Let us not forget the impact that D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation had on America when it was released in 1915. An adaptation of the novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, there’s little doubt in my mind that the film’s racist depictions of African Americans and affirming depictions of Klansmen formed and hardened the discriminatory beliefs of many white people in the U.S., making them further believe that black people were undeserving of fairness, respect, and freedom. The Birth of a Nation is a prime example of why we need new stories, told from the perspective of identities that are generally ignored and denigrated.
January 1 marked the 124th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island. Years later, in 1916, the immigrant inspection station was opened. Over the course of 60 years, more than 12 million immigrants came through the island.
Almost all of my great-grandparents were among that number, although, according to a sister who has been researching our history on ancestry.com, we can’t find any records. A fire destroyed the original station in 1897. It’s likely that our family’s records went up in flames with so many others’. Although — like many New Yorkers — I’ve never been there (who really has the time to schlep over there except tourists or class trips?), the island looms large in our collective self-understanding. Yes, we are Americans, but for us “American” meant “immigrant.”
I don’t know what Rachel has been through in her life, but Jamelle Bouie makes an important distinction in understanding Rachel’s situation over at Slate. He writes that, “To belong to the black community is to inherit a rich culture; to be racially black is to face discrimination and violence.” Here’s a bit of information about the modern black experience of racism, discrimination, and violence in the U.S. FYI – being black in America is more dangerous than gaining custody of an adopted brother and drawing with crayons.
Our fearless driver, Jacque, is a security guard. He speaks with an eloquent French accent. His words are few, but every now and then he’ll tell us a pertinent and profound fact as we drive. The tone of his voice perfectly narrates our scenic drive — whether we’re driving along the backroads of Rwanda’s hills, cruising peacefully through Kigali, or chasing elephants.
His story comes out in pieces:
When the genocide hit in 1994, Jacque was in high school studying in Kibeho, a beautiful village known for apparitions of the virgin Mary. He fled for another town to find safety with his family. The first time he’s been back to Kibeho was 20 years later, with us.
His son is now in high school at a boarding school. On our way from Kibeho, we stopped to say hello so that Jacque could give him money. Jacque was beaming with pride when he introduced us to his son.
Jacque also has a 3-year-old daughter — she’s the cutest thing.
When we visited Kigali’s Genocide memorial, Jacque stayed in the car. We found out later that the bodies of his wife’s parents are buried in the mass graves there.
His wife barely escaped death herself. When she was just 9 years old, her village was raided by the interahamwe who savagely hacked apart bodies, her parents’ included. As the genociders were merely Hutu youth who knew little about taking one’s life, victims were left beaten, mutilated, bleeding profusely — left to die. Thinking they had finished the job, the interahamwe threw all of the “dead” Tutsi bodies into a pile and moved on to the next village. She was one of the bodies — broken, but not dead. She was just a little girl — her body thrown into darkness among hundreds of other broken, bloody, and hacked-apart bodies.
When the interahamwe left, her classmate, neighbor, and friend, a Hutu, went back. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing any more of her friends to the blood-stained hands of her tribe members. She went back to dig through the piles of bodies — desperately searching for any semblance of life from the friends she held most dear. There, she found her dear friend, still grasping for breath, clinging to life, refusing to be consumed. In that moment, I can only imagine the overwhelming relief as the pendulum swung from sorrow to joy as they looked into each other’s eyes and identified with each other — literally finding life in death and hope in the midst of pain. Jacque’s wife survived only by the hopeful expectancy of a friend who intentionally went back into the destruction to pull out the life within.
The president of Southern Baptist retailer LifeWay Christian Resources has apologized for publishing Vacation Bible School material nearly 10 years ago that “used racial stereotypes that offended many in the Asian American community.”
Thom Rainer, who became president and CEO in 2006, said Wednesday in a video message at the Mosaix conference in Long Beach, Calif., that the “Rickshaw Rally” curriculum is “still a point of hurt for some.”
“I am sincerely sorry stereotypes were used in our materials, and I apologize for the pain they caused,” Rainer said.
My biracial niece, Hannah, and I were talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., and what she had learned about him in school. She was only in second grade then. She was piled in the back seat of the minivan, along with my kids Caitlin and Cameron, and their cousin Austin. We were on our annual spring break escapade to the Travis County fair, Children’s museum, San Antonio Zoo, and every place in between. I asked her about what Martin Luther King did. ...
Hannah and myriad others like them in the Millennial generation, embody Dr. King’s original vision. The very seed of the dream has germinated. They carry it in their DNA, literally. In fact, they are the living, breathing incarnation of interracial harmony. Come to think of it, no one wants to choke on a seed. We prefer the fruit. In the same way, we expect words to go beyond pie-in-the-sky imagination. We want them to be fleshed out into reality.
Awesome people. Vegetarians. Going mute. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:
- Awesome people hanging out together.
- An alternative to abortion.
- Take a walk in Milan.
- Are you a new vegetarian? Some tips.
- Tom Hanks addresses Yale graduates.
- Kathy Khang shares more about her experience with depression.
- Simple and powerful: forgive.
- Don't you sometimes wish you could just hit the mute button?
- Sojourners' Enuma Okoro on Pentecost:
"Pentecost is God's 'show-and-tell' lesson that after the incarnation no one people has a purchase on the fullness of God. No single denomination, no one race, no one ethnicity, and no one socioeconomic group mediates God's fullness to the world. Diversity is an essential attribute of a Spirit-filled church (Acts 2:8,18)."
Some controversy has arisen about an ad campaign that a new coalition wanted to run in Sojourners on the issue of the LGBTQ community and the church. We chose not to run the ad as this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space. Like the larger church, Sojourners' constituency, board, and staff are not of one mind on all of these issues. However, we at Sojourners seek to foster honest, fair, and loving dialogue among Christians. LGBTQ issues may not be our primary calling as our work against poverty and hunger, and for peace, but based on some reactions to our decision, I want to use this as an opportunity to clarify the positions and practices of Sojourners on this important discussion on the life of the church in the early 21st centur
I recently viewed an episode of Gangland on The History Channel. This particular show, which documents the rise of the younger members of the Imperial Klan of America (or KKK), really roused my anger. I thought, "How could people be so ignorant and foolish?" Can't they just accept that the United States has always been an ethnically, religiously, and ideologically diverse country?