When the Man Censors the Man from Talking about the Man

Several months back, I posted a variant on a joke that trolls White Supremacists who refer to multicultural representation as “White Genocide.” I don’t remember the version I said, but the original is, “All I want for Christmas is White Genocide.” Yes, I happen to think it’s a knee-slapper, but also, both the original and my variant were created and disseminated by fellow people from European heritage (3 of my grandparents have roots going back to Northern Europe). Somebody on my friend’s list was offended enough to report it, so Facebook took it down and gave me a stern lecture about why I should abide by their “community standards.”

Which I always thought was weird, because when I’ve reported pages for being racist against Puerto Ricans, pointing out their explicit stereotypes that paint Boriquenxs (the other grandparent is Puerto Rican) as lazy and dumb thugs from the perspective of gentrifiers, it takes several weeks and multiple reports from many people (residents and allies) before Facebook even admits that the page is violating Community Standards. Recently, I reported a man for threatening sending his family after me to cause me physical harm. Community Standards were apparently silent then as they’ve never gotten back to that issue.

A white man making a joke about a white supremacist talking point, however, violates the Community Standards? And while some of my FB friends did initially find the joke  insensitive, I was able to explain its context to them. Facebook, however, does not have such a dialogue. The people who supposedly uphold standards for community living don’t have open, two-way dialog, the most essential element of creating and sustaining a community.

Community is difficult, dynamic, multifaceted, and living. Paradoxically, while every community needs boundaries and guidelines, to strictly enforce them unilaterally (read: Zero Tolerance) leads to the death of the community. What rises instead gravitates toward racist, sexist, ableist, and classist hegemony. A network should stop pretending to be social when it is unwilling or unable to bend, when orders merely come from the top (from people who tend to navigate towards anti-social tendencies in the first place).

Image result for jail clipart

I reached the butt-end of this zero-tolerance policy when I made another swipe at The Whites. This time, a friend alerted me that he was censored on one of my posts for saying (appropriately) the phrase “White Devils” in response to some messed up story I shared about White people acting very… White people. When I found out he was reported and his statement taken down I reacted and said that anybody outraged by the phrase White Devil is either a White Devil or a White Devil Ally, and as such, should not be my friend.

I was then booted off of Facebook for 24 hours (more like 26, but I’m not bitter or anything). When I asked that they revise their finding (I ‘violated Facebook Community standards’ again, for hate speech), I added that I, myself as a White person*, could not have been invoking hate speech because I do not hate myself.

At this point, it may be necessary to remind readers that White Nativists believe that White people can be race-traitors for aligning with Black and Brown people. It is a capital offense to the KKK and Nazis.

Two weeks after that stint, I was sent back to Facebook Rikers Island for a sentence of three days for saying Settler Colonialists are violent and murderers. Where was the lie? Tha is what settler colonialism is: It is cultural and bodily genocide that takes land. Facebook apparently agreed with me for a minute because it censored the Declaration of Independence for hate speech, until it backtracked and realized who was doing the talking and about whom.

See, Founding Fathers and other powerful bigots like US presidents, other politicians, and even (White) pundits get to make tremendous threats against the lives of millions of people on social media and all of a sudden the Community Standards Police are mum. These are people with tremendous influence and power, with fingers on the pulse of the movers and shakers if not the movers and shakers, THE button-pushers themselves.

After the first-third of my jail sentence, the judge/jury/executioner came back to me and acknowledged that they made a mistake and sent me on my merry way. But there was no transparency as into what the decision-making process was like in the first place nor why there was a reversal. I do not know if I can talk about Christians or Evangelicals (as a present Christian and former Evangelical, I feel inclined to) in a critical light without again getting booted for “hate speech”.

However, my sentencing was light compared to women and others outside of cisgender maleness, and especially of those of color. Many of my friends have had extended periods in Facebook or Twitter Pokie or have lost their social media accounts for declaring “men are trash” despite the accuracy of this statement and the context of their own harassment by men, who are socially conditioned to feel ownership. This silencing tactic, directed by men, only adds to the veracity of the statement. Furthermore, Twitter and Facebook punish black and brown people–heavily victimized by this racist, sexist nation-state–for saying “Death to America.” Even though, unlike Donald Trump, they have no actual power* to enact any semblance of such a threat. Such as when the POTUS literally threatened genocide of the entire Korean population. And yet his account remains unchallenged.

Every successful enterprise within White Supremacist Patriarchal Capitalism is set up to protect White Supremacist Patriarchal Capitalism; that includes the internet.

*yet. Lord hasten the day.


We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

Racial Mascotry and the Space for “Enlightening Discussions”

Over the last several years, as students and activists of color have been increasingly organizing around issues of racial (and economic) injustice particularly as affects them, you may have also noticed more than a fair share of pushback from mainstream and liberal publications (whereas previously most of the counter-resistance was from conservative outlets). Washington Post, New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, etc, etc, seem to be in need of op-eds and features written by establishment, upper-middle class people about the perils of allowing these protesters too much space in the public imagination.

Their arguments are that the activists are too violent, that they are childish, pouting, not ready for the real world, denying freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the school. They argue that ‘woke’ Milennials seeking safe places are a threat to academic freedom and the classroom, and that they are being coddled and babied.

Most of these arguments are simply dismissed by applying the title of Adam Kotsko’s blog, “What If I Told You that the Whole World Is Your Safe Place?” to the very people complaining about the struggle of these students to find a safe place of their own.

But yet there is a part of me concerned about academic freedom and about workers’ rights (noticeably the right to secure employment that is not threatened by non-work related experiences and ambushes by social media). For me, seeking penal justice gives more ammunition (so to speak) to the very forces of White Supremacy that have criminalized people of color and organized forms of resistance (notice, for example, how in one state resistance to the police is now categorized as a hate crime–  a bill hailed as Blue Lives Matter Law in recognition of its counter to Black Lives Matter activism).


It was in this frame of mind that I read Conor Friedersdorf’s highly-opinionated-yet-delivered-as-if-rational (which is to say, stripped of its context of racial violence) article “The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale” in The Atlantic and first came away thinking, “Aw man, that’s fucked up what happened to those professors.”

I had to come back to it later. The language in here made me think that the costumes were merely “offensive”, as if someone was bothered by clown make up. I thought at first glance that the email was largely harmless, certainly not on the order of a firing.

But riding on my bike, I thought about the gentrifiers coming into my neighborhood, Humboldt Park in Chicago, and wanting to tear down the beautiful Puerto Rican flag that has been a symbol of this Boriquen Oasis for decades on the grounds that it is somehow “racist” – despite the fact that it is the White people forcefully displacing Ricans. I thought about how White people had created a Facebook page calling themselves “The Puerto Ricans of Humboldt Park” and employing every racist, classist stereotype they could of my people – thugs, rapists, thieves, car jackers, drug users, lazy, welfare dependents. These are people, they heavily suggested in their caricatures, who deserve to be kicked out and denied access and opportunity. I thought what I would think if White people moving into Humboldt Park and Logan Square walked around in “Jibarito” costumes. I was then flushed with anger and resentment.

And then I was able to re-situate the Atlantic article. Yale, George W Bush’s alma mater, is well-known as one of the Whitest of the Whitest of White institutions. But Friedersdorf and the “provocative email” writers, Nicholas and Erika Christakis, assume that students of color can just have enlightening conversations with White students who wear their faces as if they are trophies on their walls.

Native Mascotry is a term created by American Indian activist Jacqueline Keeler to describe how Natives’ identities are being worn by sports teams and others as a way of cultural genocide. While not wanting to erase her work and what this means as it relates to Native American people and communities (particularly in light of the bullshit campaign by Dan Snyder and the Washington Post to once again pretend that a racist slur is a responsible and respectful honorific to an oppressed people group), I’d like to consider what it means that people of color are being mascot-ed through costume.

This extended mascotry – dressing as “gangsters” or “Chinese” for Halloween, as “Mexican” for Cinco de Mayo, as “Indian” for game day – is not separate from other forms of institutional racism and racial violence. In fact, it’s an integral aspect of racial violence. It is the physical and visual enactment of racist justification played out in the social sphere. “These people are no more than cartoons and thus are not hared by how we treat them.” The implication is that these mascot-ed/costume-d cultures and communities cannot and should not be taken seriously, nor their concerns; that they are not real or normal (read: White people). This mascotry is socially-inhabited psychological warfare.

It is not a simple feat to meet people committing psychological warfare against your very family and culture on any sort of level ground. The power dynamics are off and thus you are not entering a place for dialog.

I still do not know what any sort of proper response is to this. I don’t think the approach is as simple as firing or using the justice system. However, as resident life coordinators, however, it seems that Christakis’ were unsuited to the task that would make Yale hospitable for students of color.

Maybe the solution lies in White people not being so offended when they realize that they and their concerns are not the center of the universe. That would be a start.

White Liberalism and Muslims

Sometimes the difference between liberals and conservatives really isn’t that far. In The Nation, while reviewing White Liberal thought that led to increased incarceration of black people during the last fifty years, Willie Osterweil made the point that White conservatives don’t believe that racism exists but fundamentally believe that race does. White liberals, however, believe that racism exists, but not race. American liberalism is rooted in individualism and has a difficult time seeing past that, even while it makes sweeping generalizations. I think the same can be said for White/Western liberals and conservatives irt Muslims and Islam.

White conservatives think that Muslims (as in the people of color – North Africans, Sub-saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, etc.) are savages and so their religion reflects that. White liberals will say that Muslims aren’t savages naturally, it’s just that their religion makes them that way.

It’s a blood-thin line, you see.

Outside of the racism (which neither will admit to, arguing that Islam is a religion and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are non-White), this view of Muslims as point-of-fact savage in one way or another is justification for endless war. While the endless war is a tool of empire and capitalism, it needs to be justified to a population that sees itself as civilized. The Myth of Civilization in fact needs an alter ego, a demon – the uncivilized. The Other. The foreigner. The Oriental.

Edward Said would look at the vast majority of portrayals of Muslims through popular entertainment and news media and would not be at a loss. In the 1990’s, even before the mass upgrade of the Military Industrial Complex’s to the permanent War on Terror, even before the literal bombardment of Muslims through perpetual foot soldiers, mercenaries, US-based oil companies, and drones, Muslims were exotified, other-ized, villified, barbarianized in the popular US imagination through movies and pop culture (in much the same way Natives have been within this land through popular imagination, through the Cowboys and Indians mythos of traveling road shows and John Wayne movies and Tonto-ism). The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on Muslim extremism. Muslims and Middle Easterners were and are the easy villains of popular imagination – from Blackhawk Down to Alladin‘s Jafar to the literally faceless hordes gunned down by Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Popular media primed the Western mind for the War on Terror.

Now every terrorist attack – whether domestic or international – is blamed matter-of-factly on Muslims and Islam. It doesn’t matter that most of the victims of terror done by extremist Muslims are Muslim. White Conservatives will blame Muslims while White Liberals will blame Muslim Extremists – by which they mean REAL Muslims.

Christians and Atheists and Jews get to come in various forms and in different aspects with vastly different worldviews within their prospective religions (or lack-of-religions). But not Muslims. Because Muslims are Orientalized, they are simplified. In this imagination, there are, at most, Good Muslims and Bad Muslims just as, in the popular White imagination, there are Good Black people and Bad Black people. The Good ones are like us. The Bad want to kill us.

There are of course concerns within the wide world of majority-Muslim countries. There are concerns within Islam. Patriarchy and gendered violence is strong in many of these regions. And there are many attendant factors within that which shock Westerners. But shocking does not preclude the fact that very similar things happen in our own shores and next door and possibly in our own homes. Domestic violence is rampant in the US and in every demographic. Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners in the US. These are de facto honor killings. Domestic violence happens predominantly and exponentially in impoverished communities. It is nine times more likely to happen among the poorest in the States than among the richest. So, community and resource investment is important. So is dismantling patriarchy. But this must be internal. Sending poor people from here who are already predispositioned to violence (due to economic and psycho-socio violence perpetuated on them through generations upon generations) is a perverse practice of perpetuity. American violence is exported to the Middle East, intensified and imported back again to the American household and against our own women.

There is an irony that one of the primary justifications for anti-Muslim violence is to free women from the oppression of Islamic violence, forgetting that we are also bombing and killing Muslim women. Through the pretense of fighting for the independence of women, anti-Muslim fears welcome and perpetuate anti-women violence both home and abroad.

Yet talk of “spreading democracy” and freeing them from their own oppression is not just meaningless, it is in itself an act of violence. White liberals who say this are advocating the same “blow it all to smithereens” policies that white conservatives argue for. A democracy that is forced on the people through warfare is no democracy. It is colonialism and despotism.

That seems a lesson that is not just difficult for White Conservatives but for White Liberals as well. But then whiteness is, after all, primarily colonial, primarily conquering, primarily about supremacy.

Gentrification Is Not a Solution to White Flight

Chicago has changed significantly over the last fifty years in some ways. In others, it’s been the same old thing – racial segregation tied to economic apartheid. But where and how this plays out has shifted. From the late 60’s through the early 80’s Chicago – like most other north urban cities still in the thralls of exercised anti-black racism in the post-Civil Rights era – experienced massive white flight.

Myopic Books - Wicker Park

Myopic Books, Wicker Park – by MA1216 via Flickr

Actually, that’s a horrible way to put it. First, white flight didn’t just happen to Chicago and second “white flight” is a problematic label that doesn’t in the least describe what was and is (still) happening. What happened to neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Ukranian Village, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and South Loop is what happened to Detroit – white people decided their areas were too tainted, too impure, too scary. And rather than invest in them to make room for all, rather than welcoming, rather than giving back to the very people they’ve (we’ve) stolen wages, labor and wealth from, white people en masse thought it more convenient to relocate.

More to the point, not only did white people relocate to the suburbs and enclaves, but they took the resources, the investments, the capital, the wealth that was made for them by the bodies, the work and the below poverty-level wages and existence that black (and other POC) made for them. When they found that Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Black youth were enacting on the very violence that had been exacted through economic, political and housing segregation, the White patriarchy decided it important to sever ties with the city and retreat to the suburbs. All the better if they could continue to draw resources out of the city and back into the cul de sacs, of course.

White flight, we must understand, is not a problem primarily because White people and their White solutions left the city. White flight is a problem because White people took the dues owed to Black people with them. They stole and then ran.

After a generation of fleeing, they started coming back. In Chicago, they pushed Puerto Ricans east out of the lakefront territory of Lincoln Park and reclaimed it, all of it, for Whiteness. They also discovered that the beautiful buildings and centralized location of Wicker Park were too much to leave to poor black and Latin@ and even poor white folks, so they slowly reclaimed that too, beginning in the late 80’s. They brought in artists and young people, students. All white, all with a bit more disposable income than the current residents. All a little distant from the current community. All raising property value just enough to begin the displacement of the current population. The residents then begin to see their community erode as they lose grip on what they’ve worked so hard to stabilize – community organizations and resources that are mostly built in and through each other and relationships they’ve built over years, decades, generations.

When you are poor, you rely on each other. When you and your neighbors are being forced out, you lose that support. That is what gentrification is: forcing out of black, brown and poor bodies and destroying their supportive networks. But yet gentrification is often approached as a solution, as a counter to White Flight. As if the problem was that middle class and upper class White people and their White ingenuity and work ethic were what was missing. As if the neighborhoods were deteriorating because White People weren’t here. And as if their presence and their example (yes, that is the argument. Yes, that is what they say) would fix what their theft caused.

The main pro-gentrification argument is that the neighborhood improves and bringing in White people with their white money is the only viable solution to improving the neighborhood. What they mean by that is that the neighborhood wasn’t of value under black and brown management. That people of color and poor people don’t have any value to offer. That the crime and poverty is the fault of black and brown people – not their own theft. They are also assenting that property – that the buildings and lots they are referring to when they say “neighborhood” – is more important than humanity – what those of us being gentrified mean when we talk about the neighborhood. And particularly that property is more important than POC humanity.

See, gentrification isn’t the solution to White Flight. It’s the next step. When gentrifiers fill the neighborhoods and the barrios their parents abandoned, they begin a process of completing what their forebearers started – reclaiming their old homes and furthering the solidification of the permanent underclass.

This is what Detroit is about. Forcing out of black bodies so that the city can be reclaimed. To think it’s about anything else is to miss the big picture.

The Cross and States of Denial

Content Warning for discussions about DV & erasure.

What do we know about the cross, about suffering, about a God who chose to side with the oppressed and was executed for it? What do we choose to un-know about suffering, about the oppression of black American men, rounded up, imprisoned for petty crimes, denied opportunity, released, denied opportunity, rounded up again? What do we know of women trapped in domestic violence situations and encouraged to stay there by economic, social, and physical forces? What do we know of homosexual, bisexual, or trans runaway teens, violently not welcomed at home, violently not welcomed not at home. What do we know about and yet un-know about how people with learning or cognitive disabilities are scorned, mistreated, abused, robbed?

What do we know of hungry children in a land of plenty, or hungry communities that we extract resources from? For here, we debate over how much food they can eat and in others we talk about our generosity in sponsoring little black and brown individual children, as if we are being magnanimous in either approach when we should talk about restoring to the communities what we have robbed them of, both domestically and abroad.


How can Christians contend to understand the suffering of Jesus and yet tell sufferers – either through silence, policies, or through rhetoric and guilt – of all stripes that they need to be content where they are. That their lives are not as important as our comfort.

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions—victims, perpetrators, and bystanders—know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know— and don’t know— that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.
~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, pp. 181-182*

Today we remember a man who rendered unto the poor and marginalized what belongs to the poor and marginalized, one who chose to side with the oppressed against the oppressors. Today, Christians, we dip our bread in the bitter herbs and remember – we know.


*This quote lifted whole from the comments section on Corey Robin’s blog on Clarence Thomas and Lacanian Silence 

The Holy Spirit Shall Set Us Free through the Marginalized – Listen, Christians

When I speak, the words burst out.
“Violence and destruction!” I shout.
So these messages from the Lord
have made me a household joke.
But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord
or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
I can’t do it!
 I have heard the many rumors about me.
They call me “The Man Who Lives in Terror.”
They threaten, “If you say anything, we will report it.”
Even my old friends are watching me,
waiting for a fatal slip.
“He will trap himself,” they say,
“and then we will get our revenge on him.”…

Sing to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy,
he rescued me from my oppressors.

-Jeremiah 20 (NLT)

I’m a slave for Christ.

But that’s my choice. I choose to be that. And as a result, I have a calling on my life, a burning in my belly toward seeking and speaking truth.

And in doing so, I recognize that I’ll never really arrive at truth. I can’t – and not just because truth is less a destination than a journey. But because truth isn’t atomic; it may be personal in some ways, but it isn’t divorced from the other. And I’ll fail a lot and I may – in the process of speaking my own understanding of truth – hurt others. Sometimes, that hurt is a bit of discomfort – and that’s okay. We need that tension, because that’s how we grow.

But my calling isn’t to just speak some unmoored, ethereal “Truth.” It’s to occupy a space and speak with the Spirit of God as I recognize her voice on behalf of liberation. And I hear her voice not just in meditation, not just in prayer, not just in the holy script, but also in the voice of those oppressed, marginalized, left behind, shuttered, bullied, alienated.

Wind Of Passion In My Wild River …!!! :)

So when the Spirit speaks to me through multiple voices, I do well to stop whatever it is I have been doing and reconsider my role, my actions, my words, my behavior. Although I may spend some time defending myself and my bruised ego, I am becoming to recognize that that in itself is an act of further entrapment.

See, the Holy Spirit is my friend and uses these voices, these people and their stories and perspectives, to help set me free from the bondage of patriarchy – and into, in my case, the work of Christ the Liberator, Christ the Redeemer. Of course, people want to be set free from their own traps – but we can’t sit here and lie to ourselves that agency and oppression only works on an atomized, individualized level, because that’s not how oppression or slavery works. As King said in A Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

 Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

It ultimately benefits a middle class suburbanite when an urban* single mother is free of the tyranny of food insecurity. It ultimately benefits a male pastor when he is freed from the constraints of parsing strict gender roles and the misogyny and misanthropy that is essential to that set of doctrines.

If the truth, as they say, shall set us free, then we need to embark on embracing and accepting the truth. Not defending our intentions from it. We do no justice when we protest, in light of criticism, “But I am/he is/she is a good person who meant no harm.” We demonstrate our intentions when we seek to undo the wrong.

And finally, when we try to redraw and redefine the terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t – what is offensive and what isn’t – based on something that benefits us and/or the oppressive system, then we are failing miserably at listening to the Holy Spirit.**


*Note: not code-speak, though it can be interpreted that way.

**Two tangentially-related multi-platform stories that have erupted in the post-evangelical Christian blogging world have inspired this post. The first is the series talked about in the frame of last week’s post, Racism Isn’t About You, about how white people should not get so offended at the suggestion that what they say may be racially exclusionary (a breakdown here). It got a ton more ridiculous when another white progressive Christian blogger tried to redefine the terms of the conversation, telling the oppressed that they should differentiate in their language between “active” racists and oppressors and “passive” racists and oppressors. No, seriously, that’s what he said. And other progressive White male Christians lined up to agree. Not all of them, of course. I guess just the passive ones.

The other thread is on a post on modesty culture (which is a take-down of Christian culture notions, teachings and a culture of modesty that put the onus on women to prevent the taking of their “sexual purity” and, just as importantly, to prevent their Christian brothers from thinking lustful thoughts. Yes, it’s a big thing). One such post had some pretty damaging language and quite a few bloggers, including Sarah Moon, called it out for that language and its assumption that certain clothes or accessories (in this case, “glitter. On her tits”) deprive the woman of the ability to call out gazes that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The author and the host felt that their work was being misunderstood because it’s pretty obvious that they wouldn’t support modesty culture, and because their hearts were in the right place (I wouldn’t deny that). But, again, there was more covering and, rather than considering the offense of the original post, they doubled down.

Again, it’s human and I understand. But it’s hurtful and anti-prophetic, untruthful.