racism

4 Reasons Your Church Doesn’t Talk About Race

4 Reasons Your Church Doesn’t Talk About Race 1000 798 Corey Leak

 

We celebrate diversity. This is a sentence echoed from nearly every Evangelical pastor in America. Yet it is so difficult to find a diverse church on Sunday. Why does Sunday morning continue to be the most segregated time of the week in America? There are a number of different factors that contribute to lack of diversity. I would argue that one of the number one reasons is that few churches are willing to have healthy conversations about race in their sanctuaries and their boardrooms. Talking about race IRL can twist your stomach in knots and put a lump in your throat because it’s not a popular discussion. If you’ve ever wondered why your church hasn’t talked about it, I have some ideas.

1. Location:

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When I wrote my first blog post about how white evangelical churches struggled to make room at their leadership table for POC, there were some pastors who brought up location. They raised an issue I’ve heard several times in my life about white suburbia. “We just don’t have many people of color in our community.” I understand the tension that creates. Most of the people we are trying to reach are white, and we have a responsibility to present the gospel in a way that reaches the people in our community. Church planters are trained to plant in a demographic area that best fits who they are. The logic is sound, and it’s tough to argue with it. However, if the homogeneous community is why a church chooses to opt out of addressing the issue of race and racism, that should signal a red flag.

The idea that a churches’ community is predominantly white means they are exempt from talking about race suggests that racism is not their issue, but someone else’s. Failing to talk about racism also deprives the white people in that community of the opportunity to recognize their own bias and repenting for the racism that has laid dormant in their hearts because it has never been brought to light. Pastors in such communities fail their attendees and send an implicit message that racism is an evil the suburbs can abide.

 

2. Polarization:

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I’ve written about this principle in previous blogs. When you have a room full of republicans, democrats, libertarians, librarians, barbarians, and communists, you have to be careful not to alienate any of them. The best way to do that is by not saying or doing anything from the stage that can be divisive in nature or make people uncomfortable. I once heard a white pastor suggest that an emotive, black female worship leader should tone it down because the largely white audience couldn’t identify with her. The idea being that large churches stay large by avoiding polarization. Pastors and leaders have to exercise wisdom in how they use the platform.

The question I have is, is the church’s ultimate goal to stay large or to speak the truth? Are those two ideas mutually exclusive?  If so, which one is the churches ultimate responsibility? When something is true but has the potential to make half the room uncomfortable should churches avoid talking about them? Race is one of those issues. With the inception of identity politics, race has become an issue that primarily concerns people with a progressive or left-leaning political posture. It seems that by reflex those who are on the other side of the aisle politically and perhaps literally would balk at the very idea of talking about race in church. Their political stance is that it’s a non-issue, and bringing it up in a church at all is taking a side. Churches have a moral obligation to talk about barriers to righteousness. Racism is one of those barriers. When a moral issue is hijacked by politics it’s the job of the church to get it back and help their people rightly approach the issue justly.

3. Not our mission:

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Great churches stay on mission. There are a ton of good things churches could be doing, but no church can do everything. Many churches, like any other organization, close their doors because they fail to stay on mission. Dealing with racism is viewed by many white evangelical leaders as a worthy cause, but not the fundamental mission of the church. It’s one of many good causes in the world. There are issues like human trafficking, world hunger or clean water projects that are also on the list of good deeds the church can do for the world. Racism often gets buried beneath that pile of worthy causes the church should focus on. Casting the issue of race with those world problems seems appropriate. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many times this line of reasoning is just a smoke screen to allow the church to avoid the awkwardness of challenging the white people in the room to look inwardly at racism.

Most churches don’t hesitate to address human trafficking, clean water and world hunger among many other issues. I would be willing to wager that there are more people in the congregation who have personally felt the effects of racism within the past two weeks than there are people who have ever been trafficked, lacked clean water or been starving. Please understand that I’m not advocating for efforts going toward ridding the world of the evils of those three should be diverted to address racism. I’m simply pointing out the flaw in the argument that racism belongs in the category with other missions projects. It’s an issue that affects human beings sitting in the seats, singing the songs, and hearing the messages.

It feels good to write a check to get clean water to a thirsty family in Africa. What doesn’t feel good is to confront the belief that my family is superior to theirs. Sending money to help people who live in Africa doesn’t absolve me of racism toward the African decedents who live in my community.

4. We only focus on the Bible:

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There are many churches that are adamant that they don’t do topical messages. They aren’t trying to make a point the Bible doesn’t make. They preach and teach only what the Bible says. Anything else is outside of the scope of what the church should be about. Exegetical churches pride themselves on teaching from what the Bible says and making applications from that rather than having a pre-conceived topic and finding scriptures that speak to that topic. It’s certainly an admirable approach to leading a church. It’s great for helping people know what the Bible says, and helping congregates be Biblically literate. Many pastors and church leaders believe the topic of race is outside of the scope of Biblical teaching.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Teaching on racism is not disconnected from scripture. There are a number of different instances where Jesus himself subtly touches on the issue of race. The woman at the well and the story of the Good Samaritan come to mind. The book of Acts is primarily about how Jewish men made room for Gentile men and women to come to faith. Churches that struggle to find Biblical references to refute racism are likely reading from the WNV (white nationalist version).

 

If you find yourself at a church where the subject of race isn’t addressed or you have questions about how it’s been addressed. Talk to someone in leadership. If any of the above comes up. Ask some hard questions. Not to cause division or to be malicious, but from a place of honest inquiry.

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#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story

#BothamJean – An all Too Familiar Story 1200 800 Corey Leak

We’ve heard this story before. We’ve witnessed the National story of an incident between two people with no eye witnesses that ended in the tragic death of a young black man. The last time we saw this story unfold a murderer was treated like the hero, and the victim was portrayed as the villain.

George Zimmerman was not detained after police arrived and found him standing over the lifeless body of Trayvon Martin whom he had just murdered in cold blood. Trayvon Martin was minding his own business walking through a neighborhood when he was accosted by Zimmerman. We’ve heard the audio recording of Zimmerman being told not to engage Trayvon by the 911 operator he’d called. It seemed like there was no way he would not have to answer for the injustice of shedding Trayvon’s innocent blood, but in the end, Zimmerman was found innocent of any crime. Trayvon’s murder was ruled by a court in Florida as a justifiable homicide under the “stand your ground” act. The moral of the Trayvon story is: Trayvon was in the wrong because he wore a hoodie and looked “suspicious”, and that’s why he was killed. George Zimmerman was the good guy and Trayvon the bad guy.

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Today, five years after the shocking plot twist where Zimmerman was found not guilty, we have a similar story unfolding out of Dallas. Again, there was an incident between two people. There are no eye witnesses to what happened (there are witnesses who claim to have heard parts of the incident), and there is another young black man dead.

Nearly a week ago, Botham Jean was in his apartment minding his own business when he was shot to death by an off duty police officer named Amber Guyger. Apparently Guyger, who lives in the same apartment complex, mistakenly tried to enter Jean’s apartment believing it was hers. She entered his apartment, and shot him dead because she thought he was an intruder in her home.

I’m sure we can all identify with a person mistakenly walking up to the wrong apartment. Mistakes like that are common. Just today I brought home someone else’s egg white bites from Starbucks. There were two mobile orders under Julie, and the barista gave me the other Julie’s food with my Julie’s coffee. I’ve watched people open the passenger side door to the wrong car in the parking lot before. I’ve nearly done the same thing a few times. Mistakes happen. Sadly, so does injustice.

Amber Guyger’s original story was that she tried her key several times to unlock the door of what she thought was her apartment, and it didn’t open. She then dropped the things in her hands and kept trying to get in the door when Botham Jean opened the door. She withdrew her firearm and shot him, believing him to be a burglar. 

Amber Guyger was not taken into custody at the scene of Jean’s murder. She was arrested 3 days after the shooting, and later released on bail. During her time being interviewed by Texas Rangers about the events that lead to Jean’s murder, it seems that she has been coached on how to tell a more compelling story that would help her case.

Today her account of what happened is different than her original. In her most recent version, she is the hero, and Jean is the villain. She went to what she thought was her apartment and found the door ajar. She entered and saw a large shadow in the dark apartment. After giving verbal commands that were ignored, she fired her weapon twice, striking Botham Jean in the abdomen. She then called 911 and turned the lights on. Only then did she realize she was in the wrong apartment. For the record, her story that the door was “ajar” seems hard to believe from people who live in the complex.

Once again, there is a hint of accusation for an innocent black victim in a murder case. She said Jean failed to obey her commands. This plays into the same narrative of almost every incident involving the killing of an unarmed black man. That narrative is that somehow, some way, the black man was responsible for his own death. If he would’ve just: been compliant, stopped resisting, not stiffened his legs... he would still be alive today. It seems as though black blood is never innocent, and white crimes against innocent black victims are too often deemed appropriate.

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Like Trayvon before him, Botham Jean was unarmed and completely innocent of any wrong doing. Jean had a job with a accounting firm, he volunteered his time in the community and lead worship at his church. He was in HIS apartment when he was shot and killed. The insinuation that he failed to act responsibly is an injustice to him and his family. I’m hopeful that this tragedy will end in justice despite the striking similarities to Trayvon Martin’s story that did not and the reports out of Dallas that this story is trending towards Guyger walking away Scott free. Only time will tell, but it’s important that we start to recognize the malicious pattern of demonizing the innocent in these stories. We cannot allow ourselves to let subtle unjust rhetoric go unchecked. When we allow justice to be distorted long enough, we lose sight of what actual justice looks like. 

The blood of innocent black men cannot continue to spill in the streets without repercussion. We are all responsible to resist that injustice. It’s outrageous to think that a man could be killed in his own home and his killer exonerated, but that may be an all too familiar reality as this story continues to develop. What’s more outrageous is that even after such an injustice people will still be burning their nikes and boycotting football because they can’t believe an athlete would have the audacity to kneel in protest. God help us.

What do you believe to be the just outcome of Botham Jean’s story?

Why do you believe that to be a just outcome?

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I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike

I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike 720 480 Corey Leak

Polarization doesn’t sell. I was once told by a pastor of a mega-church that avoiding polarization is one of the ways you grow and maintain a large church. We’ve seen NFL owners collude to keep Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid off NFL teams because anti-racism doesn’t sell. They have done their best to rid the league of the demonstration Colin and Eric started to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality. It’s standard practice for major brands and organizations to avoid polarizing topics, ideas, or people in order to protect the bottom line. Then there’s Nike.

I’ve always been a fan of Nike’s marketing campaigns. They’re always creative and intriguing to watch. Nike is one of the only brands that drive us to youtube to re-watch their adds. They have consistently promoted unity and allowed athletes to use their platform to share important messages with the world. No message is more important to the world today than equality. This week Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of the company’s just do it campaign. I applaud Nike and Colin for bringing attention to the sacrifice required for change to happen. I applaud Eric and Colin for not just talking about sacrifice, but making it. In doing so, they join a long line of historic icons.

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Each of these brave trail blazers were criticizedin their time for their demonstrations and words. Only in hind sight do we have the salience to understand how virtuous their cause was. Today we recognize pioneers like Dr. King with a National holiday. We have parades, take off work and remember the man who pushed the gospel of equality in an era that vehemently rejected it and him. Americans almost universally recognize Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks as transcendent heroes even though both were found guilty of breaking the law. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus and Mandela spent almost 3 decades in prison for his resistance to State sanctioned injustice. They spoke out and demonstrated. People were outraged at the things they said and their demonstrations. Sound familiar?

It should. This is Colin and Eric’s story. They have spoken out and demonstrated. People have been outraged by their actions. They’ve both been ostracized and denied the opportunity to continue promising careers as professional football players because they have had the guts to speak truth to power. They have been audacious enough to demonstrate during the National Anthem. They protest during a time that has upset the sensibilities of racist Nationalist and people who wish they would “find another way to protest” – much like the white men on the bus Rosa refused to get up for. Rarely is social change convenient. It’s uncomfortable and the demonstrations that propel us forward to change are supposed to disturb us. We are suppose to begin to ask ourselves if the society we live in is as just as it can be. When the answer is no, the virtuous response is to act. When we are made aware that we can do better – be better – live better together – we should just do it.   

During the opening statements of Nelson Mandela’s trial, he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” That is what commitment to change sounds like. That is the kind of righteous stance we should be teaching our children to have. My wife and I proudly hold Eric and Colin as role models for our children. Sorry Charles.

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Role models are people who inspire us to be our best selves. They are people willing to sacrifice time, money or personal gain for a cause that is bigger than themselves. My wife and I want to raise children who are willing to stand in the courage of their convictions even when it’s unpopular to do so. That is what Nike, Colin and Eric have given us the opportunity to do. We can use their example to teach our children to believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.

What are you willing to sacrifice everything for?

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Angry. Black. Man.

Angry. Black. Man. 1280 537 Corey Leak

 

What makes you angry? Take a second and think about the last time you were truly mad about something or mad at someone. Maybe it was today when someone cut you off on the freeway, or something you watched or read in the media. Here’s a deeper question. What triggered your anger? Perhaps when you were cut off on the freeway you felt some sense of loss or inadequacy. Maybe when you watched the news you felt afraid of what is happening in the world you live in and that lead to anger.

Most of us don’t need to dig too deep to find justification for our own anger. We are the protagonist in our life story, and all our actions/reactions are completely reasonable and understandable to us. What if while venting about the jackass that cut you off,  you were vilified for being angry and how you expressed it? Would that make you even more angry?

Black people in America have good reasons to be angry yet are often demonized for expressing it. James Baldwin once said: “To be negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time”. Put another way, being a socially conscious black American is the equivalent of being cut off nearly every time you’re on the freeway. Carrying the weight of black witness is a heavy burden. When a black person goes to work, they are carrying the weight of their ancestors, family, and community with them. When a black person is late, they are shouldering social stigma as well as the potential blow to their own professional image. Socially aware black folks wake up every day to the stone cold reality that they will likely see or experience profiling, negative stereotypes or prohibition.

Take for example one of my wife’s recent trips to the Target down the street from our house. She was purchasing a small back pack for our daughter along with a few other items and decided to use the self-checkout lane. While she was standing in line, a Target employee approached her and asked her in front of everyone to see inside the bag. She claimed she needed to check for a sensor (no, our Target doesn’t sell Gucci or Louis Vuitton). After rummaging through the bag like a kid on Halloween looking for red Starbursts, and of course finding no sensor, she walked away. My wife was left standing in a store she goes to weekly feeling the embarrassment of being profiled as a petty thief.

In a way, my wife’s experience is emblematic of the black experience in America. It seems as if we are left “holding the bag” after suffering humiliation or worse from people who still question the validity of our humanity. Travon Martin’s mother was left holding the bag. Philando Castile’s girlfriend and kids were left holding the bag, as were the families of Stephon ClarkKalief Browder and 12 year old Tamir Rice. These are a few of the human beings whose lives were cut short due to injustice. Their families have had to mourn for them and move on without the satisfaction of having society hold the guilty parties accountable for taking their lives. Can you imagine that?  How would it feel to have your family member’s murder be classified as just by a jury? Would you feel angry? Would you protest? Would you support a movement that spread the message that their lives mattered?

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Being angry is a basic huMan right. It’s something we all feel. No law or religion prohibits anger. Suppressing it is to suppress a natural part of our humanity, and can have long term affects on our physical, mental, and emotional health as well as our relationships. As a society we encourage outrage at injustice, bad food service or unfair workplace situations. We often applaud people who in full on fury stand up for themselves or others. However, for some reason there is a shame associated with being an angry black man or woman which leads to black people being apprehensive to express their rage over inequitable treatment that naturally elicits strong emotion.

I’ve had conversations with black people who have felt strongly about things happening in their community, but felt like because of the organizations they work for, they were not allowed to express them. Well meaning people have cautioned me against coming across as angry due to the adverse affect it can have on career advancement. Some of those same people support a President that seems to get angrier with every tweet. Black anger seems to be demonized, feared and escaped when it should be empathized with.

Our proximity to injustice can determine how strongly we feel emotions over it. Perhaps we don’t feel anger, hurt, sadness or troubled by the unjust things that happen to other people around us because we have distanced ourselves from their plight. It’s more comfortable to create distance from the person suffering injustice than to roll our sleeves up and address the systemic problems that caused the inequity to begin with. The further we remove ourselves from the pain of others, the more heartless and judgmental we become to the way they respond to their pain. Anger is a natural response from a community that has been oppressed and stifled throughout it’s history in America, and every one of us should not only allow space for that anger, but join in with outrage of our own.

If I’ve written this blog as well as I hope I have, you’ve experienced some emotion as you’ve read it. Did you feel anger when you read what happened to my wife? Were you emotional when I reminded you that a 12 year old boy lost his life for playing with a toy gun? Those are natural human emotions that you should feel. To quote Saint Thomas Aquinas: “If you can live amidst injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.”  

 

 

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Our Sister

Our Sister 1536 1152 Corey Leak

Below is the video of one of us, a human being, who has just experienced a terrible tragedy. She’s Nia Wilson’s grieving sister. She and Nia were passengers on a train in Oakland where they were brutally attacked by a violent criminal late Sunday night.

As a Bay area resident, I’ve ridden BART with my family on a few different occasions, and I can’t imagine the horror of being attacked out of no where by a total stranger. It’s even harder to imagine that altercation resulting in the loss of a loved one. My heart has been heavy over this story since I found out about it Monday afternoon. After reading about the incident, which was initially reported as a hate crime, I processed out loud with my wife, and two of my daughters overheard. My middle daughter has experienced anxiety, and we have been working with her to manage it for a few years now. I knew that she had the potential to fear ever taking public transit again after hearing the news, and in that moment I shared her fear.

As human beings we can usually mitigate our emotional response upon hearing tragic news based on how closely we identify with the circumstances surrounding an event. For me, a black father of three daughters, I quickly identified with this story, and hearing Nia’s sister say that Nia too wrestled with anxiety was almost too much for me to bear. The image of a girl with anxiety taking her last breaths is crushing to me, and it probably is for you too. I was tempted to avoid that part of the story both in real life and in this blog because it’s a painful image to hold. Then I thought: the privilege to avoid the pain of another’s story is not a privilege to be treasured. We shouldn’t look away when we see another’s pain or tragedy. We should move toward it, and do all we can to redeem the justice, dignity or humanity that was taken from them.

I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip. These were the words of James Baldwin at a 1965 debate at Cambridge University. Baldwin used the pronoun “I” to express how the American Negro identified with his ancestors.

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His words were intended to assert that all black men were in a sense slaves because our ancestors were. That concept of human connection is at the root of the belief amongst Orthodox Jews that participating in the passover meal is to stand on the banks of the Red Sea and experience the liberation of ancient Jews from Egypt.  Communion is viewed in the Bible as entering into the sufferings and very person of Jesus. Throughout history the act of tangibly entering into another human beings experience has been viewed as a sacred act. Taking part in such sacred acts requires an existential connection. It requires that, as said Baldwin in the 60s, we see ourselves akin to the experience and especially the suffering of other humans. It is a redemptive practice, and it is how we shine light into the darkness of injustice.

Dehumanization, the greatest weapon of the enemies of justice and compassion, detaches us from the common thread that binds us all. Every human being loves, hurts, laughs, and cries, but not everyone embraces our core sameness. When we hear stories like Nia’s we can be seduced into finding ways to not see ourselves in her story. The subtle wording, phrases, and images from media outlets “otherize” victims of violence like Nia. Ignore them. She is human like you. Her family is devastated like yours would be. Allow yourself to be pulled into her story, and feel the grief her family feels. Let’s find a way to redeem this terrible tragedy and remember Nia as if she were our own daughter, niece, cousin, friend or neighbor. You probably never met her, and before reading this blog, you’d possibly never heard of Nia Wilson. You likely didn’t know her, but she was your sister. Her death is a human tragedy driven by a hatred that seeks to destroy us all if we don’t learn to love beyond our own interests.

How have others come along side you or your family during a time of grief or sorrow?

Have you ever felt connected to the grief of a person or family you didn’t know? Why did you feel that connection?

Here is the link to the GoFundMe set up in Nia’s honor. This is an easy way to honor her memory, and tangibly share in her family’s suffering and healing at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Stages of White Wokeness

3 Stages of White Wokeness 612 515 Corey Leak

Let me acknowledge the elephant in the blog right away. I recognize that I’m a black man writing content to and about a group of people I don’t belong to – white people. In the world we live in it can be intimidating to engage in content about race as a white person, especially a white male, and while I don’t feel sorry for the privileged class, I do understand how difficult it is to engage in healthy dialog with a mark against you before a conversation can even begin. It never feels good to be judged or dismissed based upon factors you were born with and are beyond your control, and I want to assure you at the very beginning of this blog that I’m not writing to attack you. I’m writing to help you engage – not because YOU need to, but because if you don’t, we as a people will never heal from the damage of our past.  If more white people, specifically white males, don’t get involved in helping to tear down racism, sexism, and xenophobia we will fall deeper and deeper into the great abyss of hatred, fear, and racial paranoia. Minorities alone aren’t enough to overthrow a system that delegitimizes their claims of oppression and second class citizenship. Only people operating in full legitimate standing as American citizens economically and socially have the power to enact the change that minorities are clamoring for. Fortunately, there are more and more such citizens beginning to speak out and use their voice to speak for the voiceless. I’ve noticed an uptick in white Americans acknowledging privilege, asking questions, and standing on the front lines for the cause of racial equality. I’ve had many conversations with white friends and colleagues over the past two years, and here are the stages of wokeness I’ve witnessed through our dialog.

Stage One: Awareness

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This stage is where the majority of white woke folks are. People in this stage ask questions, read content, and generally seek out all the information they can about racism, systemic injustice, and white privilege. They have mostly moved beyond fragility and denial, but don’t know what to do with their new found awareness. Often times people arrive at this stage through some personal experience such as adopting a POC or witnessing an injustice in their community. At this stage, it’s still intimidating to engage in the dialog with people of color about race, but the thirst for more information drives aware people beyond their own fear. This stage is about my struggle with racism both in my own consciousness and in the world at large. The people here wrestle with their own subtle contributions to the problems of systemic racism, and experience white guilt. The experience of guilt is a bit of a tipping point in the awareness stage. It’s where a person can potentially become defensive in an effort to try and lift the guilt. If an aware person chooses defensiveness it can show itself in a myriad of ways. One of them is by becoming reclusive about the issue. This is the silence we’re witnessing from some of our religious institutions. You’d be hard pressed to find a single religious leader that doesn’t recognize that there is a racial divide in America, but you’d be pressed even harder to find those same aware leaders actively involved in healing it. A better response to white guilt is to allow it to propel you to the next stage as I’ve seen many people I know do. Awareness is a great place to start, but this is not the stage to rest in. There is more work to be done.

Stage Two: Alliance

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Once a person goes on the long journey of awareness and made it through their experience with white guilt, they typically look for a partner to walk the journey with. That partner is usually, and understandably so, a POC. In this stage white people engage in deep and honest dialog with friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color about their experiences being minorities in America. These conversations help put flesh and bone on the research allies did in the awareness stage, but there is more to this stage than dialog. This stage is characterized by assisting POC in their struggle for equality, so allies find ways to help minorities. They are empathetic, and will reach out to black and brown friends when there is a racial tragedy such as: a shooting of an unarmed black American or a nationally broadcast supremacy rally like Charlottesville. These are people who truly have “black friends”. They have shared meals with people who aren’t white, and have a great deal of respect for black and brown people. Allies are willing to be lead, coached, and mentored by POC, and loathe racism on every level. They engage privately in open discussions about the evils of racism, and encourage the bravery of black and brown people who speak up. They are the people you’re most likely to see sharing anti-racism posts on social media. Many of them have black or brown family, friends, mentors, or bosses. Allies participate in peaceful protests and attend community events designed to heal the wounds of racism.  The proximity they have to POC makes them far more sensitive to the plight of minorities. They are willing to help people resisting systemic and organic racism. Allies are like your friends who come out to watch you run a half marathon and make sure you have plenty of water as you do it. They are extremely proud of you for running, and are your biggest fans, but they aren’t running with you. That’s allies. They cheer on the people in the struggle, and have great ideas for what they should do next. They are not using a large amount of their own resources or influence to resist racism.  There are legitimate reasons people settle into alliance. It feels like they are helping the cause. They are far from racist, and extremely supportive of their black and brown friends. I’d conjecture that this is the fastest growing stage of the three. With the advent of Trumpian rhetoric and the amount of material being put out on a daily basis presenting evidence of more racism in our country, many white people are settling in this stage if for nothing else to show that they don’t agree with racist rhetoric or practices. It can be a long journey to get to this stage, and it can feel like the end of the road, but there is another stage of wokeness. Honestly, there are many black and brown people who haven’t progressed to the final stage. It’s not for everyone I suppose.

Stage Three: Advocacy

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This final stage has the least amount participants, but especially white participants. This is the stage where the struggle against racism and for racial equality is our struggle. People in this stage are outspoken advocates of social change. Not everyone in this stage is outspoken in the same way. Folks who progress here are: community organizers, writers, film makers, artists, and leaders who don’t need permission from anyone to use their influence to advocate for change. The energy that drives their activity is generated from a deep sense of purpose, and you’ll find white people in this stage on the front lines of resistance to racism whether they are joined by POC or not. They use their platforms to uphold justice and equality. Many of the people in the advocacy stage have committed a significant amount of their time and resources to make sure that efforts to dismantle systemic racism in America continue to move forward. Advocates don’t just attend events, they organize them. They are the people whose content black and brown people read and share. They are running the race along side POC and actively seeking more ways to make sure the message is heard. They are helping raise awareness and recruit allies for the cause. Advocates renounce their own privilege, and though they don’t have the existential  urgency to act – they do anyway.

If you’ve read this all the way through, you’re likely in one of these three stages.

What stage do you most identify with?

Are you satisfied with the stage you’re in?

Victor’s Mentality

Victor’s Mentality 323 448 Corey Leak

In the past couple of days I’ve had some serious shade thrown my way. I have been accused of race baiting, having an agenda, causing division, and dwelling on the past. These accusations didn’t come from the same person or in the course of an argument. They were in response to how I choose to use my voice on social media.

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Most of the above was in response to me posing a question I was personally wrestling with. (The top two were sent to me direct message, and I chose to respect the fact that they wanted to speak to me in private.) I posted: “I wonder what our news feeds and weekend religious gatherings would look like if the majority of the victims of racial injustice were white”

I’ve chosen to be vocal about issues that affect society with this blog and other social media platforms, and on FB I usually pose a question for people to wrestle with and dialog over. People have varying degrees of maturity, and that shows through some of the comments. However, most times there is very healthy conversation happening about extremely sensitive topics of race, religion, and political issues. I’m convinced that open dialog about polarizing issues is necessary if there is every going to be genuine unity. It seems like when the subject of that dialog is race, a dangerous and subtle idea tends to rear it’s head.

The idea is this – that bringing up issues of racial injustice is holding a “victim’s mentality” versus the “victor’s mentality” which is held by those who choose not to acknowledge that there is any racial inequality or racial injustice in America. I’ve literally been told that if we stop talking about racism it will go away. (Again, I’ll point out that none of the people who have thrown shade recently or made statements like this to me are POC.) Juxtaposing the victim’s mentality against the victor’s mentality as an argument against speaking out about racism is a cryptic way of telling POC to get our Jim Crow on.

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Originally posted by childishnes

Somehow speaking up about false arrests, police brutality, disproportionate incarceration rates, or any other violation of the civil rights of black people is “playing the victim”. This binary approach isn’t helpful for moving forward in how we as Americans learn to live together in true harmony. It’s possible to lament systemic oppression AND take personal responsibility for living a successful life. People who call out injustice or racism aren’t looking for a hand out or living in the past. Both are fallacy.

First, looking for a hand out implies that POC are seeking something undeserved. I think a revolutionary from days past speaks to this better than I can.

Secondly, when I or someone else speaks about a current event that involves racial injustice, how is that “living in the past”?

Racism IS ancient. It is also a present day reality, and if talking about racism is living in the past, then so is celebrating the greatness of America for it’s past victories over tyranny. It’s unfair to celebrate America’s victories while attempting to mute the voices of those lamenting her sins. Both are part of our history and our present, and both inform who we are and how we behave toward each other today. I’ve heard it said that people who forget their past failures are doomed to repeat them. If we refuse to take glances into the past and see the patterns that developed, we will never break the cycle of division that has plagued us for far too long. When something happens today that is eerily similar to something we’ve seen in our history it’s irresponsible to ignore it. Acknowledging the similarities between past and present events is a necessary tool for us as a people to move forward. If the past is painful to the descendants of the oppressors, how much more painful is it for the descendants of the oppressed? We all have to be willing to endure the pain of looking at our history if we desire to write a better story for future Americans to read about.

Only truly evil people want hatred, fear, and war. We should be careful not to label anyone whose words or actions make us uncomfortable as promoting those three. Sometimes we all need to be spurred to wrestle with our beliefs. We need to examine where they come from and why we hold to them still periodically. That’s what growth looks like.

I’ll leave you with this week’s question, but you’ll likely need to wrestle with this one with the help of a friend.

Are there any beliefs you have about race or racism that need to be challenged?

Color Blindness

Color Blindness 365 514 Corey Leak

Last week in our dialog about resistance, the idea of color blindness came up in discussion. It was presented as a form of resistance to racism. We’ve all heard the phrase “I don’t see color.” That and phrases like “we’re all one race, the human race” seem like loving and inclusive statements on the surface. Upon closer examination, they ring as hollow as Michael Scott’s famous words in season two of “The Office” when he said he didn’t see “collars”. He said he was “collar blind” while on a field trip to the warehouse to see what life was like for the blue collar workers in the basement.

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What I find interesting about color blindness is that in my experience, the people who claim to have this honorable ailment have always been white. It seems to be a condition that ails only the privileged. People whose skin tone has a darker hue tend to be immune to the disease of color blindness.

For POC, the color of their skin, facial features, and hair texture are all reminders of their heritage. It isn’t something to be blind to, but rather something to be proud of. Our color is something we celebrate as a God given gift. It is part of how we identify the beauty of who God made us. There is great dignity in recognizing who we are and how we are created. Recognizing, making space for, and celebrating the beauty of culture is how genuine love and inclusion are expressed in society. However, POC are also aware of the cultural taboo that can accompany our pigmentation.

I rarely walk into any space outside of my home without feeling the weight of being a black man. A few weeks back I drove to a neighborhood I didn’t live in to pick up some shoes my wife was purchasing from a stranger through social media. She told me she ordered shoes for her sister. My instructions were to drive to the address, go to the front porch, pick up the shoes, and leave  $20 under the mat. This sounded simple enough.

It was after 9pm and obviously dark (here in the suburbs of SF) when I drove into this neighborhood and parked my car on the street. I was having trouble finding the house so I started walking around the dark cult-a-sac looking for the address my wife had given me. I walked to one end of the street and didn’t see the house number I was looking for. As I turned to go back to my car, I began to fear that someone would see a 6’3 black figure walking around in the neighborhood at night, and call the police.

After growing increasingly anxious about being in this neighborhood alone at night, I quickly jumped back into my car and drove down to the end of the cult-a-sac. I found the house I was looking for and walked up to the dark porch looking for shoes. I didn’t see any shoes, so I rang the doorbell. No one answered, and I stood their on the porch feeling more and more angst as I didn’t see any shoes. I was reluctant to investigate too much for fear of looking like I was breaking into the house, so I went back to the car and called my wife.

The reason I had to go back to my car to call my wife was because I purposely left my cell phone in the car in case someone did call the police. I didn’t want to have anything in my hands or pockets that could have been mistaken for a gun when they arrived. This happened not long after Stephon Clark was shot by the police in Sacramento (which is just an hour and a half East of where I was standing). The incident was fresh in my mind. I didn’t have the ability to conjure color blindness to still my anxiety as I began to see myself in a similar scenario as Clark.

I called my wife. She told me I was looking for baby shoes for her sisters newborn, and I walked back to the porch and found them. I put the $20 under the mat on the porch and left. The police never showed. Possibly no one called or I got out before they arrived. Who knows. The point is, I did not have the luxury of behaving as if the world is blind to my color and that stereotypes don’t have life-and-death consequences for people like me.

I’ve heard more than a few white people share stories of their own feelings of fear simply driving through certain neighborhoods. I wonder if any of my color blind brothers and sisters are suddenly “healed” of their condition when faced with these scenarios. I’d imagine their blindness is a lot like Denzel’s in “The Book of Eli”, it comes and goes as needed.

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(If I spoiled the movie for you, you have no one to blame but yourself. That movie’s been out for like 100 years).

When faced with real world scenarios, shallow ideology like color blindness prove to be less than helpful. It is not a stance that helps rid the world of systemic racism or implicit bias. Ethnic and cultural sameness is a tyrannical way of seeing the world. Democracy and freedom is about being able to exist in the same space with diverse cultures being fully recognized, not disregarded. Being proud of your culture and celebrating differences are not evil. Racism is, and continuously denying the  beauty of diversity is a form of racism.

Blindness has two definitions.

  1. the state or condition of being unable to see because of injury, disease, or a congenital condition.
  2. lack of perception, awareness, or judgment; ignorance.

Which of the two definitions most applies to the people you know (including yourself if appropriate) who are “color blind”?