diversity

3 Reasons You Yes YOU Are Blind To Racism

3 Reasons You Yes YOU Are Blind To Racism 1200 800 Corey Leak

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen two very public displays of blatant racism. We witnessed a white youtube executive profile a black software engineer outside an apartment building in SanFranscisco where the engineer was visiting a friend. The exec not only profiled the black man but proceeded to call the police. See the video of the interaction below. The executive, Christopher Cukor, has since apologized.

WARNING THERE IS SOME ADULT LANGUAGE.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3TnFqXI-ok&t=7s

In another public display of racism, #NotMyAriel was trending on twitter on the FOURTH OF JULY! Let that one sink in. White people didn’t respond well to Disney casting actress and singer, Halle Baily as Ariel in the upcoming live-action “Little Mermaid” film.

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Disney “defended” their choice after protests arose due to them choosing a black star to play Ariell. I wonder how many of the protestors are offended at Euro-Jesus, a full cast of white Persians, or Katherine Hepburn playing the role of the legendary African Queen Cleopatra.

I took to social media to call out both of these situations as racist. I felt like both were pretty blatant examples of modern racism, but I found that there were people who didn’t see it. That left me wondering how it’s possible that people can be blind to such blatant examples of racism, and I came up with a list of three possible reasons for the blindness.

Privilege

Privilege positions the person with it in a place that removes them from the plight of typical POC. As such, even successful people of color are also susceptible to being unable to recognize racism when it appears. Once people begin to benefit from the status quo, they are less likely to participate in dismantling the structures that support it, no matter how unjust they may be.

When people can’t imagine themselves being the target of racist behavior, words, or sentiment, they begin to side with the oppressors in the name of being “objective.” Trying to see racism from “both sides” is a fallacy. The victims of racism don’t have a role in perpetuating racism. If they have a “side,” it is passive at best.

Whiteness

In a previous blog, I wrote about the construct of whiteness. Ironically,  some people were so attached to the construct they’ve accepted as their central identity that they read the title and headed for the hills without even reading it.

The construct of whiteness was built to protect racism. When someone attached to whiteness sees something racist in front of them, they do what they are conditioned to do –  defend it. This reaction goes into effect unconsciously. For many sympathizers of racism, they aren’t even aware they are behaving as white supremacists.

Ignorance

Duh. I know. Hear me out. I’m not talking about a general ignorance but rather an ignorance as to what racism is. Some people genuinely believe racism is about hating people because of skin color. Due to that minimal view of racism, people blinded by ignorance assume that if there is no white hood, a burning cross, or cotton field, then there is no racism.

These folks believe in myths like “reverse racism” because they don’t understand that racism is about hatred and power. Without the energy or systemic cultural reinforcement of racial supremacy to support hatred, there can be no racism.

 

These are a few of the blinders. Can you think of any more? Which blinder do you see most in yourself and the people around you?

 

Two Practical Reasons Why Betsy’s Flag is Offensive

Two Practical Reasons Why Betsy’s Flag is Offensive 1200 600 Corey Leak

Before eight hours ago, “Who is Betsy Ross?” would have stumped me in a trivia game. I’m sure she is someone that came up at some point in my elementary education at Christian Life, but I can’t say I remember much about her.

The folks over at Nike are aware of who she was. They designed a special edition sneaker that featured the American flag she created on the heel of it.

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Nike decided to cancel the release of the shoes after Colin Kaepernick informed them that the “Betsy Ross flag” was offensive to people of color. However, I’m sure there is a preacher or two who got their hands on a pair and will be featured on preachers n sneakers later this month.

This story seems pretty straight forward and non-offensive to me. A company plans to release a product. One of their spokespeople informs them that it has the potential to alienate a large number of its customer base, so the company chooses to change course. But, maybe it’s simple to me because I’m not white.

I don’t have a deep attachment to American history. The role my ancestors played in America’s history was as extras and props in a story about the excellence of white people.

That’s the excellence and pride that Nike was headed towards celebrating with the flag they originally chose for their shoe. Thankfully Kap stepped in and spoke up.

Today a couple of white friends asked me what I thought about the uproar. Neither of them understood why the flag was a problem. I explained to them why the flag that Nike initially chose was problematic (see the list below), and after I did, one of the friends asked me if I was personally offended by the flag.

I pondered the question for a bit. I hadn’t given the Betsy Ross flag much thought before today. As I thought about my friend’s question, Cracker Barrell immediately came to mind – I ate there this morning with my family.

I remembered what it felt like walking around the gift shop and seeing the antique decor and old-time American trinkets and images, and I text back: “Bro… Some days I find Cracker Barrell offensive.”.

Imagine you’re the offspring of a good man who is beheaded by an evil king. It’s been a few years since your father was beheaded, but you still live in the region. Every year there is a celebration of the king’s “victory” over your father.

The locals celebrate with images of the king, songs, re-enactments of your father’s demise and the banner of the king. How would you feel? I’m going to guess like a black man walking around Cracker Barrell or staring at an image of the Betsy Ross flag.

For those of you looking for practical reasons why POC would find this flag offensive, I’ll give you two.

1. The America of Betsy Ross was oppressive to black people. 

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America has had 26 official flags. The latest was officially recognized in July of 1960, and while blatant, state-sanctioned racism, riddled the US in the 60s, the country was progressing toward equality.

There has yet to be a time in American history unplagued by the disease of white supremacy, but at least our latest flag comes from an era where blacks are legally 100 percent human.

2. White Supremacist hate groups use the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol.

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Perhaps Betsy is rolling over in her grave knowing that racist bigots have taken to her flag as a symbol of their supremacy and hatred for POC. That wouldn’t change the fact that it has come to represent hate by virtue of the fact that hate groups use it.

I highly doubt Betsy would be too upset to know that white people are using her flag to remind upity niggers that they aren’t white, but even if she would mind, that flag is problematic today. Some would argue it always has been.

 

How do we as Americans manage the tension between remembering our history and being sensitive to the groups that suffered to make the American dream come true?

 

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?”

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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?”

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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?”

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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?”

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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The Talk – Part 2 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Poem)

The Talk – Part 2 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Poem) 3000 2000 Corey Leak

We had driven out of the neighborhood, and my mind was working hard to try and answer my daughter’s questions. I knew that she was asking a simple question that had deep philosophical handles. She wasn’t merely asking about this particular neighborhood. She was asking a universal question about race. She was asking about justice.

A few weeks before our visit to the gated community, our daughter came home from a dance and told my wife and me that she was feeling some tension. We asked why, and she went on to explain that she noticed how all of her friends had had at least one boy be interested in them this year. She hadn’t had any. She’s in middle school!!! I’m a dad who hates boys because I have three daughters. (no offense to any boys or parents of sons reading this) So, I was unapologetically glad to hear that I wouldn’t have to go all Bad boys 2 on a middle school boy.

But, I also understood that my daughter was beginning to feel the stinging truth of my dads words. She was feeling unseen, and that feeling was confusing and uncomfortable. She wondered if it was her dark skin that kept boys from expressing interest in her.

She is a beautiful young woman like her two older sisters and her mama. I think she knows she’s pretty, but what teenage girl wants to be the only one in their friend group the boys don’t like? Our daughter wants to know that black beauty, creativity, and work are rewarded. I believe that’s what was lying beneath the questions she asked me while we were driving through that neighborhood.

As a parent, I didn’t want to share truth with my 13-year-old that would leave her feeling hopeless or sad, but I also wanted to be honest. I began by telling her that there aren’t as many black people in America as there are white. I told her that if there are 100 Americans in a room, only 13 of those would be black Americans, and only 2 to 3 of the 100 would be “rich.” That alone makes it tough. How likely is it that one of the 13 blacks would be one of the 2 or 3 rich folks in the room? I honestly can’t tell you why I started there. Maybe it was because I didn’t want her to be bitter or because I didn’t want to blame whiteness right away. Perhaps I wanted to give myself a moment to calibrate emotionally before I told my daughter the rest of the story. For whatever reason, I chose to ease into the talk.

After explaining the math, I shared a brief overview of American history. She had heard it before, but I guess she hadn’t understood what that history had to do with that neighborhood. We talked about slavery, Jim Crow, and modern-day racism. She was visibly bothered by it. Her heart is so tender to the world, and she asked me how people could treat other people with such cruelty for no reason at all. I had no answer.

I told her human beings had mistreated other people for stupid reasons since the dawn of time. Still wanting her not to grow up believing white people are evil, I felt like I needed to mention that human beings have all done bad stuff – not just white people. I want her to see the race issue wholistically without giving in to fear and anger. I don’t want her to hate. I don’t want her to be a victim. I also want her to see the world as it is because that’s the only way she will ever have the courage and resolve to work to change it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37eTvNjcaSY

My daughter has wrestled with similar tensions around the flag, anthem, and the pledge.

Seeing the world as it truly is gives us the inspiration to imagine a new one – a better one. I want my children to see the world’s cruelty and beauty. I want them to hear about things like the above stories. I want them to know these things are happening to people who look like them.

I have never given my dad’s speech to my daughters, but life has. School, church, and social media scream loud and clear: “remember, you still a nigga.”

I’m grateful that God has blessed my wife and me with kids who can accept that the world treats them as other, but still hope and dream of a just society. Almost a month before my youngest and I had our talk, she wrote the following poem. It’s the hope of a teenage girl who is fighting to imagine a new world.

“I Wish on the World”

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that people of color don’t get the stares

The loudness that we portray that they can’t bear  

That people of color can be treated equally

And cross the border legally

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that all immigrants can be able to come home

In American streets they can roam

That little kids won’t be taken away from their mothers

And live a life filled with color

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that world hunger would disappear

That the word without turns to fear

As people are sitting by the stores waiting for more

A chance to live life just before

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that self love was a priority

For putting themselves first as an authority

For women to think they are beautiful

And just like men are suitable

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that we as a people would treat the world with kindness,

And clear the blindness

The world that needs love

And that we need to take care of

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that hate could just dissolve

And for us to install

Acceptance as we evolve

I wish I wish I wish

I know our world has beautiful features,

I know our world has magnificent creatures

But what I ask you is,

What do you wish?  

The Talk – Part 1 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Question)

The Talk – Part 1 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Question) 3000 2000 Corey Leak

I remember my dad giving me the talk as a thirteen-year-old boy. It wasn’t a sit-down. It wasn’t an awkward, choppy speech delivered in an uncomfortable tone, and it wasn’t the last time we had the conversation. We were riding home from school one day when my dad looked over at me and said: “Remember, you still a nigga.”

Over the next few years, those words would be a repeated theme from my dad as he taught us how he believed the world would always see us. My dad didn’t want us to be shocked when we would inevitably have a racist encounter with someone in the world. He knew that we were just as likely to experience racism at school, work, church, or at a routine traffic stop. We were young black men, and we needed to be prepared to enter a world that would remind us of our blackness whether we liked it or not.

I used to hate that my dad would say that. As most teenagers do, I thought my dad was out of touch with a changing world. I didn’t want to grow up limited by the belief that racism would be an obstacle for me. I went to Christian schools my whole life with mostly white students, where the Biblical base of our education held explicit racism at bay. I had a lot of white friends that all treated me just fine. I didn’t notice my teachers ever treating me like I was any different than any other student, but my dad was skeptical. He believed that me and my brothers we singled out at school because we were the only black kids in our classes.

In hindsight, I can’t say he was wrong. I wasn’t much of a trouble maker, but I can remember spending a lot of time writing Bible verses on the chalkboard after school and mopping the floors of the classroom in detention. I remember getting in a fight with one of my teacher’s sons. We both threw hands, and only one of us got in trouble for it. You can probably guess who that was.

I can look back on several other experiences like the time Amy, the white girl I had a crush on in elementary school poured her apple juice on the ground and said “there you go” after I asked her for a drink. Or there was the one time in high-school when a white student looked me in my face and called me a “stupid black person.” I laugh at that one because he was racist enough to call me stupid, but not brave enough to call me a nigger. These are the things my dad wanted me to be prepared for.

My dad was trying to communicate with my brothers and me that the world we were growing up in was one where we would be treated as “other.” He grew up during the Jim Crow era. He was a 31-year-old black preacher when Dr. King was killed, and he knew that even though that era had ended, his sons would still have to endure the trauma of not being white in a society that demonized blackness. All the black families in our town would have the same talk about what our blackness means in society. All us black sons and daughters would get the message. We would have to work twice as hard, be twice as educated, speak twice as articulate to make up for the deficit of being considered half as human.

Black families across America have this in common. We have all had to endure the sting of racism at some point or another, and with each new generation, we hope that we won’t have to have the same talk with our kids that our parents had with us. Perhaps someday black parents won’t have to have “the talk,” but as of today, we still do.

Three days ago, I was with my youngest daughter. She’s thirteen. We were attending her end of the year volleyball party inside a gated community here in the Bay Area. As you can imagine, the houses in this neighborhood are breath-taking.

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We drove past one multi-million dollar house after another. She and I would point out any particularly gorgeous homes we saw, and she asked me how much I thought each house was worth. I thought she would have been dreaming of one day living in a neighborhood like this, but when I asked her if she’d want to live there, her answer surprised me.

She told me she would be bored living in a gated community. She said it seemed stuffy. (no offense to any of you who live in gated communities) But, what I think she was really feeling came out in the form of a question she asked me after that. She looked over at me and asked: “Dad, how many black families do you think live here?” I said I’m sure there aren’t that many, but this neighborhood is mostly white. Of course, she wanted to know why, and it was at that moment that I knew I too was about to have “the talk” with my daughter.

To be continued…

 

 

Still Hovering

Still Hovering 1500 900 Corey Leak

By now it’s no secret that I believe institutional racism is a thing. I’ve lost friends over my beliefs that whiteness is the root cause of that racism, and I’m honestly unbothered by the loss. All of the people I admire most throughout history lost friends, followers, and associates over their convictions. I will never have the impact of Jesus, Paul, or Dr. King, but I feel allied with them whenever another person decides that my beliefs about a racially just society are too far gone for them to continue to journey with me.

Like many of my friends who write, organize, create art, or speak out about racial equality and justice, I started out believing my voice was moderate. I never thought anything I was saying was radical or polarizing. Everyone I know using their influence to bring about change in the area of race is stating the truth about their own experiences and the facts about America’s history of racism. That’s why people’s reactions to the truth are often puzzling to me. Mostly I’m taken aback because very frequently the dissenters, detractors, and critics of racial justice work are Christians.

I’m not the only one disturbed by that. People have asked me on a few different occasions about how I can keep a faith associated with chaos like…

  • Slave owners removing pages from the Bible to ensure that their black slaves wouldn’t get any ideas about how God feels about liberation.
  • American Nationalism leading to phrases like

“I kneel for the cross, but I stand for the flag”   

  • White Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham, Paula White, and Jon MacArthur making it demonstratively clear that racism is not an issue that Christians should concern themselves with. It’s a distraction from the real issues that Christians should be concerned about like abortion and human sexuality.

There is no sugar coating that the above list is ugly. There is also no denying that people believing themselves to be agents of God have been behind some of the most egregious human rights abuses throughout history. Evil has dressed up as good. Racism has hidden behind a cross draped in an American flag. Christianity has come dangerously close to being the religion of white men – white men who build their churches to pander to white women and leave a few pews open for POC so that no one can claim their churches aren’t diverse.

I still believe in the God of the Bible. In large part because of one of the opening lines of the most famous poem ever written.

After the Hebrew people’s liberation from slavery, they would need to establish their own identity which in antiquity meant telling the story of how the world and man came to be. Ancient tribes told stories of how the world was made. They would share these stories around campfires and teach them to their children. Origin stories were popular. In some ways, it helped tribes define their identity and define the character of whatever god (s) they worshiped. The Hebrew creation story is not so much about the exact details of how God made the world, but about how ancient Hebrews viewed God and human beings relationship to that God.

Scholars believe that the authors of the book we call Genesis (aka B’resheet) wrote it after God rescued the Hebrew people from Egyptian oppression. The poem explaining “the beginning” in Genesis 1 2, and 3 is primarily influenced by what they experienced during their liberation from slavery. It’s no wonder Genesis 2 describes a Divine Being hovering over a chaotic mess from the start of the story. The Hebrew people introduce their God alongside chaos, and that God is not chased off by it. The Hebrew Deity speaks into it.

Perhaps it’s that image of God that keeps me believing despite the messiness of the Christian faith over the years. A story inspired by 400 years of slavery gave us our first glimpse of God. Black people in America should all be able to shout a resounding amen to a story like that!

I believe God is always working, always speaking, and still hovering near chaos. I no longer expect that God eliminates all of life’s messiness. I think Divinity and chaos are found together throughout human history. That’s probably what the liberated, no longer enslaved, Hebrew people saw, understood, and experienced. Throughout their writings of history, poetry, and law they were in and out of exile – always facing turmoil and pain. Many times they blamed God in their books and many times they wrote that God blamed them, but through it all, they continued to believe in the God they saw present next to and inside all of the chaos. I choose to believe in the same God.

America is a strange place for black people. Often church can be even more bizarre. My faith doesn’t rest in America becoming more racially just. I do hope, pray, and work alongside many great activists and leaders for it to be. I don’t believe white evangelical pastors across America will all in unison turn from all forms of white supremacy and racism. I hope and pray that I’m wrong. Even if I’m not, I find myself able to smile at the beauty of a God hovering near the chaos getting ready to speak. Somehow that brings me great comfort and helps me look past the ugliness to trust God’s plan.

 

Why We Must Abandon Whiteness

Why We Must Abandon Whiteness 700 467 Corey Leak

To my white friends out there reading this – You weren’t born white. You learned whiteness.

If you’ve never heard that before, I can imagine you’re feeling any number of emotions right now. You might be angry, confused, offended (which is probably a combo of angry and confused), or maybe you don’t feel anything at all or think I’m out of my mind. Either way, whiteness is a problem we will need to leave behind if we are ever going to move into a future where all humans flourish in the world.

Have you ever noticed how in America the only people groups we classify by their color are “blacks” and “whites”?  We don’t use color to describe Mexican, Chinese, Indian, or Japanese American’s. Some folks use “African American” instead of black, which technically leaves whites as the only people group in America without the hyphen.  We don’t typically hear white people referred to as Scandinavian-Americans, Swedish-Americans, or Dutch-Americans. Why don’t we call all people born in this country simply “American”? I have a theory.

Whiteness is the default culture of America and the culture at the center of American DNA. What we consider exceptional, average, abstract, or acceptable is primarily determined by how it resonates with white culture. Many of my black friends can attest to the low key surprise reactions we get from white people when we speak “articulately.” Intelligence not born out of whiteness is mysterious in a country that centers its dominant culture.

I want to say that whiteness has brought unintended consequences of racial division on our society, but the reality is those consequences were absolutely intentional. I’m not going to deep dive into that long tattered history in this blog. You can do that work if you’d like. All you need to know to read this post is that whiteness is a construct, not a race or ethnicity. 

Whiteness was created to divide America into slave and free, up and down, in and out. The construct helped slave owners bypass the psychological barrier that should’ve prevented them from treating other humans worse than animals. It was a way of picking teams so to speak, Europeans coming into the new land determined that “white” was the team that would win. By default, the “black” team would lose, but probably even more sinister than ensuring blacks would lose; they forced blacks to help build the game that whites would go on to win for centuries.Image result for American Slaves picking cotton

To quote Ta-Nehisi Coates “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” We have racism because we have whiteness. We didn’t come to America black and white. We came to America as people who descended from Europe and Africa – albeit some of us in chains. When slave owners separated us into teams racism was the natural outcome. I’m not black because that’s how God made me. I’m black because whiteness exists. The founding fathers created a system where because there is white there must also be black.

Even after the end of slavery and the Jim Crow laws of the South, whiteness has continued to inform the police, bankers, politicians, judges, teachers, pastors, coaches, and even marketing algorithms who has privilege and who doesn’t. America built all the institutions mentioned above on the concept that white people are superior to all other humans. As long as we have “white” as a category, we will inherently have segregation, injustice, implicit bias, and racism in America. As whiteness is maintained and nurtured, we inextricably continue to strip blacks of the dignity found in our rich history and culture along the way.

Can black as a designation for my ethnicity communicate the fascinating history of my African heritage, culture, and history?  Black is mostly useful to define me as “other” in the United States and cause other Americans to fear me or see me as less than them. It’d be great to abandon blackness, but it’s impossible as long as there is whiteness.

Now, lest there be any confusion, I want to be very clear about what I’m NOT saying.

We should all abandon our ethnicity.

When I talk about the concept of blacks and whites being a human-made construct, I can see how it would be easy to conclude that I’m advocating for abandoning cultural identity. I think it’s a leap, but I can understand why someone one would make that jump. I’m not suggesting that we should forsake cultural identity. I am proposing that whiteness doesn’t enable whites or blacks to carry the dignity and fantastic history of the people from which we derive.

We should call all “black people” African Americans. 

I know that it can be confusing to know what to call a POC. I know some prefer to be called black, others Afro-American, and still others African-American. I don’t speak for all POC. I’m not even sure at this point in history how I want people to describe my ethnicity. I do know that throughout history dark-skinned people in America have redeemed the labels meant to demean us, and used them as terms of brother and sisterhood in our culture. Maybe that’s why many of us have accepted black to describe us even after we’re made aware of the history of that moniker.

It takes a new imagination to move into an unknown future. The work that’s ahead of us is to imagine what a world without our tainted constructs and labels might look like. We have to be willing to see walking away from our toxic history as gain and not a loss. It’s frustrating, scary, and complicated to frame new constructs within a country that has had 200 plus years of entrenched ideas that can sometimes even pose as values. But, if you and I are going to live in a world of dignity and peace, that’s the work we have to be willing to do.

 

What would America look like if we had never had “whiteness” introduced to our ethos? 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of Faith

Fear of Faith 660 440 Corey Leak

I shared a quote this week in the wake of the terrible Christchurch shootings – the attack that left 49 families grieving the loss of their loved ones. The quote was short and sweet.

Islamophobia is anti-Christ.

I believed then what I feel now. The quote is simple, beautiful, accurate, and elegant. I assumed that days after the attack of two Muslim Mosques in New Zealand, people would be full of good-will and empathy towards the Islamic faith. I was wrong.

Shortly after I shared the quote on FB, a few people objected to the term “Islamophobia.” I’m accustomed to people opposed to the things I share and write. It’s become par for the course, and I’ve made my peace with that fact. Human beings come from a myriad of different backgrounds, so it’s natural that we won’t all see every issue the same way. I don’t believe everyone who disagrees with me is evil or stupid – at least not all the time. I do, however, find it disturbing when people resist the condemnation of evil.

Several people felt that it was rational and appropriate to have a “healthy fear” of Muslims. Even now as I write this, I’m deeply disturbed, and what’s most troubling is the fact that these objections to empathy for our Muslim brothers and sisters came from Christians. I want to say that I can’t imagine how a Christian could ever believe it’s ok to hold a phobia for another human based on a difference in religious beliefs, but that would be dishonest on my part. Sadly, I can imagine. I’ve been a part of the Christian tribe for a long time. I too have been ignorant as to how my beliefs and the expression of those beliefs can be harmful to the world, and I’m grateful to have been awakened to a different way of seeing the world.

Unfortunately, many people(often Christian)  enter into dialog with others to show how smart they are and fail to listen to the input of others. The problem with approaching social conversations with such an ignorant stance is that people who hold postures like that never grow. I frequently encounter people who only step outside of their echo chamber long enough to tell everyone else that they are wrong. It may seem harmless for people to dig their heels in on their bad ideas about other humans, but some of these ideas lead to real-world tragedies. Here are two of those dangerous ideologies we have to address.

Muslim’s are terrorists who regard all Christians and American’s as “infidels”.

Image result for Islamophobia

I found this sentiment nearly unbearable after I shared the above quote about Islamophobia! It’s irresponsible and lazy thinking for any human being to accept such a dull-minded idea as valid. It’s irrational. It’s grounded in a lack of relationship to Muslims who practice their faith sincerely and peacefully all around us. One of the dear men who lost their lives in Christchurch greeted the gunman with “Welcome Brother” before he was gunned down. Yet, somehow Christians found themselves defending the belief that American Christians should fear Muslims. I hope you noticed the profound irony.

A white nationalist gunman murdered 49 human beings in the name of white supremacy, and in the wake of that people were arguing that we have good reason to fear Muslims. Save your time running to google to search for “Muslim beliefs” on the internet. You won’t find the most accurate witness to what Muslims believe from Google any more than you’ll see a great witness to the Christain faith that way. I have read things about Christians in print, social media, and on the internet that did not at all represent my faith or what I’ve witnessed as a Christian. If you really want to find out what the Muslim people in your community believe, ask them.

The idea that there are good reasons to fear Muslims allowed people who consider themselves followers of Christ to show a gross lack of concern or empathy for people from a different faith. Even though those people were suffering worldwide after being the targets of blatant hatred. We have to do better. If you’re not a Muslim or haven’t done an extensive study of world religions, your assumptions about Islam are likely completely misguided, and beyond that they are dangerous. Should Muslim’s now fear all white people because of the evil acts of one?

Which leads me to the second dangerous ideology I encountered this week.

White Supremacists aren’t the same as terrorists

Image result for white nationalist

White people have to stop giving white supremacist terrorists a pass by not naming them what they are. They are terrorists. They have a religion that they believe in sincerely that leads them to hate people outside that religion. Whiteness is their god, and all who aren’t white are their opposition. They intimidate, bully, and even kill in the name of their god. That is terrorism. The use of violence to propagate a political or religious idea is a tactic of terrorists around the globe, and white supremacists aren’t excused as innocent when they use the same tactics.

I understand it can be difficult to believe someone who is from your tribe is evil, but you have to name it! Call it what it is. It’s terrorism plain a simple. The white men in white hoods and the ones who commit evil acts of terror have made up their minds about who they are. It’s time that the god-fearing, justice-loving, advocates of good-will who are also white do the same.

Ask yourself:

Are there any ideas I have about others that are dangerous to their well-being?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Justice No Peace!

No Justice No Peace! 608 369 Corey Leak

The other day I was taking my youngest daughter to school. One of our rituals on the way to school is for one of us to pray. It was my turn to pray, and as I began praying, I remembered the family of Stephon Clark. It had only been a few days since the DA determined that the police officers involved in his killing were not guilty of any crime. I was a couple of sentences into my prayerful lament when my daughter almost ritualistically exclaimed: “No justice no peace!”.  After I said amen, she asked me if I knew what that phrase meant. I answered her. But before I tell you what my response was, there is something important you need to understand.

It’s challenging to have to explain to your daughter why people who look like her have to endure the hardship of racism in 2019. This is at least the 4th time I’ve had to explain to her why a black man was killed and why the people responsible for his murder weren’t held accountable for his death. One is already too many, but FOUR!!!

My youngest is 13, which means we’ve had about 5-6 years of her being socially aware enough to ask questions about what she is seeing and hearing. Let that sink in.

“No justice no peace!” She chanted. As if she knew intrinsically that was the anthem of injustice. How many times must she have heard those words cried out in protest of the depreciation of black bodies? She asked: “Do you know what that means dad?”. I told her I did. I asked her what she thought it meant, and she said: “When there is finally justice, we will be quiet.” I’m often fascinated by how my daughter answers questions about issues like this. This time was no exception. Children’s perspectives are often more rich with meaning than that of adults. I needed to sit with what she said for a few days to process how she saw the world. What did she hear in this simple phrase? What can I learn from what she sees?

Image result for stephon clark

When there is finally justice we will be quiet. The protests and the resistance will stop of course, but not because the resistance is the problem. It takes injustice for there to be resistance to it, so naturally, if America drops the “in” there wouldn’t be loud cries in the streets for justice. If Stephon Clark’s weren’t murdered for having natural human reactions to being startled, there would be no need for athletes to take a knee. If we lost the distinction of black and white that divides us into haves and have nots, then there would be no more “angry black men and women”. Many Americans are agitated by the noise responders to injustice make, but fail to recognize that you only hear thunder BECAUSE there was lightning.

If you want to live in a world where no one marches in the streets shouting and crying out, or a world where athletes and celebrities no longer use their platforms to bring attention to trampled civil rights, join the resistance. Help those of us drawing attention to the ills of society. Resist the urge to demonize the victims rather than hold the guilty culprits accountable.

The moral response to injustice is a symphony of great noise. It is not silence or acquiescence. Peace is not the absence of struggle when there is evil in the world. Peace is the result of courageous people doing their part to rid the world of the evil that disturbed it. If you want to rid the world of the noise, say it with us: NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!!! Because until there is finally justice, we won’t be quiet.

RIP Stephon Clark

Image result for stephon clark