White Reform

*Warning: This post is mostly satire, aimed at challenging (and changing) pervasive and destructive narratives that are applied to people of color while ignoring and even downplaying violent behaviors in whites. While written in jest to expose the level of hypocrisy and hatred embedded within white supremacist ideology, something must really be done to dismantle a system that kills black and brown bodies around the world. We need a collective movement, comprised of various strategies, people, and ideas, including new, liberating theologies centered on the experience of people of color, immigrants, and women, that will shake the beast that is white supremacy to its core, freeing us all from it’s grip.*

I try not to listen to anything Donald Trump says. Everytime I do, I walk away with a severe headache and a profound sense of hopelessness for our nation. And so, for the sake of my sanity, I mostly tune his rhetoric out. This week, however, my strategy has proved to be futile as news outlets and social media focus in on Trump’s latest mumbo gumbo. The unfortunate target of his vile, hate speech this time? Muslims.

It is no secret that Trump has a deep disregard for people of the Muslim faith. On the campaign trail, he has expressed a desire to essentially stomp out Islam and those who are connected to it, in order to purge the world of ISIS. Since the San Bernardino shooting last Friday, where it is suspected that Muslim radicals engaged in a mass shooting that killed 14 people, Trump has only doubled down on his rhetoric going so far as to insist that Muslims be banned from entering into the United States.

In one speech, Trump targeted all Muslims to address the actions of a few. Although people from both aisles of the political divide are denouncing his actions, this is something that will likely yield disastrous results in the Muslim community – both in the U.S. and around the world. Missing from his speech, of course, was any action directed toward the other mass shooters in 2015. By some estimates, there have been 355 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including one on the same day of the incident in San Bernardino, the shooting at Planned Parenthood several days prior, an incident in Minneapolis a few weeks ago when five people protesting the execution of Jamar Clark were shot, the mass shooting in Oregon in October, and the shooting of the Mother Emanuel 9 in June. Most of the suspects in these cases have been white men. And yet there hasn’t been any speeches, by Trump or others, calling white men in.

In addition to the mass shootings, there have been other ongoing acts of violence by white men in our society. In 2015 alone, 1,109 people have died at the hands of the police, exceeding 2014 numbers before the year has come to a close. Overwhelmingly, the officers in these cases have been white. And in 100% of these cases, no officer has been convicted – though more officers have been charged in recent years due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter and others raising this issue in the nation’s consciousness. Of course, these numbers do not take into account the number of people who have been brutalized by cops without death nor the number of women who have been sexually violated by police officers. Nor do these numbers consider the ways in which practices and policies – so often passed and implemented by white men – make life a living nightmare for communities of color and indigenous communities around the world, contributing to a slow, agonizing death of sorts that seldom makes the evening news but is just as deadly, and far more prevalent than guns.

Of course, not all white men are mass gunmen and not all white cops are would-be killers of black and brown bodies. Even still, these occurrences, suggest that there is something at play that goes beyond gun control and police reform. The deeper issue is the culture of violence that is pervasive among white men, violence that often goes unchecked because they are white men. Besides the increased presence of police cameras, which has not seemed to pay off like some said it would, police are not held accountable for their sins against people of color. And mass shooters, if they are white, get escorted to the nearest Mickey D’s and get off on mental health charges instead of having to seriously deal with the ways that they have terrorized the American society. Vigilantes like Zimmerman often go scot free, and if they are charged, it is often for a lesser charge in order to ensure that they are not actually punished for acts of terror and white supremacy.

How will a society, no a world, that is terrorized by angry white men find healing and wholeness? What can we do to ensure that these disastrous things come to an end, and that when they do happen, white men are actually held accountable for their actions?

I propose something called White Reform. In the same way that our country passes policies and programs to address problems in communities of color and indigenous communities, it is time that we flip the script and put white people under the microscope for once in order to get at these tenuous social ills caused by white supremacist ideologies that exploit the life and liberties of others to satisfy the blood hungry appetites of white men. Below, I have briefly outlined a few bold steps that can move us forward today:

  1. The government should start a new initiative focused on improving the outcomes of white men in our society. Call it, “My Whiter Brother’s Keeper,” if you like. Invest millions of dollars in the initiative and award local municipalities who come up with the best strategies for solving the white problem. Emphasize the need for mentorship in order to address the fatherlessness problem that exists in white single-parented households. Challenge and condemn promiscuity among white teenagers; blame white musicians and sexual icons for their role in increasing violence and other inappropriate behavior.
  2. Commission a report that will study the extent of the white problem and put forth a call to action that will outline tangible and measurable steps to get to the bottom of the culture of violence in the white community. Nonprofits should start hiring organizers who will work in the white community. Foundations should invest money to support the efforts of these nonprofits. Invent lots of programs, throw money at them, but make sure that the actual money stays in black and brown communities. Audit and scrutinize organizations run by white people because they might not use their limited funds correctly.
  3. Invest in social services and other medical interventions to figure out why so many white male shooters are mentally unstable since guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Conduct focus groups and listening sessions where people of color do all of the talking and are the experts, but be sure to have a few white people in the room who won’t challenge what is being said, to analyze the factors that contribute to the mental instability.
  4. Early childhood education, all education for that matter, must explicitly teach white children to not be racist. Teach real American history, lifting up the true narratives of American Indians and African Americans. Reveal this country’s practices and policies that have cut people of color and indigenous communities out of opportunity, and let children know that these practices have taken root not only in the south but in the so-called progressive north where liberalism and tolerance abound. School districts that have comprehensive lesson plans that yield results should be awarded with dollars to improve their education programs.
  5. White parents should send their children to inner city schools to make sure they get a good education. Simply being next to black and brown children will improve their life outcomes.
  6. Train educators how to handle white rage and misbehavior. If they teach in Minnesota or other Northern states, they should take note that the rage will be more passive in nature and appear less dangerous but it is just as harmful as in your face, overt racism. Social workers and psychologists must learn how to best work with these people. If all else fails, tell their parents they have a learning disability and insist that they take harmful drugs so that they sit still in class.
  7. Equip all of the suburban and rural schools with medical detectors and security guards. Ensure that no white student or adult walks through the doors without being screened to make sure they are not in possession of a firearm or other explosive. Do not tolerate the slightest incidence of misbehavior from white children; use suspensions as a disciplinary method.
  8. Universities should start offering White Studies at a bachelor and master’s level. The programs should emphasize the social ills created by whites living away from people of color for so long. Black and brown students should be admitted into the program as well. They should become the experts in White Studies, even though it is the lived experience and daily reality of whites.
  9. Take a paternalistic approach to all policymaking, programs, and other efforts aimed at solving the white problem. After all, people of color know what is in the best interests of whites and can even speak for whites if they have one white friend, family member, or grew up living next to whites.

Of course, not all white men need to be reformed. There are many, outstanding white citizens who are a testament to their race who are nonviolent, anti-racist, and simply fantastic human beings. Use these men to be the models for the rest of them. Bring them on talk shows, news outlets, and quote them addressing the white problem so that others in the white community can be influenced by their good behavior. However, use disagreement among these leaders in the white community as an opportunity to humiliate them and discredit their movement. Write articles and op-eds pointing out the inconsistencies in vision and approach as a means to justify their continued marginalization.

Is this plan discriminatory? Perhaps. But something must be done to get at the culture of violence exhibited by angry, white men. Our society must be rid of white oppressor behaviors that continue to steal from our children, rape our women, and kill our men. Contrary to white supremacist ideology, we must take a collectivist approach here and prioritize the needs of the community over one, lone individual. And until we have a handle on the problem, perhaps we should pass policy reforms that will keep white men from voting and achieving political power over people of color and indigenous folks. Relegate them to certain neighborhoods, separated from the rest of us so that they cannot harm others. And if they still do not get in line, threaten stricter social reforms, mass incarceration and deportation.  

The Role of Law, Science, and Religion in Both Perpetuating and Overturning Racism

Victory-GrillEvery day, it seems, I bear witness to the reality that rights to humanity are not afforded to everyone in this country. Every day as I face the world, I see life being snatched away from men, women, and children simply because they are black. This fate is no respecter of persons in that it does not matter how wealthy, how poor, how saved, how pagan, how educated, how uninformed one is – so long as you are black in this country, you run the risk of being accosted and harassed by the police or shot by unsuspecting terrorists in your own house of worship.

This is the point that I really wanted to establish in my last piece, “Opportunity Gap? The Only Opportunity We Lack is an Opportunity to Live.” So often I find that in conversations about racial justice, the discussion focuses on improving economic opportunity for black people. Don’t get me wrong, this is important! We need access to jobs, housing, education and so much more. However, the crux of this issue is not that we lack these things; the problem is that we lack the opportunity to fully live. In fact, it is because we do not have complete and total access to life that we sometimes lack the financial wherewithal to live well.

How do we undo this? Is it even possible to turn back the clocks of time and live as we did before blacks were taken hostage and brought to the American soil? Probably not, racism and slavery has left an indelible mark on each and every one of our souls – black and white alike – so that it very much defines and characterizes who were are as Americans. But, I believe that we can be healed so that our collective humanity as Americans is restored.

Our healing won’t come easy, true transformation never does. It will take us, all of us, looking deeply at the situation before us and accessing the damage that has been done. We must consider how we got here, what were the layers that went into crafting this false narrative of racial superiority and inferiority? As I previously indicated, the perfect combination of laws, science, and religion, were instrumental in creating the current conditions. If these things were what led to our current reality, they must also be faced in order to secure a future where blacks are fully embraced and humanized.

Let us first address the things that need to shift in laws and policies. Before doing so, it would be helpful to understand that laws are not moral documents but documents that limit and control the behavior of a particular group or people. I make this case in a recent blog post, the Irrational Politics of Law, drawing from the stories of Daniel and Mordecai in the Old Testament to explain how law can be used intentionally and unintentionally to discriminate against people:

In Daniel and Mordecai, we see how the law can be used to inhibit a people whose existence threatens the state. The law, in instances as such, is nothing more than a tool to ensure that the interests of the powerful remain intact. The law, therefore, is not a just, moral document. Instead, it can be a representation of pure evil, something to be fought against rather than obeyed.

As police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial profiling continue to rob our communities of our black men, women, and children, for wearing hoodies, asking for help, running away when sensing danger, selling cigarettes, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fighting for one’s rights, it is clear that the laws of the land are designed similarly to the ones of the Persian empire. The laws that are being erected are there, not to ensure moral behavior, but to severely inhibit black people so that we are either behind bars, dead, or so extremely poor and disillusioned that our existence does not disrupt the power structure of the state.

In America, laws have often been used to limit the ability of black Americans from moving and existing freely in the American society. The War on Drugs was one law which unjustly profiled, arrested, and sometimes killed black people for possessing small amounts of illegal substances. And in the most extreme, desperate cases, drugs were planted on people so that there would be an excuse to profile, harass and arrest. Yet the war was announced prior to there actually being a presence of these drugs in society. The plan was clear: cripple the vitality of the black community, restrict our movement, and silence our leaders. Time would fail me if I began to unravel the immediate and lasting effects of this war. What I will say is that living through the crack years of the 1990s was absolute hell. Laws like this do not need to be reformed but revoked all together in order to grant freedom and access to black Americans (and no, legalizing marijuana is not the answer here. Opportunists!).

Public policy, when designed and implemented with race in mind, can be a great tool in addressing the inequities that our unjust laws have produced. This is what much of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s aimed to do. Had this legislation been able to operate as it intended and lift the burdens of black Americans, society would look much different than it does today. But the beast of racism wouldn’t let it. In the words of the illustrious Malcolm X, ‘Racism is like a cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.’ The American society needs to commit itself to stop inventing new, more insidious forms of racism and allow the public policies that can reduce racial inequities to work.

While the work of Carl Von Linneaus was foundational in making the case for a hierarchy of races among humans, any scientist worth their salt knows that this is simply not true. And Bill Nye is certainly worth a lot of salt. According to Nye, there is no scientific basis that supports race whatsoever. In fact, as Nye so eloquently puts it, all of humanity originates from the same place – East Africa. The differences among us can only be attributed to migration patterns and the effects of ultraviolet light on the skin.

PBS documentary, Race: the Power of An Illusion, supports Nye’s thesis. The documentary which draws on the expertise of researchers, scientists and more, also concludes that any genetic differences between us are not based on the color of one’s skin. “85 percent of all the variation among human beings is between any two individuals within a local population…any two individuals in any so-called race may be as different from each other from any individual in another so-called race.” To substantiate this claim, a group of students representing various cultural and racial categories, tested their DNA to see who they were most like and who they were most different from. Prior to receiving the results, the students assumed that they would be most like their peers who were from their same racial and cultural group. Yet they discovered that genetically speaking they were as similar to those within their racial group as they are to those without.

In spite of the work that has been done to prove that the idea of race is not supported by science, American society operates as if it holds true. It is so ingrained in this country’s ethos that scientific data alone cannot put an end to this myth that has endured for centuries. Late last year, I had a conversation with someone who wanted my opinion on research they were conducting about health outcomes and differences between people of color and whites. I spent at least ten agonizing minutes trying to explain that the differences had nothing to do with genetic makeup or biology because race is artificial. But he kept going there, so clueless to the fact that the differences in health outcomes had everything to do with racial disparities, environmental injustice, and concentrated poverty. When I concluded our conversation stating that his research was faulty and unscientific, he blew me off. Facts alone cannot change hearts and minds. But I know something that can.

As I mentioned above, religion – and specifically American Christianity – also played a role in sanctioning slavery and the perpetual dehumanization of black bodies. The same documentation that made it theologically permissible to exploit and colonize Native Americans supported slavery. While this has historically been the case in our country, I am also convinced that true Christianity that is not marked by white supremacy and colonialism has the capacity to change attitudes, substantiate scientific research and lift up good policy that ensures that blacks, along with every other disinvested group, are treated in an equitable and just manner. Essentially I believe that the Church, through Christ, is able to reaffirm the humanity of black Americans and say to a sadistic society that racism has to end. In an age of colorblindness and #BlackLivesMatter, this is what we desperately need. In my next piece, I will explain how. Hang around!

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Wisdom, Wealth and Eternity: Valuing What Truly Matters

s-RICH-PEOPLE-MEETING-largeI can probably count on one hand the number of sermons I have heard from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Many preachers, I suspect, do not find the book as relevant or God-inspired as the others because it reflects a time in King Solomon’s life – the accredited author of the book – when he was at his lowest. Though Solomon started off his reign having a close relationship with God, his wealth and fame caused his heart to turn away from the one whom he went out of his way to build a house of worship.

Solomon amassed great riches and power as a result of the wisdom that he possessed. He was a shrewd king who worked his people crazily – so much so that when he died, the people requested that his son Rehoboam ease up on the workload that was put in place by his father! But he also made many strategic political alliances with foreign nations through marriage – the Bible states that he had at least 700 wives and 300 concubines representing various nations and people groups. As a result of his craftiness, he is known as being one of the richest people in the world. Says 2 Kings:

“Solomon received twenty-five tons of gold in tribute annually. This was above and beyond the taxes and profit on trade with merchants and assorted kings and governors.

King Solomon crafted two hundred body-length shields of hammered gold—seven and a half pounds of gold to each shield—and three hundred smaller shields about half that size. He stored the shields in the House of the Forest of Lebanon.

The king built a massive throne of ivory accented with a veneer of gold. The throne had six steps leading up to it, its back shaped like an arch. The armrests on each side were flanked by lions. Lions, twelve of them, were placed at either end of the six steps. There was no throne like it in any of the surrounding kingdoms.

King Solomon’s chalices and tankards were made of gold and all the dinnerware and serving utensils in the House of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold—nothing was made of silver; silver was considered common and cheap.

The king had a fleet of ocean-going ships at sea with Hiram’s ships. Every three years the fleet would bring in a cargo of gold, silver, and ivory, and apes and peacocks (2 Kings 10.14-22, the Message).”

There was nothing that the King could not afford! Everything and anything he wanted he had unlimited access to. For all intents and purposes, he should have been a very content and happy man. Yet, Ecclesiastes tells us what 2 Kings does not and allows us to get a sneak peak into Solomon’s heart as he evaluates all of his wealth:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.

Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2.1 – 11, NASB).”

Meaningless. This is what Solomon concludes of the wealth, of the stuff that he has accumulated in life. Not only is the wealth meaningless; the striving that Solomon put forth to get that wealth was also pointless – no doubt something that probably cost the most vulnerable in his society the most! But why, after living a lifetime in fortune and fame did Solomon draw this conclusion? Because as he neared the end of his days, he realized that: (1) wealth was unable to deliver on the promise of happiness and (2) of all of the possessions he gained, none of them could be taken into eternity with him.

While Solomon may not be in the same place spiritually as he was when he first started his reign, the wisdom and insight that he possesses should not be negated. In fact, the analysis that he provides of his experience deserves much more attention than what most preachers and religious scholars typically provide. Perhaps if we heed Solomon’s advice, we could put forth a better theology that will also have implications on the way that we order society!

We live in a culture, in a nation that places a high priority on the bottom line. Like Solomon, we are willing to do anything and everything to be wealthy, even if it costs others. Indeed, built into our nation’s very economic structure is the oppression of Native Americans and African Americans – it is the land and labor of each that has made this country the fiscal powerhouse that it is. With increased globalization, however, our country is adamant about staying on top and so, we turn corporations into people so that they can continue making big profits, we ramp our already unjust international trade policies, and we continue to police people of color for the most ridiculous things including spitting, lurking, and consuming alcohol in public making them pay for simply being black and brown.

American theology, unfortunately, supports many if not all of these things. Our theology reflects an orientation towards blessing and prosperity and leaves little room for evaluating just how that prosperity is secured. In fact, in many Christian circles, people believe that material blessing is the mark of God’s approval on one’s life. Never for a moment do we ever stop to consider Solomon’s words, let alone any other biblical writer as it pertains to wealth and material possessions. Remember, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he owned to follow after Him and He met that quite literally!

Meaningless. Wealth is utter meaninglessness. Oppressing people in order to get it is pointless, hoarding it is stranger still. But then what in life actually, truly matters?

Solomon provides us with perspective once again. He advises us to live simply – eat, drink and enjoy our labor! To me, Solomon’s sage advice means that there is value in providing for the needs of self, family and the community. Working so that you can provide clothing, shelter, food and transportation for your loved ones makes sense and is even spiritual stuff. However, building bigger and better simply for the sake of having more not only is meaningless but it robs other people of their capacity to provide for their basic necessities. Contrary to popular thinking, it is not about narrowing the gap between the winners and the losers; it is about eliminating that gap altogether.

But Solomon also encourages us to set our minds on eternal things, which means that whatever lapse he has taken spiritually has not altered his ability to see the big picture. God matters and spending eternity with him is pretty important stuff. Anything that detracts from that, including wealth, is simply not worth pursuing.