Dear Friend | Racism, Outrage, Resistance, and Faith

Today’s post features a letter to a friend in response to a Facebook post. Initially, I was going to ignore her post, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt obliged to respond. Why here instead of Facebook? Because the views I express in this post require a larger audience than one, and though I would love to share with you all the prettiness and light I’d planned to share last week on the blog, common decency will not allow me to ignore the very present atrocities occurring in the United States. I would ask you to forgive the length, but the original was twice as long. 


Dear Friend,

I want you to know I love you. You are my sister-in-Christ. You are my friend. I hope you will receive this with the love with which it was written.

After a very difficult week, I went on Facebook a few days ago for a bit of mindless respite. At the top of my newsfeed was your post:

Black vs White. Racism needs to stop on both sides. When I look at you I see a person. I am white. I am tired of getting a label because of what some “evil” person did to another. It is an issue of GOOD vs EVIL that we need to be talking about! There are good and bad whites. There are good and bad blacks. I sat in the dirt and played right along with black kids growing up. I am not the same as you, but I am no different. I love me some black people, lots of them. I did not enslave your ancestors either. Someone way back, before I was born did that. I was molested, beaten, slandered and used when I was growing up too. I had to make a choice to move on. I had to make a choice to make it better. Jesus saved my heart. We live in a broken world full of good and evil people. Let us good people get on our knees and pray for the evil ones, the unjust ones, and let’s stop this racism. Jesus said pray for your enemies. If the law is broken someone deserves jail, white or black. These bandwagons and riots to stir everything up aren’t helping the problem to go away. Did you pray about it first? Can we just show some love? Can we just be kind? Pray for the police commissioner when an officer does something wrong. Pray for the judges. Pray for justice, but don’t do it because of black and white, please!! Do it because good is better than evil. Do it because Love is better than hate.  –L.K.

On the surface this seems like sound, good counsel. I agree with many of your points. However, it misses the mark in some ways. It fails to realize the complexity of human experience in general and of Black experience  in particular. It fails to recognize the unique circumstances of African Americans and all people with brown skin who live in this “land of the free.”

A lot of people misuse the word “racism.” They use it as if it is synonymous with prejudice, but it is not. Racism is “prejudice, bigotry, stereotypes, and discrimination that is systematically enforced by people with more institutional power, authority, and resources than others to the advantage of that group over others” [Patti DeRosa, ChangeWorks Consulting]. To be racist one has to have access to institutional power—the kind of power that affords one the benefits of all the systems in place [almost] without question. The kind of power that presumes one is indeed innocent until proven guilty and is at least entitled to a fair trial. The kind of power that allows one to be treated humanely and even make it to the prison cell alive and not have one’s life weighed in the balance by trigger-happy police officers and emboldened citizens taking “the law” into their hands. Black people can hold prejudices, but we cannot be racist. Why? Simply because we lack access to institutional power. This was the case even when the President of the U.S. was Black.

While it might be a question of good and evil in the spiritual realm, in these United States no matter how good a Black person is, in interactions with “the Law” and in the court of media and society, he or she is considered evil. Indeed, within a few short moments of the revelation of the unequivocal guilt of a white person in the murder of a Black person, media outlets go far and beyond to uncover some stain in the victim’s character or record that serves to justify the brutal murder. In the cases of the murder of Black men, women, children at the hands of white men or the word of white women, too many feel the need to vilify the victim to make the heinous act less villainous.

Have you noticed how the trials of murderers of Black people are entitled against the victim and not the assailant—e.g. the Travon Martin Murder Trial??? As if the dead victim committed the crime and is indeed on trial?

I’m not sure how slavery entered this particular conversation, but since it has, we need to recognize slavery as America’s deep, dark, wide-open secret. We are in this particular situation because [as a nation] we don’t want to go to the place of our original wound and really have the dialogue about the horrors of that system and about its consequences some 155 years after its purported end. The fact of America’s defective past is very much part of its present. It is not, then, that Black people can’t “move beyond” slavery; that horrific past is very much a part of our present in this nation. The abuse Black people suffer did not end with slavery. It is ongoing–continual.

I’m incredibly sorry about the pain and abuse you experienced as a child. That was horrible, but please, please, please be careful not to assume that because the two situations are alike in one way, they are alike in all ways and must be met with the same antidote. This is a logical fallacy, a “false analogy,” to be exact. Private, individual pain—though horrific—cannot compare to 400 years [and counting] of ritualized, systemic abuse of an entire body of people because of the color of their skin.

Imagine experiencing the abuse you suffered as a child every day of your life. Imagine all of your progeny for generation after generation experiencing what you went through every single day because of a genetic trait.

You decry the idea of people making assumptions about you based on the color of your skin. Imagine walking with assumptions every waking minute of your day. Imagine the danger of those assumptions when you are Black in America.

Recent events give many, many examples of the dangers of those assumptions—Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man out for a jog murdered by white men based on an assumption; a white woman using the fact of state-sanctioned murder of Black bodies as a weapon against Christian Cooper,  a Black man bird-watching; George Floyd, a Black man smothered to death in plain sight of others by a police officer who was comfortable enough with the status quo that he murdered an already incapacitated man with the same carelessness with which one would swat a fly. No remorse. Whatsoever.

Because of such assumptions, Black people are not safe. No matter where we are—in our homes sleeping like Breonna Taylor or playing video games like Atatiana Jefferson; walking home from the store like Trayvon Martin; driving in our cars like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland; playing as any little boy would with a toy gun like Tamir Rice; sitting in our grandmother’s backyards like Stephon Clark. I’m not sure we’ve ever been safe while sitting in church.

We breathe with the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any moment of the day can decide that we don’t matter, that our lives don’t matter. We. are. not. safe.

While your pain was/is real, it is not the same. At some point, you were able to extricate yourself from your abusive situation. To make a choice. To pray. To heal. To give your family a better, healthier experience. Black people have little to no control over what happens when other people’s racist attitudes and behaviors clash with our will and right to live healthy, whole lives. No matter how good our beautiful sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends are, no matter the right choices they make, no matter their prayers, someone can still decide they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter.

So please be careful, my friend, how you hold the conversation with those of us who are racially oppressed. If you are to be an ally and exercise the kindness and compassion you advocate, be careful to release any inclination to counsel oppressed people on how to respond to oppression.

It seems to be a trend to fling the nice and easy words of Martin Luther King, Jr. into the faces of Black people in times like these. He was far more radical than the pacifist many believe he was. I invite you to look at a fuller selection of his body of work. Riots may not be the answer, but they are what happens when people are in complete despair and have run out of capacity for the overwhelming stress and emotion. All of the exhaustion, anger, sadness, weariness, and powerlessness spill over and there is no other response to the steady blows of trauma. King spoke about that too.

As a Bible-believing, fervent-praying Christian, you will get no disagreement from me about the power of prayer, but I’m compelled to remind you, in the face of injustice, scripture doesn’t tell us to pray. Scripture directs us to act:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. –Isaiah 1:17

It is because I know Jesus Christ—He who is at once the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah—that I am compelled to pray and act.

Sympathy and prayer are not enough. Protests are useful but not enough. Termination of the officers is a start but not enough. Arrest of the murderers is a beginning but not nearly enough. It is time to “turn over some [figurative] tables” and do more than ask, “Can we all just get along?” It’s time to do the hard work of undoing what centuries of social conditioning have done to convince far too many that Black people are only like real people—a little less human than the rest. It’s time for our nation—individually and collectively—to muster the courage and have the excruciating conversation so these atrocities can stop repeating and we can finally heal.

Yes, ultimately, we are involved in a war of good versus evil, but good is already defeated if we keep losing the battles to racism, injustice, and the like.

If you and I are to meet on the other side of Jordan, then we are to do exactly what God requires of us—

to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with [our] God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]. –Micah 6:8 AMP

Love to you as we march onward…together.

For Langston | Shatter This Darkness…Into a Thousand Lights of Sun

Today would have been Langston Hughes’ 118th birthday. Some of my Hughes books are in my [work] office; others are unfortunately buried in one of my many unpacked boxes, so I didn’t have the pleasure of revisiting my precious books and slowly inhaling the pages.

Like so many other Black poets, I fell in love with Langston Hughes through the books on my older siblings’ bookshelves. I took a course focusing on Hughes in graduate school and was sorely disappointed by the instructor’s style. He was knowledgeable but not an effective facilitator. He missed Hughes’ brilliance in his focus on the “celebrity” and ambiguity of Hughes.

I accidentally shot the “abstract” photo this morning while finishing up a letter to a friend. It pairs well with the closing lines of Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older.”

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

–Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”

Many read this poem and see disillusionment. The speaker of the poem dismisses the idealism and replaces it with the realization that in America his Blackness stands as a barrier to his dream. However, there is hope here too…He has “almost forgotten” the dream, but he recognizes that thick walls of racism can be breached, toppled even, by his dark hands.

Moreover…

Dark hands united with other hands can “shatter the darkness…into a thousand whirling dreams of sun.”

#ThursdayTreeLove | You’ve Got a Place Here Too

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. –Marcus Garvey

It rained so much during the last two weeks that my heart sang whenever the rain ceased or the sun brightened the skies–even if for only a few moments. As always, I took every opportunity to note the trees.

For some reason I was most drawn to the interaction of the trees: Trees touching. Bare trees mingling with half-dressed trees. Signs of spring and winter in one shot.

I enjoyed witnessing the elements of nature conspiring to push us toward certain awakening.

I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “BLK History Month,” earlier today, and I realized how often we use trees to underscore the importance of Black history and presence. And since the final #ThursdayTreeLove of the month falls on the last day of Black History Month (BHM) this year,  I’m ending with Giovanni’s poem, which uses a tree [?] analogy to challenge the argument that BHM is not needed.

“BLK History Month”
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.

 

Veteran’s Day: Honoring America’s Heroes

Our Internet service is not cooperating today, so I’m reblogging an older post in honor of our veterans.

Thank you for your service. ❤️❤️❤️

Pics and Posts

I cannot let the day end without paying tribute to America’s veterans. The images below are from Huntsville-Madison County’s Veterans Memorial Park.  The memorial, dedicated on November 11, 2011, “holds before present and future generations the principle that freedom is not free and that a free people must always be prepared to defend that freedom at whatever cost.”

Courage Sacrifice Duty, Huntsville Memorial Park “Courage. Sacrifice. Duty.” Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Park

On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free. –Dan Lipinski

 “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade,” Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Park

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. –Douglas MacArthur

"I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade," Huntsville-Madison County Memorial Park “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade,” Huntsville-Madison…

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Quotes: The [Prophetic] Wisdom of Lincoln

Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, Manchester, Vermont

As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

–Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua F. Speed, August 22, 1855

***     ***     ***

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic destroyed.

–Abraham Lincoln, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, November 21, 1864

***     ***     ***

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.  –Abraham Lincoln, speech, May 19, 1856


Note on Postcard: Sheila L, one of my Love Notes friends, sent the postcard above featuring a bit of the garden and house at Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home. You can find out more about the Vermont home of Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife Mary Harlon Lincoln by clicking the link: Hildene.

Meet the Pedi of South Africa

When my Tk went to South Africa a few months ago, she sent a postcard and a note card. Both took a really long time to arrive— almost one month and two months respectively. Though Tk was a little frustrated, they were worth the wait. The Mandela quote has a place on my inspiration board, and I learned about the Pedi People. Wouldn’t you like to know a little about them too?

Here’s the mini history of the Pedi People printed on the back of the card:

Two groups of Sotho-speakers migrated into South Africa from North Africa in about 1400 A.D. Both groups had totems or mascots that they held in veneration. One group called themselves baFokeng and settled on the edge of the Kalahari Desert (Botswana). The other group were skilled metal workers and called themselves baRolong, settling in the Northern Province but soon splintered into different groups as a result of infighting. The splinter group which settled along the beautiful Soutpansberg Mountains (neighboring the Venda) became known as the Pedi deriving their name from the Karanga people (the Wambedzi) whom they conquered. BaPedi is the Sotho-Tswana from of the name Wambedzi.

The Pedi dominated large parts of present Mpumalanga and Northern Province until attacked by the Matabele under the rule of Mzilikazi. Under Apartheid, a homeland was established for the Pedi, known as Lebowa, which has subsequently been incorporated into the Northern Province of South Africa.

The card is gorgeous, but I’m sharing it because the long timeline of the Pedi demonstrates that the continent of Africa has many peoples with complex histories and diverse contributions to art, culture, and history.

The beautiful 6×6 card features the work of South African artist Barbara Tyrrell (1912-2015), represented exclusively by Asher House in association with Pretoria University.

Postcard from Raven: Boston’s Historic Freedom Trail

My [now former] student Raven sent me a postcard! I can’t tell how much it brightened my day!

Recently liberated from college (Bachelor of Arts in English, of course), this sweet, quiet soul has stepped out and is making her way in the world. First stop, Boston.

“The Freedom Trail in Historical Boston.” Photos by Jonathan Klein and Alan Klein.

Raven mused about how coincidental it was for her to write to me on a postcard referencing freedom:

Here I am in Boston, independent, in my own skin, making my own decisions, in my own time. His time. [Christ’s] sacrifice freed me to be who I am. And where I am has much to do, also, with who I met. You.

Isn’t she sweet?

Thanks, Raven. You made a really challenging day tolerable. Hugs, Ladybug!

Note: The postcard features: Old South Meeting House, Old State House, King’s Chapel, State Capitol, Old North Church, and Paul Revere Statue (top); Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s House (center); Old Corner Bookstore, U.S.S. Constitution, Old Granary Burying Ground, Park Street Church, and Bunker Hill Monument (bottom).

Happy Weekend, Y’all!

Nelson Mandela: Humility and Service

Statement from the dock at the Rivonia Trial, 1964

The quote above comes from Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela’s statement, “I Am Prepared to Die,” delivered from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the Rivonia Trial, 1964. You can find more about the speech and read it in its entirety by clicking the title above.

My Tk sent the postcard from South Africa early this month. It arrived, all alone, earlier this week when I needed to see those words as well as the words she wrote on the back–“Thank you for your contribution to my life.”

Lately, I’ve been a little discouraged as I watch people revise agendas to serve their own, or stomp all over others as they attempt to advance themselves in one way or another. Through his life and work, Mandela proved that so much more can be accomplished through humility and service. Had Mandela and others like him served to please themselves alone, South Africa would still be in the grips of apartheid.

I’m grateful for his model. For his humility. For his service.