Archive for the ‘social justice’ Category

When talking about race in America we realize and understand that there are more ethnicities and cultures, labels and categories than black and white. At the same time we must face the brutal fact that this is the main divide in America. Whether you are actually black or white does not matter. These are two cultural categories that you are invited into whether you were born and bred in the good old USA or an immigrant from India, Korea, or Argentina. Why? The ugly and brutal racist history of this country has determined it to be so.

In the history of this country white has been associated with: good manners, wealth, intelligience, cleanliness, and morality. black has been associated with: bad manners, poverty, stupidity, filth, and immorality.

There is also the fact that there are two primary cultures in America: white and black. White culture is seen as more reserved, structured, and rational. Black culture is seen as more expressive, loose, and emotional. It is also evident when you realize the different Stuff White People Like and the different Stuff Black People Like

These are just some of the ways in which we are divided. But why the divide? It is all based on man made ideas that categorize and label people in order to justify injustice.

To put it more simply there is no such thing as white and black:

Black: A color based on racist ideology

White: A color based on racist ideology

In my short 34 years of life I have seen some really really dark skinned people but no one was ever the actual color black. The darkest of browns but not black. I have also seen some really really pale people but no one was ever the actual color white. No one is actually the color black. No one is actually the color white. These terms intentionally or unintentionally polarize and dehumanize us and keep us in the same racist paradigm.

It is my belief that to continue to use these terms is to continue the legacy of racism and slavery. African American and European American is the truth of who we are culturally and historically and I believe the more we affirm that aspect of ourselves and less of the racist aspect we will have moved towards true self definition on both sides of the black-white divide.

What do you think? Is there still a black-white divide in America? What do you think about using different terms to describe ourselves? Is it helpful or a meaningless exercise in semantics?

BTW If I use white and black outside of referring to this divide call me on it. Old habits are hard to break 🙂

This post is dedicated to two Steves: Steven Hamilton and Steve Schenk. You can check out Steven Hamilton on his blog Verve and Verse writing about theology, church, and his future plans to start a faith community in Pittsburgh and you can check out Steve Schenk writing on his blog Damascus 9 about his adventures as a church pastor in Buffalo here.

In recent years I have become aware of the issue of race more so as the pastor of a multiethnic church and through my studies at Fuller and this has caused me to explore not only the social issue of race but where I stand in regards to race and ethnicity. It has caused me to ask serious and honest questions about what I believe in regards to God’s perspective and viewpoint on race, culture, and ethnicity. Questions like

“Should there be a multiethnic church this side of heaven and is this a mandate for every church?”

“As an African American who has been robbed of culture should I place myself in a congregation where my culture is not dominant or at least valued?”

“Is there a place for a Christian black nationalist/separatist or is this going against God’s purpose for his church?”

“How can I be true to my culture and ethnicity while at the same time being a blessing to the different people around me?”

Many of these questions have been answered and many of them have not. The one thing that has emerged is that I do not want to be boxed in by race. Race is a social construct created to justify oppression. By being categorized in this way and operating within that construct I only give power to false notions of who I am as a person. To put it simply:  I am more than my skin color and physical features and these do not determine who I am. I am a human being who is capable of doing and achieving many things and experiencing the range and variety of human emotions and feelings.

With that being said.

Here is my MANIFESTO OF A RACE TRANSCENDING PROPHET

I refuse to be boxed in. categorized. labeled. Stuck in what others have thought of me and planned for me. I refuse to be prejudged and placed in a fabricated construction of someone else’s reality. I am more than my skin color. nose size. hair texture. I am more than my history and my background. I am that but so much more. I refuse to be barred from anything life has to offer. I refuse to be excluded from all of the experience of humanity. I refuse to let my identity be dictated by others who do not know me. I refuse to grab at the small amount of options that society has opened for me.

Instead I choose to be different. unique. African. American. Loving myself. Loving my culture. I choose to be someone who lives and loves the thought that black is beautiful. I choose to contribute and give these gifts to the rest of the world. I choose to have an identity that embraces these things and goes beyond them. I choose to love others who are different. unique. European. Korean. Mexican. Chinese. Argentinian. Human. These are my people. They are me. For we are all human. I choose to speak life giving and affirming words that transcend language. transcend accents. transcend culture. transcend hatred. I choose to follow in the tradition of Martin and Malcolm. Mother Teresa and Cesar Chaves. Jesus and Buddha. I choose to speak the truth that transcends race. I choose to a be race transcending prophet.

In a few days we will be leaving on a plane to Atlanta for a nine day retreat and then on to Pittsburgh,PA.  Yes it is official. .This means I will be out of the blogosphere for a while. That’s until we get settled. Once we touch down and get things in order then I will be back with new posts, contests, and new plans (can u guess them?) since I will be seeking to create a larger platform for the ideas in this blog.

In the meantime, here is a preview of upcoming blogposts. Pick your favorite and I will dedicate it to you. Just comment below and if you have a blog or twitter give me your url or twitter handle and you will get free publicity from yours truly. So here they are:

Racism: Pointing Out the Problem or Being a Solution

Life in the Pitt: Week One

The Book of Ramon Explained

Manifesto of a Race-Transcending Prophet

Black or African American: What’s the Difference?

The Case for Reparations

The Confessions of an Ex-Pastor: Ten things I learned as a pastor

So there u go. Think of it like dedications on the radio except no mushy love song. Just tell me which one is your favorite and if you have a website, blog, or twitter handle I will mention it in my post. If you don’t get into the top 7 don’t worry I will still mention you in later posts.

Blessings,

The other day a friend asked me whether I thought that
issues of race and ethnicity need to be addressed in the church. I firmly answered yes. This is a legacy that is hard to see due to our own interests and
desires. To those who are affected the most by the issue of race it is very plain that race is still an issue. Some may think that since Obama’s election as President of the Unites States that we live in a post racial society but judging from recent headlines I seriously doubt that we are post racial. In fact, we are anything but post racial. This can be clearly seen in comments on Youtube that involve race. While our public face on race is very politically correct the internet gives us the ability to remain anonymous. This anonymity gives people the freedom to speak what is really on their minds and spit venom on the web that is aggressive, demeaning, and degrading. The issue of race during the 2008 campaign and after Obama was elected has been in the forefront of American public life.

From the whole incident with the Bostonpolice and Henry Louis Gates which resulted in the infamous Beer Gate To the shocking police brutality inflicted on Jordan Miles
of Pittsburgh.We have seen many incidents that show that race is still an issue in this country.

Just to show the pervasiveness of race as an issue in this country here are a few other news stories from this year which reveal the past is not far behind us.

Santa Monica student bullied with noose and chain Santa Monica Noose incident

Virginia Teacher holds mock slave auction where white children buy and sell black and mixed race children Virginia Teacher holds mock slave auction

Big controversy over the ESPN magazine article What if Michael Vick were white?

These are incidents that show me that race is still an issue in America. Why? Because contrary to what the Christian right will tell you America wasnot only built on “Christian” values but also on the concept of the supremacy of one race over another. This is the legacy of white supremacy and we cannot just shrug it aside. It is built into our culture and  our public institutions. It seeps into our private life and relational interactions. As much as the civil rights movement made tremendous strides there is an ominous racial legacy that guides and influences the media, policymakers, and whole communities. It is a racial legacy that even affects the victims of racism as they themselves become oppressors of each other and of others who are not in power. This can clearly be seen in the recent Katt Williams Anti-Mexican Rant. I believe the legacy of racism can force one black man to insult and demean another brown man not just because he is a messed up individual (which may be the case) but also because race and ethnicity has been set up to divide people in this country and is connected to socioeconomic and class/power issues.

So is racism still an issue? Does race still matter? I say yes. But not in the same way as it did in the sixties. I believe the civil rights movement of the sixties addressed many legal and political barriers that were set up by racism but there are still socioeconomic and cultural barriers that need to be addressed. And this issue will only get deeper as the Katt Williams episode shows us that the legacy of racism has not only set up a black/white divide but also division among various ethnic groups as they compete for and pursue human flourishing in a democracy.

What are your thoughts?

Life has been interesting since my last post. I spent a week without looking at TV and not looking at Facebook or email. I also did took a summer intensive class on Advocacy for Social Justice. I have learned/re-learned a few things since then:

1. Life without media is hard. As much as I was away from TV and the internet I could not escape watching movies. I also realize most of my life is online or in my cpu. Sadly I acknowledge that I spend too much time sitting at my laptop.

2. I also came to the realization that as much as I needed to slow down in order to see others clearly I needed to slow down in order to see myself clearly. During the time that I wasn’t on Facebook friending and posting or responding to emails or surfing the web for the latest news I took a long hard look in the mirror and to be honest I did not like what I saw. I had become so judgmental and anxious. I could not treat others with compassion and grace because I had none for myself. I became acquainted with my own self hatred and rejection and the depths of my dysfunction. This was beginning to seep out in my sermons, personal interactions, and even in some of my recent blog posts.

3. All of that being said I also realized there is a better way to live. A better way to see myself and consequently a better way to see others. My commitment is to live a life of love and for the past year or so I have let that commitment slip. What is spurring me on in these endeavors? Continuing to allow God to speak to me in silence and solitude and getting a life outside of media (sunshine, gardening, hiking).

4. This will totally affect the content of this blog. I realize that I have spoken on some controversial topics regarding race and ethnicity and I am still committed to writing about those things but 1) I will address these issues with a more loving and gracious spirit and 2) I will address broader issues of loving the Other, diversity, gender, class, and sexuality. I see how much all these things are interwoven and how much all these things represent injustice not to one particular group but to humanity as a whole. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. I would add that if we do not deal with injustice in ourselves we are bound to pass it on to others.

I just had a long FB debate/discussion concerning my last blog post. One of the things that was brought up was that I was singling out African Americans in the Eddie Long situation as the only ones who are too lenient with their leaders. It is painfully obvious that there are fallen leaders in the Body of Christ and many people will give them undying loyalty. I think that is a given. What I am attempting to communicate and what I have noticed is that as a people I believe that we let things slide too much and this is to the detriment of our community. From that perspective I could care less what Haggard, Swaggart, Bakker or whoever else have done. It is grievous spiritually but I am talking from a social perspective. African Americans as a people group are in a greater danger for allowing our leaders to abuse and manipulate us. We have the least amount of assets. We also are more prone to let our lives be guided by the church. The preacher still has a huge voice in the community and competes with the rapper for swaying the people towards this trend or that trend. And this is where I have to confess:

I have not done justice to my own community. I have been outside of my community critiquing it privately. Well that is not going to solve anything. I am now committed to offering constructive criticism as well as getting my hands dirty in my community. Yes everyone needs help but I believe we as African Americans are the saddest case of all. Out of all the ethnicities in America we have been given the most opportunity and we squander it. I am committed to at least figuring out why and attempting to put a stop to it. We are the last in everything except criminality and buffoonery. This is unacceptable! For the past eight years I have been leading and serving in a multiethnic church and it has opened my eyes to other peoples and other cultures but it has also opened my eyes to who I am and the plight of my own people. So Am I too hard on black people? Who knows. I do know that right now I am hard on myself.

In my last and final post during Black History Month I want to talk about blackness in terms of identification with the group. Paul Hiebert’s theory of centered sets and bounded sets has been used alot in mission circles to define how groups operate. In thinking about what it means to be black I think this paradigm is helpful. Being black is a very fluid thing. This is because the original culture was stolen and destroyed and the remnant of it was given to hybridization and improvisation. The one thing that did galvanize black America was the civil rights struggle. Now that segregation has been abolished black America has been lacking a strong identity. Hence the book Disintegration.
disintegration
The author of this book describes differerent types of African Americans: the ultra rich and powerful, the middle class, the abandoned ghetto dwellers, and the new immigrants and biracial people. I think these descriptions are good but they are lacking in one specific ingredient: identity requires identification. To put it simply if you do not identify with it then it is not your identity. There are some people (especially the new immigrants and bi racials who do not identify as being African American, There are even some who are middle class and ultra rich who do not identify as African American. The folks who can’t seem to escape this identity are the ones in the abandoned ghetto. This is what we mostly see as black in the media.

So enter Paul Hiebert’s centered set and bounded set model. In the bounded set people are part of the group by doing certain things and jumping through certain hoops. There are clear and established boundaries that keep certain people “in” and certain people “out”. This is what people do on a daily basis with blackness. Skiing-that’s not black! Surfing-that ain’t black! River dancing-that’s definitely not black!
bounded set

I think we need to change the way we think about blackness. I think being an African American should be defined as an identification with the community which leads you toward the center. If you identify with being African American that is enough to be included as an African American. It is not about how you talk or walk or dress or what kind of food you eat but more about your identification with the African American community. There are many utlra rich African Americans who do not identify with the African American community. They may do so verbally but their actions do not. There are others of the new immigrants and biracials who do not even identify verbally. They will say I am a Nigerian American or Jamaican American. No matter what the cops and their racial profiling might say this is definitely not identification with being African American.
centered set

So that’s my proposal. That we define blackness by willingness to identify with blackness. Would love to hear your thoughts. Is this a good definition? What do you think?