In the past year, I have read more African American writers, theologians, and thinkers than I did in over 25 years of post-high school education. I find this education in history, social sciences, and Christian practice like a beacon of light and hope in a rather dark time of racial and political division in our country.
These times are not new or unprecedented in American history. There have been racist Presidents and Christian religious leaders throughout U.S. history. One might say that the nation was built by and for them. But perhaps a time is coming when awareness of antiblack bias and white privilege will provoke real and lasting change that will benefit all of us, and most of all those who have and continue to suffer under the oppressive nature of systemic racism.
Very few of my friends are black. A few colleagues are African American. I am realizing how isolating our racially segregated communities are. I have to intentionally seek out people of color to locate myself in their proximity, in order to have any kind of relationship whatsoever.
One of my new neighbors is an African American man married to a white woman. Their biracial children play with mine. I hope that my intellectual and spiritual journey will open racially diverse relationships for my kids that I never had. There is richness in the human community that we never experience when we live such racially isolated lives. I hope this changes, even as I hope for fuller equality and justice for people of color and marginalized peoples.
Christians are called to work together toward that for which we hope. May we do so wisely and compassionately.
To accompany the books I shared earlier this month, here are some links and documentaries for you to delve into over the holiday break and into the new year.
Adelman, Larry. The Difference Between Us: Race–The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel, 2003. This three-part documentary takes a deep dive into the history of race and racial ideas, first dealing with theories of biology, eugenics, and genetics. Debunking the mythology that racial categories are genetic traits that drive racist ideas by suggesting that people of color are naturally inferior to whites, the videos build the case that race is a social construct. The last video addresses the power of white privilege and its systemic impact on racial minorities. Each session is about one hour in length and deals with history, science, and current events surrounding racism in America. This would make a great three-part adult video study on race that could companion a reading of “White Rage” or “Stamped from the Beginning.”
Ariel, Courtney. “How Not to Appropriate: A Guide for White People.” Sojourners, Sojourners, 27 Oct. 2017, sojo.net/articles/how-not-appropriate-guide-white-people. “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high-fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves …” Ariel is teaching about cultural appropriation and white privilege here. I think about white kids listening to hip hop, a musical genre that originated from the black neighborhood experience and from the poverty and oppression of black people. It’s not our music. Not everything belongs to us. Whites have stolen or absconded with African American’s lives for centuries. Some things are sacred to a culture and ought to be respected as such. Don’t dress in native American costumes for Halloween. I guess that a “Michael Jackson” costume was a form of cultural appropriation of which I was unaware as a kid. This article has practical implications for whites who believe that privilege means access to anything and everything.
Ariel, Courtney. “For Our White Friends Desiring to Be Allies.” Sojourners, Sojourners, 5 Oct. 2017, sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies. This article lays out six points for white people asking how to become stronger allies. She suggests that whites listen more than talk, avoid whitesplaining to people of color, educate ourselves about the history of racism in the U.S., avoid shock and dismay when racist atrocities occur (because it betrays our history of indifference to marginalized peoples’ pain), ask when we don’t know but avoid requiring marginalized people to educate us, and stop talking about colorblindness. She invites us to think about reparations and restoration and repentance. It’s a short piece, and worth every simple point.
Milligan, Susan. “America Is Still Unequal For Blacks in 2018: Report.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 4 May 2018, www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2018-05-04/african-americans-lag-behind-whites-in-equality-index.
“Although African-Americans are actually doing better than whites in a few subcategories – and while both races are improving in some areas even as the gap between the two groups remains wide – the report, The State of Black America, finds that the “Equality Index” for African-American has barely moved (and in some cases, has worsened) since 2005, the first year the Urban League issued the yearly report. Movement has occurred in certain aspects of African-Americans’ lives, such as education and health, experts in the field say. But entrenched financial disparities have made it hard for African-Americans to catch up economically, they say.” Milligan is reporting on most recent evidence of economic inequality between white and black Americans. This report is based on the national urban league’s “State of Black America report.” It is a telling current assessment of American racial inequality and debunks the myth of a post-racist America. This article rejects the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” argument espoused by some ignorant whites about a lack of progress in the black community at large. This notion that African Americans have failed themselves in the last 50 years does not consider the depth and breadth of white supremacy and the oppression of blacks with economic and social policies created to relegate them to disenfranchised second class citizens. The article highlights the contemporary struggle for equality.
Peck, Raoul, director. I Am Not Your Negro. Magnolia Pictures, 2016. This film, which can be found on Amazon Videos, is based on James Baldwin’s unpublished book on black history, Remember This House. With gripping footage from the lynching era to today, with an emphasis on the civil rights and black power movements of the 60s, one hears the story of the black experience and the problem of racism from the voice of one of its greatest writers and students. Baldwin indicts white America for its ignorance and apathy. This film uses excerpts from American film of the 50s and 60s that addressed race. It includes footage of Baldwin speaking about racism as well as his written words spoken by familiar actors. This documentary explores popular culture and film and social life in the 20th century between blacks and whites. “It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.” He talks about his relationships with Martin and Malcolm and Medgar. This film is high cinema, beautifully put together, musical, lyrical, and poetic. Baldwin was a genius, both beloved and hated for his public screed against American racist injustice, and the white ignorance that denied or supported it. Baldwin’s story and social activism were well known in the 60s but forgotten in history or denied by whites, until this film was made. Its point was to see the current state of race in the U.S. as a continuation of the struggle for civil rights.
Williams, Joseph P. “Segregation’s Legacy.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 20 Apr. 2018, www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2018-04-20/us-is-still-segregated-even-after-fair-housing-act.
“…multiple studies show housing in America is nearly as segregated as it was when LBJ enacted a law designed to eliminate it. Study after study shows African-Americans still lag far behind whites in home ownership, a key asset in building middle-class wealth. At the same time, the institutional problems the Fair Housing Act was designed to solve – inequality in mortgage lending and homeownership, as well as real-estate agents steering black home buyers to certain neighborhoods and landlords who avoid renting to minorities – haven’t gone away. Limited access to housing in stable, middle-class neighborhoods, analysts say, has had a negative impact on everything from the quality of education black children receive to the health and longevity of their parents.” Housing discrimination and segregation is still a significant barrier to black equality and wealth attainment. The fair housing act of 1968 was enacted to address ongoing segregation and ghettoization of the African-American community, policies of segregation that had relegated free blacks in urban locations to substandard housing and education. This article demonstrates that the U.S. is not a post-racial society, but instead continues to systematically maintain economic inequality.