White Christian Indifference in the Age of Black Lynchings

It is frustrating that the White American church – particularly Evangelicalism and post-Evangelicalism – is silent about racial injustice at home. Not just in sermon topics, but particularly in forward-leaning post-Evangelical blogs. The spectre of racism is banished in favor of Christian Celebrity Culture and a very specific form Purity Culture (from a largely White, Middle Class perspective – often ignoring how the same culture affects or views the bodies of black and brown women, for instance). Homophobia is often brought up, but in a pretty narrow category – that of marriage between (usually white, usually cisgender) same sex partners. Other intersections and violences are largely ignored.

I wrote two articles last week about Michael Dunn’s mistrial – or should I say Jordan David‘s mistrial? Because, let’s face it, 21st Century White liberalism is similar to its forbearer, 19th Century White liberalism – a philosophy that believes in the inherent goodness of people and that education can truly change people from bad and barbaric to enlightened and civilized. This is a problem of not being the target of radical, ongoing, and systemic evil. White liberals tend to think that people are overall good and society is nice and the only problem are those dang Republicans. They tend to understand racism as something Paula Deen or that One Hit Wonder/Cat Scratcher/Machine Gun Hunter says. Racism and sexism and classism and other oppressions are Othered – something that we are not responsible for and can’t quite possibly beWe’re good people. They don’t tend to see the deeper issues of racism and other oppressions and how they affect non-white people in a post-Euro-colonized world.*

I would expect White Post-Evangelical Christians to be a bit better, though, in addressing this topic. For we understand sin and evil. We can name it; it’s part of our lexicon. Sin and evil are integral parts of our theology even when we aren’t as focused on it as in our Fundamentalist and Evangelical days. Furthermore, we’re intimately familiar with the story of an innocent man brought up on false charges and made to die for it. Our Christ, our center, our Sweet Jesus was lynched due to the sins of the world as theologian James Cone points out in The Cross and the Lynching Tree*.

What happened to Trayvon Martin and what happened to Jordan Davis and what happened to Renisha McBride are modern-day reenactments of the “strange fruits” from the Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era of the US South. What happened to Emmett Till and Marie Scott and James Chaney happened to Jesus. There is a genealogical tree stretching from Jordan Davis sitting in a car, his body pierced with bullets, and Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a tree, his body pierced with nails.

The violent, ruthless occupying force sentencing Jesus to die for his uprising was the Roman Empire in the first; for Jordan Davis it was White Supremacy.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Jesus was killed for acting out of line – for speaking up against the power structure. For being rebellious. Michael Dunn told police he shot and killed Jordan Davis because Jordan –a black teenager – dared defy his White Man orders. The Roman Empire and its surrogates have been replaced by White Supremacy in these United States. And crucifixions have been replaced by the Lynch Laws of Stand Your Ground.

And White Christians are silent witnesses of modern-day crucifixions. There is an assumption here that, in our own land and through our political and social leaders and in a power structure that benefits us white Christians, somehow we are not responsible. Somehow, we can ignore this…

Emmitt Till’s birthday was last week. Trayvon Martin was shot down two years ago yesterday. What are White Christians doing about this tomorrow? Rarely do we, White Christians, talk about the violence and sin that we are complicit in in our own backyards.

Because there will be deflection about “black-on-black crime”, I offer this from Ta-Nehisi Coates to remind that White Christians are responsible for this travesty too:

Spare us the invocations of “black-on-black crime.” I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought insane. The most mendacious phrase in the American language is “black-on-black crime,” which is uttered as though the same hands that drew red lines around the ghettoes of Chicago are not the same hands that drew red lines around the life of Jordan Davis, as though black people authored North Lawndale and policy does not exist. That which mandates the murder of our Hadiya Pendletons necessarily mandates the murder of Jordan Davis. I will not respect any difference. I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought crazy.

The blood of Jordan Davis is upon us. Take this bread, it is his body. Take this wine- it was poured out for us.

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*For this, we’ll focus on racism.

** My partner-in-crime, h00die_R aka Rod aka Political Jesus, is writing an ongoing series on Cone. You can read the first part here and the second here .re .

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White Supremacy and White Evangelicalism

At Forward Progressives, I talked recently about the drowning level of White Supremacy all across the political board, not only with conservatives and moderates, but also progressives and leftists, those parties I most closely identify with. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how deeply entwined my particular faith background is tied to White Supremacy as well. And I say this out of love. Not out of love for  the controlling and domineering aspects of Evangelicalism, but for the movement as a whole, and particularly for the people, my family. It has been my nursing mother and where I learned what it means to love and be protected. But it is not a safe place for all, even when it feels welcoming and freeing.

First off, as much as Evangelicalism says that it is based on the teachings and words of the Bible directly, in reality, it is founded and enacted through its present cultural reality. And its cultural reality is patriarchal and hierarchical with WASP, middle class, male-gender normative practices at the top of the pyramid. This is why author Don Miller can get away with acting like a Christian David Brooks, as if he’s above the fray while those silly black people are being emotionally blinded. Only an objective intellect like his could remain above the emotional, illogical fray. According to him. Because he is above it all, he doesn’t need to “fill in the truth gaps.”

And, as to be expected with such a post by a beloved White author in a White environment, Miller was laudably praised with chants of “Finally someone speaks the truth!” “Finally someone gets m!.” They can say this because they are also level-headed and not-emotional. But really because they are white and don’t need to consider what it means to be stalked for the color of their skin. Any consideration that Zimmerman may have actually been guilty is whitewashed out – you were not there; there is no way for you to know; don’t be hasty. Dismissal is fine, as long as it’s not “emotional”. Again, the humanity of affected people are denied. The victim of domestic violence is not allowed to be “emotional” but to be “calm and rational.” The abused acts out of unclear anger. The oppressed are supposed to write a treatise paper fully bereft of emotion and submit it to the oppressive class. The oppressor will let the submitters know what they think about their proposal when they get around to it.

This “Middle-of-the-Road” approach works well if you don’t feel personally threatened by White vigilantes or Black “thugs”. If you do feel overtly threatened by Black “thugs”, though, you go to the page of a Black preacher mourning the loss of Trayvon’s life and his own recognition in the case and you try to silence him, complaining that all black youth are thugs in training. This is what happened to The Gospel Coalition writer Thabiti Anyabwile when he tried to carry a personal reflection and even proposed a type of color-blind society to work towards.

Why, Oh Why?

It wasn’t enough for White Evangelicals to appreciate a different experience from their own culture. They could not allow that transgression to stand, so they kicked it. In the days following the post, the overwhelming majority of comments were overwhelmingly negative, treating Anyabwile like a fool led by Black instigators. The comments are not for the weak at heart. But neither are they of the same misanthropic, unrooted antipathy one finds in Youtube comments. One comment compares him to Southern Apologist foil, Rape Apologist and uber-misogynist Douglas Wilson because he implies that justice was not carried out by the Zimmerman sentencing. The commenter then follows that up by begging Anyabwile to re-word his blog so that it’s more clear that justice was indeed carried out by declaring Zimmerman not guilty.

These are regulars within TGC with posted names, people who would have had a chance to read the article through the massive web of TGC’s sharing (constantly counted as the majority of the most clout-y Christian bloggers according to some polls). I will post a few excerpts just to give an impression of the type of unhinged racism displayed against Black people as an entire group (Trigger warnings abound. So I’ve taken a page from my friend, Sarah Moon, and end each section with a link to a cute panda):

Please stop. This is not about race unless you allow Sharpton to make it about race, and you are enabling him.

A violent, drug-using teenager committed aggravated assault on an armed Hispanic man, who then defended his life with his legally owned gun. The police didn’t arrest or charge him because there was no crime. Not until Sharpton and the media declared him “white” and a “racist” did things pick up…

It is tragic that he caused his own death by committing aggravated assault on an armed Hispanic man…

The reality is that white people must now live in fear. We aren’t allowed to defend ourselves or our families against attack from black people. If we do, we are racist. (Panda)

So yes; think twice before you defend yourself and your wife/kids against an attacker. Consider the attacker’s race before you act. There will be different consequences depending on the attacker’s race…

What about the black culture in America? What should we be saying about a culture that brings 75% of its children into homes with no father, fails to discipline them, and basically abandons them to the streets? Whose responsibility is that? (Panda)

You quoted Pres. Obama’s statement, which blames the gun instead of the family who launched Trayvon into the world. (Pandas)

And from an avowed fan of Pastor Thabiti:

More articles like this one does nothing to help any race relations which many Americans are getting sick of hearing about. The heavy leaning liberal media along with the “reverends” have worn that race card out. (Pandas)

This is what happens when one is tokenized. TGC, despite its numerous in-roads to Black and Brown populations – it sponsors and supports several cross-cultural and hip hop acts and seminars – is rooted in several layers of hierarchalisms. When a rapper affiliated with TGC, Propaganda, rapped that he couldn’t praise a theologian or pastor who owned slaves, TGC blogs were ablaze with White pastors and writers angry at him (Anyabwile, again, to his credit, takes on this daunting task). Yet, in this environment, Thabiti serves little more function than as a face of a diverse population that does not really accept him. They accept his color as a token that they are diverse and tolerant and not-racist, and his voice as long as it is in concert with theirs – but as soon as he goes off-script to the dominant narrative of White Supremacy, he is silenced. His contributions are not welcomed.

His skin color is welcome, but any experience commiserate with it but not agreeing with the White Supremacy script is not.

To contrast with these two, there is Eugene Cho – a pastoral pastor and also a person of color (Korean American), who like Miller is from the liberal-ish Pacific Northwest. Cho is usually thoughtful and compassionate, as one would expect a pastor of a church comprised of real people to be (yet, how few pastors in a public role provide that role?), and particularly so with this issue, asking his audience to mourn with those who mourn and listen. In fact, his blog title is basically the epitome of hospitality, what should be a hallmark of Christianity, right? “If our black brothers and sisters are hurting, can’t we at least listen, seek to understand, and mourn with them?” And that’s enough to set off the unhinged angry White Supremacist responses.

While a slight majority of comments are positive, a significant minority not only brought up the racialized beast tropes, but also the underlying current in the ugly belly of the ugly beast of White Supremacy of: “We do not need to listen to them!” The very first question is “How does this post build up the Body of Christ?” suggesting, as is often the case in conservative Christianity, justice is not required, but divisive (as if Jesus didn’t bring a sword between family). What is required is to not shake the boat, to not upset the status quo. Recognizing the humanity of Black folks is not an acceptable reality if that means some White people are upset. And clearly, some white people are upset.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? As long as Jesus and the Bible are interpreted by much of Evangelicalism through an Anglo-centric view, the realities of People of Color are not enfleshed for them. Maybe we should look more at Black Jesus. He makes more sense than Surfer Jesus.

South of The Border

The Good Samaritan in Sanford

Luke 10

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Orlando to Sanford, Florida, when he was attacked by capitalists. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A pastor happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a developer, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a young, black man, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him to bandage his wounds but the white traveler feared for his life and shot him dead. 34. When the police finally arrived, they took the traveler away for questioning but released him uncharged within a couple hours. 35 Meanwhile, the black man’s family was worried about him but were not informed of his whereabouts as their son was considered another drugged-out murderous Black thug.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who shot the thug in the face!”*

Jesus was stunned to silence for three minutes before he said, “Smdh.”

hoodie anděl

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*If you think I’m exaggerating here about White conservative religionists and their antipathy towards Black victims of violence, check out the vicious, demeaning and flat-out racist comments on this post by a conservative Evangelical Black pastor who openly admits that he’s attempting colorblindness.

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Post-Script:

There are several reasons why The Good Samaritan is my favorite parable, mostly because, in the original, Jesus demonstrates that love stops at the borders of familiarity but shocks his listeners into considering The Villainized Other (as the Samaritan is) as not as a villain or a stereotype or even a decent character in the story, but as a possible hero. Loving those close to us is easy when they love us. Loving those who seemingly do not share common traits with us – whether they be of a different race, nationality, religion, political orientation, sexual orientation, they have different ways of organizing… Our fears of the Other have been taken advantage and turned to the breaking point by political and economic masters (the Capitalists Robbers in this version).

Jesus teaches love. Acceptance and healing and power to mend for the marginalized among and in all of us. For our marginalization hurts us all – we are all tied in together to the oppression of some. Out of self-love and love for God, I seek to love all. For though we are all different (and I am no Trayvon) we’re all intimately and intricately connected.

Unequal Access to Immoral Laws

Laws are not essentially moral. They do not always need to be followed – indeed some need to be specifically broken often and with impudence. That’s a tenet of the pacifist and justice movements – whether laying down in front of a deportation holding center or planting peace gardens or occupying privatized parks or soon-to-be privatized schools or foreclosed homes – that demands to push the written and codified law to the breaking point in order to flash a light on the great injustice that is being protested.But even if we followed all the laws and all the codes of conduct written and unwritten, some of us will be specifically targeted.

The Stand Your Ground laws are immoral and need to be broken. But how to protest such a law? If the Zimmerman trial didn’t show the fundamental racist injustice and unnecessary violence of this male-supremacist set of laws (face it, any legislation that justifies violence and killing will always favor the White cis-male) because it was fundamentally broken and racist itself, what options do we have to show how horrible this law is? If the hunting and murder of a youth carrying candy and tea didn’t shine a forcible light into the conscience of White America, what will?

Will the law be overturned only when white men are regularly gunned down as black men and women stand above them in entitled defiance? Oh, that doesn’t ever work. The black man must have instigated it. The woman must have shot him in cold blood. The black woman, that’s a double damn. No, she can’t even fire a warning shot in Florida even when she has good reason to believe her life is in imminent danger from her raging husband.

Trayvon Martin shooting protest 2012 Shankbone 10

Let’s face reality in White Supremacist America: Black males are killed by police or their stand-ins every 28 hours. But what’s particularly troubling is the consistency from pre-Civil War to Jim Crow to the so-called post-racial US that has elected a black man to the Oval Office twice is:

 the sheer lack of accountability for these killings. Thus far, less than 9 percent of those responsible for the deaths have faced charges, almost all of whom are security guards or vigilantees and all of which have yet to be determined. Despite the fact that an overwhelming number of the victims were definitively unarmed, only 3 percent of officers officers responsible for the deaths have been charged: “3 for vehicular crimes stemming from their crashes, 5 for manslaughter—the killers of Remarley Graham, Wendell Allen, Dane Garrett Scott Jr, Christopher Brown, and Bobby Moore Jr.”

And the justifications are almost always the same: “I felt threatened”, “he reached for his waistband to get what I thought was a gun”, “he was acting suspiciously”, etc. All are based on personal perceptions that are no doubt influenced by racial stereotypes, given that every American is surrounded by a culture that conditions them to fear the “criminal black man”.

Image

An original by jasdye

A lesson for us USians among the many horrible lessons from the Zimmerman case (and another may be that it wasn’t Mr. Zimmerman on trial but Mr. Martin by default of his blackness and, ergo, his level of presumed guilt and threat) is that any practice that presumes guilt and defends for it using violence is going to target those already on the margins of society and will, usually, in a court of law maintain and sanction that targeting.

How we overturn this targeting, well… right now I don’t have a lot of trust in us. Maybe after I get some sleep and I see some movement, I will.

Rolling Rivers

Watching the video above about an unofficial White Student Union stationed at a university outside DC, it’s so very easy to point out how odd and horrible the views and actions of this group is. Because they are horrible and atrocious and dangerous. But I propose the reason the views and behavior expressed here are so dangerous is because it’s awfully close to what White America teaches itself:

  • that people of color are dangerous and tend to be criminals;
  • that black and brown people are intellectually inferior while white people are the norm (while East Asians and Jewish people have “positive” stereotypes that are really just underhanded insidious racial tropes about their supposed sneakiness and deception);
  • that white people need to be protected from the menacing “other”;
  • that racism is only a problem when we confront it, and it is the fault of non-Whites that there is racism;
  • that multiculturalism is a problem and it’d be better just to hang out with our own.

I’ll use my own life as a bit of a frame here.

I don’t have a home, in a sense. Being raised in part by my recently deceased grandmother, Rosa, I don’t quite fit in fully with either White Americans or the Puerto Rican diaspora. But I do get to claim both – it’s just that I don’t fully fit in or feel completely comfortable. See, white America long ago decided to make race a pretty big deal for all non-white people, but then largely hides itself from any responsibility or accountability about race. And in a sense, though I very much look White and pass as White, with having Taino blood – the blood of an indigenous group of Caribbean tribes rubbed out in numbers and in culture due to the brutality of European colonialism – I may pass but I don’t fully feel welcome. Since the One-Drop Rule was a long established legal and social precedent to treat “non-pure” White people, my little freckly five year old daughter with the blond, curly hair and green eyes is also considered not-quite-White. Where do you think that curly hair came from?

But, in another sense, no White Americans have a home either. Not just because the colonization of the Americas made sure there was no longer a straight line to any culture from the Eastern Hemisphere, but because the creation of a White America is a myth the Elite Classes created to unify diverse tribes into a singular political body in order to repress the growing enslaved and post-enslaved classes of post-African and indigenous peoples.

Acknowledging this is a start, but guilt does no good. Going around and apologizing or feeling sorry for yourself or even others doesn’t work. What does? Recognizing privilege is a beginning and educating ourselves about our histories is a further and necessary step – but we need to be connected to local, sustainable and national/global racial justice. We need to recognize the vast array of injustices done to people of color in the cities, in the suburbs, in Southeast Asia, in the Third World, in the West. But not just in geopolitical locations. In locations of socio-economic reality; in locations of gentrification and its attendant displacement; in locations of distrust; in locations where African Americans are highly concentrated along with intense poverty; in locations of the apartheid separation of the education of Black and White children; in locations of the intersections of oppression- such as how a black  or brown single mother is received, or how a young Asian American is expected to behave, or how black gay teenagers are among the largest demographics of homeless people; and in the space that allows a hyper-suspicion of black young males as being threatening.

Racism, as we said before, isn’t an individual charge. It isn’t about me, it isn’t about you. It’s about us. If we continue to leave the understanding of the phrase in such an atomized, personal, and stigmatic state, no one will ever address the underlying problems and fundamental injustice of racism. We won’t because nearly every single person and group in the United States deflects the charge of racism (including the KKK and most White Nationalists). We must ask how racism exists and how it continues. What am I doing to continue and allow the process of racism? And what can I do to help bring justice to the nation, how can I be a part of healing, how can I participate in activating the rolling tide of justice?

~ Urban Flow ~

Roll, justice. Roll.