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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Faith and Ferguson: Church Relevance on Police Brutality

Reflections from
Brittany Browne
Our society must not be quick to forget the events of Ferguson, MO. BTSF is offering space for ongoing reflection and processing. Here, frequent BTSF contributor Brittany Browne shares her reflections: 

As societal issues of the past seem to resurface themselves in the future (often times in a more formidable way) it is worthwhile to ask if the same institutions in the past that advocated for specific issues then are still relevant to speak out about those same issues now. Therefore, is the Church looking at the police brutality epidemic that continues to plague African-American communities around this country? If so, what are we saying about it and how are we taking action?

Long gone are the days where we can simply have comfortable discussion circles about social justice issues in the pews and not show action of our advocacy. In fact, advocacy without action is just “airing out opinions.” What we are continuously being exposed to as a nation is a resurface of racism and discrimination that appears to be masked as obedience to law enforcement. Perhaps, Michelle Alexander explained it best in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (see review here):
“History reveals that the seeds of the new system of control were planted well before the end of the Civil Rights Movement. A new race-neutral language was developed for appealing to old racist sentiments, a language accompanied by a political movement that succeeded in putting the vast majority of blacks back in their place. Proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding 'law and order' rather than 'segregation forever.'"
Click to Enlarge
Furthermore, to her point, if we take a journey through the Civil Rights era in the times specifically between 1955-1968, we will see media coverage showing blatant police brutality towards all African-Americans in their fight towards equal rights. If we fast forward to the beating of Rodney King in March of 1991, we will see a notable uprising of the issue specific to an African-American male. In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the names of black men who were unarmed and killed by police brutality across the nation such as: Eric GarnerJohn CrawfordDante Parker, and Michael Brown.

As we see in the few examples set before us, this issue is not a new one. In fact, it is an old one that is resurfacing itself and reestablishing its new system of control. So, again, we ask, does the Church have any relevance in responding to this issue?

The Church has been a vital voice in the past for a variety of social justice issues that target the marginalized and underrepresented populations. However, this issue of police brutality in the African American community, specifically among African-American males, is not an issue where we can send a monetary check and tell the community to cash it in an effort to secure our part of upholding our faith. It is imperative that the Church in the 21st Century gets involved in these issues by first being “in tune” with these communities.

As a proponent of our faith, we are required by Micah 6:8 “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” This scripture can certainly be interpreted differently by others, but regardless of how one applies it to their individual lives, as a body the first thing this tells us is to “do justice.” It is our responsibility as believers to stand with and for those that are not being treated with justice. But, once we know that, then what? What’s next? The first approach is to look within. We as believers often have so many good intentions and then cause harm to one another unintentionally because we were not able to look within ourselves and see the racism that lies within us or the insecurity that keeps us comfortable.

Inevitably, there are issues that will arise in society that the Church will feel unequipped to participate in due to a lack of understanding of a particular racial, economic, or social situation. However, that has never stopped us in the past because our faith propelled forward beyond humiliation sometimes, beyond public scrutiny of ignorance at times as well. In order for the Church to remain relevant on these intricate issues, we must be willing more times than usual to take off our church clothes, put on street clothes and carry our crosses in our advocacy.

Support ongoing efforts in Ferguson, and seek out actions taking place in your own area as well. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Fruit (08/29/14)

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

Weekly Round Up:

Also: Monday is the last day for
Early Bird tickets for the
#AllPeople Conference 
October 25-27, 2014
Columbus, OH 
** Receive discounted registration with code 'BTSF' **

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, August 24, 2014

#Marissa418: To Set the Oppressed Free

There is long history of double standard when it come to the criminal justice system. But we know that God calls us to "proclaim good news to the proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18; hence, #Marissa418).

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 after having having fired a warning shot into the air to avoid an attack from her ex-husband. Having given birth just days earlier to a premature baby, she found herself confronted by her abuser and afraid for her life, and so defended herself.

Alexander was charged with aggravated assault with a gun. She passed on a plea deal for three years in jail because she believed she would be covered by self defense and Stand Your Ground laws in Florida. But when she was denied that line of defense, she became vulnerable to harsh mandatory sentencing law that gave her 20 years in prison.

After hearing of the ruling, U.S. Representative Corrine Brown lamented, "three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice." Indeed, we must ask ourselves, what is God's mercy? What is God's justice?

Rep. Brown also suggests that "the Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the "Stand Your Ground Law" will not apply to them...The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently."

Though Alexander attempted to exit through the garage door (which she found to be locked), some have criticized her for not doing enough to escape. Her capacity to do so notwithstanding, she is in a state with a Stand Your Ground law that allows the use of deadly force without any 'duty to retreat.' Why is this law applied in some case, but not others?

Even our idea of an individual's agency to leave varies with the person in question. It is common to blame the victims of domestic abuse for their own situation. But this type of reasoning reveals a profound lack of perspective on the choices available to abuse victims.

About a year ago, Alexander was granted a new trial, on the grounds that the first one unduly put the burden of proof on the defendant, vividly demonstrating the 'guilty until proven innocent' mindset for defendants of color. Though many supporters want to see her case dismissed entirely, she is currently out bail awaiting a new trial, at which state prosecutor Angela Corey says she will now seek a 60 year sentence, again due to sentencing mandates (calling for consecutive service of sentences).

Mandatory sentencing laws and the prison industrial complex are a serious institutionalized issues, but that doesn't mean prosecutors' hands are tied. They often have discretion in deciding exactly what charges to bring. Angela Corey (the same attorney who failed to convict George Zimmerman, but who is now aggressively prosecuting Alexander), might have charged Alexander with simple aggravated assault, rather than adding a gun charge. This would have drastically reduced the length of Alexanders sentence if found guilty. It's worth noting that Corey is one of many prosecutors who have been elected on 'tough on crime' platforms, largely credited with escalating the War on Drugs and mandatory sentencing.

Art by Dignidad Rebelde
With Alexander's case we also see the same sorts of character assassination that has been attempted so many times  before. It reveals our desire to seek out excuses to ignore the cries of the oppressed, and our reticence to believe the voices of the abused. It's far too easy for us to say how the situation should have been handled differently. The constant battle to defend one's own personhood, one's own humanity and deservedness, is exhausting.

This coming week, follow #Marissa418 and the many posts from Christian voices that are taking up the call for Marissa Alexander. For more than four years, she and her supporters have been fighting for her freedom. Will we aid in her struggle?

Check out to find out the ways your help is needed. Share the #Marissa418 #30SOLs that are being released this week. Call your local and federal representatives to ask for a reduction or elimination of mandatory sentencing laws.

"The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#30SOL for #Marissa418

Art by Dignidad Rebelde
Update (8/29/14): Check out all the great submissions!

The criminalization of blackness is a disastrous and ongoing legacy of our society. It is actively killing and maiming our sisters and brothers, and the massive events in Ferguson have demonstrated the great lengths we will go to in protecting this tradition.

It is in this context that Marissa Alexander is currently fighting for her freedom in Florida. She was sentenced with 20 years in prison after having fired a warning shot into the air to avoid an attack from her ex-husband. In stark contrast to George Zimmerman, Alexander was denied a 'Stand Your Ground' defense. She has been granted a chance at a retrial, but she faces an expensive and grueling uphill battle.

I'll be posting more details here in the coming weeks from myself and other voices. But in the meantime, @KilljoyProphets is organizing a series of opportunities to speak up and take action. In particular, there is a call for Christian voices to "proclaim good news to the proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18). Thus, it's rallying cry: #Marissa418.

As part of that campaign, we are gathering #30SOL testimonies from Christian voices speaking boldly against injustice. You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to be highly trained orator. Just share what Marissa Alexander's struggle and #Marissa418 mean to you--in 30 seconds or less.

Be sure to check out these amazing sample submissions from Emily RiceSuey ParkSarah MoonMihee Kim-KortMicky Jones, and Christena Cleveland.

Send your submissions to by August 24th to be included.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Michael Brown. Ferguson.

It's essential that you stay informed about what is happening in Ferguson. It's important that you hear the stories (the full stories), that you go beyond what is covered in the news. It's important that you not become entrapped by smear tactics of the empowered.

With this in mind, I am highlighting here some of the vital elements of Michael Brown's killing. So much of this is drawn on the brave reporting and lived experience of others. It's vital that you to go to the links, follow the twitter accounts, and actively support the folks I link to below.


This is about the killing of young black man. He was not a suspect. He was walking down the street. Multiple independent and unrelated witness describe that he was shot multiple times from a distance with his hands up in surrender. No ambulance was called to the scene. Instead, the officer call in to dispatch for more officers, cars, and K-9s to be brought in from multiple precincts. Increased police presence incited anger and agitation, even as Michael Brown's was left on the street for hours (see this excellent video report).

Ferguson police declined to interview witnesses (but sure to listen to their testimony yourself). No incident report has been released for the shooting. The situation quickly escalated when police called in M-16s, armored trucks, tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper shots (not days later, but within hours of the shooting...before any violence from the crowd). 

Each evening, once the media packed up to go home, protestors became the targets of increased police violence. The morning news showed the protester aftermath and response, but not the police instigation of it. By Wednesday, increased media coverage revealed what the residents of Ferguson had been dealing with all along (another important video here). Even then, the media has been actively prevented from fully covering the police action in Ferguson.

Shortly thereafter, events seemed to take a turn for the better. Capt. Johnson showed a completely different approach by removing the riot gear and marching with the protesters. It set an entirely different tone. The protesters were the same, the anger was the same, the demands were the same. The police behavior changed and the situation drastically deescalated. But still no answers about Brown's killing.

The next day, there was a press conference to release the name of the cop who killed Michael Brown. They did so, but rather than releasing an incident report about cop Darren Wilson and the shooting, they released one of Brown allegedly shoplifting earlier that day. Instead of pictures from the crime scene, they showed footage from the shop's security camera. It was nothing short of character assassination of the victim.

As it turns out, Officer Wilson's approaching Michael Brown had nothing to do with the earlier incident. The videos from the convenience store are complete inadmissible in court. And police knew it. But the media coverage had already been effectively hijacked. But the court of public opinion? The biases of a jury? The perpetuation of victim blaming? The media? The video is still admissible for all those things. The narrative was crafted.

Thus, after four days of peaceful protest, the crowd was re-instigated. @thetrudz notes that "It takes a lot of practice to face the but of a gun and not physically defend yourself. They are learning as they go while under military siege...When someone harming you, the common reaction is physical self defense, if able. [Civil Rights Movement; CRM] activists were trained how not to react. This is hard...CRM had months of planning/training." (See also, The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail).

Over the weekend, curfews were imposed at midnight to stop the protests and to send the media home. These were intentionally violated as acts of civil disobedience and in a statement of free speech. Sunday evening, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons into crowds with little to no warning. This was hours before the curfew was supposed to be in effect. Children were in the crowd, and were hit. Media were threatened. Residents used milk from McDonalds to treat victims' burning eyes. Monday morning the news described it as looting. The police said they were responding to  gunfire. It turns out it was fireworks.

Amnesty International has sent a delegation to Ferguson, the first time they have ever done so in the United States. Meantime, a private autopsy was released showing Michael Brown was shot six times. Several at long range (including into his palms), and some at short range (including the top of his 6'4" head).

For now, we're in a holding pattern. Each day continues a vicious cycle in which frustrated citizens are antagonized and frighted. They react. The police wait, do nothing to remedy the specific incidents of vandalism or disorder (the citizens are left to handle that), and then move in en masse against the entire crowd with tremendous force. The cycle continues. If things calm down in Ferguson, it will be because of the efforts of the clergy and key leaders in the protest, not through any of the aggressive actions of the police

There are many aspects to this story. 
The criminalization of black bodies plays into this. 
This is reflected in fact that Michael Brown can be on trial for his own murder. That the surveillance videos can be used to imply that his killing was justified. White mass murderers are arrested, but a black boy will be shot on sight for walking in the street. Black victims will have their criminal records examined, their academic grades questioned, their parental upbringing challenged. It requires overcoming tremendous odds to prove to public opinion that a black victim did not deserve to be killed.

Earlier this month, John Crawford III was killed while holding a toy gun  in a Walmart in Ohio (an open carry state). He called out "it's not real," but it didn't matter. Meantime, white folk walk through Target with real assault rifles. And can you imagine what would happen if the protestors in Ferguson showed up like these guys? The double standard is extreme. And it's costing lives. The media and police can't (won't) differentiate between black/Brown bodies that are peacefully protesting and those of their criminalized stereotypes. Will you?

White media bias plays into this. 
Newsrooms are overwhelmingly white. Given well-established white undereducation about race, what makes us think they are qualified to cover these stories? Many are quick to suggest a black reporter might be biased. That itself reveals our own prejudice. Because dominant society considers a white perspective to be a 'default' and neutral stance, half the story is missing. 

Social media is often deemed untrustworthy, but in the absence of reporters, this is how most of the videos, images, and evidence has been made public. When mainstream media went home, or was turned away, this is how we heard what was going on. These platforms allowed individuals to get the word out, by providing access and amplification of Black voices that wouldn't otherwise exist.

History plays into this. 
Redlining map of St. Louis.
Ferguson is clearly visible in the top right.
All of this has happened before. The immediate decision to use riot gear and German Shepherds demonstrates the gross and callous insensitivity of the Ferguson police. And it has all been explained before (see Tupac Shakur and Malcolm X--the latter’s example played out again almost exactly in Ferguson in 2009). When Civil Rights history is glossed over in white schools and white society, the result is an uninformed, uncontextualized view of current events. We perpetuate the same violence we have been committing against Black neighborhoods for decades. This is the context for Ferguson. It's this sort of police behavior that Black citizens have dealt with years. And then Brown was shot.

White silence plays into this. 
If your family, community, or church has not consistently done the work of discussing and dismantling systems of racism, do not be 'shocked' when events like these occur or when white churches stay silent. How many white onlookers felt Brown's killing was being blown out of proportion? How many saw the protests as an overreaction? After so many calls 'to wait to get the facts,' from sources white folks could 'trust' (read: non-black sources), it turned out the facts were even worse than we feared. The more we hear the worse it gets. And in the meantime, the citizens of Ferguson have been struggling on their own.

Drew Hart reminds us (through Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that "the church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven." Instead of sanctimoniously saying "wait, wait" (as the white clergy did in Birmingham), listen to the lived experiences of black folk that tell us the reality of the world in which we live.

Laila Lalami notes "If you want to learn about privilege in this country, you only need to ask who gets the benefit of the doubt." Take note when your mind says "yeah, but..." or "we need a balance" or "we should get the full story." Consider where these instincts come from, and in whose favor they likely are. Who does your instinct tell you to believe? Who is it your instinct to correct? Are you more likely to be directing your critiques at the oppressed or the oppressor? Do you actually want peace? Or just quiet?

Don't be tricked into thinking you're playing 'devils advocate,' when you're simply reiterating the position of power and maintaining the marginalization of the oppressed. Instead, be skeptical of your reactions. We live in an "intensely physically segregated country." White folk that believe police treat black and brown people fairly, aren't around enough to notice. Christena Cleveland notes (through MLK) that "it is hardly a moral act to encourage others patiently to accept injustice which he himself does not endure." You have a choice. Who are you going to believe? The oppressed or the oppressor? The powerful or the powerless? 

Sure, there are complexities and caveats. But those aren't the voices that need amplifying--they're already getting plenty of coverage. Many of us only get our news from the seats of power. Media that is operating under the assumption of a post-racial world. Media that arrives in with preconceived notions of who is violent and who is in the right.


At the center of it all, it's still about Michael Brown, a young man who was killed in cold blood by a cop who has not been detained or arrested. Don't lose sight of that.

Take the time to read the links above. He's worth that. The lives of our sisters and brothers deserve that. And some of us have a lot of history to catch up on.

What followed Brown's death, simply revealed to the world what Ferguson (and the rest of Black America) has known for years. Decades. Centuries. And our citizens will still be stuck with a dangerous & racist police force "protecting" them tomorrow. Black Girl Dangerous reminds us that "this happens every 28 hours. There's already been another unarmed Black person killed since Mike Brown"

Don't go back to forgetting. Don't go back to being 'shocked' that something like this could happen. Black and brown folk know they still need to be wary of police, and an innocent boy is still dead. These facts have not, and will not, change over the next weeks and months of Ferguson's story.

Khaled Bey notes that "a dead teen & a decimated community shouldn't be needed for a national conversation on institutionalized racism within police departments." If you’re just starting to listen, lament that it took yet another gunned-down boy and the militarization of a city to get your attention.

What we need now is justice. We need an official autopsy report. We need an interrogation. We need an arrest. We need a legitimate trial. We need safety for our black sisters and brothers. We need the lives of murdered restored. We don't have any of these things. Some of them we will never get.

“They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace!’ they say,
when there is no peace.”
-Jeremiah 6:14

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Fruit (8/15/14)

#NMOS14 Columbus
This week, we're setting aside our normal Friday Fruit routine to focus on the week's events in Ferguson.

Much of the narrative was shaped for the nation by where the information is coming from. In an effort to provide some balance, many voices have spoken up via alternative news sources.

Take time. Read these articles. Seek to listen, learn, understand, and act.

Getting some background:


I'll be RTing updates throughout the day from @BTSFblog, but you should also definitely follow @ShaunKing @AntonioFrench @ryanjreilly @AishaMoodMills and @FeministaJones (there are many other folks doing great work. Those will get you started).

Apologies to those who wrote great articles on other topics this week (I promise, I'll include them in next week's group).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stay Informed: #Ferguson

If you're getting your news about ‪#‎Ferguson‬ from CNN etc, you’re missing half (read: most) of what’s going on.

(Update: 8/18/14) A summary of events can be found here.

Four  simple things to keep you informed:
1) I’m RTing voices on the ground in #Ferguson from @BTSFblog, but you should also definitely follow @ShaunKing @AntonioFrench @ryanjreilly @AishaMoodMills and @FeministaJones (there are many other folks doing great work. Those will get you started).

2) Watch the video of what happened Wednesday night.

3) Attend the nearest National Moment of Silence vigil tonight at 7pm (; Hint for my nearby neighbors: there’s one in Goodale Park)

4) Sign the petition asking for changes that are so basic it's heartbreaking:

Update (11:30pm): Here is a list of articles that are all well worth reading:

Getting some background:
9 Things about Ferguson that Will Make You Go Hmmm
Police Dispatch Tapes From Michael Brown’s Shooting
Standoff in Ferguson [Video]
Eyewitness to Michael Brown shooting recounts his friend’s death
Michael Brown’s Death Didn’t Happen in a Vacuum
Understanding What’s Happening in Ferguson
Ferguson Names Shooter But is Still Doing it Wrong
Eyewitness Video of Kajieme Powell Shooting Contradicts Police Story
Following Ferguson: Why White People Struggle to Understand
Protesters Gather at CNN’s Atlanta Headquarters
Eric Holder Recounts Being Harassed by Police
Sybrina Fulton Writes Moving Letter to Michael Brown’s Family

On Mike Brown in Church: The Importance of Sitting in Lament
I Raise My Hands: A Prayerful Response to Ferguson
Strange Fruit that Hangs from American Seminaries: A Letter from a Black Seminarian
When Terror Wears a Badge
Ferguson Is Closer Than You Think
First they came for the Black people, and I did not speak out
I Don't Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson
In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream
America Is Not For Black People
When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand: On the Death of Michael Brown

More Reflections (Updated 8/17/14):
Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police
Black Bodies and White Souls
The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail
Dispatches from Ferguson
A Little Peroxide for the White, Wounded Quest
Why "Waiting for the Facts" Is a Bad Ministry Plan
John Perkins: The Sin of Racism Made Ferguson Escalate So Quickly
On Race, the Benefit of the Doubt, and Complicity

Even More Reflections (Updated 8/22/14):
You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO
Why we "never wait for the facts before we speak"
Different Rules Apply
Protest & the Liturgy of the Oppressed

Monday, August 11, 2014

Timeline of Racism (Part 2)

Click to enlarge
We continue our look at the history of racism against African Americans in the United States. We pick up the story just after WWII:

When American soldiers returned home after fighting in World War II, most of them were the immediate beneficiaries of the GI Bill, which is largely credited with the massive expansion of the American middle class during the 1950's and 60's.

Many soldiers used the GI Bill to go to college, beginning a precedent that would yield benefits for generations to come. But most Black soldiers could not avail themselves of this benefit at the hundreds of universities that only admitted white students.

The GI Bill also helped soldiers buy a house, the primary source of wealth-building and economic stability in the United States. As homeowners, they could then establish credit and could financially invest in the growth of their community. But redlining practices (first begun by the Federal Housing Administration, and later adopted by Realtors and community developers), ensured that black homebuyers were kept out of the most upwardly mobile neighborhoods and restricted to areas with fewer resources and opportunities. Often these areas were near waste treatment facilities or industrial plants, and had poor access to parks, green space, or modern amenities (see post: Environmental Racism). Black buyers were unable to qualify for financing in any other parts of town.

Even when Black buyers could find houses to buy and mortgagors to lend, established white homeowners were uncomfortable having black neighbors, and as Ta-Nehisi Coates notes, there was significant profit to be made from this situation. In a practice known as 'blockbusting' speculators would play on white homeowners' fears to induce them to sell their properties at less than market value. They would then turn around and sell these houses to Black first-time home buyers 'on contract,' which meant the seller would remain in possession of the deed until the entirety of the mortgage was paid off.

Buyers were at the mercy of the seller and could not earn any equity while the mortgage was being paid. Coates notes that if the buyer "missed a single payment, he would immediately forfeit his $1,000 down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. It was a "predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither." Once again, Black families found themselves indentured to White profit and greed (closely paralleling the crippling sharecropping tactics of the post-civil war era).
Redlining map of Chicago

Keeping up with this scheme, and the hope of "the American Dream," Black homeowners often had to carry multiple jobs and to forgo other middle class purchases, such as a car for commuting to their work. With both parents maintaining multiple jobs, kids might have been more on their own after school, maybe receive less help with homework, or perhaps had to work to contribute as well. All to line the pockets of white speculators, rather than investing in their own futures, or that of their children.

Furthermore, because taxes for school funding are tied to property values, the declining tax base due to white flight also led to a defunding of local schools. The misnomered 'separate but equal' policies reinforced white parents' decisions to segregate themselves. As a result, black children received exponentially fewer resources in their schools, further dampening their prospects for attending college (even if their parents had managed to attend before them).

Discrimination in hiring was (and continues to be) prevalent in all parts of the country. Black workers often did not have access to the thriving manufacturing jobs that were at the heart of so many middle class towns across the United States. It was also during this time that unions were gaining strength. Members could boost their earnings by collective bargaining and could be assured of greater job security and quality. But many unions discriminated on the basis of race, and so once again, Black families missed out.

In the meantime, new tough-on-crime laws were becoming popular in both local and federal legislatures. Certain drug use through the '60s and '70s was associated with social movements, becoming symbols of anti-establishment and gaining popularity predominantly among the young, white, American middle class.

For years, those that could afford to do so turned to powdered cocaine use. But when crack cocaine was developed in 1984, it was sold at much lower price and became available in urban and low-income areas. In cities that were already segregated across racial/economic lines, this meant that a disparity in drug choice began to emerge.

When the political strategizing led to a legislative crackdown on drug use, the sentencing differences for these drugs were stark. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandated that possession of 5,000 grams of powdered cocaine carried the same sentence as possession of only 50 grams of crack, a 1:100 disparity.

The continued consequences of these policies are staggering.  Though black folk represent only 13% of drug users (paralleling national racial demographics), they account for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those sent to prison on drug possession charges. Indeed, even though 72% of drug users are white, black men are 13 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offence than white men (see post: New Jim Crow). The result is the continuation of legal, government-sanctioned practices that began in the post-civil war era through biased incarceration tactics.


The legacy of the issues outlined here is clearly reflected today in our education system, our housing, our health care today (see post: Disparity By the Numbers). None of this history is very old and the oppression that originated with slavery has never really ended. As the laws have changed, and racism's manifestations have morphed, its destructive repercussions for Black Americans remain. How can we demand that we all 'just get over it' when the abuse has never actually stopped?

Through it all, Black triumphs of spirit, culture, finance, and intellect have contributed to our society in profound and lasting ways. At each point in our history, there have been heros rising above circumstance to advance themselves, and those around them. Even today, there are fortunate individuals who have achieved greatness against great odds. But their success does not discount the barriers they faced, and that continue to be faced by so many others.

Whose contributions are we missing? Whose voice has been silenced? Whose ideas have been squelched, and whose talents has been suppressed by unjust distribution of resources? Can we even imagine the total consequence of this legacy of oppression?

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages"

How have you seen racial history play out in your story? 
What are the salient moments in history for your family?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Friday Fruit (08//08/14)

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

Weekly Round Up:

Annual conference for established &
emerging multicultural congregations.
October 25-27, 2014
Columbus, OH 
** Receive discounted registration with code 'BTSF' **

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Timeline of Racism (Part 1)

This post is intended to provide a brief overview of racism against African Americans in the United States since slavery, tracing the lineage that gives rise to our current situation. 

Clearly, the effects of racism extend well beyond what will be covered here, but the very vastness of the topic is what necessitates its limitation. Hopefully I, or others, will add subsequent BTSF posts to outline racism as it applies to other people groups and nations. 

By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, African Americans had lived in what would be the United States for nearly 250 years (though the first black person to arrive was an explorer who landed over 100 years before the Mayflower). During that time, the rest of the United States had established its presence in the world, acquiring wealth, stability, and influence across generations. Black Americans, on the other hand, were starting from nothing.

As the era of slavery ended, the Industrial Revolution influenced much of the U.S. economic environment. It was a significant factor in spurring wealth and prosperity, based largely on the sale and export of textiles made from slave-produced cotton. This explosion of productivity laid the groundwork for the American middle class, initiating acquisition of generational wealth outside of the established aristocracy.

By the time Black Americans were freed, this economic boom had passed them by. Not only were they unable to reap any of the tremendous profits from the cotton and textile industry generated by decades of their own labor, they were barred from work in most factories, often unable to even to solicit employment. They were largely entrapped by carefully crafted share-cropping schemes, anti-voting laws, peonage, and the early manifestations of Jim Crow.

Black folk also immediately found themselves subject to a new form of forced labor (see post: Slavery by Another Name). They were increasingly detained by law enforcement and rounded-up for trivial violations, with the slightest offense, real or fictional, resulting in imprisonment and hard labor.

As a result, these government-sanctioned racial policies resulted in a new source of abundant cheap labor, and industries such as coal mining and railroad construction flourished. 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 new system.

Not long after came the Great Depression, while clearly affecting Americans of all races, was particularly bad for Black Americans. While national unemployment reached particularly nearly 25%, black workers experienced more than 50% unemployment.  They were the last hired, and the first fired, all while receiving less government and charitable aid to help them survive.

Calls were routinely raised for black workers to be summarily fired whenever there were white workers in need of employment. And as with all other points in U.S. history, even when black workers could get a job they were paid substantially less than their white counterparts. The little social and economic mobility black families had accumulated since emancipation was essentially lost.

FDR's New Deal was an important step for economic recovery, but Black Americans were often unable to avail themselves of its programs. A key component of the New Deal, the National Recovery Act (NRA) of 1933 was soon referred to by Blacks was nicknamed the 'Negro Removal Act', or 'Negroes Robbed Again' since its projects "rarely employed Blacks and maintained racist wage differentials when they did." If employers felt new regulations and wage minimums decreased their payroll capacity, Black workers were the first to go.

There was also significant discrimination in enrollment for programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which also maintained that "segregation is not discrimination." Though programs like the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) might originally have been intended to help Black sharecroppers, most federal funds went to White landowners. Thus, when fields and livestock were destroyed to increase market prices, thousands of Black farmers lost their jobs, and were often evicted from the land they share-cropped.

One of the most lasting effects of the New Deal was the establishment of Social Security, but because of specific occupational exclusions, many Black workers were ineligible for enrollment. Jobs such as maids and farm workers (some of the few jobs that were available to Black folks at the time) were explicitly excluded from Social Security. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently noted that "when President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, 65 percent of African Americans nationally, and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible.”

Thus, one of the major vehicles for financial stability in the United States was completely unavailable to large portions of Black Americans. While the country struggled through its largest economic depression, Black families were once again prevented from securely establishing themselves in society.

Read part two to see how racism in the United States continued to evolve after World War II...
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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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