It's a call and response chant started on the streets of Ferguson that has spread across the nation.
"Mike Brown means ..."
"... we got to fight back!"
It rolls off my tongue in a sing-chant cadence, and my hips begin to sway, because I have yelled it as I've marched and rehearsed it in my dreams. It is bitter and sweet. We evoke Mike's name and sway and pledge to fight. I've listened to voices I know and those I don't call and answer in hours of live stream and together in front of court houses and I know, I know in my soul what Mike Brown means.
Mike Brown means ... something more. Something larger than one more young black man shot in his neighborhood.
One year later, Mike Brown means ... something more.
AS I RECENTLY recalled that summer of 1964, I was reminded that slavery was our original sin. Race remains our unresolved dilemma, and today the bombers are back. From an urban church in Knoxville, Tenn., to countless rural churches in South Carolina, Virginia, ... and Alabama, the flames of arson and the hatreds of racism burn again.
On the narrow subject of burning churches, there has been rare bipartisan outrage. Conservative Rep. Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina said on the Senate floor, “If we in Congress cannot agree that church burning is a despicable crime, what can we agree on? It’s not a matter of liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites; it is about justice, faith, right, wrong.” He and Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to toughen the laws against church arson.
Well-meaning whites have also stepped forward to help rebuild churches. The National Council of Churches and the Anti-Defamation League have established national rebuilding funds.
AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”
“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”
I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?
The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.
When Zenju Earthlyn Manuel goes to teach somewhere for the first time, she often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.
She doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.
And getting them to acknowledge that her body — her “manifestation,” as she calls it — is different and a part of her experience is crucial to her teaching. If our bodies are sources of suffering, then we ignore them at our peril.
“When I have held and embraced who I am, how I am embodied, it has become a source of enlightenment, of freedom,” she said from a sunny corner window seat in her living room. Draped in a black monk’s jacket, she is a stark contrast to the white walls and white upholstery of the rest of the room.
As we mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world waits to see if the Iran deal will come to fruition and thus avoid war. Once again, the debate about nuclear weapons appears at the forefront. At the same time, inside the U.S., the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to make clear it will no longer be politics as usual as activists organize, protest, and fight every day to destroy institutional racism. However, it is no coincidence that these events are all happening simultaneously as they have always been and continue to be inextricably linked.
In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, I’ve seen comments from other white Christians on social media defending the arresting officer, denying that Sandra Bland was mistreated, blaming her for what happened, and denying that race had anything to do with what happened to her. Their responses were so knee-jerk automatic that I probably could have written them ahead of time before learning anything specific about the events in question. We humans can be quite tribal, and we instinctively tend to identify with the people who are most like us.
Many whites balk at the suggestion that their views and assumptions might be racist because they know themselves to be moral people who live decent lives and maybe even have some black friends. They certainly don’t hate anybody, and they aren’t supporters of the Ku Klux Klan. Because they understand racism on an individual rather than systemic level, it seems impossible to hold together an image of oneself that contains both “good person” and “racist.”
When it comes to political partisanship in the 2016 presidential race, it might be said that Southern Baptists have taken one step forward and two steps back.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced in a press release that its president Russell Moore would be interviewing Republican candidates Jeb Bush (live) and Marco Rubio (via video) before 13,000 attendees at the denomination’s missions conference on August 4. Leading candidates from each major party were invited, the release states, but only Rubio and Bush accepted.
Once again we find white people blaming a black victim of violence. She’s to blame because she was “irritated.” She’s to blame because she refused to put out her cigarette. She’s to blame because she’s black.
A white response that blames Sandra Bland is a racist response. White people can get away with being irritated at police. We don’t have to be kind to officers. We can express our anger and not fear arrest.
A black person though? If a black person shows any anger, they will likely be arrested or possibly killed. And it will be construed as their fault.
The purpose of spiritual disciplines is not to earn brownie points but to restore or renew relationships. God seems most concerned to restore relationships that are most broken in society. This means that the outcry for justice from the Black Lives Matter movement provides an opportunity for the renewal of the church. The “Spiritual Practices for Confronting Racial Bias” presented by copastors Rebecca Steele and Larry Watson were these: gather in small groups that are 1) half black and half white, 2) half poor and half not poor, and 3) have a small stewardship team that redistributes tithes and offerings to those in need.
Those are indeed spiritual disciplines. And they were like the spiritual disciplines of the early church whose members not only brought tithes and offerings but they also sold possessions and brought the proceeds for redistribution among those who had financial needs (Acts 2:45). This same church, when one group (Gentiles) complained about discrimination in widows’ support, gave all the distributive power to the discriminated against (Acts 6:1-5).
I have an idea for people who value their region's heritage so much that they continue to wave what they think is the Confederate flag (even though it is actually the battle flag of Northern Virginia).
I suggest that they volunteer to be slaves. For life.
Fact: The 19th-century Southern way of life would have been impossible without enslaved people.
Fact: The one thing that could bring back that romantic bygone era would be if, once again, some 39 percent of the population were enslaved (that's the average percentage of enslaved people in the Confederate states). But this time let's recognize that no one values personal liberty as much as Southerners. And let's take their word that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism. Let's encourage true Confederate patriots, especially white folks who are not racists, to volunteer to work in the fields from sunrise to sunset. There will be no pay, of course, and no bothersome education; but food, lodging, and two sets of work clothes per year will be provided. And the South will rise again.
I didn’t see the film Malcolm X in theaters. I waited to see it on video. Big mistake.
I watched it in my home, just off campus from University of Southern California, late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Another big mistake.
At the time I was living in a house with one other black person and a bunch of white and Asian friends. I was attending a mostly white school and a mostly white church and had attended a mostly white institute for urban transformation that was borne out of my church. Ironically, it was there that I was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But I never read the whole thing, only sections.
So, I sat in the dark living room, lit only by the television screen, and watched Denzel Washington bring Malcolm X to life … by myself. And there, in the dark, Malcolm’s words about Jesus hit me to the core.
In the past few years, a new era of civil rights organizing has emerged out of the depths of tragedy and despair. The list of names of young African Americans who have died at the hand of police, out-of-control vigilantes, and hate-filled white terrorists has fostered profound lament and intense anger. The simple phrase, “Black Lives Matter” has galvanized activism, mobilizing, and organizing.
This new civil rights battle includes legislative battles at state houses like South Carolina, leading to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds. There is work to do in D.C. as well. Yet the real front of this new era will be on the corporate scene, on Wall Street and with economic power brokers and corporations. It is time to go “over the heads” of politicians and enter into dialogue and debate with corporations over the value and dignity of dark bodies, and how to reconstruct a moral economy that is not profiting off of people of color.
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.
When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse Friday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley spoke solemnly of the nine black churchgoers who were shot to death less than a month ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We have all been struck by what was a tragedy we didn't think we would ever encounter,” Haley said of the horrifying massacre before she signed the bill with nine pens that will go to the families of the victims. “Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history."
Haley also referenced the “grace” shown by the nine families when they forgave the white gunman. She said their grace helped usher the state toward this long overdue decision. The assassinations at Emanuel AME, followed by forgiveness from the grieving families, were similarly cited by several South Carolina lawmakers as their reason for voting to remove the flag. Black Deaths Matter. That’s the painful and dangerous narrative being developed out of South Carolina. Only Black Deaths Matter. Our nation is capable of doing the right thing – such as taking down the Confederate flag in the year 2015, a flag that represents the racist, immoral, unconstitutional defense of slavery and Jim Crow – but only when black deaths happen and are met by a response deemed acceptable. Ever since this flag was raised in 1961 to send the message that South Carolina would not honor equal protection under the law, tens of thousands of small and large protests have not been enough to move the power brokers to take it down.
It is painfully true that in our time, in this year, in the United States, there is still no safe space for black people in America — even in their own churches. Racism is America’s original sin. It expresses itself explicitly and overtly in what we horribly saw last week in a black church, but racism continues on, implicitly and covertly, in American institutions and culture.
The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.
The sickness in our society is driven by the way we mistrust and pull away from one another; how we decide to care only about ourselves and our immediate families; the way we choose to serve only those who are like us – same race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, political views.
Everyone else gets minimized and pushed away. We arm ourselves to protect our shrinking little space. We live like moles, wary of predators.
In guns we trust. In fear we live.
Please don’t fail to recognize this vital moment in American history: when our fellow citizens screamed for equality, marched for recognition, and pleaded for justice. Because someday the next generation will ask us: What did you do?
And so today we must ask ourselves: What are we doing? What are we seeing? What does this all mean?
Because the last few years within our country — a continuation of the past hundreds of years — have been socially jarring for a society that considers itself a modernized, technologically advanced, and morally superior nation
I invite my Christian brothers and sisters of all racial backgrounds to join me in my prophetic grieving. Our cries cannot and should not be the same. For some of us, who inhabit black skin, our tears will be coated in rage and exhaustion. They will be punctuated by the stark feeling that we are permanently displaced in the only place we have known as home. We know that we fighting for our lives and have no choice but to cry out to God.
For others, particularly white Christians, the choice may not be as clear. Lament for Charleston cannot be separated from a challenge to the system of white supremacy that serves to protect white people and white interests. Prophetic grief requires a confession that the system of white supremacy infiltrates and shapes our worship spaces, theologies, and ethics. I have no doubt that this process will be risky for my white colleagues. Rarely does transformation occur without birthing pains. The reality of power is that while my survival is at stake, my white Christian brothers and sisters have the option to opt-out, avoid the pain, and remain silent.