Reimagining Community Protection Post George Floyd

In the wake of George Floyd, I am now firmly convinced that police/law enforcement must at the very least be transformed into something completely unrecognizable relative to what it is today.  What might it look like going forward?  Today I direct your attention to the Metta Center for Nonviolence, which has a feature on “Re-Imagining Community Protection“.  This lists several examples of existing and potential initiatives that could transform law enforcement and community protection going forward.

Racial Reconciliation or White Supremacy?

Today I bring you a piece from Inheritance Magazine about the concept of racial reconciliation in evangelical circles.  The piece is entitled “Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy“.

When I came up in evangelicalism, “racial reconciliation” was just becoming a thing.  I remember a collegiate ministry gathering where at one point we were encouraged to find a black person in the room and hug them.  (The college ministry I belonged to was very diverse back then and remains so to this day.)

It felt special.  It felt holy.  But it was only a first step.  And not a very good one at that.

You see, the problem with racial reconciliation, as this article brings out, is that it puts an awful lot on the shoulders of black people.  Too much.  In evangelical organizations, the onus is on black people to not only do their jobs but also to educate everyone all the way up the chain of leadership on their experience of racial oppression, without any hope of being able to look up and see themselves represented at any higher levels of the organization.  Under racial reconciliation, there is no burden upon white people to dismantle the structures of systemic racial oppression that got us to where we are today, or even to admit that any of this is in any way wrong or unjust.  But when we move away from a “racial reconciliation” mindset and start thinking of things in terms of “white privilege” or “white supremacy”, as the article insists, we begin to see things as they really are in our present world.

Let’s Talk About “Angry Black Women”

Today we are going to talk about the “angry black woman”.

This is not to say that black women are the only ones who get angry.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But the “angry black woman” is very much alive and well as a trope in our world, so that is what we are going to address.

I understand that a lot of you look at this and think to yourselves, and even out loud, “Why are they so angry?  Didn’t we end slavery 150 years ago?  Didn’t we have the Civil Rights Movement 60 years ago (almost)?  Didn’t we outlaw racial discrimination?  Didn’t we just elect a black president?”

Okay.  The answer is “Yes” to all of the above.  BUT:

After the Civil War was over and all the slaves were freed, some angry white people persisted in the belief that black people are less than human and should be treated accordingly.  They figured out ways to leverage the legal framework (such as it was at whatever time they were living) to ensure that black people would continue to be treated as less than fully human, less than fully American.  That is how it has been from the end of slavery up to now.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the end of slavery, 9 states passed anti-vagrancy laws.  These laws basically made being unemployed a criminal offense, and were only applied against black men.  8 of these 9 states then allowed those who had been imprisoned under the anti-vagrancy laws to be leased out to plantation owners for next to nothing.  This practice was known as “convict leasing”.  Several states also imposed laws against “mischief” and “insulting gestures”.  This added to the prison population and the convict leasing labor pool.  The end result for blacks who got caught up in this was just like slavery but worse, because under this arrangement plantation owners had no long-term interest in their workers’ well-being.

By the turn of the 20th century, every Southern state had Jim Crow laws.  The Supreme Court upheld these laws in 1896, stating that they “reflected customs and traditions” and “preserved public peace and good order”.  The Jim Crow laws imposed segregation of the races in virtually every aspect of public life, and Southern states were all trying to one-up each other on how detailed they could be in excluding black people from various aspects of public life.

In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed field on their 1896 decision via Brown v Board of Education.  But in 1956 the “Southern Manifesto” came out.  This was a production of 101 out of 128 congresspeople from Southern states who vowed to maintain Jim Crow by any means necessary.  5 states passed new laws–50 of them in total.  “Segregation academies” began to become a thing.  These were private, white-only, “Christian” schools where segregation could continue unabated.  (Think that Christian school you’re sending your kids to exists strictly for the purpose of equipping your kids with a strong faith-based education?  There’s more to it than you think.)

This was followed by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.  This was accompanied by protests, some of which were violent.  Vietnam was also happening, and public sentiment for that was very low.  There were protests for Vietnam as well, and some of those were violent.  In 1968 Richard Nixon ran for president on a predominantly law-and-order platform, the first president to do so.  (Sound familiar?)  81 percent of Americans believed that law and order had broken down.  (Sound familiar?)  A majority of these blamed “Communists” and “Negroes who start riots”.  (Sound familiar?)

Then came the War on Drugs.

To understand why this was a big deal, let’s walk it back to the 1930’s.  The FHA, in order to reduce the risk of default (their stated rationale), refused to grant loans to buy homes in certain neighborhoods that were deemed to be at high risk of default.  They would draw red lines around those areas on city maps, and for this reason the practice came to be known as “redlining”.  At the same time the suburbs were booming, with the FHA underwriting the construction of new homes and subdivisions out there.  Almost all of these communities were restricted by deed to whites only.  Up until 1950, the Realtors’ Code of Ethics strictly forbade the selling of a home in a white neighborhood to a nonwhite family.  The GI Bill came out in that era as well, giving millions of white veterans returning home after serving in World War II the opportunity to buy new homes out in the suburbs.  Black veterans, while technically eligible, were almost always passed over.

The gap in wealth between whites and blacks was already very wide.  The GI Bill dumped a truckload of nitroglycerine on that fire.

So then, factories began moving out to the white-only suburbs.  Black workers found it increasingly difficult to get to these jobs, as very few had access to cars and moving to the communities where the factories where relocating was simply not an option.  One black family in Chicago tried it and angry white people blew up the whole fucking neighborhood.

So unemployment rose in black communities.  And with it, drug use and crime.  You could have seen that shit coming from a mile away.

Our response as a society was to criminalize the problem.  Drugs were the problem, and drug users and drug dealers, the enemy.  So we criminalized drug use and militarized our response.  The Reagan administration (another law-and-order administration) passed the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which imposed stiff criminal penalties and harsh mandatory sentences for many drug-related offenses.  The Clinton administration (lest you think I’m only here to pick on Republicans) ratcheted this up several notches by cutting $17 billion from public housing and reallocating it (along with $2 billion in change) to prisons.  The black prison population exploded during the 1980s and 1990s, with the overwhelming majority of arrests being for drug possession.  We militarized the police, outfitting them with all the latest weapons and military technology.  We changed policing tactics, creating the no-knock warrant (think:  the scene towards the end of the movie ET where all the police come barging in from all directions looking for ET).  Breonna Taylor was the victim of a no-knock warrant.  We created financial incentives for drug arrests, and police departments responded accordingly.  Blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate, yet blacks are 6 times more likely to go to prison for it.  In what alternate universe is that right?

Overall, a newborn white boy has a 1 in 23 chance of going to prison at some point in his lifetime.  For a newborn black boy, the chance is 1 in 4.

In what alternate universe is that right?

So, to the stereotype of the “angry black woman”:  When your history contains three centuries of being owned by other human beings, followed by a century and a half of what I have outlined above, shit gets complicated real quick.

Wouldn’t you be angry too?

Lest you think I’m just pulling all this out of a place I could give you a tour of but you probably wouldn’t want to see, I direct your attention to this 20-ish minute video from Phil Vischer of VeggieTales fame on race in America.  I also recommend The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

As today is the Fourth of July, I think it appropriate to direct your attention to this speech by Frederick Douglass:  “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?“.  I believe that it is especially timely and poignant in the cultural moment we are presently in.

There is also a video rendition of the speech available, read aloud by direct descendants of Frederick Douglass.  Watch and enjoy.  Or more appropriately, watch and reflect.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

…I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

…At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

…You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

…I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference… Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

On Defunding the Police as a First Step Toward Abolition

Defunding the police is a controversial idea that has come up in the wake of the George Floyd protests.  Some say “No Way!!!!!” while others say it can’t possibly happen soon enough.  Today I give you a piece by Lidia Abraha, a Toronto-based journalist who offers a vision of how defunding the police could lead to real change in our communities.

The biggest problem Abraha sees with law enforcement is that it is essentially an institution, and institutions exist only to preserve themselves.  This can, and frequently does, get in the way of their being able to fulfill the mission for which they were created in the first place.  For this reason, things like body cameras and the banning of chokeholds are only piecemeal solutions that will ultimately not address any of the root causes that got us to where we currently are as a society.  The true solution lies in overhauling our law enforcement system and replacing it with decentralized, community-based structures where offenders remain in their community networks with access to the care and help they need.

Trevor Noah on Being Black in the American Workplace

Today I direct your attention to a 10-minute video in which Trevor Noah unpacks the struggles that black people face in the world of corporate America.  First of all, anyone who submits a resume to a company for a job is a whopping 50 percent less likely to get called back for an interview if the name on the resume sounds black.  Next, the percentage of blacks in leadership at large corporations is so small as to be statistically insignificant.  In other words, it might as well be zero.

Finally, and this is the most insidious piece:  Blacks who do make it into corporate America are not free to be their true, authentic selves because the white people who dominate these spaces would feel threatened.  They have to learn white ways of presenting themselves and engaging with the world, and project that false self for eight hours a day, five days a week.  Black people in the workplace are not focused on doing their jobs; they are focused on projecting and maintaining this false self that won’t threaten the white power structures that are firmly in place in corporate America.

I ask you, friends:  Is that right?

And now I will answer you:  No.

Read and watch:  Trevor Noah discusses the discrimination Black people face at work

Danielle Brown on Racism in Music Education

Today we are going to look at racism in the world of music education.

Danielle Brown is a former music professor at Syracuse University and a graduate in ethnomusicology from New York University.  In this piece she relates her struggles in the field of music education and ethnomusicology:  first, that she was one of a very few black people in the field that she would wee at professional seminars and other such places; second and even more important, that the white people in the field acted as if they knew everything there was to know about ethnomusicology.

This is systemic racism par excellence:  The very field of ethnomusicology is all about white people studying African music and then convincing themselves and everyone else that they know everything there is to know about it and that everyone else must bow to their superior understanding and expertise.  If that isn’t systemic racism, then I don’t know what is.

Read:  An Open Letter on Racism in Music Studies by Danielle Brown

John Pavlovitz on the Privilege of Ignoring the News

Today I direct your attention to a post by John Pavlovitz on a certain aspect of white privilege you may not have considered.

We are living in a very crazy time right now.  Between the coronavirus, the racial justice protests, and everything else going on, it can get very overwhelming.  I get that.  But some people respond to this by just not paying any attention to the news.  “I just don’t pay any attention to all that political stuff,” they say.  But tucked into that response is a massive dose of privilege.  You see, there are lots of people for whom the awful stories you hear about on the news–that is their lived reality.  It hits them on the head, day in and day out.  Even when it’s not splashed across our front pages from coast to coast, they’re still having to deal with it in their daily lives.  They don’t get to disengage just because times are rough.  They don’t get to “not pay attention to all that political stuff” because all that political stuff is right there in their faces day in and day out.  Having the luxury of disengaging from “all that political stuff”–that’s a massive hit of privilege.  That you can disappear into spaces where all the troubles and tribulations of the outside world don’t touch you–that’s privilege.  That you would disappear into those spaces and stay there for any sustained length of time–that’s not human.  Because you’re opting out of the humanity you share with people who don’t have that option.

Read:  The White Privilege of Ignoring the News by John Pavlovitz

It’s Not Enough To Not Be Racist

There are at least a few of you running around out there who have seen the news and heard all the conversation around race lately and who say of yourselves, “But I’m not racist!”  Today’s post goes out to all of you.

In this day and age, it’s no longer good enough to be non-racist.  (As if it ever was.  But that’s beside the point.)  In this day and age, you have to do better than that.  You have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are married and you are anti-adultery because you want your spouse to remain faithful to you.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you have children and are anti-disrespect, vehemently opposed to any disrespectful behavior toward others, but especially toward their mother.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are teachers, professors, or school administrators.  As such you are very strongly anti-cheating, vehemently opposed to any form of academic dishonesty because of its corrosive effects on any community of learners.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are fathers who have daughters, and are very strongly anti-rape.  Not just rape, but any other predatory and/or disrespectful behavior where some guy might attempt to take advantage of your daughter.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Why?  Because at this point, racism has worked its way into virtually every facet of our society.  It isn’t just saying the n-word (which some people still do in some places, by the way).  It exists in many pernicious forms, from the very top to the very bottom of our society:  Redlining and other predatory practices which barred the path to homeownership for many blacks.  The GI Bill, which created opportunities for many white veterans and their families to prosper in postwar America but not for black veterans.  Incarceration rates, which affect blacks out of all possible proportion to their percentage of the American population.

Let’s zoom out even further, and we see that it is whites who set the standard for what is considered rational, scientific, and objective in academia, science, the media, and virtually every other facet of culture.  In the business world, it is whites who set the standard for dress, professionalism, and overall success.  (How many Shamekas or Shantaes or Quayvons or Traevons do you see in top-level corporate boardrooms?  Told you this shit was real.)  In our own world of evangelical Christianity, it is whites who set the standard for what is considered mainstream, orthodox, systematic theology.  I will have more to say about this later.  I cannot speak for other Christian traditions, but I would guess that the situation is similar.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

That is what we are attempting to dismantle here.  Something which has woven itself into the very fabric of our society, from the very top all the way down to the very bottom.  It is going to take the efforts of an awful lot of people working together for a very long time to dismantle racism in our society.

This monster of systemic, institutionalized racism woven into the very fabric of our society affects people made in the image of God–people for whom Jesus Christ died–whose skin color is a few shades darker than yours.  Is that right?  Heads up:  It isn’t.

When you say “But I’m not racist” and leave it at that, you allow the monster to continue to operate with full force.  That isn’t right.

I am not a fan of either-or thinking.  It is patently reductionist and the vast majority of the either-ors that people put out there are false in that there are plenty of other legitimate options beyond just the proffered either-or.  But this is one of the rare situations where it truly is an either-or.  Either you are actively working to confront and dismantle racism in our world, or you are allowing it to grow unchecked.  Either you are part of the solution, or you are part of the problem.

It’s not enough to be non-racist.  You have to be anti-racist.

Cliff Goins on “Black Privilege”

Today I direct your attention to an article by Cliff Goins IV at Medium entitled “Black Privilege:  Seven Phrases I Wish I Didn’t Have to Hear“.

Goins, who is black, walks us through seven phrases which are routinely uttered by well-meaning individuals but which are patently wrong.  At the top of the list:  “I don’t understand why they are so mad”.  When your history includes three centuries of being owned by other human beings, shit gets complicated real quick.  That’s why they are so mad.  If that was you, wouldn’t you be mad?  If not, then why not?

Other key phrases:  “All lives matter”.  I already addressed this one a few posts back.  When said in response to “Black lives matter”:  Bullshit.  “We’ve made so much progress”.  Goins brings the receipts to show that we haven’t made jack shit in the way of progress.  “But I’m not a racist”.  In this day and age, that’s not good enough (as if it ever was).  In this day and age, you have to be anti-racist.  We will unpack this in greater detail later.

More key phrases:  “Our nation needs to heal” and “This is so complex; it’s going to take some time”.  Right about both of those.  But neither is any excuse or justification for sitting back and doing nothing.  It took us over four hundred years to get to where we are; it’s going to take a very long time to fix this.  But you can, and should, do something at least to get things started in the right direction.