This past Sunday I had an opportunity to preach at Lighthouse Mpls Covenant Church where my wonderful friend, Dee McIntosh is the pastor. Check out the sermon in this video:
A teacher of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Rather than answer his question, Jesus countered and asked the teacher to define the law himself and the teacher replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Agreeing to the teacher’s answer, Jesus said, “If you do this you will have eternal life.”
But the teacher wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to test Jesus further. “Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Rising to the challenge, Jesus proceeded to point to the one who was most vilified in their society – the Samaritan. The one who was religiously and culturally different from this teacher – and who was consistently exploited for being so – was the very one whom God called him to love. To embrace. To treat neighborly. To display kindness, mercy and humility toward.
Jesus did not stop there. He not only professed love for the socially outcast but built an entire ministry around other marginalized identities including the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, sinners, women, children and more, showing that true disciples of Christ show mercy and love to all people without distinction. In his ministry to the outcast, Jesus demanded very little of these people, in fact, he continually claimed that the kingdom of God belonged to those at the margins of society saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted for righteousness sake – for yours in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3 – 12, NRSV). And at the same time, he continually condemned those in power who were responsible for the marginalized’s misery.
In our day and time, we must consider Jesus’ words and ministry like never before. His injunction to love others unapologetically still applies and this application is not up for debate if we truly do believe that the Word of God is true! In this political moment, the personhood of many immigrant and refugee groups – including Muslims and Latinos – is being called into question as leaders in our nation attempt to pass laws that exclude them. Though some Evangelical leaders suggest that this is not a biblical issue, we do not get to decide what does and what does not apply. God alone calls the shots on God’s own Word, so that if He says that we need to love, we better love. Hard! If not, we have to perhaps consider that we are not only willing to disobey His Word but may be outside of the family of God.
Remember the teacher’s question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jesus, love is not a matter of convenience or political expedience; it is a matter of eternal life. Period. In fact, all of the commandments and teachings of the law and the prophets hinge on this one single thing: love. To take it one step further, we cannot even say that we love God if we do not love others – we cannot despise those created in the image of God and still declare that we love God. For us, this means that we cannot say that we love God while simultaneously hating, despising, and oppressing Muslims and Latino immigrants and refugees. Also, remember God has a special heart for the foreigner in our land!
The biblical response to the Muslim Ban and the build the wall nonsense, is to love. And from the place of love, we speak up and speak out against everything that minimizes the personhood of others. We can do this in a myriad of ways including but not limited to writing letters to the editor of our local newspapers, speaking to our family and friends about the importance of resisting despotic policies, joining in protests that affirm the rights and dignity of the oppressed, or informing other Christians about what is going on. The form in which we engage and use our influence as believers is not as important – what is important is that we do something to extend God’s love in this moment.
Today, I sit before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants. – Deuteronomy 30.14
The task that is laid before the people of every generation is whether or not they will follow after God. Will they build upon the good works and faith of the ancestors who have gone on before them? Or will they turn away from the path laid out before them and embrace chaos, destruction, and death instead, pushing the world further away from existence? Will they seek to redeem the despotic decision making of their fore fathers and mothers by fighting for justice and telling God’s good news about deliverance? Or will they, like their ancestors before them, persist in grinding the face of the poor for power and profit?
No matter the good done by those before, subsequent generations are expected to affirm their commitment to living a life modeled after God’s ideas rather than imperialistic obsessions with greed, evil, and death. While the idea of generational blessings has merit from a theological standpoint, this idea still clarifies the need for each generation to stand for justice and righteousness. No generation of people are exempt from having to make such a commitment, each is called to decide and declare its allegiance to God – most notably in times of transition including political and economic instability.
This is the challenge that the Israelites faced after being freed from Egypt. Three generations made distinctly different choices in their decision to follow after God. The first generation, or Moses’ generation, exhibited unfaith even though they witnessed with their own eyes God’s saving power. In spite of all that God had done for them – parting the Red Sea, dropping bread out of the sky, and so many other miracles – they complained, worshipped idols, and also simply refused to believe in God. As a result of their actions, they died out in the wilderness and failed to fully inherit all that God had for them. The second generation, Joshua’s generation, made different choices. Unlike their parents before them, or perhaps because of them, this generation inherited the Promised Land as a result of consistent, albeit imperfect obedience to God. The third generation, not knowing anything about Joshua or how God delivered the Israelites, pursued evil. The people of this generation, and even ones proceeding after it were consistently described as ones who did was what right in their own eyes and had little regard for God.
Similarly throughout the lineage of the Davidic Empire in Israel, each generation made different decisions in terms of how they would either follow God by pursuing justice, mercy, and humility or turn away from God. David, though an ardent worshipper, compromised his faith by pursuing prestige, power, and possessions – even those that belonged to other people. Although God gave his son Solomon the authority to build the Jewish Temple, Solomon greatly oppressed those within the kingdom to not only pull off the building of this great edifice but other visible institutions of the Empire. In addition, his pursuit of political power at the expense of his love for God cost him the intimacy that he once enjoyed with God. And Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, decided to further depart from God’s will instead of improving upon his ancestors weaknesses. Although he knew about how his father Solomon bought and sold people for the sake of expansion, and how David – his grandfather – was responsible for so much bloodshed, both within and without the kingdom, Rehoboam vowed to make things even worse for the people when presented with the opportunity to ease the burden of the oppressed: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (I Kings 12.11, NASB).
Yet, disobedience and departure from the ways of God came with a cost. In each instance when a generation chose to pursue injustice instead of embracing God’s shalom, there was catastrophe. Though this catastrophe was most often felt among those who were already oppressed – after all, vulnerable and marginalized communities often pay the most in times of civil and political unrest – there were consequences for every decision that squelched the opportunity for God’s love, peace, mercy, and justice to be felt among God’s people. Such was the case with Rehoboam – his persistence in following evil was a pivotal moment in Israel’s history that precipitated the downfall of the empire. Unfortunately, the kings that arose after him made similar decisions which only hastened the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of the people.
God always gives us a choice. Because He is patient and kind, not willing for anyone to perish, He consistently extends to each and every one of us the opportunity to chose Him. Not just to believe in Him or express faith in Him, but to back up what we believe about God by our commitment to pursue justice, love, and mercy instead of injustice, hatred and war.
Somehow we forget that this is what God is concerned about. We forget, or rather we do not know, that God’s heart aches for the broken and despised in this world. He grieves over the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner – people who have been made poor because of the systems of this world. Because He is concerned about them, He demands that we be concerned about them. Over and over and over again throughout the biblical text, He raises our consciousness on the plight of these and asks us to choose: Choose life so that you may live. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Liberate those in prison. Preach good news to those who are hopeless as a result of their condition.
God’s Clarion Call Today
Once again, we are at a point in history where God is asking us – and by us I want to specifically address Christian believers and also recognize that He extends the same invitation to the rest of the world – to make a decision. I call out the Church specifically because, unfortunately, we have a track record of ignoring social problems – if not condoning them – for the sake of comfort and security. In our time, right now, people across the globe are suffering tremendously because of the United States’ obsession with power. Because of power, we wage war against nations with impunity. Because of power, we consume the world’s goods – without care for who or what we are dispossessing even if the one that is being dispossessed is the earth itself. Because of power, we make allegiances with nations who are bent towards evil and ignore the plight of nations that are suffering because of our policies.
And that is just what we are doing to people outside of our nation’s borders. The things that we are doing to our own kin are just as atrocious and despicable. Although this nation has always despised Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC), we are now seeing this hatred at a heightened level. The policies that were arguably covert since the Civil Rights era are now overt making it nearly impossible to deny that racism and white supremacy not only exist, but are still preferred weapons of war against non-whites. Will we stand to see stand to see Latinos deported, Muslims targeted, Blacks criminalized, American Indians lose even more land, LGBTQ persons increasingly discriminated against, and the poor of all races and cultures pitted against each other as the nation hoards more and more resources? Or will we stand and say no? Will we make a clear, unequivocal statement saying that we not only support these moves but will resist them through civic engagement, advocacy, civil disobedience, and prayer?
In recent history, the Church was called to make a similar decision. This time, the location was Germany and the people who were being persecuted were the Jews. As Nazism increased in the country, there arose a strange marriage between nationalism and Christianity, where the church produced anti-Semitic literature, banned Christians of Jewish ancestry from membership, and defaced the sacred scriptures – throwing out the Old Testament and amending the New Testament scriptures to erase Jesus’ connection to Judaism.
In his book, Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice, Dr. Curtiss DeYoung writes that in spite of the fact that church leaders were bothered by these moves, many refused to speak against Hitler. “They were encouraged at how the Nazis were reviving the nation’s morale and economy. And Nazi anti-Semitism was far from foreign to much of Christianity, which had a long anti-Semitic history, based on church teachings that Jews were guilty as a race for the death of Christ. (Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice p 30).”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few pastors – let alone Christians – who took a stand against Hitler noted how incapable the church was in standing up for justice, in spite of the teachings of the Jesus who advocated for such a witness against evil empires and oppression. For Bonhoeffer this “revealed the problematic character of its entire past: its veneration of and obedience to the state, its support for the traditional class system, its resistance to social change, its indifference to the plight of workers and the poor, and its opposition to socialism and working class politics” (ibid, 35). Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer was not just referring to the church in Germany but the entirety of Western Christian witness noting that delegates at the World Council of Churches held in Denmark of 1934 were resigned to the reality of war in Europe. At such a critical time in world history, Christians failed to speak and exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit working on the inside of them.
Listen, I’m not equating what’s going on in our nation and conspiring nations to what happened to the Jews – although there are strikingly similar comparisons that we must stay vigilant about. However, regardless of the scale of evil – whether it is concentrated in one region of the world or widespread across the globe – as Christians, we must speak out about it. We must speak if it affects us directly and we must speak if it does not. As a result of the church’s failure to speak, millions of people died in the Holocaust – Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, and anyone Hitler found a political threat, including Bonhoeffer himself. As a result of the church’s inability to extend compassion, love, and justice to others, millions more in our own life times are living lives under siege. Will we ignore their suffering and turn a deaf ear to their cries as did the church in WWII? Or will we choose life so that we, our descendants, our kin around the world, may live?
Oh, I pray that we choose life. Today, in this moment, let it be said that this generation chose life. Let it be said that we resisted. That we prayed. That we gathered around the dispossessed. That we extended God’s love to those who are near and far. That we refused to hide behind comfortable Christianity and took a chance on love, took a chance on God. That we welcomed the kingdom of God among us as we provided for the needs of those who are without. That’s my prayer for you, that’s my prayer for all of us as we embrace this New Year.
It has been exactly a year since the horrific mass shooting took place in Charleston, North Carolina. As soon as I heard about this extreme act of terrorism against black bodies, I was quick to rush to the internet (Twitter) to denounce it. Tears flooded my face with every tweet I sent – I felt deeply hurt, targeted and wounded, understanding that it could have very well been me sitting in the same predicament of the victims and their families. Rather than be silent in a time of my greatest pain, I needed to speak up – no shout – so that the world around me could know that this was not okay.
This week, things have been a little different for me. Rather than speak in light of the Orlando mass shooting, I have been quick to listen, process, lament, and repent. You see, I am not a member of the LGBTQ community neither am I Latina. Since these are two communities that I do not belong to, I have tried to intentionally make space to hear and receive from people in our society who feel especially vulnerable and hurt at this particular time. In silence, here are a few things I am thinking about:
My Own Biases:
Since the shooter was a Afghani male who expressed allegiance to ISIS,* it would be so easy to denounce his hatred and distance myself from any sort of blame. In fact, I tried to do that when I first learned about the shooting Sunday morning. But over the course of the week, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how my own religious biases hold me just as culpable as the shooter. Though my sin does not have such a violent consequence, the reality is that the inner workings of my heart are just as dangerous especially when my verbiage is clocked in a veil of religiosity that laments the actions without naming the cause of those actions. They are dangerous because even in the absence of such vile actions, darkness is present in every word, deed, or thought that suggests that heterosexual people are better than LGBTQs. And it is these inner sentiments that often lead to actions that negatively impact people.
This is why Jesus cautioned us against harboring such negative thoughts toward each other: he intimately understood the ways in which our thoughts and words later dictate our actions:
21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill (Matthew 5.21, 22; the Message).”
Understanding my own bias here is one thing; checking those biases and adopting a different worldview is another. It is a process, but again, one of the things that I have been doing is intentionally surrounding myself with other voices who hold different perspectives than mine. Through listening to the wisdom and convictions of others, I know that my own perspective will be changed. Why? So that I can be free of guilt and wrongdoing? No, but so that I will be free to fully love and extend hospitality to others.
My Own Privilege:
In addition to reflecting on my own biases, I have been equally reflecting on my own privilege. Even though I sit at the intersection of multiple oppressions as a black woman in America, I also sit at the intersections of multiple privileges. And in this instance, one of those privileges is that I am a cis-gendered heterosexual in a marriage that is held up as normative. As a result of those privileges, I never have to wonder whether someone is targeting me or my family because of our sexual identity or structure. Neither do I worry about being discriminated against because of who I choose to love.
However, I am targeted and discriminated against in other ways. But because my own identity is not being attacked at this time, it is not appropriate – at least in my opinion – to center that. At all. It is important to specifically name and address the fact that the 49 people whose lives were cut short were mainly LatinX LGBTQ community members. My paying attention to and centering their humanity in this moment does not take away from my own, neither does it minimize my own historical experience of trauma and terror. Instead, centering the experience of others humanizes them at a time when they are being de-humanized
I feel this needs to be said because one of the things that I believe oppression does is blind us to the oppression of others. Because we are so consumed with our own pain, we sometimes lack the ability to empathize with others. As a result, we end up competing with one another instead of standing in solidarity with each other. We can equally go hard for own issues while supporting the issues of others.
Black Lives Matter. My experience as a black woman matters. And today, I am thinking about LatinX LGBTQ lives. They matter to God, and they matter to me, too!
Our Culture of Violence and Hyper-Masculinity
Do you know what the common denominator is in the majority of the cases of police brutality, mass shootings, suicides, homicides, domestic violence cases, rapes and other forms of sexual harassment?
Men. Hyper-masculinized men.
And these men cut across various demographics. Black. White. Asian. Latino. Middle Eastern.
They are so-called Christians, Muslims, Jews and Atheists.
They are rich and poor, and every class distinction in between.
Educated and non.
And they are men.
And those who are not physically violent create the conditions so that others will be violent on their behalf i.e. politicians.
What this tells me is that we cannot blame terrorism or our nation’s crazy obsession with guns for what happened in Orlando. Instead, we should take a deeper look at the ways in which patriarchy governs the ways in which we do life, not only in our nation but across the globe.
In her astute essay on this issue, bell hooks says this:
“Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation…It is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”
So you see, patriarchy is about exerting and maintaining control over others through force. This is what I see happening in Orlando and what I also see happening in our presidential election. It makes no difference whether the abuser is a gun-wielding cop who thinks they have rights over the black body, a group of teenage boys who feel they have the right to lynch the body of one of their female peers, or an affluent, privileged college student who thinks they have the right to rape another student. The results are all the same. Death. Dehumanization. Loss of community. Absence of love.
But of course, the consequences of each are determined by race, class, and power so that the repercussions of the Orlando shooter’s actions on the Muslim community will be more severe than the repercussions on white men over the Charleston shooter’s actions. White police officers are seldom held accountable for assaulting black bodies while the intraracial violence that occurs within our communities are pathologized. The actions of the poor are more highly scrutinized than those of the 1% – all of which suggests that white supremacy and capitalism only intensify the despotic reality of patriarchy. A statement released from the national chapter of Black Lives Matter connects these dots:
“The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism. These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.”
If patriarchy is the cause, actions directed at quelling terrorism, gun control, and even dare I say, white supremacy, fall short of producing change. If these things are only a symptom of our patriarchal society, solutions that center these maladies are only partially effective, though necessary. We will have to go way upstream to tackle this if we want to have a chance of reducing the destruction that is so commonplace among us.
These are just a few of the things I am thinking about in the context of the Orlando shooting that took 49 precious LatinX LGBTQ souls. I am sure that in the days and weeks and years to come I will have many more. My hope and prayer is that we all, myself included, give ourselves the space to reflect more deeply on how we are complicit in the this tragedy as a result of our own bias, privilege, and the way we support patriarchal norms among us. That we would give ourselves the permission to be challenged and grow through events like this, so that it doesn’t take another tragedy to wake us up from our stupor.
“Show a people as one thing and only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Danger of a Single Story.
Dangerous. Crime ridden. Littered with trash and broken glass. Infested with miscreants and human vermin. Falling apart. According to a recent commentary in the Star Tribune, these are the characteristics that define North Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, the language and the sentiment expressed in the article are not new. North Minneapolis has a history of being associated with drugs, violence, and chronic poverty. A quick google search of the community accompanies words such as, ‘shooting,’ ‘crime,’ and ‘safety.’ Yet, these words are often racially coded euphemisms for describing black people so that the user of the word does not appear racist. And in North Minneapolis, where black people comprise of 43% of the community’s residents, those who are sympathetic to the same views that the article purports use these terms to talk about black people without naming them.
When many look at vibrant communities with a large population of black people, this is all they see. Such is the reason why black people in North Minneapolis and across our nation, regardless of income, education, or a host of other factors, are stopped and profiled by law enforcement. And it explains why, black people are assumed to be guilty of wrongdoing whether we are walking across the street, attending a child’s birthday party, or helping out a friend in distress – no matter which neighborhood we live in. It also points to the reason why black people living in a community with a high concentration of poverty are identified as the problem instead of the history of structural racism and policymaking that caused that poverty. Black people are left on the hook to not only solve a problem that the system of white supremacy created but that this same system continues to benefit from.
The Danger of a Single Story
But this single story of North Minneapolis – and the people who live in it – isn’t completely true. And most single stories about people, places, or things never are – they are usually limited in scope and reflect a narrative that is most convenient for those in power to tell. Think about places like Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Queens, NY, or where I am from, Milwaukee, WI – all of these places are heavily populated with black people who are only recognized for their poverty and crime. Growing up in one of the roughest parts of Milwaukee in the 1990s, I heard the same terms applied to North Minneapolis used to define my own community: ‘at risk,’ ‘thugs,’ ‘drug dealers,’ ‘murderers.’ Our neighborhood was so badly stigmatized that after church, my youth pastor would reluctantly drop me off at home and pull off before I even reached the front steps. Family members were concerned for their safety whenever they came over to eat dinner. When we first moved in, my step-grandfather bought us bars for our front door and insisted we get a dog. But the reality is that my neighborhood consisted of much more than its negative, pervasive stereotypes.
So does North Minneapolis.
This is what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows us in her TED Talk, Danger of a Single Story. In the talk, Adichie tells the story of Fide, her family’s hired help when she was a child. Upon hiring Fide, Adichie learned that his family was extremely poor. Her parents would send old clothes, food, and other goods to support Fide’s family. And as a means to control her own behavior, Adichie’s family would even juxtapose her reality against Fide’s – “Don’t you know? People like Fidel’s family have nothing.”
Poverty was the only idea that Adichie ever entertained in relation to Fide and his family. Because they were poor, she never stopped to consider other facets of Fidel’s identity. Was he industrious? Was he interested in math or science? Was he good at soccer? Did he like to draw or build things? Was he a good cook? Did he have a sense of humor? These questions never crossed Adichie’s mind because all she had grown to recognize in someone like Fide was his level of poverty.
It was not until Adichie visited Fide’s village that she began to construct a new narrative about him and his family. Seeing artwork crafted by his mother forced her to abandon the monolithic framework in which she pigeonholed Fide and all who might represent him. At last, she was able to consider that while Fide was poor, he was also much more than that, which likewise opened up the possibility for her to connect with Fide as human equals instead of relating with him from a place of hegemony.
If people would allow their deeply held sentiments about black people to be stretched, like Adichie, they would begin to see us as equals and people deserving of the same access to rights and opportunities that are afforded to them. Such a framework would subsequently give them the ability to affirm the humanity of others and would likewise prevent them from exploiting it for personal or political gain. All of a sudden society would stop defining black residents in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, and North Minneapolis by crime and see us for all of the beauty, power, wisdom, and ingenuity that we carry.
Unfortunately, this framework is missing from the article in the Star Tribune. Instead, it validates another dehumanizing narrative that has dangerous consequences including further disinvestment. In the words of Dr. Bruce Corrie, professor of Concordia, “If I can devalue you and minimize your self worth, I can exploit you.” When the narrative that this article projects is maintained, developers are able to justify investments that push blacks and other residents of color outside of their neighborhoods; decisionmakers have a platform in which to intensify the presence of police officers in already heavily policed communities; and nonprofit agencies positioned to ‘help’ continuously examine these places through a lens of pity instead of seeing the innate power and beauty that is compellingly present.
Crafting a New Narrative
We need a new narrative that breaks beyond the despotic viewpoint of places like North Minneapolis and instead offers the complexly wonderful stories about these communities.
Of a truth, poverty and crime are realities in North Minneapolis. Yes, there are safety concerns. And yes, there is a level of despair because of decades of structural racism that has stripped the community of essential economic opportunities that are needed to survive. Systematic oppression and exploitation over four centuries has surely taken its toll on the black body in detrimental ways.
All of this is true.
And yet, North Minneapolis is also much more than that. Every time that I step into the community, this is what I see:
North Minneapolis is overflowing with a deep sense of cultural pride and a spirit of resiliency. Resiliency that dates back to the 1930s, when black people first started to settle there and began to build a community that withstood highway construction, redlining, environmental pollutants, and every other malady thrown their way under Minnesota’s version of Jim Crow policy.
There are bricks and mortar institutions, created by the community, for the community, under the leadership of the community including business and nonprofit organizations. Religious and cultural institutions. Workforce training and education centers. Restaurants, barber shops, playgrounds, and recreational spaces.
And the people. The people themselves are as rich and varied as in any other community – lawyers, students, artists, preachers, poets, politicians, janitors, doctors, activists, entrepreneurs, executive directors, sales associates, imams, architects, bikers, construction workers, healthcare professionals, consultants, videographers, and so much more. And these are black people!
And there is so much love and connectivity. A trip to Avenue Eatery on Broadway guarantees that one will see at least five people either known personally or through professional circles. Every event feels like a family reunion of sorts – a place where everybody knows somebody. The sense of solidarity runs miles deep, something that was evident in the Jamar Clark protests this past fall.
This is just a small sliver of the allure that characterizes North Minneapolis. And these exist because the people, the same people which the article dehumanizes, made it happen. People are creating and recreating all that is good and wholesome about this community every single day. In fact, if people who held such demoralizing ideas toward North Minneapolis and other urban areas nationwide could see that, much of the crime and poverty concerns would be minimized.
It is time for society to open their eyes to the beauty that lies in places like North Minneapolis. Step beyond the framework that only validates the experience, expertise, and humanity of white people, and affirm the experience, expertise, and humanity of black people as well as other communities of color in this rich community. And lest we forget: North Minneapolis gave Prince to the world. That alone has to count for something!
In my brief 33 years of living, I have come across many people of all walks and stripes – conservatives, liberals, Christians, agnostic, men, women, rich and poor – who sincerely believe that blacks and other people of color in America are afforded the same opportunities as whites. In their heart of hearts, they sincerely believe that the playing field has been leveled, that blacks can be aspire to whatever position in life that they choose, and that if racism exists at all, it actually affects whites who are supposedly disadvantaged because of affirmative action initiatives in education and employment.
People who believe as such choose not to look at the facts. They willfully ignore the data that reveals a different truth. They typically do not associate with those whose very lives tell a contrary narrative. Isolation, denial, and downright ignorance affords them the opportunity to trust the stories of those who validate their assumptions: “he probably did something wrong otherwise he wouldn’t have run,” “oh, well, she probably didn’t have enough education to get that job anyway,” “he didn’t have enough experience to land the internship,” “her natural hair is unkept, she shouldn’t be allowed to attend school until she fixes it,” “he probably would’ve felt uncomfortable in this workplace environment because of his culture,” “they are lazy, entitled, and disrespectful – if they would work hard enough, they would have all of the things that my family worked so hard for.”
Even though these narratives are popular, the reality is that people really do know that structural racism exists. No matter how much they try to run away from the facts and arrange their lives so that they do not have to be confronted with contrary perspectives to their own, they know. Oh, they know.
The thing is once people are confronted with the truth, they are held responsible to it. It is one thing to not know about something and quite another to know, and to still choose not to act accordingly. This is why people would rather feign ignorance about racism – admitting that they know it exists, would require too much. At the very least, coming to grips about racism demands that one take a look at their life, opportunities, and privileges and how they were acquired. Were they really wrought about through hard work, initiative, and ingenuity, or did they come at someone else’s expense? The latter contradicts America’s narrative of European immigrants coming to this country and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – instead it underscores the reality that they propped themselves up by someone else’s labor, life, and land. Most people are not ready and willing to even begin to have that conversation and choose ignorance out of convenience. The unfortunate truth is that God still holds us accountable for that which we willfully choose to ignore.
No matter how much liberals try to remove themselves from the burden of racism, white supremacist ideology – which governs all systems in America – holds them just as guilty to its effects. Like Pilate, their hands are still full of so much blood; though they may not directly offer up communities of color and indigenous communities to be discriminated against and oppressed, colorblind policies do very little to stop the mass annihilation of a deeply marginalized people.
Appearances can be deceiving. Sure, liberals may be down for the cause, march in our marches, go through the anti-racism trainings, attend conferences on social justice and reconciliation, advocate for equal pay and living wages, press for an end to mass incarceration and police brutality, and even quote the thought leaders of our present day movements – so long as the freedoms of others do not threaten their own, they are there. But the moment, the moment, when the freedoms and power of people of color and indigenous folks appear to threaten their own sense of ownership, pride, and identity, they function just as criminal as the conservative other.
Of course, the tactics of the liberal beast may not be as racially overt and in-your-face as the conservative bunch. More often than not, liberals – particularly those who equate their stance toward policy and social issues to spiritual salvation – harbor a more paternalistic, condescending mindset toward people of color and indigenous populations. They throw out a ‘there, there,” and a pat on the head, as we lose our children, homes, and jobs. They insist that if we just had more training and experience, things could be better. And if all else fails, they erase our identity and minimize our experience of hurt and pain in the world, insisting that our interpretation of events cannot be true because they have a friend, co-worker, or neighbor whose story is different, usually a story that holds more closely to a negative stereotype.
But we know this, right? At least many of us do. Many, if not most, people of color understand that the dangers of liberalism are the same dangers expressed in conservatism. And dare I say, progressives themselves also know that as an ideology, liberalism fails to liberate people from the long lasting effects of structural racism. However, because it seems to be all that we have, we continue to hold out hope, and that is, hope in the possibility that if we work hard enough, scream loud enough, hold people accountable enough, that the liberal ideology could embody the freedom that we are looking for. We imagine that it could be more inclusive; more just and much more fair; that it could aspire to our greatest ideals of what democracy could be; that it could even contain the elixir that brings structural racism and capitalism to its needs.
We hope in vain. Liberalism does not have the capacity to deliver us from the crushing blows of racism any more than conservatism can. This is mostly true because both ideals turn around the same exact axis, and that axis is beholden to representing and protecting America’s economic interest both domestically and internationally. Throughout our country’s’ history, power has gone to great lengths to ensure the economic prowess of a nation whose land and labor was stolen in order to build it. In particular, this has meant the continual dispossession of those whose involuntary sweat and blood made the country for what it is. No matter who has held political office, and the political party/ideology that they espoused, this has always been true.
For comfort’s sake, I guess, we keep trying to convince ourselves that liberalism affords us the opportunity to live up to our highest potential – both individually and corporately. We keep trying to psyche our minds and erase our memories, ignoring the harmful policies that have been passed by many of our liberal elected officials. When will we wake from our slumber and call a spade for what it is – flawed? Deeply, deeply flawed.
Hope cannot lie in the conservative vs. liberal paradigm; it must rise outside of it! Any meaningful change has to represent a new system and a new ideology – particularly one that does not continue to exploit communities of color and indigenous communities but that has these communities at the forefront of leadership and decision-making. Thus the political revolution that Sanders so eloquently speaks of – and which is completely necessary and which I deeply support – can never truly happen within our existing framework because that framework will not allow for it. Indeed, Sanders own sense of revolution only extends as far as ensuring that low income communities have more economic opportunity but his target audience consists of white people. By default, or consequence rather, any policy change that addresses the needs of low wealth communities could very well have a positive impact on communities of color. But the benefits will be marginal unless taken with intentionality. Reparations represents intentionality. Yet as philosophical as Sander’s rhetoric is, it still cannot imagine the possibility of righting the wrongs done to communities of color and indigenous communities for centuries.
The reality is that at a heart level most liberals cannot imagine the possibility of reparations and restitution to a people so deeply wronged because our country continues to profit off of those wrongs. Without the perpetual marginalization of these communities, our economy simply will not function. At best, liberalism only offers a raft in an upending storm. But the waters are rising and we are going under.