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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Taking a Knee

The post below was written before a San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his now famous National anthem protest.

Kaepernick has been kneeling during the national anthem before his football games. He has stated: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder"

A growing number of other NFL players have now joined him by either kneeling or raising a fist during the anthem, as have other players in a variety of sports and levels throughout the country. Meantime, Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million to charities supporting racial equality.

In light of his efforts, and the responses to it, it's worth revisiting the post below. Of note, activists in Columbus, OH, have also asked for supporters of racial justice to take a #KneeForTyre in calling for justice in the killing of Ty're King, a gesture inspired both by Kaepernick's efforts and as a nod to King's pee wee football team that attended his vigil on September 15th.


It's a famous image. Capturing a controversial moment of Olympic proportions.

How could they disrespect the American flag?
How dare they use their victory as a political platform?
Why would they air domestic matter at an apolitical and international event?
How could they be so ungrateful to a country that they should be honored to represent?

Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze (respectively) in the 200 meter track race in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. At the medal ceremony while the United States anthem was played, they wore black gloves on raised fists. They bowed their heads.

Their black socks without any shoes represented Black poverty at home. They wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges to identify their cause. Carlos unzipped his tracksuit in solidarity with blue-collar workers, and wore a beaded necklace "for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage."

They were booed off the field and expelled from the rest of the Games. They received death threats against themselves and against their families. Smith was fired from his job.  Carlos's marriage ended in divorce, and his ex-wife later committed suicide.

It was a steep price, but both athletes to this day affirm they would do it again. Smith said "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."

They were asked to compartmentalize their identities. To ignore how they were treated at home for the sake of American success abroad. They were asked to be "just Americans" when that right was never afforded to them in their daily reality.

In a country that limits the value of Black lives to their roles as entertainers and athletes, they were given a podium and they could not let the moment go by. They used their platform to speak up for the millions who were being silenced.

Today, Smith and Carlos are largely seen as Civil Rights heroes, but the U.S. Olympic Committee has never revisited their 1968 sanctions (see article: Ongoing Miscarriage of Justice by U.S. Olympic Committee).

The white man on the podium also has a lesson for us today. He could have said it was not his issue. He could have been a passive observer. He could have tried to talk them into being less controversial with their message. But instead Australian silver medalist Peter Norman also chose to wear the human rights badge, saying “I’ll stand with you.” As a result, he too was vilified and ostracized at home, and he was not invited back to the next Olympic Games.

Today, many other athletes are using their positions to speak up and speak out. They too are being told to just “shut up and play the game.” Be quiet and entertain us. But don't you dare make us feel uncomfortable. Don't challenge the system that got you to this place.

But I am reminded of Esther, whose role was simply to charm and entertain the King. Yet by jeopardizing her position and speaking out, she saved the future of her people. Indeed, Mordecai urged her "if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

Does God not call us into our current situations to affect great social change? Out of our unique opportunities should we not speak tremendous truth to power? Don't each of us have a responsibility to influence the world around in whatever role we have been given?

Reflection: What platform do you have and how are you using it
to bring awareness to today's issues of injustice?
Image result for kaepernick cartoon

Monday, September 19, 2016

Logical Fallacies: "No Angel" and Ty're King

Tyre King.
Ty're King
This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. 

Ty're King was just 13 when he was killed this past week here in Columbus, OH. While his family and community mourn, there is an all-too-familiar debate emerging as to whether his death was justified, whether his behavior meant he deserved to die.

It's nothing new. After each of the many, many killings we've witnessed in recent years, there inevitably follows a storm of public indictment, explaining how each victim was the cause of their own death. How if they had simply worn different clothing, or turned down their music, or obeyed more quickly, they would have had nothing to worry about.

And as if it weren't bad enough to lose a life, that life is then scrutinized and appraised, as if trying to diminish the value of the loss. Shortly after being killed, Michael Brown was famously called "no angel" by the New York Times (compare it to the other instances of the term in their paper, as well as to how officer Darren Wilson was characterized one column over).  In a world where a destructive 32-year-old white athlete is deemed "just a kid," it matters who we label as "no angel."

In addition, when we succumb to the "no angel" fallacy, we imply that if the victim is anything less than perfect, they were somehow deserving of their death. It's respectability politics at its most deadly. As Colorlines notes,
"this is why we must be clear about the danger of the perfect victim frame. In cases like the Brown killing, this structure serves to legitimize the sometimes-lethal police brutality of people of color. Think about all of our imperfect victims: Oscar Grant did time in state prison. Trayvon Martin was suspended from school and occasionally smoked weed. Remarley Graham also smoked weed. Jordan Davis played loud hip-hop. Renisha McBride was allegedly intoxicated. Eric Garner was accused of selling unlicensed cigarettes. See how this works?"
But if indeed "all lives matter," then it must also be true for those of us who make mistakes, those of us who are in fact "no angel."

After all, isn't this what the Gospel teaches us? That each one of us, "no matter who we are or what we have done", is worthy of love and is a child of God? That indeed, "we all are 'no angels' and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  Anything else leads to a works righteousness understanding of salvation in which only well-behaved white children are worth mourning. Everyone else is "no angel" and deserve what they get. But the reality is, we are all "no angels." 

Let's be clear, when a family is in mourning it is only natural to want to remember your child in the most positive light possible. It is entirely reasonable to insist that the media be respectful of your son's memory. Of course they will always remember him as their perfect little angel. But he shouldn't have to be one to be alive.

Ty're King was 13 years old. That’s a boy. How many ill-conceived and impulsive things do we know 13 year old boys to have done? They learn their lessons as they grow up...but only if they live.

What is more, his the third high-profile case in Ohio of a young person being shot while carrying a fake gun. Perhaps these type of air guns should not be allowed (see note in the comments section below), but this is in an open carry state, where we’re legally allowed to carry real guns without getting killed.

And even if he were part of a robbery, it needs to go to trial. And even if he is convicted, we do not kill people for robbery. And even if the police felt threatened, we have seen time and again that actual shooters can be apprehended without killing them (see: Dylann RoofJames Holmes, and all these white people who pointed guns at police officers and did not get killed).
There are many ways to de-escalate, disarm, and disable, as with the white attackers mentioned above, all of whom lived to stand trial. If the police were following protocols, those protocols need to be fixed. If they were acting based on their training, the training needs to change. They are the professionals employed by the state, so yes, we hold them to a higher standard.

He was 13 years old. He was not "no angel," in fact he was the Imago Dei. Any one of the above points should have been enough to keep alive that day.

Selling cigarettes is not a capital offense, bootlegging CDs is not a capital offense, a traffic violation is not a capital offense, resisting arrest is not a capital offense, carrying a gun is not a capital offense...not even actually firing a weapon is itself punishable by death.

And if the narrative given by police is indeed true, it means Ty're King was killed over a $10 robbery. Ten dollars is the value of a life...well of some lives. Of "no angels."

We worship a God that sees the inherent worth in each one of us. A God that wants for none to perish. Indeed, "while we were still 'no angels', Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Jesus is the only one to have lived a perfect life, and yet we still put him to death.
What hope can there be for the rest of us "no angels"?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Fruit (09/16/16)

Image result for tyre kingOn 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 many voices leading the way...

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, September 11, 2016

#NoDAPL: Water is Life

Update (10/28/16): This week, as water protectors continue to block construction on the pipeline, they have been met with mass arrests and pepper spray. More here

The pipeline was deemed too unsafe for Bismarck, ND (a city that is 92% White, and only 5% Native American). So they routed it less than a half mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation instead.

Image resultInitial reports indicated that the Dakota Access Pipeline (also known as the Bakken pipeline) "could jeopardize the drinking water of the residents in the city of Bismarck," while failing to acknowledge the number of people living in the vicinity of the alternate route. Indeed, the report "omitted the very existence of the tribe on all maps and any analysis, in direct violation of the US environmental justice policies."

Federal Judge James Boasberg ruled that construction of the pipeline could legally continue. While a subset of the work would be halted, a significant portion of it was allowed to move ahead. It was on this later portion of sacred land that bulldozers ambushed on September 3, rushing to "preemptively to destroy the historic value of the site before a judge could rule on the evidence." Among the tribal graves, prayer rings, and cairns, "Native American human remains were most likely disturbed by Dakota pipeline workers — a federal crime."

Watch the compelling video
of the September 3rd protest
Over 300 people quickly gathered at the site in response, at which point privately-hired security guards used pepper spray and guard dogs on the crowd. Six people were bitten, including a child.

Since then, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior have objected to continued construction pending further investigation. It remains unclear what will become of the these lands.

The community has been working diligently against the advance of the pipeline since April. They do not identify as protestors; they are water protectors. They assert that, a "'protester' is a colonized term for standing up for what's right." They protect their water, themselves, and indeed millions of Natives and non-Natives alike. After all, there are thousands of miles of river downstream of them as well.

They have been working for months to fight of the incursion. In August, nearly 40 youth from the tribe ran ~2,000 miles from North Dakota to Washington, DC to deliver a petition against the pipeline to the U.S. Government.

In a world where too much action is taken only after disaster strikes, the Standing Rock tribe is trying to prevent an ecological disaster from ever taking place.

And what makes them so sure it is actually a dangerous situation? Why not believe the oil companies that says it's all safe? Because in the short time between 2012 and 2013, there were nearly 300 oil pipeline spills in North Dakota alone, one of which leaked over 865,000 gallons of oil and was not reported to the public until weeks later.

Christian, Native activist Mark Charles notes that "sometimes being Native and living in the United States is like watching a small child take a hammer to a set of fine china. Smiling proudly as they smash piece after piece because they are too young, immature, and ignorant to understand the value of what they are destroying."

Indeed, this is simply another in a long, long history of abuse, deception, and greed when it comes to Native sovereignty and human rights.

Indeed, it is fitting of that history that just two years ago President Obama visited the Standing Rock reservation and vowed to be "a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve."
If only it weren't just one more example of our broken promises to Native Nations.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Friday Fruit (09/08/16)

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 many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

Early bird pricing for the All People Conference ends today!
More info:
The All People Conference: Welcoming the Stranger

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, September 4, 2016

Labor Day

Cartoon: Executive hanging a 'happy labor day' sign while standing on the back of a laborerOnce per year the USA celebrates Labor Day, a national holiday originating from 1800's celebrations of trade workers and the social/economic benefits they bring to our society. So, is this holiday only an antiquated excuse for an extra time to sleep in?

Let's use the day to examine the serious economic and labor struggles that still plague our country.

It is increasingly difficult for the average worker to support a family. In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference between the two). Ironically, thousands of folks will go to work on Labor Day because they need the money and can't afford a day of rest.

When folks are desperate for work, they will endure any number of abuses or indignities. They may work in dangerous environments, or be paid less than promised. Workers may be given insufficient training, leading to injury or embarrassment when they don't perform to standards.

A cartoon shark dressed as a loan shark
Employees may be held at work long after their shift is over, if that is what the boss deems necessary. Maybe they need to pick the kids up from school, but they don't dare leave and risk losing their jobs. Workers may be required to maintain an open schedule to be placed in shifts as is convenient for the company, but may not be told their schedule until the last minute, and so cannot line up child care or other jobs.

Folks may spend an hour on the bus to get to a job, only to arrive and find out they aren't needed that day. Or they work for two hours and then get sent home. "Try again tomorrow." And if they don't show up for that chance, they know they loose the opportunity for later.

There are serious consequences of this labor disparity. Workers skip meals so that their children may eat. Folks turn to loan sharks to make ends meet, entrenching themselves in a spiral of debt (see post: The Cost of Being Poor). Families make tough choices to cut out "non-essentials" like medicine (see post: Healthcare Reform), clothing, and nutritious food.

When the nation bemoans the 7% unemployment rate, unemployment in communities of color remains at 13%--the same racialized wage disparity ratio that Dr. King bemoaned in 1967. Indeed, while analysts fret about about the housing market, there continue to be huge disparities in homeownership across race.

Book cover: Nickel and Dimed
Take a close look at the words of Jeremiah 22:13-16. Woe to we that profit from injustice and gain economic security at the expense of others! We "who make our neighbor serve us for nothing and do not give them their wages." Jesus himself urges that "the workers deserve their wages." And yet, as more states put an end to collective bargaining, the wealthy receive a smaller tax burden now than they have in the last 80 years.

Part of our problem is that we have a very warped perspective of economic reality. Particularly since housing in the United States is largely segregated by economic standing, people look around themselves and feel that, on the whole, there is equal opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

PBS News Hour recently conducted an informal survey, asking people identify the sort of economy that exist in the USA. Their findings are telling. Also, Jon Stewart points out the huge economic disparities that most folks gloss over. Both of these videos are embedded below.

Take time this week to give thanks for your own economic security, no matter what level it is at.
For more insight into the issues mentioned above, read Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Nickel and Dimed' or play this excellent interactive game to see what choices you would make given some stark realities.

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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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