racial injustice

Confessing My White Supremacy


Image via /Shutterstock

For white people who care about racism, it’s time we stop pointing the finger at others and start confessing our own sin.

Every white person I know denounces the blatant, tragic racism of Dylann Roof. They abhor that this sort of thing could possibly happen in 2015. They can’t believe there still exists people who are THAT racist, who would fly the Confederate flag, who could possibly say (x and y and z). They shudder and shake at such insanity.

Many white moderates and conservatives I know would express such a view.

And some of those white people are also quick to point out “structural racism.” Chastising the “lone wolf” fallacies of those who think Roof acted outside of a racist context, these folks stress the importance of systems. For them, racism isn’t simply perpetrated by extremist Southerners or a few power-hungry police officers. Rather, it’s sustained primarily in local and national policies. With their cultivated, educated, birds-eye view, these white people expose “white privilege.” They, ahem, get it.

This is the enlightened white liberal par excellence.

But both views enable an understanding of racism that exists outside our own selves. Racism doesn’t exist outside our own selves, white folks. It doesn’t simply exist in THAT guy. It’s not just a vague political force in policy. It exists in you. It exists in me. I am racist. I am a white supremacist. And if you're white and reading this, you probably are too.

Forsaking the 'Whiteness' of the Transfiguration

Photo via Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

The Transfiguration of the Lord by D. Nollet (1694). Photo via Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Sparked by the shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the subsequent deaths at the hands of law enforcement of Eric Garner in New York and 12 year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, protests under the banners of #ferguson, #icantbreathe, and #blacklivesmatter have spread around the country and a passionate conversation about the role of race in America has been rejoined. These protests, along with coverage by news media and the voices of social commentators and faith leaders — as well as the well-timed critical success of the movie Selma — have moved matters of race to the fore of our cultural consciousness and conversation in a way rarely seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

And yet, despite this heightened awareness about the experience of people of color, there remains a great distance and disconnect between white and minority communities regarding not only the actions of law enforcement, but also the varied manifestations of systemic and institutional racism. Indeed, the very real troubles experienced by communities of color are largely invisible to many whites. In Ferguson itself, many whites prior to the death of Mike Brown reported being unaware of the tension between African-American community and law enforcement. Nationwide, whites and African-Americans had very different perspectives. Whereas 80 percent of African Americans said Mike Brown’s shooting raised issues about race, only 37 percent of whites said the same.

In a time when renewed engagement is desperately needed, it is difficult to have dialogue when a vast majority of whites cannot empathize with the experience of communities of color, or, in some cases, acknowledge that there is a problem at all.

The Problem With Systemic Racism...

Two pots reach the boiling point. Image courtesy Showcake/shutterstock.com

Two pots reach the boiling point. Image courtesy Showcake/shutterstock.com

They say a watched pot never boils. But that's not entirely true. Of course a watched pot boils—it's just that intently watching a pot of water reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit is not an incredibly exciting way to spend your time. And so most people get bored or distracted and end up leaving before it ever reaches the boiling point.

Systemic racism is like a heat source that keeps a pot of water simmering at a constant 211 degrees. Extremely hot, but not quite boiling. Every once in a while the heat gets turned up just a tad—like when a frightened white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shoots a young unarmed black man while his hands are in the air. Or a group of ignorant, overzealous college students from Oklahoma State University create a banner for a football game that makes light of an act of genocide committed against Native Americans by the United States government.

And then the water starts to boil. 

Protests are organized. Twitter goes ablaze. Op-eds are written. Civil rights leaders are given the microphone.

And the temperature is brought back down to 211 degrees.

Justice in the Courts? Not for This Man

Andrey Burmakin / Shutterstock.com

Andrey Burmakin / Shutterstock.com

Duane Buck currently sits on death row in a Texas jail cell partly because he is black. He has been held since his 1997 capital sentencing hearing, which was influenced by blatantly racist testimony.  Trial prosecutors relied on erroneous “expert testimony” provided by psychologist Walter Quijano, who claimed African-Americans are more liable to commit future acts of violence than non-African-Americans.

Swayed by the misinformation, jury members accepted as truth Quijano’s claims. According to Texas law, a jury finding of “future dangerousness” is a prerequisite for a death sentence.  Consequently, Buck was convicted in the fatal shootings of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler and issued the death penalty.

Join us in calling on the Harris County District Attorney's Office to give Duane Buck a fair sentencing hearing.

A Time to Mourn

Crosses gathered for mourning. Photo courtesy Konstantin Yolshin/shutterstock.co

Crosses gathered for mourning. Photo courtesy Konstantin Yolshin/shutterstock.com

This morning I began preparing for a trip to Canada. I pulled out my grey North Park University hoodie to pack for the colder nights. Last year, a few days after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, North Park sponsored a justice conference. I wore that hoodie during my talk.

In retrospect, it feels like an empty gesture — an attempt to empathize with an experience that I, as a Korean-American, could never fully understand. In light of the Zimmerman verdict, I’ve been stunned into silence. I’m reeling from a deep disappointment in the American justice system and maybe even more distraught by the response of many in the white evangelical community that wants to argue the minutia of the law rather than trying to understand our brothers and sisters who are expressing a deep sense of lament.

The tragedy of Trayvon Martin requires an ongoing lament, which may be why it has been so difficult for evangelicals to engage on this issue.

Lament from a White Father

Hands held in a circle. Photo courtesy Brett Jorgensen/shutterstock.com

Hands held in a circle. Photo courtesy Brett Jorgensen/shutterstock.com

Death is horrible enough. But systematic injustice — one that allows white boys to assume success, yet leads black boys to cower from the very institutions created to protect our own wellbeing — is a travesty. Listen to the stories from Saturday and Sunday nights, of 12-year-old black boys who asked to sleep in bed with their parents because they were afraid. If black youth in America can’t rely on the police, the law, or their own neighborhood for protection — where can they go?


Martin Luther King's Other Dream

The forthcoming dedication of the national memorial monument honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., affords an opening for considering the complexity and meaning of his leadership. He was not the tamed and desiccated civil hero as often portrayed in the United States around the time of his birthday, celebrated as a national holiday. He was until the moment of his death raising issues that challenged the conventional wisdom on poverty and racism, but also concerning war and peace.

King was in St. Joseph's Infirmary, Atlanta, for exhaustion and a viral infection when it was reported that he would receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. As Gary M. Pomerantz writes in Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, this was the apparent cost exacted by intelligence surveillance efforts and the pressures of learning that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had formally approved wiretaps by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His evolving strength as a leader is revealed in his remarks in Norway that December, which linked the nonviolent struggle of the U.S. civil rights movement to the entire planet's need for disarmament.