jim crow

The Voting Rights Act’s Jubilee: A Necessary Interruption

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II., at the mass meeting in Winston-Salem. Photo by Phil Fonville.

NC NAACP vs. McCrory is a necessary interruption to the institutionalized racism that is killing black and brown people. For all the talk around “black lives matter,” Rev. Barber warns, we are in danger of only affirming that black death matters if we accept that the martyrs of Charleston deserve nothing more than the removal of a Confederate flag from their state house. Yes, the flags should come down. But if they go away while the unjust laws remain, then it may be even harder for us to see that the root of injustice is in an imbalance of power.

And the fundamental power of citizenship in this country is still the franchise.

Viral Art Video Painfully Depicts How Slavery Led to Mass Incarceration

Screenshot via Youtube

Screenshot via Youtube

A new video developed by artist Molly Crabapple and the Equal Justice Initiative shows exactly how slavery paved the way for our current system of mass incarceration.

In particular, the video highlights the horror of the domestic slave trade, tracing the development of an elaborate mythology of racial difference — a mythology that once perpetuated slavery and now sustains mass incarceration.  

“In many former slave states, slavery did not end. It simply evolved,” says narrator Bryan Stevenson, who directs the Equal Justice Initiative.

Molly Crabapple, known for her artistic contributions to Occupy Wall Street, creates videos combining the fast-paced style of dry-erase animation with the intricate watercolors of an award-winning artist.

Jim Crow Again: Lessons for Fighting this Giant

Photo via sakhorn / Shutterstock.com

Photo via sakhorn / Shutterstock.com

One in thirty-one. That’s how many Americans are in in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. In the U.S., our incarceration rate is 10 times higher than that of other countries while our actual crime rate is lower than those same countries. Citing a 600% increase in the prison population since the 1960’s, with no correlating increase in crime, Michelle Alexander has called mass incarceration “the new Jim Crow.” When people of color represent 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of those incarcerated, we are in league with David, staring at a towering giant, armed with a prayer and a handful of stones.

While the work before us is daunting, people of faith are called to fight giants. The Spirit who we remember in Pentecost, the Spirit who set the world on fire, has trusted us with this work. We are giant slayers, by God’s grace. For this reason, it is fitting that we revisit the story of the first giant slayer, a young boy who tended sheep and fought off bears and lions.

A Miracle of Resilience

MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.

Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.

Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.

Both mother and child were light enough to pass for white. My caramel-toned, straight-haired grandmother, Willa, and her brother, Charlie, were too dark. So they were left behind in the care of their elderly great-grandmother. Willa and Charlie joined others on the plantation and earned their keep working the fields.

Read the Full Article

July 2015
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pining for 1950s Religiosity and Missing the Bigger Picture

Photo via Stokkete / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Stokkete / Shutterstock.com

State Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Ariz., wins the top prize for this year’s silliest religious idea so far.

While debating a proposed law that would permit people to carry concealed weapons in public buildings, Allen said, “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth.”

Although the senator said it was a “flippant” suggestion, she remained unapologetic for her comments on “the moral erosion of the soul of America.”

Testing Jesus

THE GOSPELS OF Mark and Matthew both include the story of a Gentile woman who begs a reluctant Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28).

I thought of these texts last fall while reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiographical work of the acclaimed poet Maya Angelou, who died last year. Born in 1928, Angelou spent most of her childhood with her grandmother in small-town Stamps, Ark. After a few years of eating candy from her grandmother’s grocery store, Maya developed two cavities that, she writes, “were rotten to the gums.” However, the white dentist in Stamps did not take “Negro” patients, and the closest black dentist was 25 miles away.

For several days no aspirin touched the blinding pain, so her grandmother finally took her to the white dentist, determined to beg and plead for help. Her grandmother recounts the dentist’s final rejection in highly colorful language: “Said he’d rather put his hand in a dog’s mouth. … He said, ‘Annie, I done tole you, I ain’t gonna mess around in no niggah’s mouth.’”

We may recoil at such naked racism, but in the segregated Jim Crow South, this sentiment must have been typical. I can imagine white churchgoers reacting to this story by thinking, “The nerve of that woman begging help from a white dentist! She got what she deserved.”

In Mark, we find Jesus also comparing a woman of a different race to a dog. Matthew includes the same story, only here Jesus adds that he has no obligation to this woman because “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). Most commentators are uncomfortable with Jesus’ response in both places, but it is often softened by an explanation that he was testing this woman to see if she had enough faith. Or perhaps he teased her, with a twinkle in his eye, by calling the dogs “puppies”!

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

I WAS ONCE told that “racism is our nation’s original sin.” This statement jolted me. While I didn’t dispute its truth, I have come to realize racism is much more complex than this.

In order to dismantle the structural sin of racism, we have to first set it within a larger context that acknowledges racism’s sociopolitical dependency and structural interconnectedness.

First: “race” is not real. It is not a scientific category; biologically, it does not exist. Race is a social construct, something built systematically. It has no inherent value or true significance beyond what we give it. In order for race to have real social consequences—which it undoubtedly does—there must be other phenomena at work that validate, sustain, and reinforce the social significance of race.

As a result of sin in our fallen world, human bodies are appraised and given a value based upon certain criteria. As a result of sin, men are privileged over women, white skin is privileged over darker skin, able bodies are privileged over disabled bodies. Historically, certain bodies are acclaimed while others are defamed. Race plays a starring role in this larger drama of embodiment.

Within this racialized schema, whiteness has evolved into an exclusive fraternity. Whiteness has been judicially regulated, legislatively reinforced, and institutionally endowed with power. Whiteness bestows privileges upon its preordained clientele.

While privilege is only one small part of whiteness, and while not all of these privileges are realized (or even equally distributed throughout its membership), these privileges are uniquely accessible to its members.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Does Obama Owe Christians An Apology?

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

 

Obama Compares ISIS to Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, and Jim Crow. Was He Right?

Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS

“EntrŽe des croisŽs ˆ Constantinople,” by Eugene Delacroix, circa 1885-1889. Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS

The conservative Twitterverse is all riled up because at Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast (an event founded and run by the secretive Christian organization known as The Fellowship), President Obama said that Christians, as well as Muslims, have at times committed atrocities. His words:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This would seem to be Religious History 101, but it was nonetheless met with shock and awe.

“Hey, American Christians–Obama just threw you under the bus in order to defend Islam,” wrote shock jock Michael Graham. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., called the comments “dangerously irresponsible.” The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said: “Obama’s ignorance is astounding and his comparison is pernicious. The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages.”

More thoughtfully, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison. … The evil actions that he mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians.”

Really?

How to Dismantle the 'New Jim Crow'

I HEAR A STIRRING, a rumbling. An awakening. Sometimes the sound is so faint, I worry it’s my imagination, my optimism getting the best of me. I pause, listen, and wait. Here it comes again. I want to rush to my window, fling it open, stick my head way out, and look around. Is it happening? For real this time? Is the sleeping giant finally waking up?

God knows we’ve slept too long.

Many of us—myself included—slept through a revolution. Actually, it was a counterrevolution that has blown back much of the progress that so many racial justice advocates risked their lives for. This counterrevolution occurred with barely a whimper of protest, even as a war was declared, one that purported to be aimed at “drugs.”

Really, the war took aim at people—overwhelmingly poor people and people of color—who were taken prisoner en masse and then relegated to a permanent, second-class status, stripped of basic civil and human rights such as the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free from legal discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and public benefits. Branded “criminals” or “felons,” millions of people discovered that the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement no longer applied to them.

A penal system unprecedented in world history emerged in a few short decades; by the year 2000, 2 million people found themselves behind bars, and 60 million were saddled with criminal records that would condemn them for life—staggering statistics, given that in the 1970s there were only about 350,000 people in prison.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe