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.  

God Things

In a world of chaos and pain, it is all the more necessary to take stock of the ways that God has proven Himself faithful.

Things have been hella crazy over the last few weeks. From the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria and Mali, to the demonization of Syrian refugees which led to the U.S. House of Representatives passing H.R. 4038 – the so-called “American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act which would grind refugee resettlement to a halt – to the unjust execution of Jamar Clark by the police in North Minneapolis, to the shooting of peaceful protesters demanding #Justice4Jamar, to the ongoing terrorizing of communities of color across the globe by the the west, it has been difficult to see God and believe that there could be a future where war, genocide, and state-sanctioned terror was not the de facto way of being in the world.

Our ambivalence makes sense! When we are so burdened with violence on a daily basis, how can we trust God for a different reality? Those of us who profess faith in Christ have been waiting nearly 2,000 years for His return – believing that upon His arrival, crooked paths will be made straight, empires will fall, oppressors will be subdued, and all that is despicable in the world will either be destroyed or made beautiful again. Yet, the extreme chaos has a tendency to choke out hope, even among the most faithful of us, and lead us to believe that justice isn’t coming, and that we are just better off trying to make whatever little progress we can with our own hands.

Is there any hope for a world riddled with hate, fear and violence? Is there any hope for a people controlled by white supremacist terror and corporate greed?

Yes! I believe there is. In spite of what I see around me, the inner recesses of my soul knows that justice is coming. Salvation is on its way. Things, as they are now, won’t always continue like this. In fact, things haven’t always been like this so whatever has a beginning will have an end. One day, and one day soon (I hope) there will be an end to war, an end to state sanctioned violence, an end to capitalism and other economic systems which prey upon the vulnerable, the weak, and the dispossessed. One day, the world we inhabit will be characterized by peace, love, and an abiding spirit of mutuality.

As we wait for that day, we have a job to do!

First of all, we call the kingdom of God forth. We accept the invitation that Jesus extended to the disciples, but also to the whole body of believers, to pray for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But we must not stop at prayer – this is only our starting pointing. After we have interceded and tarried for a while, we then go out in the world raising the consciousness of those around us that the Kingdom of God is on its way and that systems, hearts, and minds better get right. Essentially, this is what John the Baptist’s ministry comprised of, as recorded in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He was a first century protester, who called people to repentance and challenged the corruptive, exploitative empire of his day, declaring “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the LORD (John 1.23).’” Similarly to John in the first century, we now in 2015 have a duty, a responsibility, to echo John’s refrain and call the Kingdom of God forth.

If God is King, that means that governments and corporations in this world who think they are running things are not. All which rules through corruption and oppression, and who profit off of the death of black, brown, and indigenous bodies all over the world, get dethroned – they lose all of their power. We set this process in motion every time we declare ‘Black Lives Matter,’ demand that our government welcomes Syrian refugees, elevate the voices of women and girls around the world, force corporations to take climate change seriously and advocate for just, equitable policies that will not have disparate impacts on vulnerable communities.

Secondly, we recognize and lift up the God things among us. No matter how dark it gets, God’s light still shines. No matter how evil and violent it gets, God’s presence still envelopes us all. Contrary to popular theological belief, Satan does not govern the affairs of this world, God does! While he may have enticed Adam and Eve into sin, he did not get dominion over the earth just because they lost an element of theirs.

God is still in control and we see glimpses of that with every sunrise and sunset. We see God in the faces of little children and newborn babies and the smiles of those most close to us as they age. Even in the spaces that have been lost to white supremacist control, God is still present with every court case that works out in the favor of families who have lost a loved one, with every successful refugee resettlement, with every home that shelters, protects, and provides, with every meal that nourishes, and with every table that extends an invitation to a friend, a neighbor, or a complete stranger. God is among us and He is working in and around us every second of every day to bring about that glorious future that we all so desperately long for.

As we wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom and play an active role in bringing it forth, we must always remember to elevate the God things, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Every time we lift up God’s name and exalt Him above demonic principalities that manifest themselves in white supremacy and other imperialistic ideologies, our glorious future free of injustice and pain gets a little closer than it is right now.

On #RachelDolezal: The Beauty and Pain of Blackness

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“Can you drink this cup?”

This is the question that Jesus asked His disciples, James and John, when they requested seats of prominence in His coming kingdom (Matthew 20.20-23, NASB). After walking with Him for three years, they believed Him to be the Son of God as they saw His power unfurled when He raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons and held crowds captive with oratorical skills that Obama wished he possessed. While they did not completely understand the events that were unfolding before them as the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion drew near, they knew that something in the spiritual world was shifting. And they wanted to identify themselves with that power in every possible way.

Can you drink this cup,” Jesus asked as the disciples greedily make their request? Could they drink the cup of suffering that came a long with the cup of glory, power, and majesty? Could they allow themselves to be subjected to the oppressive, imperialistic cross – a cross that was no doubt responsible for the premature death of men in their community who posed a threat to the empire? Could they wrap their minds around the idea of having loved ones – mothers, sisters, brothers, and friends – grieve over their breathless bodies? Or were they only attracted to the glory of resurrection, the power and beauty that was associated with victory and triumph?

The Gospel writers show us that it was most certainly the latter. Even though James and John answered Jesus’ question in the affirmative – “We are able to drink” – the reality is that when the moment of reckoning came, they deserted Jesus so that they would not be found guilty by association. Jesus faced the agony of the cross completely alone. He alone was mocked, spit upon and beaten nearly beyond the point of recognition, clearly a warning to others lest they be so brazen with such eternal truth. He alone bore the complete and excruciating pain of the cross. An examination of the ordeal states that:

The procedure of crucifixion may be summarized as follows. The patibulum was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Nails, about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 1 cm were driven in the wrists. The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist, since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body…When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed end inspiratory position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. The victim would only be able to take very shallow breaths.”

Jesus alone crippled under the force of that imperialistic cross! And certainly He alone is worthy of all of the glory that was wrought through such extreme suffering; no one else can take credit for the newness of life that was brought about through this rugged cross. And certainly no one else can appropriate His suffering for their own gain!

While the suffering of Jesus, I believe, is unique and incomparable to anything else in human history, there are many things that come close. In the last century alone, there have been numerous accounts of human suffering and genocide that have been the result of empires across the globe seeking power, control, and resources, similarly to the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day. However, in spite of the fear that these imperialistic regimes invoke, there has always been a remnant among the subjugated who fight hard for their liberation and refuse to be silent.

And of course, African Americans are one of those people. Ever since we were forcibly removed from our land hundreds of years ago, we have fought tooth and nail for our freedom. We’ve revolted, we’ve protested, we’ve educated ourselves, we’ve lobbied political leaders, we’ve marched, we’ve resisted, we’ve testified, we’ve prophesied, and most recently, we’ve turned the nation’s consciousness back toward the suffering that has continued to endure in plain sight all of these years.

In spite of the suffering, we are very beautiful people. Our style, our swag, our way of being including what we give to the world through song, culture, food, spirituality, and more is something that we proudly celebrate. Unfortunately, however, there are many in our American culture who want to identify with the beauty inherent to blackness and are not the least bit interested in identifying with the suffering, the agony, that comes with living in this skin. There are those who want to appropriate our success, all the while undermining the struggle it took to secure that success.

This appropriation takes place in many ways, including with Hip Hop (Iggy Azelea and Macklemore), hair (Marc Jacobs and his invention of mini-buns bantu-knots), dance (Taylor Swift and Miley Cirus) and so much more (check out this 4 minute video by 16 year old Amandla Stenberg for more here). The latest act of appropriation was committed by Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal, a civil rights activist, professor of Africana studies, and president of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was recently outed as a white woman – she has been pretending to be black for years.

While I can never know the intent behind Dolezal’s actions, actions that have granted her access to intimate black spaces, given her some degree of fame, and caused her to be sought out as an expert on all things black, I can speak to the negative impact of those actions. As a black woman living in America in 2015, I feel so deeply cheapened by her decision to mask herself in the beauty and power that comes with being black, without intimately understanding the suffering that is so intertwined with this wretched body (although she definitely faked that, too). I feel insulted, as if the persistent suffering of family, friends, neighbors, and ancestors, is nothing more than a badge of self-glorification, something that can be taken on and off by those who feign black beauty but despise blackness – the highest form of white supremacy, no doubt! It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But imitation, when it comes to the experience of the oppressed and marginalized, is nothing more than a slap in the face, a dagger in an already broken soul.

The question that I pose to Dolezal, Azelea, and others who desire the glory that comes with blackness is the same one that Jesus asked his disciples right before he underwent the greatest suffering known to humankind: “Can you drink this cup?” Can you drink the cup of suffering, the cup of police brutality, the cup of marginalization, the cup of unemployment, the cup of unjust laws that are designed to destroy you, the cup of 1000 daily deaths? Undoubtedly, it is this cup that has produced the culture, the identity that is so desperately craved by the music world, fashion icons, and a certain NAACP president in Washington. And I get it, we are a beautiful people. But here is the thing: if you can’t deal with one, you certainly cannot have the other!