Monthly Archives :

June 2019

Let’s Talk About Reparations

Let’s Talk About Reparations 1484 989 Corey Leak

We aren’t the first civilization to debate reparations. In an excerpt from an ancient Jewish scroll known as “The Scroll of Fasting” Egyptians lodged a complaint about how the Jewish people plundered them on their way out of Egypt.

The Egyptians [once lodged a complaint against the Jews centuries after the Exodus and] said: It is written in the Torah, “Let every woman ask her neighbor jewelry or silver and gold…” [Exod. 11:2]. Now give us back what is ours! Gebiha replied: For four hundred and thirty years Israel was enslaved in your midst, six hundred thousand people [inn all]: give each of them two hundred zuz per year, which totals eith million six hundred mina, and then we will return to you what is yours!

The enslavement of black people lasted 246 years conservatively. There were more than 10,000,000 slaves,  and unlike the Jews from the story of the Exodus, blacks in America did not plunder their captors. Now hundreds of years later, there is a debate about whether or not reparations for American slavery are possible, appropriate, or warranted for black Americans living today.

Possible

There is a bill that was introduced to the House in January of this year to address the issue of reparations. Bill H.R.40 is a bill that would establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The commission would examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. Among other requirements, the commission would identify:

(1) the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery

(2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants

(3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society

I’m not sure what the resistance to this commission is. We’ve studied the lingering effects of slavery on white and black people for years now. It’s pretty apparent to anyone paying attention that slavery had a dramatic impact on America. It set us on a trajectory that limits the ability of descendants of slaves and people who look like them from enjoying the kind of education, housing, and general quality of life that the descendants of slave owners and those who look like them do.

A commission to dive deeper into the social ramifications of slavery in modern society would be better than any of us at determining the details of how we might go about righting the wrongs of slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, segregation, and the dog whistle politics of the 80s and 90s that militarized black communities with brutal policing. We may not have the answers to how to distribute reparations, but tasking a group of smart people to figure it out is within our grasp. Why would anyone fight that?

Appropriate

The Jews and their God talked about the Exodus for THOUSANDS of years. It became a central part of their identity. It marked them. They told their children about what had happened to them. You don’t lose hundreds of years and multiple generations to forced labor and shrug it off like it never happened EVER. Based on The Scroll of Fasting, the Egyptians didn’t forget either. In fact, as recently as 2003, there was another complaint lodged against Jews by an Egyptian law professor wanting their money back.

Yet, somehow in America, white people want us to forget about slavery. We hear things like… “No one around today was affected by slavery” or “We settled our debt by electing Barak Obama.”

The facts are, America’s history with race is still affecting us today, and no amount of ostrich imitations are going to heal the damage. Reparations alone won’t either, but let’s not conflate healing with what’s appropriate morally when an injustice has been endured. I often hear people wanting to drag the reparations conversation into the reconciliation dialog. They aren’t the same. If we stick with whether or not it’s appropriate to repay black people for 335 years of slavery and segregation, I’m not sure how any answer but HELL YES is an appropriate response.

Image result for American Slavery and Segregation

Warranted

Many black people today are doing quite well for themselves. We have black business owners, athletes, entertainers, doctors, lawyers… the list goes on and on of black folks who make well above six-figure incomes. So, if someone were to ask if they “need” reparations, the answer is probably no, but that’s not the question. We aren’t asking if they need it. We are asking if giving them repayment for injustices done to their forefathers is warranted.

Do we ask the same question about whether it’s justified that we pay our debt to Capital One? Could I call my credit card company when my bill is due and say: “You know, you guys have plenty of money already. You don’t need my little ole payment. I think I’ll hold onto this because you folks seem to be doing pretty well for yourselves.”?

It’s ridiculous to ask whether the repayment of a debt is warranted based on the well being of the lender. We all know that. A great deal of the resistance to giving black people reparations is rooted in the objection to black folks getting more than we deserve. At the same time, people will argue that no dollar amount can repay taking away generations of wealth building, education, and property ownership. I can agree with the latter. The former I take issue with because the idea still draws its strength from racism.

The idea that black people can be rich, but not too rich or successful, but not too successful is racist. The feeling of frustration white people have when a black person drives a nicer car or lives in a nicer house than they do, is racist. It’s the age-old demon of black suppression that gave us slavery and Jim Crow, to begin with.

I understand the complexity of reparations. It’s not simple and straight forward. However, people who dig their heels in and refuse to allow us to examine the validity and possibility of repairing the gap between black communities and white communities are ignorant of how history has and still is affecting us. For those folks, there is one question worth considering. Why is there an economic, educational, and imprisonment gap between black and white humans in America?

No one can deny we have a race problem in America, and as I stated above, reparations won’t fix the entirety of the problem, but it’s more of step in the right direction than doing nothing.

 

A Black Man’s Response to Four FAQs From White People Waking Up to Racism

A Black Man’s Response to Four FAQs From White People Waking Up to Racism 760 400 Corey Leak

Here is a list of questions I’m frequently asked about race and racism by white people who are waking up to the realities of racism in America.

“Is ______ Racist?”

Image result for asking a question raised hand

Racism is not easily defined, and it can often be even harder to identify in real time. Is it in the eye of the beholder? If a black person feels like an interaction is racist, does that automatically make it so? I think we can all agree that human beings are capable of misinterpreting situations, but that’s not a license to gaslight black people when they share their stories. The safest way to understand what racism looks like in our daily interactions is to trust POC to identify it.

Usually, when someone asks me if something is racist, it’s because someone accused them of saying or doing something racist. My first question to them is, “who accused you of racism?”. I ask that because I have almost zero interest in what white people consider racist, and I want to make sure that the person who called foul was credible. Part of our healing as a Nation is for white people to position themselves as the pupils of POC, educating them about racism.

If you enter into a conversation or action that makes you feel like you could be wandering into racist territory, chances are, you are wandering into racist territory. You should stop and run to the nearest black friend you have and have a conversation. If you don’t have any close black friends you can have that conversation with…

Maybe start by fixing that.

No ethnicity can claim to be the experts on racism. However, the voices of people who have felt the sting of racism are far more valid than those who have cracked the whip of it. If you want to know if something is racist, ask a close friend and listen to them carefully.

 

“How can we get more diversity at our church?”

Image result for diverse church

I was having a conversation with a good friend today who told me about a church conference that featured a worship team with all black BGVs and a white worship leader who lead all the songs. I laughed. I don’t know the leaders of the church putting that conference on, but I can infer from what I heard from my friend that this church wanted to appear like diversity was a value to their audience. I’ve had countless conversations with church leaders who want to show the world that they are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-race rainbow of color.

When a church leader asks me how a church can grow more diverse, I encourage them emphatically NOT to do what the leaders putting on that men’s conference did. Unfortunately, a lot of churches unwilling to do the actual work of deconstructing racism, take the short cut of pandering to look like advocates of racial justice. Church leadership has to be willing to put the work in and commit to a long, messy, arduous process. This dirty work requires level five security clearance within the organization, so I inevitably wind up asking a question at the start of the conversation.

“Is the lead pastor committed to change, or is there a sub-committee in charge of helping the church become more diverse?” If the answer is “sub-committee,” I tell them to stop immediately. This project will go nowhere, and if the chair of the committee is deeply passionate about diversity, they should update their resume. Frustrating days are ahead.

The reason for the “abandon ship” advise is not because I’m a pessimist. I’m not. I’m a 7 on the Enneagram, which is The Enthusiast. I believed the Warriors would still find a way to come back and win the championship even after KD and Klay Thompson went down last week. The reason I encourage a shut down of the operation is that unless the leader of any organization is personally passionate about deconstructing racism within their church or business, it will never happen. It’s especially true in a church context. The lead pastor is the primary communicator in 99 percent of church organizations and sets the course for the vision.

To become a diverse church, churches need diverse leadership. For there to be diverse leadership, the white male leader of the church has to be willing to listen to diverse voices and subject himself to hearing prospectives he hasn’t previously given an audience to theologically, philosophically, or practically. I’ve already written pretty extensively in previous blog posts about how frequently white pastors and leaders surround themselves with white male voices. In that echo chamber, how could authentic diversity ever immerge?

If a church is genuinely interested in being diverse, let black singers sing gospel music in a style that resonates with black people. Celebrate Juneteenth (google it), Black History Month, and MLK weekend in significant ways. Hire black leaders and support their leadership by providing the clarity and autonomy that helps them flourish. Make heroes out of black people in history and within the church. DO AWAY WITH DRAMATIC GESTURES. Using black people as props to show the world how anti-racist you are, only makes you look good, and does nothing to tear down the racist structures built up in your church over years of white Jesus taking center stage. Who is centered in the titles “Pastor fights racism by washing black man’s feet” or “White Pastor fights racism by hugging a black man in front of his congregation? Who are the main characters in those stories?

 

“How do I raise my black child as a white parent in a way that safeguards their dignity?”

Image result for white parents adopting black kids

White people be adopting black kids!!!

Every parent I know who has adopted black kids or married a POC and had bi-racial children of their own is a wonderful parent, and almost all of them are advocates for racial justice. They have allowed themselves to see the world through the eyes of their children, and it seems to have genuinely changed them. That alone is part of the answer to the question. Listen to your black son tell you how they felt in the grocery store, at church, at school, and on their sports team.  Feel the pain of your black daughter asking you why her hair isn’t like her friends in class, or why none one at school expresses romantic interest in her.

You’re raising black children in environments where they are “the other” EVERYWHERE, including at home.  My wife and I raise our girls in a predominantly white area of the country. It’s difficult, but at least they come home to an environment that celebrates their rich heritage, and we can speak to what they feel from intimate knowledge and experience. Your kids don’t have anywhere they can be free of the emotional toll of being the one person who looks like them in the room unless you’re intentional about surrounding them with other black bodies.

To put it plainly, put your kids in sports that black kids play. Take them to black barbershops and beauty shops. Educate yourself on how to style your black daughter’s hair. Find out what products to use and which ones to avoid. Don’t do it yourself if yourself without educating yourself first. Make sure they learn about Malcolm X, Dr. King, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth. Let them know that they come from a rich heritage. If at all possible, expose them to any of their blood relatives you can find. They need to see who they are through a black lens.

Thank you for loving black babies, and wanting to provide a great life for them. Remember, they are not white. See their color and raise them to see and appreciate it too.

 

“What can I, as a white person do?”

Image result for I don't know

Share this blog. Read Andre Henry’s work. Follow Andre Henry, Bree Newsome, Angela Rye, Michael McBride, Ben McBride, Christina Cleveland, and myself on social media. Listen before you speak. Don’t argue with black people about their experiences. Speak up when you see or hear something racist happened even when black people aren’t around to applaud you for it. Be our advocates once you’ve done your work to learn history. Be willing to attend a church lead by black people or work for a black boss. Do these things, and I think you’re off to a good start.

Three of Racism’s Most Dangerous Covert Allies

Three of Racism’s Most Dangerous Covert Allies 730 486 Corey Leak

I think it’s safe to say that most people in today’s society try and avoid blatantly racist behavior. Of course, there are examples of blatant racism all around us. We see videos of people using racial slurs toward black and brown people all the time. People still say ignorant things to non-whites like “This is America” or “Go back to your own country.” Underdeveloped (Unconcious) humans like that are not the majority. Most people are sensible enough not to exhibit overt racism in public.

When we talk about racism being an issue in America, we’re usually talking about systemic racism. That’s the kind of racism that no one needs to activate. It was activated the moment the first slaves stepped foot on American soil. Dismantling racism is not about getting rid of ideology alone or waiting for old, white, racist southerners to die off. It’s about much more than that. It’s about naming it when we see it in any form so that we can go about the business of deconstructing the systems that support it.

Almost everyone can recognize outright racism when they see it, but what’s harder to see is how well-meaning and some not so well-meaning people enable racism. Here are three of the most dangerous secret allies of systemic racism.

Sincere Justifications

Image result for shrugging

I’ve learned that it’s essential for POC to trust their instincts when it comes to racism. If something happens and it doesn’t feel right, 90 percent of the time it’s because it ain’t right. That store clerk didn’t just happen to start stocking the shelves in an empty beauty supply store right as you came in. Yes, that woman was following your family around the Louis Vuitton store until you left. No, it’s not a coincidence that you were passed over for a promotion after you decided to wear your hair natural. Your first instinct was correct. These things were racially motivated.

If you’ve experienced any instances like these and told people about it, there is a decent chance that someone said something like:

“They would have probably done that to anyone in the beauty supply store.”

“I bet they watch everyone at  Louis V. Its probably just standard protocol.”

“Maybe that promotion just wasn’t for you, or maybe the white guy they hired was better suited for the role.”

Statements like these are sincere justifications. Often people offer up alternative possibilities upon hearing of racist interactions as an opioid for the discomfort of racism. However, whose suffering is the opioid for? I would argue it’s more for their pain than for yours. It’s easier to downplay racism than it is to take on the harrowing process of dismantling it.

Justification is always shrouded in good intentions. We tend to use it to give ourselves a pass for missing the mark in one way or another in our own lives. It often makes us feel better about something we shouldn’t be comfortable with.

That’s why justification is such a powerful ally for racism. As long as we can give reasonable explanations for racist behaviors, we can deceive ourselves into believing we’re making more progress than we are. Joining POC in naming and condemning discriminatory practices and racist acts is a step toward deconstruction.

The Black Smuggler

Image result for Candace Owens

As you know, whiteness is a construct, not a race. People with black skin are just as capable of participating in anti-black sentiment as people with white skin. Black people aren’t immune to participating in their own oppression, and there may be no more dangerous ally to racism than the black smuggler.

They create a sense of comfort for people who hold racist beliefs. Black smugglers say what white people would say if they weren’t afraid of being called a racist for saying it. The irony is that using black carriers to deliver your racist thoughts is no less racist than saying it yourself.

I cringe every time I see a video of someone black being used to propagate sentiments that keep the racist power structure in place.  What is a more perfect ally for systemic racism than black bodies to express racist philosophy?

When we think about slavery, we think about the racism of the slave owner, but we don’t often bear in mind the aid they received from the house negro. The house negro felt just as much obligation to keep the slaves in line as the master did. A command from “massuh” was just as oppressive and racist in the house negro’s mouth as it was in the slave master’s.

As long as black people are willing to cooperate with racist agenda and propaganda, racism will have an ally that makes racial hierarchy seem legitimate. These outliers from the black community willing to stand in for white people and share their thoughts are a distraction from the work of dismantling cultural structures of racial inequity.

The White Evangelical Church

Image result for white evangelical church

This one is tough for me. I’m a pastor. I have worked at several churches and remain committed to the church right now, but the truth is the American church has been one of racisms chief allies for hundreds of years now.

Of course, we all know about how religious people, including clergy, justified, and even advocated for slavery. Dr. King wrote a letter to white clergy from a Birmingham jail cell, calling them out for their apathy toward racism during the civil rights movement. Has the white evangelical church come that far from those days?

As recently as this week, there was a panel of all white male clergy assembled to distance the gospel from social justice, and while there are plenty of white clergymen who would denounce the group as heretical, there are also plenty who do very little to dismantle racism within their churches.

Several churches have done sermons and series on racism, but fail to wrestle with the deep-rooted power dynamics at play within their organizations that keep racism intact within their churches.

This failure to do the deep work required gives churchgoers the false notion that their church is battling racism. When, in fact, their church is not. Paritioners are given little to no tools to recognize racism when they see it in public or within themselves, and as a result, many of them remain racist – bosses, parents, law enforcement officers, teachers, and spouses. The failure of the church to adequately address racism when they are the most equipped morally and theologically to do so is tantamount to standing hand in hand with David Duke, which unfortunately many clergymen throughout history have literally done.

All three of these allies take on the form of well-intentioned attempts at racial reconciliation from time to time. None of the three are evil by themselves, but without the proper examination of what lies beneath their primary motivations, all three are dangerous co-conspirators with racism – masquerading as champions of peace and unity.

Enlighten ME

Enlighten ME 1140 500 Corey Leak

Let me tell you about an interaction I had last week.

On Memorial Day, I got up early to play basketball at the health club. I generally play with the same group of guys each week. They’ve been playing for years and I just started playing with them about a year and a half ago. Over the years, I’ve come to be “friends” with a couple of the guys on FB, and a while back I noticed that one of the guys I play with was on a FB video sharing about his faith. It was refreshing to see. It made me feel like I would finally have something in common with one of the guys I play with – outside of trying to relive our glory days as weekend basketball warriors.

Image result for pickup basketball

Last week during a break between pick up games, I went up to this guy and told him I saw the video of him sharing his faith. I asked what church he went to, and he told me he attended a local church in the area. I had heard of the church, and I told him some former colleagues of mine from a church I used to work for are now at his church. He asked me if I was still part of my old church. I said no, and told him about something I’m working on that I’ll be sharing with you all later. For now, I’ll say it rhymes with “granting mouse lurches.”

What he said next was the strangest response I’ve ever heard from anyone after sharing with them the type of work I do. He looked me square in my eyes and asked me, “what Bible do you read?”

I know Steph! Me too. (Let’s bring this banner back to the Bay BTW) We had already established commonality of faith in the conversation we were having. Nothing in our dialog suggested that I would read a different Bible from him, so because he’s a white man and I’m not, I was left feeling like there was something culturally dissonant going on.

I said: “ummm…. the same one as you… in English, the Christian Bible…”. Then he asked me with a slight interrogation in his voice “Old or New Testament?”. I told him I read both, and then he told me he reads the ASV (American Standard Version). I was like: “Cool, I read the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible).” Then he said: “Oh, so Old Testament then.” “No, Bro, old and new,” I said.

At this point, I was pretty uncomfortable with the dialog and a little disoriented. I felt like at any moment someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and reveal that I was on candid camera or something. I told the dude that the reason I liked the CJB was that Messianic Jews curated it and it brings to light the Jewish culture that helps me gain a deeper understanding of what the Jewish authors of scripture were trying to convey to their original audience.

I gave the following example. There is a portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans where he uses the phrase “Jesus is the propitiation for sin”. That’s an English translation of a Hebrew ritual called “Kapparah.” These two different translations of the original idea are close, but not identical. Propitiation is about appeasing an angry party. Kapparah is a ritual where a Jewish person would put a small animal like a chicken into an apparatus that they would bind to their heads and spin it around. The idea was that they were transferring their sin into the animal before killing it the next day.

After I shared that with my man at the gym he went on to tell me how “dangerous” that was because we are saved by grace alone and actions like that are forbidden in scripture which he would go on to tell me he read strictly with no interpretation.

That was the moment I knew the conversation had gone as far as it could.

This entire interaction had racial undertones. I walked away really bothered by it and disappointed all the more in an American Evangelicalism that was failing yet another white man. You could be asking yourself how this interaction has anything to do with race. Perhaps you think this guy would have probably said the same thing to anyone. “He’s just a fundamentalist who lives in his own world.”

It’s entirely possible that he would’ve said the same stuff to anyone, and he may be a fundamentalist Christian convinced of his superior wisdom. However, that doesn’t mean that the interaction doesn’t have racial undertones.

First of all, in case you’re unaware, the Christian religion has its roots in Jewish culture, custom, and language. The writers of the Bible are all Jewish. When an American is dismissive of a Jewish ritual in favor of their own American interpretation of what scripture says, they do so because they have bought into an unfortunate misconception that American ideology is supreme. Despite what my basketball partner or anyone else will tell you, NO ONE reads the Bible without interpreting what it says. Scientists have discovered that our eyes do more interpreting than seeing. We are always interpreting, especially when we encounter people we don’t know at all or aren’t familiar with.

I’ve said it before, and it’s no secret that the majority of the influence of American Evangelicalism comes from white men. That’s a fact that we all have to accept, but not one that we shouldn’t be actively seeking to change. It’s not helping us be more connected as a culture.

When Brock attends church with his family and hears his pastor Tom remind the audience that “we are the light of the world,” Brock will look around the room and see Emily, Connor, Chad, and Logan. What he sees is a “we” that defines who exactly is the light of the world. Naturally, when Brock comes to the gym and sees me, he will assume a posture of light to my darkness. He is already pre-conditioned to resist learning from me because he can’t imagine that I would have anything to share with him about his faith that’s of value. His natural interpretation of me would be as someone who is need of white salvation.

The critical issue here is that for any of us to get a full picture of God; we have to be willing to look deeply into the cultural experiences of those who have been or are currently oppressed or persecuted. Privilege has never been the carrier of God’s ideas and virtues. 

All of the Bible writers are trying to tell us that the least, the broken, the downtrodden and the oppressed are God’s chosen people. They are the ones who God wants to reveal themselves through.

To put it plainly, if you are a white person reading this in America, and you don’t have any people of color or women that you respect enough to teach you about God, I’m not sure the God you are following is the God of scripture. I’d encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you are given to be enlightened by stories and experiences of people you don’t usually listen to.

 

Don’t forget you can sign up to never miss a blog post by signing up for future blogs at the bottom of the homepage. Go sign up now!