racism

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.

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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?”

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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”.

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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

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Witness

Black Witness 1280 720 Corey Leak

Our blog last week has the highest views of any of the posts on our site. I was surprised by the response and attention that post received. Many of you who read it were so kind with your words, and to be honest, I was a little uncomfortable after sharing it. While it is my truth and my story, I still felt uneasy with how many people were reading my diary essentially. Perhaps that’s what people meant when they applauded me for being “courageous.” The funny thing about that is, every time someone said that I got scared that they knew something I didn’t about the risks of sharing my story. As I reflect on what the tension I felt after sharing was, I have concluded that what I felt was the weight of black witness.

By now you’re probably aware of the drama unfolding with Empire start Jussie Smollett. He is a gay black man who shared “his truth” with the world. It turns out that his story is complicated at best and a lie at worst. The internet has already made its decision.

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Who knows what happened. Since Donald Trump introduced the idea of “fake news” to us, we’ve been left questioning everything we hear. Regardless of what the truth is in Smollett’s case, I believe it’s safe to say that his original truth wasn’t honest. He bore false witness to black trauma. He was heralded as a sympathetic and heroic example of what black people, especially gay blacks, endure in America daily. In the end, Jussie received misapplied goodwill, and those that supported him and claimed this incident an example of “Trump’s America” have to dial all of that back. People who supported Jussie got duped, and that sucks. It doesn’t suck because those people feel betrayed or embarrassed for supporting a made up story, or because the image of a talented, young, black man is now tarnished. It sucks for a much more significant reason. Jussie’s narrative threatens to delegitimize the stories of black witnesses both now and in the future.

Bearing black witness is hard. It comes with a burden of proof that often causes victims of racial trauma to consider the weight too heavy to carry. We may never hear many people’s stories of racism out of fear the repercussions that befall black people for speaking up. Black witnesses do not receive the benefit of the doubt. I’ve watched people demonize black victims of blatant racism in the face of glaring video evidence of hatred. Some people resist the idea that racism is a serious issue. They object every time a witness shares their testimony about the racism they experienced. Some of them attempt to debunk claims of racism to defend their political persuasion, and others oppose to avoid the weight of guilt that accompanies white identity in the face of racism.

The resistance to black witness is given a gift whenever there is outrage over a false racism testimony or a black witness who joins them in fighting back black advocacy. This week I heard the perfect storm for suppressing black witnesses to racism when I turned on my radio.

I was furious listening to a Larry Elder use the Smollett case as a springboard into trying to delegitimize Black Lives Matter and other forms of black advocacy. It’s tragic that black folks like Larry and Candace Owens often echo the testimony of anti-black witnesses. They enable people who seek escape from the realities of racism to opt out of wrestling with their own bias and complicity in systemic racism. When Larry Elder’s black witness says racism isn’t a significant issue and Jussie Smollett bears false witness, what do we do with the witnesses drawing attention to inconspicuous racism in society?

We keep listening. No one black witness speaks for the entirety of the black experience. However, one witness can shine a light on their experience, and when they do, we should listen. When their witness doesn’t align with our perspective, we can find ourselves agitated. We are unnerved because the new testimony opposes the story we wanted to believe. We wanted to believe the people we thought were the bad guys are indeed evil, and the good guys right. We want our world to be neat in that way. We don’t want to face the reality that we may have been loud and outspoken for the wrong team.

I made myself listen to Larry Elder that day. I hated every bit of what he said, and I stand by why I believe his words are dangerous to other black witnesses who join the chorus of countless other black folks who have a contrasting experience from his outlying perspective. However, he is a black witness, and I have to listen to him because being a black witness is hard. He did provide me with the opportunity to look inward, and juxtapose his views and experience with my own. Larry’s witness doesn’t negate mine, and neither does Jussie’s. A person who is concerned with the goodwill of humanity has space in their consciousness for all witnesses without losing their awareness of justice and injustice.

A good friend of mine once said:

There is a bass note in all of the issues that we face today. the unfortunate reality is that most of us are only in tune with the drums, the singer, or the keys. We listen to voices that we are used to and support us and though that isn’t always a bad thing, it causes us to stay shallow, comfortable, and unscathed by the fragility of our broken system. We need to learn to listen for the bass note. To tune our ears to hear the music that we aren’t accustomed to listening to.

That bass note is the sound of black witness. Can you hear it?

Dear Corey (An Open Letter to My Former Self)

Dear Corey (An Open Letter to My Former Self) 6000 4000 Corey Leak

Dear Former Self,

Your non-threatening demeanor and disposition created great opportunities for you in White Evangelical churches. They loved that you could sing and play guitar with just enough soul to give them credit for hiring a POC, but not so much that it was uncomfortable for the majority white audience that sat in the seats. You learned so much as a man and a leader because of the spaces you led in.

When you worked at churches, you and the white folks that hired you, celebrated what it meant to have a black man leading within the church. You thought that the optics were important. After all, diversity is the buzzword of the modern church. They all knew that black skin added value to the church daily requiring zero effort. You are black, and every day you went to work, you were doing a huge part of your job. Up top! That’s a hustle! It opened the door for you to work for churches and provide a decent living for the family. You did what you had to do.

Everything was great! You laughed at the same cliche black jokes. “You’re the token black.” “We figured you’d be late.” “Is that your girl’s real hair?” All cannon fodder for humor that the white folks and you thought would help you relate to each other. You even initiated some of the fun to try and amuse your colleagues with your wit and self-deprecation. You kind of thought you were subtly reinforcing the authentic biases that lied beneath the surface of that humor, but also thought they were just jokes. You thought laughing and making those jokes helped you fit in, and for some of them, I agreed. For others, I believed you were complicit in the defamation of our blackness. I felt like our ancestors were somehow disrespected, but you never wanted to think about that too much. You didn’t feel like we could object without becoming a problem for our white partners in ministry. I wasn’t sure, but I went along with the plan. However, humor wasn’t the only area where you didn’t feel we could object.

I remember how many times they used you to do their dirty work. You were asked to have tough conversations with black volunteers or board members about things the white leaders you worked for were too scared to talk about themselves. You found a way to justify their neocolonialism and jumped into a fight that didn’t belong to you to keep your job. Once I started to come alive, I felt uneasy with a lot of what was said and done, but you never wanted anyone to know I was at work with you. You felt like I was the angry side that no one needed to see. How about the time the pastor snapped at you in a room full of people with a tone only your mom and dad had used towards you? I was ready to educate him, but you held me back. You tried to convince me that there was a greater good in being quiet. You felt like you needed to keep a good relationship with the white men who lead you. You believed that your black skin with a leaders salary and title was a giant step for them, and neither of us wanted to put the wife and kids in jeopardy. As examples of racism in culture became more vivid, I could no longer hold my peace, but you still had a job. We agreed I’d be quiet work as long as I got to speak my mind in public through social media and other public forums.

I think we both recognized that what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castille was heartbreaking. I don’t remember which one of us wept most about what happened, but I do remember it was becoming harder and harder to not see privilege, systemic racism, and bias all around us. But, again, we still had to feed the family. It was emotionally taxing for both of us to suppress feelings of anxiety, anger, disappointment, and frustration for fear of playing the “black card.” Maybe that anxiety is why it was so important that I find an outlet for my truth.

I started to speak up about injustice. I used #blacklivesmatter on social media. Then I realized just how many people had never met me before. How many “I didn’t know you were so black” comments did you get? You laughed. I snarled. You didn’t want to be labeled, miss out on opportunities, or lose your job. I wanted to tell the truth, and I was growing more and more dissatisfied with holding my tongue in the face of systemic racist structures.  You believed there was no place for a “pro-black” message within the gospel. I wasn’t sure either. After all, neither of us had heard very many sermons about racial justice. We had only heard that we are all one race, and encouraged not to see color.

Even in the absence of theology, I felt I had to speak up. Eventually, we found common ground in theology, and everything changed.

You were no longer the godly version and I the angry black version. We found that the New Testament is full of language that encourages diversity and unity. Jesus and Paul both warned about supremacy. Injustice has always been something God opposes, and it’s always been an evil that humans shouldn’t tolerate. Justice is not a curse word, but a word that can just as easily be substituted for righteousness.  In our theological wrestling, we found our voice. The duplicity we thought we needed to keep the peace is now a burden to us. It was cumbersome to try and be two different people. You had to learn to accept me and trust that I wasn’t an evil to despise, but truth to embrace. The world needed me to speak out about injustices as much as it needed you to sing Well Done.

I wish I could tell you that you were wrong about the white folks you were afraid would reject you if they ever met me. You weren’t. Many of those people you were worried about have bailed. You have lost some friends, and some people who once seemed to be fond of you don’t reach out anymore, but life is lived better from a sense of genuine self than from a safe place of oppressed apprehension.

I use my voice freely now.  I write about justice, faith, and culture, and I bear witness to the black experience. I’m contending for a better world, and there are quite a few white leaders who have embraced the message and me. There is opposition and people mislabeling this gospel as political rhetoric, but I live in the peace that comes from knowing that God is with me.

 

The New White Moderate

The New White Moderate 805 535 Corey Leak

In Dr. King’s breathtaking “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he lamented the posture of white clergy towards the Negro liberation movement in Alabama. White people felt like the protests lead by Civil Rights leaders were unwise and ill-timed. If you’ve never read the letter, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve read it before, might I suggest you take another look at it as we approach MLK Day on Monday?

Dr. King highlighted one group of people, in particular, with which he had grown more and more frustrated. He said this group of people were more of a threat to the full liberation of black people than any white supremacist hate group. He was more disturbed by these people than even the Ku Klux Klan.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Being an advocate for social change today doesn’t require what it once did. Marches and sit-ins are no longer the only way to show that you support the cause of black people demanded equality. As a result, the new white moderate can hide in plain sight. They can hide because of all the access to wokeness social media gives us.

We live in an era where social media allows the new white moderates to borrow the wokeness of people deeply committed to social change by clicking the re-tweet or share buttons. 

The new white moderate is a white person who believes in white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and the overall inequity that exists within the American social structure. They read, watch, and listen to today’s thought leaders on race. NWM recognize racism when they see it. Many of them possess a heightened sensitivity to racism and can often see racism in comments or actions that appear void of malicious or racist intent. They are secretly discontent with the lack of diversity at their jobs, churches, or in their communities.

Today’s moderate is different than the moderates that sat on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Those white moderates were blind to privilege, implicit bias, and fragility. They didn’t have access to the menagerie of woke content that saturates the internet today. In today’s world, NWM have become well versed in the language, trends, and stories that boost their understanding of the issues that keep black and brown people from standing on equal footing with white people in America.

Moderates then and now hold some beliefs that prevent them from engaging in the minority struggle for equality. These ideologies hold their wokeness at bay and blind them to their lack of allying and advocacy. Chief among these ideas is the belief that Time will fix it.

I worked for an organization that was reluctant to take even the smallest steps forward in the dialog about racial inclusion and equality because the timing needed to be just right. I agree that the schedule for having a dialog about race, justice, and equity should be well-timed, well thought out, and well executed. The problem with the new white moderate is that the “right time” they are waiting for seems to be measured by the white fragility watch.

The time for dialog about racism is almost never right now.

I’ve heard white moderates say that a solution to racism is to “wait for old racist white people to die off.”. I’ll echo the words of Dr. King.

Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

In this past three years, my children have come home from high school and middle school with stories of 12 to 17-year-old students who use terms like nigger and coon. If we are to continue to wait for time to emerge as the long-awaited Messiah for racial justice, we are at least another generation away from seeing the change that many of us are so eagerly awaiting.

There is no way forward for the new white moderate or any of us that won’t cost us. No path of little resistance exists for people wanting to commit to significant efforts of change. Time will not jump into the fight and win the battle for us.

The new white moderate is a fifth-year senior in the aware stage of white wokeness. They are more progressive than those that are in denial about the effects of racism on our society but pose no threat to the systems and structures that keep racism in place. They aren’t willing to go public with their objections to the evils of racism for fear of what it could cost them financially or socially. NWM are comfortable in the privilege they so readily admit is an ugly stain on the fabric of our Nation. That privilege allows them to evade feeling any sense of urgency for change. It’s not their fight, but here’s hoping that one day it will be.

4 Reasons Your Church Should Acknowledge MLK Day

4 Reasons Your Church Should Acknowledge MLK Day 1280 720 Corey Leak

MLK Day is a federal holiday. It is a day set aside to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s a day that has been met with resistance since it was proposed as a holiday in 1968. It took until 2000 for the holiday to be recognized as a federal holiday by every state in America. Utah is the last state to accept it.

Churches have been even slower to acknowledge MLK Day as a holiday worth mentioning during Sunday gatherings. Many churches in America that recognize Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day and Halloween have failed to recognize this federal holiday that was established to help us remember that all men are created equal. Perhaps many clergies don’t recognize the opportunity MLK weekend creates for sharing the gospel or perhaps it’s deemed a holiday for only black churches to celebrate. Whatever the reason, not taking time out to significantly honor the memory of Dr. King is a missed opportunity. Here are 4 reasons clergy should make significant space in the weekend programming for remembering Dr. King.

1. Dr. King was a pastor. 

Image result for Dr Martin Luther King pastor

MLK Day is a federal holiday that pauses the Nation to remember a man of the cloth and the work he did. People of all ethnicities, creeds, religions, and beliefs remember a Christian pastor’s message to America that all human beings are God’s children and equal. Every year black and non-black clergy have the opportunity to reaffirm that message and the pastor who preached it. Dr. King is in the great cloud of witnesses watching us who are still here carrying the message of liberation and freedom forward. He is a brother to ever faith leader who sacrifices, leads and gives of themselves for their congregants.

2. It deeply matters to the black people attending your church.

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I recently heard a story from a friend who took over a church a few years ago. In the first year of being a lead pastor, they asked the production team to make sure there was a moment in service to acknowledge Dr. King. The church had never done it before. After the first weekend service where they did it, a black woman came up to my friend with tears in her eyes and said: “For the first time in ten years this feels like my church.”

In multi-cultural or predominantly white congregations black people are often sacrificing the cultural experiences of their communities in order to belong to such churches. There are a number of reasons black folks chose not to attend a “black church” such as proximity, relationships, seeking more structured programming or teaching style. Whatever the reason they chose to attend churches where they are the minority, they are still aware each and every week that they are the minority. Hearing the lead pastor affirm the importance of equality from the stage can go a long way toward making black folks feel like they belong.

3. The work is not done.

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I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this that reconciliation is an ongoing issue. There is still so much work to be done for us to truly be reconciled to one another. Racism is pervasive and difficult to recognize because of its pervasiveness. The more we take time as communities of faith to wrestle with principles of inclusion and unity, the more we will see areas we need to repent, change and grow. Serious work takes serious time to do. MLK Day is a natural opportunity to stand on the shoulders of people who have gone before us in that work. We can take a fresh look at the sermons preached by Dr. King and evaluate ourselves to see how well we’re doing at loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

4. Jesus preached the same message.

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If you read about Jesus from the gospel writer Luke’s perspective you will find a significant emphasis put on the liberation of the poor and oppressed people of the world. From Mary’s Song, Jesus reading of Isaiah in Luke 4, to the Sermon on the Mount, you find a message of good news to the poor and oppressed. The work of the Messiah was to liberate the people of Israel from the things that held them captive. We tend to reduce this message to merely spiritual concerns in our Western reading of scripture, but for the people living during the time of Jesus and the people reading his story in the first century, the expectation was that there would be physical liberation as well. Luke records Jesus saying “blessed are the hungry for they will be filled”. Luke doesn’t write “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” as Matthew does. He also doesn’t record Jesus saying “in spirit” after Jesus says “blessed are the poor”.

Jesus was concerned with social issues that affected human beings on earth not just in heaven. It’s that message that Dr. King picked up and preached to us over 50 years ago. When a preacher examines the words of Dr. King and shares them with their congregation, they are not sharing a message that is other than the gospel but announcing that the Kingdom of God is indeed here and now.

 

For some of you that have done videos, slides, or special songs in the past, I’d challenge you to consider taking a step further and devoting all or part of your sermon to sharing something significant about Dr. King.

Having worked for several larger churches I know that most times teaching calendars and sermon series are planned months in advance. If you’re a part of a church leadership team that hasn’t planned for MLK weekend, I understand it can be difficult to pivot last minute. To those of you wrestling with that tension after reading this, I’ll offer two suggestions.

  1. Plan for it next year. Add MLK Day to your teaching calendar so that you don’t miss the opportunity again.
  2. Consider pivoting this week. Chances are you’ve pivoted before with less notice. Your team survived and you likely didn’t regret making the last minute change.

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Can you Imagine?

Can you Imagine? 1024 651 Corey Leak

There is a scenario that Jesus shared once that has been called “The Friend of Midnight”. Luke (Bible writer) records the story in chapter 11 of his book if you want to read it for yourself. The story follows the “Lord’s Prayer” and is followed by the ask, seek, knock instructions about prayer that most Christians are pretty familiar with. Because of where the statement is situated in Luke’s writing, this is primarily talked about in the context of prayer, and rightfully so. There is, however, something significant to be gleaned about hospitality upon taking a closer look at the words Jesus shared.

It’s likely that if you read this story today, it begins with the phrase “suppose one of you…”. Just about every version of the Bible reads it that way. A better reading would probably be something like “can you imagine…”. Then as now, what follows a phrase like that is something extremely out of the ordinary or unthinkable. Jesus told a lot of parables that began that way. The phrase is intended to elicit a natural response of “No, I can’t imagine that”.

As American readers, it’s important that we do not project our way of living into this story or we put ourselves in jeopardy of missing the point. It doesn’t help us to imagine ourselves going to a friend’s at midnight asking for food to feed our friends who showed up unannounced in the wee hours of the morning. Our culture is very different. We don’t live in a culture characterized by honor as these people did.

In essences Jesus said: “Can you imagine going to a friends house at midnight, asking them to help you show hospitality to a guest, and having them say no because their door is locked and their kids are sleep?” The natural response for us as Americans is “Umm… Yea, I totally can. I’m not getting up at midnight to make food for YOUR friends who showed up to YOUR house.”

However, no first century Jew hearing or reading this story would have been able to imagine that a person would NOT get up and help the friend at their door. It would be unheard of for a person living in a culture characterized by hospitality and honor to turn away a friend who was in need regardless of the hour.

For years I read this thinking that the audacity this story is bringing to light is from the person on the outside of the door, but in a culture of honor, the audacity is with the person on the inside of the door.

 

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Who’s audacious at our borders right now? People who have walked thousands of miles to seek refuge, women and children seeking a better life for their family, or the people firing tear gas and pellets at them? I suppose the answer to that question depends on the value you place on honor.

I’ve been asked a couple times now what I would do with a stranger at my door. Would I just let anybody come into my house with my wife and my children? The question has been posed to me to suggest that I’m being hypocritical for criticizing the way we have treated and talked about this “migrant caravan”. I can tell you that for several months we’ve had a man with what we can only assume is a mental health disorder come and stand across the street from our house and hurl racial slurs at the four houses on our street. I’ve never once thrown anything at him, yelled back out my window or acted aggressively toward him. I only recently even called the police because after praying for him, I felt like he needed help and possibly to be reunited with his family. I’ve woken up mad, scared, and disturbed by this man a few times, but he’s a human being and deserves honor based on that alone. It’s audacious of him to yell obscenities at our house after midnight, but it’s perhaps more audacious of me to disregard his humanity because his illness inconveniences me.

But, that’s really beside the point. I don’t believe the discussion about how a Nation treats migrants should be reduced to an argument about how all of us treat our private residencies. The issue isn’t whether you or I invite strangers into our home, though I would hope that we would be willing to help a stranger in need rather than harming them or ignoring them. The point is that we as a Nation should honor human beings simply because they are human beings, and not treat them as pests. When you can see an image like the one above and your first thoughts are something about legal entry, MS13, rape or murder, then you have lost a sense of humanity. Some have claimed this image and others like it are left-wing manipulations designed to tug on the heartstrings of liberal snowflakes. I actually wish that was true. I’d rather believe that the media would sink to those levels than believe that we are capable of treating any human beings in such a calloused way. It’s also concerning that it seems that the only people with heart strings to tug on are liberal snow flakes.

Can you imagine a world where people can see an image of suffering human beings and their first inclination is to defend a position or political party? Unfortunately, I can.  

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