Religious Liberty in the U.S. and cat pictures

I ran across this paper I wrote for a Religious Liberty class at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University. I didn’t think it was half bad, so I’m posting it in my blog. It’s a little thick, so I’m adding some cat pictures.


Historical Context of the Controversy
The religion clause of the U.S. Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It is included with freedom of the press, free speech, and the right to assemble and petition the government. It is the part of the first amendment upon which concepts of religious freedom—which I use interchangeably here with religious liberty—are based. According to Davis, religious liberty in the U.S. is based upon the overarching ideal of separation of church and state (p. 81). He cites a religion historian who called religious liberty, “America’s great gift to civilization and the world” (p. 81). Interpretations of the religion clause have evolved since ratification in 1791 primarily through rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on cases involving two concepts: establishment and free exercise. As Flowers explains, cases vary according to topics, such as taxation, school prayer, human resources, and insurance—but all of these share a tension of whether the government violates establishment when it supports religious organizations or free exercise when it does not.
Understandably, decisions passed down by the Court are influenced by its makeup; it has in fact changed its position over time. Nearly eighty years ago, Justice Hugo Black famously declared, “In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by laws was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and State’” (in Davis, p. 84). Over the last decade, however, the idea of religious liberty itself has undergone an odd reversal. No longer is its chief principal the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs and practices protected by the wall of separation from the government. Rather, religious liberty is now evoked by conservative Christians in order for them to freely exercise their right to discriminate against individuals or groups whose ideologies do not align with their religious beliefs. These Christians are, then, seeking establishment via rulings to substantiate discrimination, which they consider free exercise. Tracing the course of the transformation of religious liberty is beyond the scope of this paper. From my own historical memory and research, I trace it to the overt courting of the religious right in the South by Nixonian republicans in 1968, culminating with Ronald Reagan’s alliance with the Moral Majority that led to his victory in the 1980 election—in which he unseated an incumbent President who is unequivocally a devout Christian. This was the beginning of the narrative shift of religious liberty that supports the blatant politicized overreach we see today. For this paper, I did a Google search for “religious liberty.” I focused on articles and blog posts whose topics related directly to the cultural cooptation of the idea of religious liberty as I describe it above. Left of center publication, The Week, writer Joel Mathis sums up the premise of my paper:
The term “religious liberties” sounds anodyne enough: The First Amendment guarantees that Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of faith. And conservatives frame the recent debates with a libertarian gloss: Government shouldn’t make religious folks violate their faith-informed consciences to provide contraception to employees or make wedding cakes for gay couples. On the surface the message is: “Leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.” What could be more American?
But that message isn’t honest.


Unless you’re a Christian — and let’s be honest, unless you’re a conservative Christian — conservative advocacy of religious liberties is a big con, a consolidation of rights and privileges not meant to be shared with Muslims, atheists, or other religious minorities.
You don’t have to reach far for examples. (https://theweek.com/articles/784953/conservatives-religious-liberty-con)
And I did not. What follows is a sampling of what I found.
Competing Arguments
The day I was writing this, May 22, 2020, an op-ed piece popped up on CNN’s website: This Isn’t About Religious Freedom (Graves-Fitzsimmons). It outlines issues surrounding Covid-19 religious liberty litigation, written as a response to President Trump’s push for governors to allow churches to re-open. The president’s invocation of liberty, prompted the author to note, “From a wider perspective, the Covid-19 crisis also reveals a new dimension to how some conservatives have distorted our treasured American value of religious freedom” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/14/opinions/religious-freedom-lawsuits-on-social-distancing-graves-fitzsimmons/index.html). He goes on to cite examples of the exploitation of religious liberty to further conservative agendas, he lists groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom that spent 54 million to argue the Masterpiece Cakeshop anti-LGBTQ case at SCOTUS. Graves-Fitzsimmons connects Covid-19 religious freedom lawsuits to current and pending cases involving whether “religious or moral beliefs of an employer should be an acceptable excuse to deny people birth control and whether taxpayer funds may be used for faith-based foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people” (ibid). He points out what is a recurring theme in my research—discriminatory conservative agendas are out of sync with public opinion surrounding these issues. The twisting of religious freedom, according to the author, is about winning the culture war and thereby bolstering the conservative voting base, Trump’s lifeblood. He concludes with a call to expose the bigotry behind the thin veil of religious freedom that covers it and “reclaim a religious freedom that does no harm” (ibid).
My research led me to The Berkely Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, an organization that examines, “the intersection of religion with global policy challenges of diplomacy, democracy, development and dialogue” (https://charterforcompassion.org/berkley-center-for-religion-peace-and-world-affairs?gclid=CjwKCAjwtqj2BRBYEiwAqfzur7FiTtxXPCn-_a4r4LjVhNdG9NLoy1QudwMV5MKW8mNOBRXOBabq3xoCW6gQAvD_BwE).

I found three essays in response to the Politics of School Prayer post in the Center’s Forum that address what one calls the “false narrative” of religious freedom. This pre-Covid post uses as a prompt President Trump’s announcement on 2020 “Religious Freedom Day” of new guidelines regarding school prayer during non-instructional time and the rights of students whose “freedom to pray has been violated” (https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/politics-of-school-prayer). Additionally, he announced plans to remove “regulatory burdens” on faith-based social service providers that are supported by the Department of Health and Human Services—that is, by taxpayer dollars. The post suggests that while Trumpian Republicans have conducting an offensive front in the culture wars, Democrats have spent (frittered?) their energies trying to “connect with evangelical voters,” a heretofore fruitless effort.
The first response, The Debates Over Religious Freedom in the United States: What Debates?, by James W. Fraser, refutes the president’s claim of burdensome regulations of religious freedom by pointing out the new guidelines were nearly identical with previous guidelines issued by the G.W Bush and Clinton administrations. Fraser argues that the president’s fanfare over existing guidelines has deeper motives—first, to “warp the truth to stay in power,” that is, to fire up his conservative White Christian base, many of whom believe themselves to be discriminated against by progressives. If Trump can maintain the fiction of an “assault on faith” and the greater fiction that he alone can fix it, he will keep the support of his base. An even darker motive, according to Fraser, of touting his guidelines was to serve as a “cover for other policies which represent a dangerous infringement of rights”
(https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/the-debates-over-religious-freedom-in-the-united-states-what-debates). He concludes with this stark statement, “…the obvious conclusion is that retaining voting blocs is more important to the administration than any concern for the rights of American citizens, religious or otherwise. We are better than that” (ibid). One hopes, but are we?


The second response, A False Narrative of Religious Freedom Threatens Americans’ Rights, by Rob Boston, begins by pointing out ways Trump’s school prayer guidelines in fact differ from Bush’s and Clinton’s, most significantly, that student- and teacher-initiated prayer at school functions may be legal. He then quickly turns to the problem of terminology in the evolving narrative of religious freedom, namely, that as it is used today demands religious privilege, which is very distinct from liberty. Boston offers a helpful definition of what religious freedom has historically meant in the U.S.: “the right to worship (or not) as you see fit, as long as you don’t harm others. It means the right to join together with fellow believers to build houses of worship, spread religious messages, and create a sense of community bound together by shared beliefs” (https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/a-false-narrative-of-religious-freedom-threatens-americans-rights). Conversely, today’s conceptualization of religious freedom is a coersive and compulsive denial of the rights of others [and] is alien” to our core values (ibid). He points out that Americans are used to wrangling over issues, but this is a different age—one where polarization makes old ways of debating obsolete. When it comes to the minority voices of conservative White Christians, he concludes, “It is dangerous to accept even a little bit of oppression based on religion. The answer is always to resist it, by all legal means” (ibid).
The final article I examined from the Berkley Center Forum was A Free Exercise Argument Against Trump’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Rules by Peter Henne. His approach is somewhat different from other responses, as he approaches the issue with the onus of rectifying the cooptation of religious liberty on progressives. “The problem is that progressives have accepted the conservative framing of religious freedom”
(https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/a-free-exercise-argument-against-trump-s-religious-freedom-rules). He charges us to retake a narrative whose subsequent policies discriminate against all but a small group of Christians. When progressives begin asserting that our own religious freedoms are infringed upon, the historical conceptualization will re-emerge. Practically, Boston proposes this: “Rather than religious freedom vs. non-discrimination, it would be a debate over the nature of religious freedom. And Trump-wary conservative Christians are more likely to be responsive to progressives explaining their approach to religious freedom than they are to calls to curtail religious freedom” (ibid). When my tax dollars go to an organization that refuses, for example, to allow a gay couple to adopt a child because they are gay—and since my faith tradition, the UCC, welcomes everyone, “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey,” my religious liberty has been breached.


My Position
I argue that conservative White Christian America seeks to be sanctioned by the State through strategic SCOTUS rulings on the First Amendment. Let me be clear: not all conservatives nor all White Christians seek to twist the First Amendment. My complaint is with those of the population who overtly and intentionally seek to deploy the concept of religious liberty to discriminate. If we correlate them with Trump’s hardcore base, which I am taking the liberty of doing, it ends up being around 40% of Americans (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/). I am old enough to remember when Religious Liberty did not have the topsy turvy meaning it has now. Growing up a white child in the South in the 60s and 70s, God and Country had distinct meanings for me; we were a “Christian Nation.” By the 2016 election, I began to have the disappointing realization that the country I live in is not the one I thought I grew up in. As Black and Brown Americans could have told me, my imagined America was never real; it was only a narrative that kept social and political hierarchies in place. I agree with the argument that upholding both the establishment and free exercise components strengthens religious practice in this country. I hold the position that the current rally cry of “Religious Liberty” signals a license to discriminate and thereby to enforce through subterfuge a morality code that bolsters white supremacy nationalism. This is not Christian.
Again, not all conservative White Christians are white nationalists. Just as politicians like Leader McConnell who actively work to pack the judiciary with conservative judges are not all actively forwarding a religious agenda. And yet, these groups are strange bedfellows.


As Bill Clinton reminded us in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.” But how might corporate-forward politicians get plain folks to vote against their own economic interests? By appealing to their/our values. In 1980, when the Republicans actively courted religious leaders like Falwell and Robertson to get Christians on board, they promised Christians would have a friend in the White House, a seat at the table—that they would have a voice in governing. So Christians voted Republican. There was no real seat at the table, so the strategy changed to grassroots campaigns and gaining control of the judiciary. Aside from one setback on same-gender marriage from Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, they have been overwhelming successful in influencing politics, which, of course, include the Courts. In his dissent of Obergefell, Justice Alito forecasted—or perhaps signaled—the ruling would have an “inevitable conflict with religious liberty” argument. I am not a political scientist, but my gut tells me that the LGBT victory with Obergefell helped the narrative shift; there would be new, more creative, ways to discriminate. If same-gender marriage was established by an unelected federal judiciary, so too then would cases be decided where refusal of services, for example, be equated with free exercise of religion.
Impact on Local Ministries
A 2019 brief from the Center for American Progress entitled Religious Liberty Should Do No Harm argues that policymakers have a responsibility to enact legislation that will, “ensure the right of religious liberty for all Americans without infringing on the rights and religious freedoms of others”
(London and Saddiqi, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/reports/2019/04/11/468041/religious-liberty-no-harm/). They offer suggestions for building a framework of inclusive, non-discriminatory religious liberty.

One option relevant to local ministries is to consult faith communities in local policymaking. This might be through the formation of interfaith councils, working groups, and task forces that represent a diversity of faith traditions, “in order to ensure that the many voices of the faith community are considered in policymaking” (ibid). This idea gets to the crux of the matter, writ large. Local politics are unduly influenced by conservative White Christians; local municipalities are unable to oppose Republican governors to mandate business closures during a pandemic, let alone establish interfaith policy consulting councils. If we were at a place in this country where rural Alabama had interfaith advisory groups, it might be a good sign that religious liberty was alive and well. But we are not.
My religious affiliation is with the United Church of Christ (UCC), an Open and Affirming (ONA) denomination toward some of the populations against whom religious liberty is being used as a weapon. The most obvious impact religious liberty laws have on my local ministry involves providing sacred spaces of radical welcome who are being discriminated against. My congregation would not only make a cake for a same-gender couple, we would perform the wedding and host the reception! As important, we would show up in solidarity at the state capital.
As Flowers and some of the writers above note, the establishment clause ensures the religious liberty of all who wish to freely exercise religious beliefs, not just of a small subset who would seek to manipulate the First Amendment to suit themselves. For example, this is not a fight for religious liberty of Muslims. It is important that local ministries be vocal in opposition to misuse and misinterpretation of religious liberty. We must, then, employ our own religious liberty to re-establish the concept of freedom inherent in it.
I will end with a story. My congregation is literally on a hill; drivers by cannot see us from the street. As one drives up the hill to the building, we have displayed really powerful signs about being the church and proclaiming that we are an ONA church. Once or twice we tried to put the signs at the foot of the hill; that way, people could see what we stand for. Both times, the signs disappeared. We do not hang a rainbow flag outside our building or display the UCC “Rainbow Comma” logo on our marquee. We do not display Black Lives Matter signs. London and Siddiqi end their brief with this cautionary word, “If policymakers do not ensure that religious liberty protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans, it will continue to be weaponized as a tool for discrimination and political gain and weaken nondiscrimination protections” (americanprogress.org). A “city set on a hill” (Mt. 5:14) can be hidden if it wants to be. We can be visible by being the church, or we can watch as inclusive religious liberty slips beyond our grasp. The work happens at the foot of the hill.

World’s Greatest Anti-Racism, Restorative Justice Resource List

Ucc.org

As part of my UCC Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) class, I collected these resources from online sources. Although I blatantly lifted them, I have cited the source links. It’s a lot~~so keep scrolling for the hot links!

I will start with resources on the UCC Racial Justice website, compiled by Rev. Dr. Velda Love https://www.ucc.org/racial_justice_resources_2020

Lynching Justice in America

The Cross and the Lynching Tree Webinar Video

READING RESOURCES

  1. Van Sertima, Ivan, They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, (New York, NY: Random House, 1976).
  2. Ortiz, Paul. An African American and Latinx History of the United States. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).
  3. Higginbotham, Leon A., Jr., Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, (New York, NY: Oxford Press, 1996).
  4. Morrison, Toni, The Origins of Others, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).
  5. Boesak, Allan Aubrey, Curtiss DeYoung, Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2012).
  6. DiAngelo, Robin, What Does It Mean To Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012).
    ________ White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).
  7. Resmaa, Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, (Central Recovery Press: Las Vegas, NV, 2017).
  8. Mills, Charles, The Racial Contract, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
  9. Baptist, Edward E., The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014).
  10. Cerrotti, Dennis Lyle, Hidden Genocide, Hidden People. (Wellesley, MA: Sea Venture Press, 2014).
  11. Villanueva, Edgar, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2018).
  12. Newcomb, Steven T., Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008).
  13. Katz, William Loren, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. (New York, NY: Atheneum Books, 2012).

VIDEO AND READING RESOURCES BELOW

  1. Ibram X. Kendi on the History of Racist Ideas in U.S. Stamped from the Beginning

Online Reading Resources

  1. Everyday Racial Microaggressions
    https://world-trust.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/7-Racial-Microagressions-in-Everyday-Life.pdf
  2. Coates, Ta-Nehisi, “The Case for Reparations,” The AtlanticJune 2014
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

THEOLOGIES, CHRISTOLOGIES, AND GOD OF CULTURES

Womanist Documentaries

  1. Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology Legacy of Womanist Theology
  2. This is My Body: Black Womanist Christology in Perspective Black Womanist Christology in Perspective
  3. Eradicating Misogyny, Heterosexism, and Homophobia in Black Churches  Eradicating Misogyn, Heterosexism, and Homophobia in Black Churches
  4. Dr. Renita Weems: [Scream] Trayvon Martin Rev. Dr. Renita Weems Sermon “Scream” Trayvon Martin

Womanist Readings

  1. Introducing Womanist Theology – Stephanie Y. Mitchem
  2. An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation – Nyasha Junior
  3. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenges to Womanist God-Talk – Delores S. Williams
  4. Enfleshing Freedom, body, race, and being, — M. Shawn Copeland
  5. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation & Transformation – Emile M. Townes
  6. Women Race and Class – Angela Davis
    Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement

The James Cone Collection

  1. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church: Black Theology and the Life of the Church (Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Book
  2. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian
  3. A Black Theology of Liberation – Fourtieth Anniversary Edition
  4. Black Theology and Black Power
  5. God of the Oppressed

Latinx and Mujerista Resources

  1. Mujerista Theology – A Theology for the Twenty-First Century, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
  2. A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, Maria Pilar Aquino
  3. Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margins, A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament, Fernando F. Sergovia
  4. Racism and God-Talk: A Latino/A Perspective – Ruben Rosario Rodriguez
  5. The Ties That Bind: African American and Hispanic American/Latino/a Theologies in Dialogue – Anthony B. Pinn and Benjamin Valentin
  6. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America – Juan Gonzalez

Asian and Asian American Resources

  1. Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology, Anne Joh
  2. Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology, Mihee Kim-Kort
  3. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, Soong Chan Rah
  4. Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion and Theology, Rita Brock
  5. Postcolonial Bible (Bible and Postcolonial), R.S. Sugirtharajah
  6. Voices from the Margins, R.S Sugirtharajah
  7. The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism, Rosalind S. Chou and Joe Feagin

For more Racial Justice Resources and information contact Rev. Dr. Velda Love Lovev@ucc.org

Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi

By: R Rattusnorvegicus Chicago Public Library Community-created list

“This anti-racist syllabus is for people realizing they were never taught how to be anti-racist. How to treat all the racial groups as equals. How to look at the racial inequity all around and look for the racist policies producing it, and the racist ideas veiling it. This list is for people beginning their anti-racist journey ..” Ibram X. Kendi (author of “How to Be an Antiracist”)

“A Reading List for Ralph Northam”. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/antiracist-syllabus-governor-ralph-northam/582580/

Fatal Invention How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century by Roberts, Dorothy

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Kendi, Ibram X.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by DiAngelo, Robin J.

Locking up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by Forman, James

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Angelou, Maya

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by X, Malcolm

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Mock, Janet

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Cooper, Brittney C.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Laymon, Kiese

The Fire Next Time by Baldwin, James

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Lorde, Audre

Between the World and Me by Coates, Ta-Nehisi

The Fire This Time by Kenan, Randall

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of A Nation by Berry, Daina Ramey

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Foner, Eric

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II by Blackmon, Douglas A.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Alexander, Michelle

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Muhammad, Khalil Gibran

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Rothstein, Richard

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Sugrue, Thomas J.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Wilkerson, Isabel

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Theoharis, Jeanne

Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy by Dudziak, Mary L.

Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 by White, Deborah G.

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Giddings, Paula

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Hinton, Elizabeth Kai

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Davis, Angela Y.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Stevenson, Bryan

Roots by Haley, Alex

North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 by Litwack, Leon F.

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and A New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Lowery, Wesley

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Berman, Ari

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Anderson, Carol

Antiracism: An Introduction by Zamalin, Alex

How To Be An Antiracist by Kendi, Ibram X.

The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism & Engage in Collective Healing by Singh, Anneliese A.

The Wellbeing Handbook for Overcoming Everyday Racism: How to Be Resilient in the Face of Discrimination and Microagressions by Cousins, Susan

The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness by Magee, Rhonda V.

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Horace, Matthew

Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Butler, Paul

Citizen: An American Lyric by Rankine, Claudia

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Glaude, Eddie S.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Cooper, Brittney C.

Fire Shut up in My Bones: A Memoir by Blow, Charles M.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in A World Made for Whiteness by Brown, Austin Channing

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become A Good Ancestor by Saad, Layla F

My Midnight Years: Surviving Jon Burge’s Police Torture Ring and Death Row by Kitchen, Ronald

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Moore, Darnell L.

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by Mckesson, DeRay

Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement : My Storory of Transformation and Hope by Woodfox, Albert

So You Want to Talk About Race by Oluo, Ijeoma

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Dyson, Michael Eric

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Bennett, Michael

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (white) America by Jerkins, Morgan

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Young, Damon

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Khan-Cullors, Patrisse

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Tatum, Beverly Daniel

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Rowe, Sheila Wise

This Book Is Anti-racist by Jewell, Tiffany

I Am Not your Negro: A Major Motion Picture Directed by Raoul Peck by Baldwin, James

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Glaude, Eddie S.

An Antiracist Reading List NY Times, compiled by Ibram X. Kendi

BIOLOGY

FATAL INVENTION: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century By Dorothy Roberts

No book destabilized my fraught notions of racial distinction and hierarchy — the belief that each race had different genes, diseases and natural abilities — more than this vigorous critique of the “biopolitics of race.” Roberts, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, shows unequivocally that all people are indeed created equal, despite political and economic special interests that keep trying to persuade us otherwise. New Press, 2011

ETHNICITY

WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANTS: A Black Success Story? By Suzanne Model

Some of the same forces have led Americans to believe that the recent success of black immigrants from the Caribbean proves either that racism does not exist or that the gap between African-Americans and other groups in income and wealth is their own fault. But Model’s meticulous study, emphasizing the self-selecting nature of the West Indians who emigrate to the United States, argues otherwise, showing me, a native of racially diverse New York City, how such notions — the foundation of ethnic racism — are unsupported by the facts. Russell Sage Foundation, 2008

BODY

THE CONDEMNATION OF BLACKNESS: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America By Khalil Gibran Muhammad

“Black” and “criminal” are as wedded in America as “star” and “spangled.” Muhammad’s book traces these ideas to the late 19th century, when racist policies led to the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of blacks, igniting urban whites’ fears and bequeathing tenaciously racist stereotypes. Harvard University, 2010

CULTURE

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD By Zora Neale Hurston

Of course, the black body exists within a wider black culture — one Hurston portrayed with grace and insight in this seminal novel. She defies racist Americans who would standardize the cultures of white people or sanitize, eroticize, erase or assimilate those of blacks. 1937

BEHAVIOR

THE NEGRO ARTIST AND THE RACIAL MOUNTAIN By Langston Hughes

“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame,” Hughes wrote nearly 100 years ago. “We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.” We are all imperfectly human, and these imperfections are also markers of human equality. The Nation, June 23, 1926

COLOR

THE BLUEST EYE By Toni Morrison

THE BLACKER THE BERRY By Wallace Thurman

Beautiful and hard-working black people come in all shades. If dark people have less it is not because they are less, a moral eloquently conveyed in these two classic novels, stirring explorations of colorism. 1970 | 1929

WHITENESS

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X By Malcolm X and Alex Haley

DYING OF WHITENESS: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland By Jonathan M. Metzl

Malcolm X began by adoring whiteness, grew to hate white people and, ultimately, despised the false concept of white superiority — a killer of people of color. And not only them: low- and middle-income white people too, as Metzl’s timely book shows, with its look at Trump-era policies that have unraveled the Affordable Care Act and contributed to rising gun suicide rates and lowered life expectancies. 1965 | Basic Books, 2019

BLACKNESS

LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America By James Forman Jr.

Just as Metzl explains how seemingly pro-white policies are killing whites, Forman explains how blacks themselves abetted the mass incarceration of other blacks, beginning in the 1970s. Amid rising crime rates, black mayors, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs embraced tough-on-crime policies that they promoted as pro-black with tragic consequences for black America. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017 (Read the review.)

CLASS

BLACK MARXISM: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition By Cedric J. Robinson

Black America has been economically devastated by what Robinson calls racial capitalism. He chastises white Marxists (and black capitalists) for failing to acknowledge capitalism’s racial character, and for embracing as sufficient an interpretation of history founded on a European vision of class struggle. Zed Press, 1983

SPACES

WAITING ’TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: A Narrative History of Black Power in America By Peniel E. Joseph

As racial capitalism deprives black communities of resources, assimilationists ignore or gentrify these same spaces in the name of “development” and “integration.” To be antiracist is not only to promote equity among racial groups, but also among their spaces, something the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s understood well, as Joseph’s chronicle makes clear. Holt, 2006

GENDER

HOW WE GET FREE: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective Edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

WELL-READ BLACK GIRL: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves Edited by Glory Edim

I began my career studying, and too often admiring, activists who demanded black (male) power over black communities, including over black women, whom they placed on pedestals and under their feet. Black feminist literature, including these anthologies, helps us recognize black women “as human, levelly human,” as the Combahee River Collective demanded to be seen in 1977.

SEXUALITY

REDEFINING REALNESS: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

I grew up in a Christian household thinking there was something abnormal and immoral about queer blacks. My racialized transphobia made Mock’s memoir an agonizing read — just as my racialized homophobia made Lorde’s essays and speeches a challenge. But pain often precedes healing.

Atria, 2014 | Crossing Press, 1984

By not running from the books that pain us, we can allow them to transform us. I ran from antiracist books most of my life. But now I can’t stop running after them — scrutinizing myself and my society, and in the process changing both. Ibram X. Kendi

Anti-Racism Resources: Educate Yourself https://www.projecthome.org/anti-racism-resources

Trainings & Courses

Articles and Essays

Resources for Parents and People Who Work with Children

Videos and Film

Podcasts and Audio

  • 1619 (NY Times Podcast)
  • Code Switch (NPR)
  • Show About Race (Panopoly)
  • Intersectionality Matters! (Kimberlé Crenshaw)
  • Momentum: A Race Forward (Color Lines)
  • Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)
  • Fare of the Free Child (Raising Free People)
  • Small Doses (Amanda Seales)
  • Therapy for Black Girls (Dr. Bradford)
  • Seeing White: Scene on Radio (Podcast series on whiteness)
  • Talking about Whiteness (Eula Bliss, On Being)

Social Media


Books

Where to begin (designed for white allies):

  • Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahesi Coates
  • Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • How to Be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi  
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarnation in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  • Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel
  • Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving
  • White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, by Tim Wise
  • Witnessing Whiteness, by Shelly Tochluk
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin Diangelo
  • Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, by Andrea Ritchie

Going Deeper

  • killing rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks
  • When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Cullors
  • Eloquent Rage, by Brittany Cooper
  • Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, by Charlene A. Carruthers
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
  • Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America, by Rev. Thandeka
  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  • They Can’t Kill Us All, by Wesley Lower
  • Many here Ibram X. Kendi Antiracist reading List

Mental Health Resources

A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources

Book, movie recommendations, and more

By Katie Couric

JUNETEENTH RESOURCES

“What is Juneteenth?” by Derrick Bryson Taylor for the New York Times

“Juneteenth Is a Reminder That Freedom Wasn’t Just Handed Over,” by Brianna Holt for the New York Times

“No, Trump did not make Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating slavery’s end, ‘very famous,’” by DeNeen L. Brown for the Washington Post

Miss Juneteentha new movie about a former beauty queen and single mom preparing her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant in Texas

“Miss Juneteenth Exclusive with Nicole Beharie,” an interview with the star of Miss Juneteenth by Miles Marshall Lewis for Ebony

“Juneteenth by the Numbers,” by Toby Lyles for CNN

“The Johnsons Celebrate Juneteenth,” an episode of black-ish

“Juneteenth,” an episode of Atlanta

Juneteenth Jamboree,” a PBS series about the holiday

“An American Spring of Reckoning,” by Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker

The 1619 Project in the New York Times

“9 Books To Celebrate The Spirit of Juneteenth,” by Keyaira Boone for Essence

“The Belated National Embrace of Juneteenth,” an episode of Slate’s “What Next?” podcast

Spotify is celebrating Juneteenth by highlighting Black artists

The 2020 Juneteenth Virtual Music Festival is presenting a full-day of programming


WHAT TO READ

Articles:

Books:


WHAT TO WATCH

  • The Hate U Give, a film based on the YA novel offering an intimate portrait of race in America
  • Just Mercy, a film based on civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s work on death row in Alabama
  • The 1965 debatebetween James Baldwin and William F. Buckley
  • My hour on the history of Confederate statues in Nat Geo’s America Inside Out
  • Becoming,a Netflix documentary following Michelle Obama on her book tour
  • Let It Falla documentary looking at racial tensions in Los Angeles and the 1992 riots over LAPD officers’ brutal assault on Rodney King
  • When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five
  • 13th, a Netflix documentary exposing racial inequality within the criminal justice system
  • I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary envisioning the book James Baldwin was never able to finish
  • Selma, a film that chronicles the marches of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Whose Streets?a documentary about the uprising in Ferguson
  • Fruitvale Station, a film with Michael B. Jordan about the killing of Oscar Grant
  • American Son, a film with Kerry Washington about an estranged interracial couple waiting for their missing son
  • The Central Park Five, a documentary from Ken Burns
  • A Class Divided, a Frontline documentary

WHAT TO FOLLOW

WHAT TO LISTEN TO

  • My podcast episode with Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, and Bryan Stevenson about Just Mercy
  • Still Processing, a New York Times culture podcast with Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morrison
  • Seeing White, a Scene on the Radio podcast
  • Code Switch, an NPR podcast tackling race from all angles
  • Jemele Hill is Unbothered, a podcast with award-winning journalist Jemele Hill
  • Hear To Slay, “the black feminist podcast of your dreams,” with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • Pod Save The People, organizer and activist DeRay Mckesson explores news, culture, social justice, and politics with analysis from fellow activists Brittany Packnett, Sam Sinyangwe, and writer Dr. Clint Smith III
  • The Appeal, a podcast on criminal justice reform hosted by Adam Johnson
  • Justice In America, a podcast by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith on criminal justice reform
  • Brené Brown with Ibram X. Kendi, a podcast episode on antiracism
  • Come Through, a WNYC podcast with Rebecca Carroll
  • The Kinswomen, conversations on race, racism, and allyship between women, hosted by Hannah Pechter and Yseult Polfliet

RESOURCES FOR KIDS AND TEENS

Watch

Read

Anti-Racism Resources

UNC Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Resources for parents to raise anti-racist children:

Books

Podcasts

Articles

Social Media

  • The Conscious Kid: follow them on Instagram and consider signing up for their Patreon

Additional Articles:

Videos to watch:

Podcasts to subscribe to:

Books to read:

Websites to Visit:

Films and TV series to watch:

  • 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
  • American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — Available to rent
  • Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 — Available to rent
  • Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu) — Available to rent
  • Dear White People (Justin Simien) — Netflix
  • Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) — Available to rent
  • I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin doc) — Available to rent or on Kanopy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) — Hulu
  • Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to rent
  • King In The Wilderness  — HBO
  • See You Yesterday (Stefon Bristol) — Netflix
  • Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent
  • The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) — Hulu with Cinemax
  • When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

Organizations to follow on social media:

More anti-racism resources to check out:

Care for Black People:

White People, What Are We Thinking?

It’s time for white people to check our thinking. Right now.

What are we thinking? I don’t mean, as in, What are we THINKING?? No, I mean, as in, what are we as white people actually thinking right now as the U.S. moves into week two of protests and month three of social distancing? What are we thinking about race, the president, Covid-19, about anything?

As a teacher, I often found that my white college students, who were studying to become teachers in public schools, were uncomfortable talking about race. They did not want to say the “wrong” thing and get called out or challenged. That’s the trade off, though, for talking openly and honestly about race. We get to talk, but we will get things wrong, and we might–will no doubt–have that pointed out. Dont worry, this is a judgement free zone–the point is to think about what we are thinking.

Here is an important point: we must think about what we are thinking so that we can know who we are, and what we support or oppose. To start with, I have a lot of faith in people. I give us credit for generally wanting to do the right thing, to get along with each other, to help each other, and to be able to see injustice and be offended by it.

So I’m going to throw some random thoughts that some of us may or may not be having these days, as we watch FOX or CNN or MSNBC, or even Lifetime. I’m wondering if we’re thinking some of the same things.

  • Covid-19 is easing up, so we can go out to eat. Or to church. Or to a ballgame.
  • Football should start on time in the fall. Especially college football.
  • The cities are on fire. What we need is some law and order. It was necessary for the military to be called up to protect….(fill in the blank).
  • There do seem to be quite a few cops killing Black people, but….(fill in blank with your reason).
  • Covid-19 was spread from a Chinese laboratory. Or a Chinese bat. Either way, it was Chinese.
  • Sure black lives matter. All lives matter.
  • These protesters are all radicals.
  • Since Martin Luther King, Blacks have equal rights.
  • It’s embarrassing to wear a mask. People will look me strange, maybe even smirk.
  • If people don’t wear masks, we will build up herd immunity to Covid-19.
  • I feel guilty about race issues. Sometimes this turns to anger.
  • It feels like the U.S. is split right now on just about any and every issue.
  • Cops would not kill if they weren’t provoked by thugs and criminals.
  • President Trump….(fill in the blank with what you think about the president).
  • I’m worried this country won’t be the same as it was six months ago, but I hope it does.
  • Why aren’t Black people more grateful and appreciative that that I am not a racist?
  • I do not have white privilege because I’ve worked hard for anything I have.
  • I want to do something to support the protesters, but what?

Again, no judgement or moralizing here. I just think we ought to be clear about where we stand and how we feel about events going on around us. Maybe you are open to new ways of thinking. Maybe you are trying hard to empathize with others. Maybe not. For myself, I feel as though I come up short with being informed and being an ally to people….what do I think I should write here….people fighting for their rights?….fighting to breathe?…people whose cause I agree with? I am weighing out which group of people I want to offend least by speaking my own truth. Maybe you also think these things.

So, IF you are like me, wondering what you can do, wondering how you can be an ally, wondering how you can find out more information on Covid–trying to figure out anything at all, I have some links to share. And finally, if you find yourself feeling a certain way that I have the audacity to write this kind of thing at all, see if you can figure out what is prompting those feelings.

First: Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies, adapted from Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice by Paul Kivel. https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/kivel3.pdf

Here is an excerpt:

  • What People of Color Want from White Allies
    “Respect us”
  • “Listen to us”
    “Find out about us”
  • “Don’t make assumptions”
    “Don’t take over”
  • “Stand by my side”
    “Provide information”
  • “Don’t assume you know
    what’s best for me”
    “Resources”
  • “Money”
    “Take risks”
  • “Make mistakes”
    “Don’t take it personally”
  • “Honesty”
    “Understanding”
  • “Talk to other white people”
    “Teach your children about “Interrupt jokes and comments”
    racism”
    “Speak up”
  • “Don’t ask me to speak for my
    people”
    “Your body on the line”
  • “Persevere daily”

Here is another link, White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy, from Teaching Tolerance.org https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/white-antiracism-living-the-legacy Here’s an excerpt from that site on guilt: Guilt allows white people to maintain the status quo. Guilt creates paralysis. Guilt transfers the responsibility to people of color. Guilt continues the aspect of racism wherein white people put people of color in a situation of taking care of us.

Here’s a list of 17 Books On Racism Every White Person Needs To Read from a cite called WhiteAllyToolkit.com

https://www.whiteallytoolkit.com/resources/2017/8/10/17-books-on-racism-every-white-person-needs-to-read

And finally, Here’s a Covid-19 link from Cedars-Sinai, Reliable Sources for Covid-19 Info https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/reliable-sources-for-coronavirus-info/. You can also look at your local and state health departments, but in my opinion if you really want to get a good read on the situation, dig into how your local nursing homes are doing and scan your local newspapers.

Just Keep Swimming: Pandemic Edition

This is my first blog post since everything has changed. Everything. So where to start? To begin with, today I am not going to talk about the politics of it all. I wanted to lay out the sequence of events so that I can remember them–where I was, what I was doing. Reflections will come later.

In February, we heard the word Wuhan for the first time. I recall Sarah mentioned it in passing, and I remember replying, “Oh, ok, uh-huh,” without stopping what I was doing. Throughout that month and into March, I may or may not have clicked on updates from China that came across my news feed, but since it was not a topic yet related to U.S. politics (my preferred topic), I likely kept scrolling. Then came March.

On March 1, there were 75 confirmed cases in the U.S. On March 9, the day Sarah was to drive to South Florida for a math conference, there were 704. On March 10, we cancelled a cruise we had booked with Sarah’s family and church pals. Then on March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By March 12, the day she decided to come home early, the number was 1,697 (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ ). By the way, COVID-19 is the specific strain of coronavirus (a general group of viruses); to call it the Chinese coronavirus is not only inaccurate, it’s racist. Yep. You may not care for the Chinese government, but those folks over there got sick like us folks over here. See? 

map_cov19

By mid-March–which sounds and feels like a decade ago as I write it–online news sources had special COVID-19 pages/links, where you could see all news updates related to the virus in one place. The 2020 Democratic primary was affected. Super Tuesday was pretty much overshadowed. Candidates and other politicians–including the president, who thrives on rallys–began cancelling. The last Democratic debate–like all late night shows–were held without live audiences. I must admit I approve of the format for debates–for Stephen Colbert, not so much. As early as Saturday, March 7th, Kennesaw State University had begun to develop a “continuity plan” in the event face-to-face classes were suspended. It was essentially a plan for all courses to go online.

Unexpected issues started cropping up, too. For example, what would students do if dorms and dining halls were closed? What about homeless students (and all universities have them)? What about students who did not have computers or notebooks, but only their smartphones? The news channels began to have question and answer programming where viewers sent in questions for experts to answer. We submitted our plan to the university president by March 10th, and then we waited. It truly felt like a calm before the storm, eerie silence and all. By the evening of Friday the 13th, announcements came that public schools and universities would go online the following week. Church services across the country scrambled to find ways to make virtual worship meaningful. This was also the day that everyone in America went to the grocery stores for toilet paper.

Monday, March 16, was the day the stock market had its worst day since 1987. It was also the day we started setting up our home offices. Sarah had worked all weekend preparing to teach three in-person classes completely online–and have office hours virtually. I brought home monitors and books from the office after having one virtual meeting on my laptop. Honestly, I need the 2 monitors so I can do other things during the meeting, like look for social distancing staples online. You know you do it too, which is why it is on one of the 10,000 blog posts called, “Good Virtual Meeting Etiquette.” I have so far had five virtual meetings this week. It got so bad, one group had trouble finding a time–from home during social distancing!–to schedule our next meeting. A well-meaning colleague suggested meeting early–8:30 or 9:00 am–so that people would be free. I told him it was obscene to start that early. Because we are at home does not mean we are always “on,” which he was NOT suggesting. But it’s something to think about.

virtualmeetings

So, it is Friday, March 20, and we are caught up with the basics. I have learned how to change my Zoom background and so far have been at the Grassy Knoll, the White House, Graceland, and inside the Tardis. We have cooked more this week. Sarah has started an outdoor garden–so far with mainly carrot tops from our increased vegetable consumption. My office is a thing of beauty, and I am about to run out of diversionary tactics related to rearranging it. I have so far ventured out twice–both times to the office and thrift shop. I took wipes and sanitizer. I have taken a walk. We are ahead of the laundry. I have read Scripture and Sister Joan Chittister’s take on The Rule of Benedict every morning.

The other pandemic task I worked on this week was connecting. I realized that part of my own continuity plan should include staying in contact with people. As an introvert, it’s saying a lot that I should have that as my concern, but I am aware that I self-isolate enough anyway–imagine when it is mandatory! So, I hit the Facebook and made “Friends” with people from all parts of my life: colleagues, church folks, family, old classmates, scholar friends. I paid attention as people started setting up “Hangouts” and various groups and web meet ups. There have also been plenty of news and blogs encouraging people to take precautions to avoid loneliness, which will be very real as this thing goes along. Speaking of blogging, it’s another way I feel connected, and I’m planning on doing it more. There should be plenty to write about. One thought I had this week, during my containment prep, was how aptly named the blog is, Just Keep Swimming. If it was appropriate up to now, it sure is as we move forward. It is, for me, a hope-full idea: hang on, keep going, do the best you can. That’s the plan, anyway. 

dolphinhope

 

My Sugar Addiction, Day 1

I am gaining my weight back. Again. Like just about every person who has ever battled their weight, I have tried every diet plan imaginable. I’ve taken diet pills–over the counter and prescription–and for awhile I took Alli fat blocking pills, which was the grossest diet plan ever. Google that one. I’ve done Weight Watchers, now WW so you will feel like a winner, thank you, Oprah. It’s still Weight Watchers. I’ve exercised for a solid year; that, along with WW, which works if you work it, resulted in my losing the most weight I ever had in my adult life: 70 pounds. It felt so good! I got a complete new wardrobe and felt young again. I was so encouraged this time when I read that if I could keep it off for 3 years, I could keep it off for good. When it started creeping back after about year two–those crisp white shirts and modern-cut pants started feeling snug (a word of terror for fat people)–I looked that factoid up again. It had said five years, not three. I had weighted 168 for exactly 2 days, and as I creeped back up in the 170s, I told myself that my body wanted me to be in that range. Again, if you’ve ever been a weight warrior, you know the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched myself outgrow my clothes. Again.

fat david

My size 10 Levis were the first item to go, then my pants for going out. I donated my cute pinstripe suit after church one Sunday when a guy jokingly–it’s always jokingly, you know, but there’s truth behind it and it hurts like a sucker punch–said “Hey girl, you trying to show off those biceps?” I looked down at curved stripes on too-tight sleeves. Last year, I bought size 16 Levis, telling myself I still had not reached my highest weight–253, so 16 was okay. I was still under 200 pounds. Then came another holiday season.

I don’t even bother making New Year’s resolutions any more. What is the point? It’s always the same: lose some weight. Weight warriors, familiar? Knowing most people gain a few pounds over the holidays, and also knowing I didn’t have any to gain, I was determined to practice portion control. I didn’t gain during the month-long eat fest, but I began to feel my body change beyond the feel of my clothes. I put out of my mind that the size 16 roomy L.L.Bean pants’ waistband was getting snug. (oh no!). I was out of breath in the shower. I developed a candida fungus under my belly fat. Yes, that is so far the most embarrassing thing that I’ve ever felt about my body. Fat can be fluffy if you tell yourself enough. But a seepy, smelly rash made me feel nothing but shame.

This weekend an interview with Molly Carmel popped up on my newsfeed, and led me to her new book, Breaking Up With Sugar: Divorce the Diets, Drop the Pounds, and Live Your Best Life. I had do decide whether to add another weight loss book to my Kindle. I have books on insulin resistance, carbs, and the keto diet, for example. I know the science, and I know the “secrets” of weight loss. If knowledge were enough, wouldn’t we all be thinner and healthy? That, precisely, is Carmel’s point. I ‘m going to call her Molly, since the tone of her book is friendly and encouraging. I’m reading Breaking Up now, and I’m glad I bought it.

sugardownload (1)

Here’s Molly’s About the Author on Amazon: Molly Carmel has made it her life’s mission to help people find a sustainable solution to the battle of obesity and related eating disorders. After battling her own eating disorder for over 20 years and finding no solution in available treatment, she created The Beacon, where she helps clients recover from similar addictions. Carmel received her Bachelor’s in Social Work from Cornell University and her Master’s from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. She has extensive training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, addiction, and nutrition.

The chapters support the breakup/divorce/find a healthy relationship theme of the book. I’m on Chapter 3, “The Truth About Your Sweetest Love,” where Molly gives a summary of how sugar is in reality “Suicide on the Installment Plan.” I wanted to include her list of sugar’s lethal capacity here: But Sugar also negatively affects every single part of your body. Some of these harmful effects are more well known than others. Eating sugar has been linked to: inflammation, migraine headaches, anxiety, brain fog, trouble sleeping, weakened eyesight, gum disease, heart disease, increased cholesterol, asthma, suppressed immunity, kidney damage, nonalcoholic fatty liver, overworked pancreas, arthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and leptin resistance. There’s even terrifying research showing that Sugar increases the risk of developing certain cancers. And of course, let us not forget Sugar’s piece de resistance, glucose intolerance and diabetis

And yet, knowing all of this and having encountered many of the effects on Molly’s list, I keep right on eating sugar and its evil twin flour anyway. I’m going to keep reading, but I’m open to the idea that I think and behave like an addict when it comes to sugar–and I suspect toward food in general. I looked ahead to see whether Molly had made me a shopping list and a suggested meal plan? She had? Ah ha, I thought, but are they easy or complicated? Maybe they were like keto, a list of foods and meals of stuff I really don’t like (how much butter can I eat?). Nah, Molly included good, whole foods. I felt healthier just reading the foods and plans, which are easy and sustainable. I went through her lists of proteins, fats, carbs and made a grocery list.

I’ve already started the self-doubt talk in my mind. I’ve done this before–so many times. What is different about this time? How long will I be able to eat this food, which I’ll get tired of, won’t I? It’ll take too long to lose this much weight, so what’s the point? But Friday is pizza night! You work so hard, don’t you deserve a reward?  Molly, though, has already thought of this–she describes how she herself heard those same voices. Of everything I’ve read so far, this passage has hit me most profoundly was about how rats respond to excessive Sugar–which Molly capitalizes to remind us that we really are in a relationship. After describing sugar DTs, she writes, What’s more, when the rats withdrawing from Sugar were placed in water, they were less likely to swim or climb out, and more likely to passively float. They had lost their will to survive. I’m going to keep reading, Chapter 4 is “Defining Your Relationship: How Bad Is It Really?” There’s even a quiz. I know already; it’s pretty bad. I have a food addiction. I’ll start from there.

cuterat

 

The Promise of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 3

I call this last post The Promise Forgiveness & Reconciliation because I want to end on a hopeful note.

The Mystery of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 1

The Limits of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 2

I believe it is justifiably hopeful given the theory, theology, and practical parts of the topics. If I were going to teach a Sunday School class, or even present a lesson in a college education class, I would begin by scouring literature and web sites. I would, in the style of Worthington and Lederach, turn to case studies and current events. Much like these blog posts, the organization of a brief curriculum would be somewhat as follows:

  1. Introduction, Definition of Terms, Participant Questions
  2. Deeper Understandings: Contexts, Benefits, Limits
  3. The Scope of Forgiving and Reconciling: Interpersonal, Local, Global
  4. Putting It All Together, Where Do We Go From Here, Revisit Initial Questions

Peace Dove 1

I have included below Revisiting the 10 Practices of Just Peacemaking Theory by David P. Gushee (2019) from EthicsDaily.com. Developed by the late ethicist Glen Stassen. Although the practices reference peacemaking (which I use interchangeably with reconciliation, knowing there are differences) at the global setting, I believe they can be modified to allow us to act upon them locally.

  1. Support nonviolent direct action.
    Nonviolent direct action occurs when citizens confront injustice through peaceful public protests and other resistance strategies, including boycotts and strategic noncooperation. Practiced effectively by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat. 
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution. These skills train adversaries to see each other as human beings with dignity and legitimate needs rather than as sub-humans whose every negotiating demand is illegitimate just because of how evil they are.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice; seek repentance and forgiveness.
  5. Promote democracy, human rights and religious liberty.
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development. Hungry people easily become desperate and violent, and, when they rebel, their need is at least temporarily exacerbated.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.It stands to reason that the more nations are involved in these webs of interaction, the less likely they are to make war.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international organizations.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations. Everybody needs somebody looking over their shoulders to keep them in check. See the full article here

Peace, justice, dignity, equity, voice, and the resolution of conflict are the basis of reconciliation. What about forgiveness? Psychology Today states, “Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger.” It does not mean reconciliation–no person or entity has to return to a harmful relationship. “Forgiveness is vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized. It propels people forward rather than keeping them emotionally engaged in an injustice or trauma.” It has physical, emotional, and psychological benefits, and has been shown to “elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.” Forgiveness and Reconciliation are like a suit: you can wear the jacket and pants separately, but they also go together. Maintaining the distinction acknowledges the offended party (I am avoiding the word victim here). If this complicated process is worked prayerfully and diligently, there are situations where both are possible outcomes. Link to Psychology Today: Forgiveness

peace dove 2

The following is the beginnings of a collection of resources that I will add to over time.

  1. Duke Divinity School: Center for Reconciliation Resources https://divinity.duke.edu/initiatives/cfr/resources
  2. Peace Center for Forgiveness & Reconciliation http://www.choosetoforgive.org/
  3. The Forgiveness Project https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/
  4. Racial Equity Resource Guide http://www.racialequityresourceguide.org/organizations/organizations/sectionFilter/Racial%20Healing
  5. Racial Equity Institute https://www.racialequityinstitute.com/partner-organizations
  6. Reconciliation Ministry (Disciples of Christ) https://reconciliationministry.org/
  7. Conciliation Resources http://www.c-r.org/
  8. Truth and Reconciliation, Commission of Canada http://www.trc.ca/resources.html
  9. Community Tool Box https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/spirituality-and-community-building/forgiveness-and-reconciliation/main
  10. Center for Justice & Reconciliation http://restorativejustice.org/#sthash.i2cZEw7o.dpb
  11. Lederach, J.P. (2014) Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. Virginia: Herald Press.
  12. Jones, G. (1995). Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  13. Worthington, E.L. (2001). Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
  14. Walker-Barnes, C. (2019). I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

 

asymmetrical-ethics

The Limits of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 2

I have heard horror stories of people in abusive relationships who have sought spiritual advise from their church leaders, only to be told that they should forgive their partners–forgive the verbal, psychological, physical abuse and/or infidelity, for example. They are told to forgive as God forgives (remember the theological model I mentioned in my last post?) The Mystery of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 1   People who have escaped relationships of abuse are even sometimes counseled to reconcile. Many years ago, I was divorced, and for years I had recurring nightmares that I was being forced to reconcile with my husband.

Forgiving and reconciling have limits that are dependent upon circumstances and injustice. I learned from my own experience that I forgive so that I can move forward, but nobody–not in dreams or consciousness–can make me reconcile.

Every kind of relationship includes relations of power, privilege, and politics–and these must be acknowledged. In The Politics of Apology and Forgiveness,  Joretta Marshall identifies five connections between power and forgiveness that I think are important. 1. The misuse of power invites power into a relationship. 2. The person who has the power to cause harm does not have equal power to require forgiveness—only to apologize and ask for forgiveness. 3. The giving or receiving of forgiveness, like an apology, cannot be coerced. 4. There is a dance between power and vulnerability in the forgiveness process. 5. Forgiveness emerges through the shifting of power in relationship. Forgiveness has its own subversive power in its potential for transformation.

In The Limits of Forgiveness, Norlock and Rumsey unpack the costs and limits of forgiveness, which are to be found in situations where “radical evil” exists. They argue that social and political recognition, including punishment of offenders and provisions for the economic and physical safety of victims, are requisite conditions” (p. 119). The authors demand that we critically analyze what we ask of those we expect to forgive offenders. What is that about? Forgiveness is fraught with complexity, and the existence of radical evil does not allow us the luxury of taking the process for granted.

I also discovered the book, Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil, by Susan Neiman. This text, which is the kind of reading I do for fun (me = nerd), examines the intentional efforts at “working through the past” by the German people—individually and collectively—in the wake of the Nazi Reich. She argues that the United States—White Southerners, in particular—can learn and take cues from the Germans, although the evil of slavery and Jim Crow is a different kind of evil than Nazism. She explicitly states that this is not a suggestion of comparative suffering or oppression, but one of comparative reconciliation. Thomas Jefferson, the embodiment of questions Americans must ask of ourselves, said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that his mercy cannot last forever.” When I think about forgiveness and reconciliation, radical evil and sin, power and privilege—and how these fit in the Kingdom of God, I tremble too. Germans book

So whether we are talking about relationships at the personal or global level–or anything in between–power relations are maintained and reproduced that are paramount to the nature of the relationship. They also affect the approach, expectations, and limitations in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Social categories such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, and cultural background also have great bearing on the process, particularly since these categories are socially constructed, fluid, and flexible.

 

On our last day together, our F&R class organized our thinking around F&R on the board (see below). These are our findings:

Forgiveness is…

  • an ongoing process, as illustrated by Jesus’s metaphor of 70 X 7
  • an array of both positive and negative emotions
  • effective in an “I/Thou” relationship, such as that believers have with God
  • Jesus like
  • difficult and takes time
  • requires faith
  • a gift of mercy–to self, God, others
  • an aspiration (most of the time)
  • good for us
  • Note: “unforgiveness” has psychological and biological consequences

Forgiveness is not

  • the same as reconciliation
  • requiring of an apology or repentance
  • enmeshment or codependency
  • cheap or therapeutic
  • just saying “I’m sorry”
  • explicitly Christian
  • always equitable
  • a denial of hurt
  • earned
  • excusing abuse or the perpetrator
  • performative
  • an option
  • transactional
  • a feel good fix

Equity

Reconciliation is…

  • contextual
  • requiring of repentance
  • requiring of truth telling
  • requiring of solidarity, space, and safety
  • interpersonal and intrapersonal
  • often mediated by a third party
  • a process that requires something of the parties
  • an aspirational
  • messy
  • often confrontational
  • dependent upon justice
  • not always possible

Reconciliation is not

  • the same as forgiveness
  • mandatory
  • the same on individual and systemic levels
  • always fast
  • happiness-inducing
  • solidifying
  • without risk
  • agreement
  • a social contract
  • accompanied by compensation or reparation
  • always possible

I will add that reconciliation is part of the peacemaking process. In my next post, I will share 10 Practices of Just Peacemaking Theory from EthicsDaily.com.

Blackboard Outline Forgiveness & Reconcilliation

The Mystery of Forgiveness & Reconciliation, part 1

Growing up, when I thought about forgiveness–which is ever present in a practicing Fundamentalist Christian’s life–I thought first about God so loving the world that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. For our forgiveness. When I thought of forgiveness apart from the Cross, I thought about Jesus’s quip to Peter about forgiving an offender 70 times 7 (Matt 18:22). I remember calculating it in my mind, which Peter probably also did.

This semester I took a class with Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, whose new book, I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision of Racial Reconciliation, brings Womanist Wisdom “to describe how race and racism work, what reconciliation really looks like, and how faith can help us work toward it” (https://drchanequa.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/my-book-is-coming/). When you stop and think about it, each of those concepts–forgiveness and reconciliation–are huge. So full of meaning and implications that it was and continues to be daunting to me. My classmates and I spent 15 weeks grappling with texts and ideas; now I find it less daunting than profound. What I mean is that it is important to put forgiveness and reconciliation in practice and help others to do so, too. I know it was a good class because we are leaving it with more questions than when we began. Success is often measured by knowing enough to know what you don’t know. Our final project was to create a curriculum on forgiveness and/or reconciliation.

cwb

Dr. Walker-Barnes’s Book

From the time the project was assigned, I began to have trouble with it. I had writer’s block for curriculum development. I realize I still have some sorting out to do with the two-in-one concept, since, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I don’t know what I think until I red what I say.” In this post, I will briefly sketch an overview of an introductory segment on the concepts Forgiveness & Reconciliation. Should spaces for dialogue ever come up, here is where I would start.

First, it is important to note that Forgiveness & Reconciliation is a whole field of study with a growing body of literature. Typing in the words, “Forgiveness & Reconciliation” on Amazon, for example, yields 437 results. Type in those same words in Google, and more than twelve million results pop up. To be fair, “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” by themselves are intermingled with results for the pair. I found this to be the case in our class, too. The topics overlap, bleeding into each other, as it were, to the point where it is hard to see where one stops and the other begins. Entangled, jumbled. This is not inappropriate.

Dr. Walker-Barnes organized the course into engaging topics, and you can see the intricate threading throughout: Theologies of Forgiveness; Theologies of Reconciliation; Remembrance & Repentance; Power, Apology, & The Limits of Forgiveness; Trauma, Anger & the Failure of Reconciliation; Reconciliation or Liberation?; Reconciliation as a Spiritual Journey; and Psychological Perspectives on Forgiveness. We read texts by Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis; John Paul Lederach, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians, and Everett Worthington, Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application. There was a lot to read and talk about. If I were guiding a book talk on the subject, I would use some of the helpful strategies and models from these texts, developed by peace workers who walk the walk. Dr. Walker-Barnes’ book was published after our class had begun, so we only had a teaser chapter from it. It’s now on my Christmas break reading list!

The semester was spent painstakingly unraveling meanings. Here are some key points.

  1. Christians not only have an obligation to practice forgiveness, we also have a model. God forgives us.
  2. There are distinctions between forgiveness and reconciliation, even though they are a good matched set.
  3. Both forgiveness and reconciliation have important and often frustrating limits. If we know them going in, we will not have our expectations dashed.
  4.  Historically–both within Christianity and without–forgiveness and reconciliation have been abused, misused, oppressive, and suppressive. Survivors of interpersonal and/or systemic trauma/conflict narrate the journey to forgiveness and reconciliation. Survivors remind us of the high stakes involved in forgiveness and reconciliation; their voices are critical  to how we practice.

To further muddle my thinking, you have to consider forgiveness according to its various levels. Are we talking about forgiving another person? Groups of people? A whole country? What about reconciling? Couples reconcile (or don’t). Friends can too. Different cultures can reconcile–like in South Africa. People can be reconciled to God. I have to reconcile within myself. The scope is incredible.

I will end my overview with this: our participation in the divine life, that is, how believers exist in the world, is wrapped up in the tremendous Mystery. The gift and responsibility of forgiveness–and yes, reconciliation, too–are part of that mystery. And it is part of most believers’ theology. For example, while there are many subjects Jesus never mentioned, he was explicit about forgiveness: do it. So, as complicated and perplexing as forgiveness and reconciliation can be, it helps to approach them as sacred process.

Below is a picture of our white board from the last day of class, where we summed up what we had learned. In my next post, I will summarize them in talking points.

Blackboard Outline Forgiveness & Reconcilliation

 

“White Savior Barbie,” Not me!

I really love my seminary, the McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University. Faculty and staff there are committed to issues of justice and spiritual growth. It is also a place where only about 45% of the students are white. I want to support a place like that and more important, learn from the variety of perspectives and experiences of my classmates. It is a place where I can focus on issues important to me, like being a good ally by attending to my white privilege. I am convinced that my anti-racist work as a white Southern academic should also include theological and religious frameworks. I needed to get in touch with my Jesus.

White Savior

White Savior Movie

Part of the institution’s commitment to spiritual formation is the annual faculty, staff, and student weekend retreat, which the founding faculty built into the design of the programs. We just recently had one at the Pinnacle Center in the North Georgia mountains, where we spend two days worshiping together and getting to know one another. We build deeper relationships as classmates at a setting like this, where we pray and take communion together. This year, the dean announced he had been working with friends in Union Point, Georgia, to plan a work day at a historic cemetery near the original location of Mercer University. Here’s what he said:

This summer I learned of a neglected African American cemetery located nearby the Penfield cemetery. I have partnered with African American activists and other leaders to help them with a clean-up effort on October 26. I would very much appreciate it if you would join me as we honor this sacred space and practice remembrance.

He noted that enslaved persons were buried there.

Here is what I wish I had thought: Does it make a difference that the dean is a straight, white, cis-male? Were faculty invited to discuss this topic, welcoming voices from faculty of color? Could groundwork have been laid so that the announcement would have had context for the benefit of the students, most of whom were African American? What is motivating me to want to participate?

What I actually did, though, was volunteer to clean up the cemetery.

A few days later, the dean sent a reminder and included additional information that a filmmaker friend and seminary grad would be filming for a documentary. A few days after that, I learned that a group of African American students had submitted a letter to the dean to express concerns about the project. I have not seen this letter, but the seminary grapevine is real. That was the day I discovered the “Savior Barbie” Instagram account. If you haven’t heard about it, below is a Huff Post article, along with 2 examples of Barbie’s posts.

White Savior Barbie Huff Post

White Savior Barbie

White Savior Barbie pokes fun at people who suffer from “White Savior Complex,” the term used to describe the white Westerners who travel to third world countries and make the entire affair an exercise in self-congratulatory sacrifice. (Huff Post). The account owners, who remain anonymous, point out, “We have both struggled with our own realizations and are definitely not claiming innocence here.” “Barbie Savior, we hope, is an entertaining jumping off point for some very real discussions, debates, and resolves.” It isn’t that there is anything inherently wrong with doing volunteer work to help people. WSB targets the idea that Africa needs saving from itself and white people are the ones who can do it. Barbie Savior is there for a photo op, the ultimate selfie. This kind of thinking supported colonialism, conquest, and slavery. It is white supremacy.

Barbie Savior (@barbiesavior)

White Savior Barbie 3

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting for a minute that the McAfee dean is in error. I have no idea until and unless he discusses it what the process was for bringing this opportunity to the students. For all I know, he brought it to the faculty first for them to unpack together. The letter from students is said to contain references to a diversity strategic plan, which I imagine calls for voice and conversation and inclusion in initiative planning. I have no doubt he is prayerfully and profoundly considering what they have written and will respond appropriately. This is not about him; it is about my own complicity in maintaining racist systems in which the White Savior Complex operates.

So just what was I thinking? My first thought was what a great service project! As a Southern Christian who knows what “Decoration Day” is, I have cleaned old cemeteries for as long as I can remember. My second thought was about the historical significance of the place, for yes, I was in part motivated by it being a very, very old African American cemetery that was the final resting place of former enslaved persons.

My third thought was about my friend Edeltress in Baton Rouge, who had taken me on a detour to her ancestral cemetery one day while we were on a school visit for work. “Do you mind?” she asked me. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here. I was a little girl and my parents brought me.” So we drove to a countryside in Louisiana that I couldn’t find today if I had to. “Here it is,” she said. But looking around, I couldn’t see a graveyard. Just what looked like woods, undergrowth, weeds–way back, about a hundred feet off the side of the road. Edeltress laughed. “Oh, you’re looking for a white cemetery. This is how our cemeteries look.” We tramped around the site, being careful not to step on the graves, and on the way home, she told me stories about her father, who had driven an old broken-down truck so that his white neighbors would not recognize him for a landowner and successful farmer. My people were dangerous. So that is the image I got in my head when the dean asked for volunteers. I thought of paying tribute, in this small way, to my friend.

That is why I am going to acknowledge my white privilege, acknowledge the concerns of my classmates–for they hold us accountable for thinking of and processing these issues before complying–and then go clean up a grave yard. But you won’t see it on Facebook or Twitter. I will not take a selfie with a tombstone. Does this make me admirable? Is this sufficient acknowledgement, or am I assuaging my conscience? Am I asking the right questions? I don’t know, but it gives me something to ponder as I pull weeds.

White Savior Barbie 2

White supremacy can look like skin heads carrying swastikas; it can look like angry white people wearing red hats. It can be masked by well intentioned white people who secretly voted for Trump. And it can be a white seminary student who fails to do the work of problematizing a workday over the graves of enslaved persons. There is another White Savior resource I find relevant here. White Savior: Racism in the American Church (2019). The film “explores the historic relationship between racism and American Christianity, the ongoing segregation of the church in the US, and the complexities of racial reconciliation” (imdb). I recommend it. The film closes with an African American minister from the Bronx discussing being an ally. “Being an ally,” he said, “means asking ‘What do you need? and sometimes that means just shut up and listen.”

At the end of the day, I believe in a place like McAfee. It exemplifies the complexity of racial reconciling and justice. The messiness of it. It is a place where we can make all the mistakes–and there are many–and learn that the sky doesn’t fall when we make them. It is a place where, sometimes, we can just shut up and listen.

My White Privilege: An Unexpected But Unsurprising Glimpse

privilege, white privilege, race, racism

This week I had to check my whiteness two times, first at the ONA Coalition National Gathering and then at the UCC General Synod. The lesson was reinforced for me that, even though I have more than one historically marginalized marker with which I identify (gender and sexuality), that does not mean I am enlightened or evolved in relation to other marginalized populations. It is no fun having to face this in real world situations, but it’s crucial to remember. It also teaches me that in discerning for the ministry, I have a lot to learn. It is God saying, “You’re not there yet.”

The first was during a talk given by a candidate on the slate for a UCC national office. Right after the UMC vote, I had been a little indignant about African delegates being the conservative votes that put the resolution against LGBTQ ordination over the top. Reverend Karen Georgia Thompson pointed out that the African delegates had been heavily lobbied and probably manipulated by conservative (probably Southern) delegates. Of course they had; it created the narrative that benefitted U.S. delegates while reinforcing the stereotype that Black bodies and Black churches were by nature “essentially” conservative. 

The second instance was personal. I had a roommate for Synod, a gifted African American chaplain I’ll call Susan. One night, we went to a late evening reception for Members in Discernment for ordination. It was late, so there weren’t many people in the large Hilton hotel suite. In the corner, engaged in conversation with a conference delegate, sat Reverend Traci Blackmon, a rock star minister, prophet, activist in the UCC. She came on the national scene in helping people from Ferguson, Missouri, respond to the Michael Brown murder in 2014. Naturally, we were both star struck. While helping ourselves to the snacks and wine, Rev. Blackmon walked over and began heating up her leftovers from Maggiano’s. The three of us struck up a conversation about a contentious topic in the last session. She was very gracious and seemed to me to be in the mood to talk. It seemed like she needed to unwind before calling the very long day a night. So the three of us sat down in the living room area of the spacious suite while she ate. Even though it was late, I was energized. Like those cop shows where they have to keep the caller on the line so they can trace the call,  I just wanted her to keep talking. She is a public theological intellectual, and like bell hooks, a treasure.

UCC, United Church of Christ, microaggression, white privilege, general synod, member in discernment

When we got back our room, I was revved up from the experience. “Traci Blackmon had a conversation with us,” I said. “Well,” said Susan, “she had a conversation with you. I think I may have made one statement.” Screeching halt. She was right. I, in my white academic privilege, had manipulated the conversation so that I could “own” an engagement with this person I admired. I knew how to guide conversation, to interview a subject, and that’s what I had done. My new friend was gracious, and to her great credit, she didn’t excuse or deny it to make me feel better. The irony is that throughout the conversation with Rev. Blackmon I kept telling myself that I was humbled to be in her presence. No I wasn’t; I was proud. Humility is what Susan exhibited, yet I was so blinded by my privilege I did not see it.

I am not suggesting Susan did not have voice–she did, and she could have called me out severely as we debriefed. What I realized was that in this space where justice and covenant were sacred ideals to be put into practice by all Christians, I had performed a microaggression from a place of privilege, so I am glad the space is also one of grace and mercy. Although, like the tools of privilege in my invisible backpack, I do not deserve them.

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