/17/14)

      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.

        Sunday, January 12, 2014

        Identity in a White-Default World

        The following has been adapted from an article I wrote for Rev. Marty Troyer's series on self-

        Google results for 'flesh-colored dress'
        (See also: Michelle Obama's dress)
        It can be difficult to hold in harmony both our individual and communal identities, particularly when it comes to race. Some folks have more freedom to self-differentiate (that capacity to maintain the values and benefits of their community, while asserting their own individual identity) than others. How do we navigate our personal identity within the context our racialized world?

        White folk tend to be perceived and treated as individuals, distinguishable from the rest of their racial group, whereas people of color tend to be perceived as representatives of the entirety of their group. But white folks also greatly benefit from their membership in a broader racial group. As a group, white folk have access to better housing, better healthcare, better education, and better jobs than other races (see: Disparity by the Numbers). Yet, when a white person is late to a meeting, burglarizes a house, or commits an act of terrorism, the deficiency is ascribed to that individual's character, largely without consequence for other members of the race (see post: Pathology of Mass Shooting).

        White folk can more easily identify as individuals because there is an under-appreciation of the concept of 'white culture' and its pervasiveness within the United States. Whiteness is the 'default,' the dominant culture against which others are compared. White folk consider themselves 'normal' individuals when it comes to their choices of food, music, movies, history, spoken dialect etc, despite in reality being part of a distinct communal identity (see Abagond's 'White Default'). Non-white cultures become homogenized groups, characterized as 'exotic', 'ethnic,' or 'special interest.'

        As a result, Kartina Richardson notes that "it denies [white people] a specific identity by absorbing them into neutral blankness." White folk miss out on a communal racial identity and believe that they have nothing to bring to dialogues about the multicultural body of Christ. They forsake their shared group identity for the sake of individualism (even while benefiting from membership in that community).

        Consequences of a ‘White Default’
        White folks' privilege often ends up squashing the individuality of others. In a system where white is default, it is much more difficult for a person of color to be seen as an individual than it is for white folk. How often is a white student asked for 'the Caucasian perspective' in a class discussion about immigration reform?
        Details Here

        The institutionalized racism that results from a white default means that people of color must conform to a white standard to succeed within the dominant culture. People of color must sacrifice their own self-differentiation in order to be successful in job interviews, standardized testing, or media representation. Because people of color are less likely to be perceived as individuals apart from their own racial group, they must work harder to fit an unspoken mold of the dominant community.

        Stereotypes function as a denial of identity for people of color. It manifests itself in racial profiling on street corners and in airports. It is functioning when we turn people's cultures into costumes and mascots. We limit who can be a 'true American,' demanding legal documents from some, and relegating others to perpetual foreigner status. We polarize stereotypes about Asian Americans and Black folk, leaving white folk in the default, 'goldilocks,' middle ground, free to be who they want to be.

        Responding to the ‘White Default’
        There are several options to combating the revoking of self-differentiation. First, people of color can seek refuge in fellowship with those of similar racial identities. On the surface, this response may appear to decrease individual identity for the sake of prioritizing communal identity. And indeed, a greater sense of within-race unity and identity may be fostered through these means than is seen in white communities. But in addition, such environments also allow for self-expression and -differentiation for individuals within that group in a way that is not possible outside of those settings. There is a freedom to be who you are, rather than how the dominant culture expects you to be.

        A second response to white suppression of self-differentiation is the greater collective assertion of cultural identity in the face of racial whitewashing. There can arise a broader self-differentiation of a marginalized culture within the context of the dominant 'default' community. While having to conform to white standards in some aspects of life, racial minorities can gain strength in creating music, clothes, names, and language that is wholly distinct from the majority culture (even as the dominant culture pathologizes and mocks their use). Thus, communities of color can self-differentiate in the context of their broader role in society.

        So how can racial allies empower the self-differentiation of marginalized groups? How do we remain in loving community, but challenge it to grow? We can affirm individuals' experiences when others try to delegitimize racial concerns. We can become more aware of white culture and its influence on us as individuals. We can make sure there is a place at the table for marginalized voices to be heard, both as a group and as individuals. Then perhaps Christians will have self-differentiation in our earthly environment--being in the world, but not of the world and its racial inequity.

        I'm new to thinking about self-differentiation in the context of racial identity. How can Christians navigate individualism within the body of Christ to understand our roles within the communal Church, particularly in racial terms? Share in the comments section below.

        Friday, January 10, 2014

        Friday Fruit (01/10/14)

        MWLN love!
        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.

          Sunday, January 5, 2014

          Reverb: The unintended consequences of our daily behavior

          Please welcome back Rev. Marty Troyer, a husband, daddy, and peacemaker, who serves as pastor of Houston Mennonite Church in Houston, TX. He blogs regularly with where this post was originally published that we revisit in honor of Epiphany:

          I can relate all too well with the Magi of Matthew 2. After all, they did what they thought was best only to feel the devastating reverb of their decisions. Their good behavior impacted people they’d never met. Like Mark who drinks Starbucks, and Becky who shops the latest fashions, and Julie who loves her cell phone. All of whom participate in an unjust system oppressing folks half a world away.

          And so it is with the Magi, who force Jesus's family to become refugees, and cause the death of all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem. Indeed, they trigger injustices that foreshadow the conflict Jesus will face his entire life.

          But perhaps my own behavior is more like Herod’s than I care to admit. Oh sure, I don’t order anyone’s killing like Herod, who was well known for his rage and brutality, even killing off several of his own children. But is that just a convenient layer of protection to block me from truly seeing the reverb my actions cause around the world?

          Bertha Beachy, a longtime missionary in East Africa, said, “North Americans find it very hard to believe that their wealthy ways of living affect poor people on other continents. But in Africa, people are fully convinced that North Americans and their actions strongly influence their lives.” Living More with Less says, “Our seemingly indirect actions can actually cause very direct consequences in the lives of many in parts of the world that seem distant.” Here are just a few examples of the reverb:

          • Our insatiable need for transport demands oil – lots of it – which through war causes the killing of many innocents for our convenience.
          • Our insatiable need for tomatoes out of season demands the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and transport which causes harm to our bodies and environment.
          • Our insatiable need for computers and cellphones demands the use of “conflict minerals” like tin & tungsten which cause “children and adults —through rape and brute force—to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Mark Regier.
          • Our insatiable need for cheap fashionable clothing demands outsourcing labor to sweatshops, causing unjust and unhealthy labor conditions and the perpetual poverty of those who make the garments.

          It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the global complexities surrounding coffee, oil, food, clothes & computers. Longacre reminds us that the complexity of all this can be absolutely paralyzing. “Awed and even terrified” she says! Indeed. What can one person do in the face of overwhelming injustice done on our behalf?

          The wisdom of the Magi opens the door for us all:

          1. Take responsibility. When they discover the horror of what they accidentally did they embraced their guilt as a productive, not a paralyzing, emotion. Not that they pulled the trigger or gave the order to do so. Nor did they blame others, insulate themselves, or say “I was just following orders.” They acknowledge their part in the injustice, and make a change. Rather than going back to Herod and Jerusalem, they go home by another route, keeping the new kings’ whereabouts secret. We must see ourselves as part of the global family, and admit our decisions have global impact. Being response-able demands we unpack the layer upon layer of distance we feel from the problems we’ve helped create, and to live in the tension.

          2. Make a change. It doesn’t have to be huge, and we don’t have to turn Amish. But we are all capable of making changes that love our global neighbors in healthier ways. Consider Fair Trade, which guarantees a livable wage and safe working conditions for producers 
          and sustainable practices for the environment (yes, that means that non-fair trade items such as coffee, chocolate, sugar, and tea likely are NOT doing these things). Plant a garden, compost, shop at one of Houston’s numerous Farmer’s Markets or buy a share from the locally grown food co-op Rawfully Organic. Recycle everything you can using Houston’s RecycleBank cash-for-trash system. Live simply and below your means, decreasing your carbon footprint when possible. Send an email to your cell-phone provider and ask for conflict-free phones. All people, not just specialists, are required to do justice & love our neighbor, even those half a world away. 

          3. Do what you can, knowing it will not solve everything. Notice the Magi can NOT undo the consequences of their choices or solve the problem. The kids still die. Jesus is still homeless. They did their part, and then went home. Likewise, we are responsible to act, but it’s not up to us to finish the job. And so one day in seven we rest, and live our lives, knowing that it’s not our job to save the planet or her people.

          For those of us who profess to love our neighbor and/or Jesus, can we do anything less than the Magi, who gave their allegiance to Jesus above all else?
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