racial justice

What Jesus Can Teach Us About Confronting Racism In Ourselves

Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C.

Protesters march against police shootings and racism during a rally in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2014, Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

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.”

My White Dad and Sandra Bland: On 'Assaulting' a Police Officer

Screenshot from arrest video

Screenshot of video via Texas Department of Public Safety

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.

Spotlight on the Summit 2015: Jeanné Isler

Image via Sojourners

Image via Sojourners

The work we do in the nonprofit sector is complex and multifaceted. Often we find ourselves compartmentalizing our identities based on the work we’re currently doing. Am I a woman, an organizer, an African American, a facilitator, a Roman Catholic, a philanthropist, or a manager? And which of those is most important to the success of my work?

The Summit, hosted by Sojourners, is a unique opportunity to rise above some of these identity markers and practice being as holistically authentic as we can. Over 300 leaders committed to changing the world through faith and justice gathered in June in Washington, D.C., for a three-and-a-half day exploration of the particular ways that faith leaders impact a range of social justice issues. NCRP facilitated a private conversation for nearly 2 dozen philanthropic leaders who attended The Summit to consider the role that philanthropy plays in this process.

Reaching Across the Divide

Image via urbanbuzz/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

I was raised in Atlanta during the heyday of the civil rights era. I went to high school with some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children. And I didn’t know there was a racial problem in my city. Because for me and my people there wasn’t. It was somebody else’s problem. Across town. Somewhere else.

The black maids and gardeners rode a tidal wave into my white neighborhood each morning, tended babies, fried chicken, and manicured lawns. And then the tide washed them back out again. We didn’t often ask where they landed for the night and whether it was as sumptuous as our digs, or whether their neighborhoods were even safe. We just dropped our bath towels on the floor and figured that somebody would pick them up again in the morning. Life was good.

From the remove of 40 years and 600 miles, I see it differently. But it took more than time and distance to reckon with my own cluelessness about race. It took what it always takes for barriers to fall between “us” and “them” — getting to know some of “them.” I’ve gotten as far as being able to name that I am on one side of many different divides, including the dinner counter at the Mission, and I’m usually on the less-shitty side. And it’s through no merit of my own. In fact it’s where people like me, white and privileged, have long been and have little questioned.

'We Are Brokenhearted'

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

We are brokenhearted by the murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We join our brothers and sisters in deep lament for the lives lost in this evil act, and our prayers go out to all of the victims, their families and their communities.

Atrocities like this wound the very soul of our nation. We must not merely attribute this horror to the depraved actions of one individual, mourn those we have lost, and move on as if there is nothing more to do. In his statement yesterday, President Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the wake of the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little girls were killed:  

"...We must be concerned not merely with who murdered [these girls], but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream."

The deep wounds of racism, America's original sin, still linger in our society, our institutions, and in our minds and hearts — sometimes explicitly, but far more pervasively through unconscious bias. Wednesday's terrorist act is the latest manifestation of this lingering sin. Are there no safe places for black people in our country, even the places where they come together to worship?

We all have the responsibility to overcome both the attitudes and the structures of racism in America. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we must act. 

Washing Clean: Germany, Ireland, and Our America

ANURAK PONGPATIMET / Shutterstock.com

ANURAK PONGPATIMET / Shutterstock.com

It was a devastating weekend for black people in America.

On Friday, a white police officer pulled his gun at a pool party and assaulted a 15-year old black girl who cried for her mom in McKinney, Texas. On Saturday, a young black man committed suicide in his parents’ home in the Bronx after being held without trial at Rikers Island for three years (nearly two in solitary confinement), accused of stealing a backpack — a charge that prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Sunday evening, hotel security officers profiled four young black organizers from Baltimore in the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel at the conclusion of The Justice Conference.

Police Officer Placed on Administrative Leave After Pulling Gun on Unarmed Teenagers at a Pool

Screenshot via Youtube

Screenshot via Youtube

After a video of white police officers arresting black teenagers with excessive force went viral over the weekend, the police department in McKinney, Texas, has opened a formal investigation into the incident, placing one officer on administrative leave.

The officers were responding to residents who complained about unwelcome teenagers causing a disturbance at a private community pool in the affluent Craig Ranch subdivision of McKinney, Texas.

In the video, Police Corporal Eric Casebolt is seen pushing a bikini-clad 14-year-old girl to the ground, before jamming her face down and sitting on top of her. When two boys jump up to confront the officer, he pulls out his firearm and points it at the teens.

Calling on Thomas Merton for Racial Justice and Healing

Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

Thomas Merton portrait by John Howard Griffin. Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

If the influential Catholic writer Thomas Merton were alive today, he would likely have strong words about police brutality and racial profiling.

Back in 1963, Merton called the civil rights movement “the most providential hour, the kairos not merely of the Negro, but of the white man.”

His words echoed May 16 among black pastors at a conference, titled Sacred Journeys and the Legacy of Thomas Merton, hosted by Louisville’s Center for Interfaith Relations. The event marked the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth.

A Frat Guy Reflects on the Greek System’s White Privilege Problem

Fraternity related scandals reached a fever pitch earlier this year over the viral footage of two Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) students at the University of Oklahoma chanting an appalling, racially insensitive song. There was a certain visceral, shocking quality to the story that drew me in, along with the rest of the country. Students marched. The University President swiftly shut down the SAE house. And Danny Duncan Collum wrote “Epic Bad Behavior,” (Sojourners, June 2015), an article advocating for the abolishment of more fraternities. While Collum’s position is extreme, I find it challenging to disagree — even as an alumnus of the University of Oklahoma and its fraternity system.

The OU fraternity members’ behavior seemed to be unanimously condemned by the faculty and student body, including those in fraternities and sororities. Still, as I read social media comments from both current and former members of the OU Greek system, I felt a sense of disappointment that a valuable, albeit painful, lesson was generally missed. Instead of seeing the incident as an opportunity for serious self-reflection, most preferred to frame it as an isolated mistake of two bad apples.

While in a fraternity, I found it peculiar how defensive many in Greek life were to even the slightest criticisms. When classmates playfully joked that fraternities were “centers of conformity” or “places to buy friends,” fraternity members had the usual rebuttals ready: Fraternity members have higher overall GPAs; so much good is done through fraternity philanthropy; most Congressmen were in fraternities (I never found that one too compelling).

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‘Stand Your Ground’ Shows a Racist Culture, Continuing to Kill

Book cover, 'Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.'

Book cover, 'Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.'

Douglas writes in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, tracing the intellectual and cultural genealogy of a “stand your ground” culture — one that polices our public ‘white’ spaces, and kills men and women of color who are in them. Sadly, as the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray show, our cops and our culture are still killing innocent people of color. We aren’t a post-racial culture at all. 

Stand Your Ground takes a cruciform shape: we face the death of the cross in her depiction of the despair of a culture that kills its citizens, before rising in the resurrection hope of a black faith.