Strengthening the Black Voice at the multi-ethnic table.

Latest

Reflections on Being a Black Man in America, Part 2

It was a strange feeling.

While on vacation during July of 2016, in the midst of one of the most explosive periods of tension in the country this year, I received the Facebook notification that three years had passed since I wrote, “Reflections on Being a Black Man in America.” That blog post, which was meant to clear my soul, was read and shared over 10,000 times, propelling me into national platform I was not prepared for. It led to numerous invitations for speaking engagements, panel discussions and trainings, several Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and a new role in a new department in InterVarsity.Legend-of-Korra-Book-4-Three-Years-Later

It also has led to a tremendous amount of grief, sorrow, confusion, anger, and depression these last three years, and more recently this past month. In the three years since that post, a few things have happened:

      Michael Brown, John Crawford, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Rekia Boyd, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, and too many others have all died after being stopped or arrested by law enforcement (the list isn’t comprehensive; I just stopped with these twelve names because I can’t type any more).

      A Facebook posted entitled “black lives matter” became a hashtag, and an eventual grass roots organization of the same name.

      Awareness has been re-raised about these issues (“re-raised” because these issues are not new).

635773394288048502-1020733044_politics-protest-black-lives-matter2

The End of Endurance
There has also been what I can only describe as “the end of endurance” for countless Black people around the country. I have watched as droves of people have rallied under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, some fully or partially embracing its principles. I watched as people who were angry and without hope used the name of the organization to engage in violent protests, and as a result, there is a petition to have the entire group labeled a terrorist organization—much like the Black Panther Party was by the FBI in the 1960s.

I have felt my heart break into pieces and seen the same in my friends and family. I went to the barber shop (i.e. The Black Man’s Support Group), and listened to one of the barbers pour out his heart in sheer fear. “I’m 6’3, 280 pounds. I’m an introvert and don’t like to talk. People always tell me, ‘I look scary.’ I have always thought that if I complied with the police, I would be safe. This man [Philandro Castile] complied and he’s dead. What am I supposed to do?” I watched my married friends have the conversation about what to do if the black husband is stopped, if the wife is present or receives a text from her husband if he is stopped, and the wives broke down in tears. I watched as countless people invited me to watch videos, read blogs, listen to podcasts, and attend cutting edge training that in reality was white-centered—not in any cultural context, a basic overview of race, and ignored any possibility of systemic issues. I have watched hope pour out of my soul over the last three years as I have met with numerous white people from ages 17 to 71 who have never thought anything I just mentioned in this paragraph—ever.

Ferguson-42…And I have watched the West do what it does best: control the narrative. I have been asked leading questions to get at the answers my leaders want. I have been told “It’s not that bad,” “Things are getting better,” and that I should simply be grateful for where I am right now. There is a perpetual celebration of the progress of the past while ignoring the plight of the present. I have watched the dismissal of the call for dignity for Black lives attempt to be swallowed up by  #AllLivesMatter, but I have yet to see an “All Lives Matter” protest when black blood is shed in the streets. I have shut down in conversations when my calls of social justice have been labeled as bad theology or “angry Black man syndrome.” I have seen how quickly the two Black soldiers that horrifically killed police were labeled terrorists within 24 hours of their crimes, while Dylan Roof was diagnosed by non-medical-media-professionals as having a mental illness and the police were kind enough to arrest him without lethal force, give him a bullet proof vest ensuring his safety, and stop at a fast food restaurant because he was hungry.

Strangely, all of that I can deal with. That’s a part of what it means to be Black in America: overlooked, unheard, yet photographed as a symbol of progress. What has brought me and my friends to the brink of despair has been this new wave of compassion from people after a Black person is killed. We get text messages, Facebook messages, voicemails, and emails, all telling us to “remain hopeful,” “thinking about you today,” “don’t give into despair,” “things are getting better,” and “I’m glad you’re safe and not like the ones on TV.”

I am typically the only Black person at the functions I attend that are diverse, which means no one in the room walks in my shoes. No one else has their blood pressure drop when the police pull behind them or feels their heart move to the pit of their stomach when a black person is killed every 26 hours in the country. I wondered this month when I received all of those messages, “Did they call anyone white and tell them the same thing? Did my white friend call someone white and advocate for my life and the lives of my friends? Did they call that friend or peer that quickly defends every officer and condemns the deceased? Did they call someone who looked like them and say, ‘This has to change.’”

HowmanytimesvidHow many times will a black person be killed in questionable circumstances before it ceases to be an isolated incident? How many times will we as black people before we start to grieve, while the blood is still stained in the streets have to hear, “Be quick to forgive”? How many more times will our cries be silenced, our tears ignored, our grieved dismissed, and our rage mislabeled? What will it take for you to believe us?

It’s not heartbreaking anymore. It’s not nauseating. It’s numbing. It’s exhausting. We just don’t have it in us anymore. To quote Fannie Lou Hamer, “You reach a point in your life when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired.” That is the end of endurance. That is where many in the Black community, and those grafted into our community, are.

Woke, Asleep, and Sleep-Walkers
The last three years, I have seen ultimately three types of people. First, are the people who are Woke. They are aware of realities of inequality and systemic injustice, the need for social change, and affirm the value of police officers WITHOUT seeing these issues in conflict. You are allies, partners, spouses, mentors, bosses, colleagues, friends, family. You hold us up, and use your voice when we have lost ours. Second, there are people who are Asleep. They are largely unaware and apathetic. They have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear. They are far too often proudly and falsely colorblind. The third group I can only describe as Sleep-Walkers. This is a group of people who believe they are awake, but are very much asleep. They have parked at awareness of the issues, quick to call when there is a crisis—and that’s about it. These are people who regularly call for lament without asking what we need to repent from so progress can actually be made. This the group that quickly calls for racial and ethnic reconciliation without ever asking questions like, “When was there conciliation?” Or “What caused the division that required reconciliation and has that rift been repaired/healed/restored…acknowledged?”

Woke people! God bless you! I am treating all of you…to an endless supply of my gratitude. To the Asleep: Wake up! While you are sleeping, people are dying and the divide across ethnicity, gender, economics, and politics is growing. To the Sleep-Walkers, if you are unsure, as a person of color–the one you doesn’t agree with everything you say.

What Gives Me Hope Right Now
Cameras. For 400 years, we as Black people, even more broadly as people of color have not been heard in the West or in the United States, unless that voice has assimilated to the dominant culture. Our story, our experience has been dismissed or not believed. Now, there are videos everywhere, and while indictments are about as rare as a good DC Comics movie, the evidence speaks for itself every day.

Social Media. My God. Black Twitter is real. They give me life. The international collection of voices all highlighting the same injustices, creating memes in real time, have merged my laughter and my tears.

The Return of Our Voice. Silence from the evangelical world, white-centered conversations on issues of race and ethnicity, perpetual lamenting without repentance, and an inability to name systemic injustice, have together given people of color back our voice. More woke Asian, Black, Latino, First Nations, South Asian, and a handful of white people who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and are yelling from the mountain tops “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand! THIS is not good news! Where is the good news of the gospel of the West?” I have witnessed more people of color who are unapologetically followers of Jesus and using their ethnic voice to raise awareness, call for action, and advocate for the overlooked, unheard, and marginalized.

Numerous Asian Voices. Erna, Sarah, Becky, Andrew, Erina, Amy, Angelo, Wendy, JP, I can’t name you all because I will forget someone but your words, your voice, your fire, your passion, have moved me to tears and give me hope. I/we feel like we are going crazy always having to bring awareness, call for change, advocate for justice. I cannot tell you what you have meant in my life, to our community. Henri Nouwen called it, “a ministry of presence.” It means the world. (For the record, much love as always to the Latino and Indigenous communities. They have been allies throughout history and have led this charge longer than us.)

Scripture. The West models a disconnect between the present and previous generation. Because the culture is highly individualistic, it is primarily forward looking without reflecting on the past or evaluating the present in context. Scripture is not that way. God holds generations accountable for the actions of their ancestors in the Old and New Testaments. We inherit the blessings and the burdens of the previous generation. God may wait 400 years, but at some point, He calls people and nations to repentance and He as the Judge reminds us all what true justice is. I am grateful to read from Genesis to Revelation that God is concerned about the suffering of the oppressed, and He alone will defend and rescue, which means: justice is coming, repentance is unavoidable, and there are no shortcuts in His kingdom.

I am convinced I am a Samaritan and I live in Samaria, because the death of Black people and the dignity long withheld from us is avoided like the Jewish people avoided Samaria in Scripture. They would rather go to another country than deal with the mess in their backyard.

I long for the day when the church of the West is no longer punked by Goliath, and is willing to face what is facing us. There are no shortcuts. We will have to repent and change, or we will perish.

That change begins with me. I am done apologizing for who I am, pouring my heart out and explaining my experience for it to only be dismissed or fall on deaf ears. I am done checking my ethnicity at the door while people who look like me are left bleeding in the streets while pastors and politicians affirm the denial of our God-given dignity. I am done pretending like what is happening in our country does not effect me every single day because it makes someone else uncomfortable.

God made me a Black man and placed me in America at this particular time, with all of the beauty of my culture and the trauma of our history, not to ignore or downplay or dismiss it, but to celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do through the African Diaspora.

And I am done apologizing for that.

We all are.

 

Sean M. Watkins

@seanisfearless

Why Conversations About Race and Ethnicity Must Stop Being White-Centered Part 2 – Past, Present, & Future

Here’s part two of my thoughts on why multi-ethnic conversations cannot continue to be white-centered. At its conclusion, I’d encourage you to scroll down to Part 1 and check out the disclaimers again to understand better understand the context and content of my message. We cannot continue to have multi-ethnic conversations be white-centered for three basic reasons: the past, the present, and the future.

 

The Past: White-Centering Is What Led to Painful Atrocities of the Past

MalcolmHistory. Winston Churchill said it best, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.” This motif was is especially true in the West. The United States has been white-centered since the founding of the country. Pick any history book anywhere in the country and you will see American culture being painted as solely white culture, without error,while it minimized voices from the margins—if they are mentioned at all. When one group is centered over another, it justifies any actions against every other people group. In the case of the U.S., white-centering was what led to the mass genocide of Native Americans, kidnapping and enslavement of Africans, why California and Texas both neighbor Mexico, the Chinese Exclusion Act, etc. The founders of the United States believed in the concept of manifest destiny, God’s will for the U.S. to become a nation from Atlantic to the Pacific regardless of the other ethnic groups that had to be used or removed to accomplish that goal. White-centered history universally affirms the actions that benefited the white community, regardless of their impact on other cultures. Little to no history of America is presented from a perspective that is not white, and if it does exist, it is brief (i.e. Black history is slavery, Dr. King and Malcolm X; Mexican history is their defeat, and we don’t know how everybody else not Native American got here).  This is evidenced today when a white person can say, “Black people need to get over slavery and move into the 21st Century,” but simultaneously call everyone to “never forget” Independence Day, 9/11, or President’s Day, or any other national holiday. It’s having a selective memory on what we count as history–or more basically what is often called “controlling the narrative.” That narrative has been and continues to be white-centered.

Theology. Theological scholarship past and present of mainline denominations has been largely written from a white perspective, and as a result, consistently omits ethnicity, culture, and justice. There is a strong emphasis on discipleship of the mind, which is incredibly important. However, it feeds the idol of intellectualism in the West and neglects context in which body which houses that mind is located. In other words, intellectualism and theory never translated to practical action. John Newton, author of Amazing Grace), theologian Jonathan Edwards, James P. Boyce, and others who are seminal in the Christian world also owned slaves and little information of that reality is ever mentioned. Books written during the Reformation and the Enlightenment do not reference other ethnic groups beyond describing their ignorance or intellectual inferiority as compared to whites–motifs we still have in the 21st century. Those theologians do not speak to the atrocities happening during the time because white people were the only lives that mattered then. During segregation in the early 20th century, there were white Christians that would walk out of church on Sunday to hang black people in the South while singing hymns—events my parents and grandparents remember vividly. They have had far more painful interactions with the dominant culture than positive ones. The same came be said by numerous other sub-dominant (ethnic minority) groups. Those experiences of the past have led to a fear of interacting and reconciliation with the white community and those concerns too often influence future generations like mine. Those fears of previous generations are reinforced every time there is silence another major cross-cultural conflict occurs. While the circumstances have changed over the centuries, there remains a constant trend of unarmed Black people being killed in the U.S. by people in power without consequence. I don’t think we should eliminate everything written by the great minds of the past, but we should tell the entire story: what they got right and what they missed. Don’t stop singing Amazing Grace. Just be sure to know and teach what led him to write the song. Omitting parts of their story is to omit the life lessons we need shared so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

That’s the danger of centering a discussion on one group only: their strengths, weaknesses, and idols will be made manifest but they will be unhealthily accepted as societal norms. There must be equal representation, equal sharing, equal distribution of power, equal levels of displacement across ethnic lines if the church is to be a light shining in the darkness of the world rather than simply affirming that darkness. I think too often we misunderstand grace, both God’s and from other people. For the oppressed and the descendants of the oppressed, grace does not mean we pretend that previous events did not occur. It is not a matter of forgetting, but choosing not to remember or holding previous injustices against someone. It means, as painful as it may seem, we must trust and hope again across cultures because this is what our Lord asks of us as his image-bearers in this ministry of reconciliation. For oppressors and the descendants of oppressors, whether by bloodline or by culture, receiving grace does not mean ignoring the past, not correcting injustices committed by your ancestors, or isolating today’s issues to this generation as though the events of the past didn’t occur. It means knowing what part of the conversation of time you are in and “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance,” not just lamenting things are still broken in our country.

 

The Present: White-Centering Ignores the Diversity of the 21st Century World

lots-of-peopleThe world is incredibly diverse. With globalization, we are experiencing incredible ethnic diversity in 2016 at levels our grandparents wouldn’t have dreamed possible. Our…well, some of our neighborhoods, jobs, churches, and schools are incredibly diverse. If you’re a person of color, not always but most of the time it means you have had a lot of experience in crossing-culture. You’ve had to adapt to the dominant culture in the United States really since the day you left your house for pre-school—maybe earlier. We have experienced racism, systemic injustice, heard stories from your elders, been followed in the mall, or stopped by the police for “random searches” on more than one occasion. As Dr. Eric Mason once said, “If you are white, you can get a high school diploma, bachelors, masters, and a doctorate without having to interact with a person of color, but if you are a person of color, you can’t get a G.E.D. without learning white culture.” This means for people of color and for white people who have cross-cultural wisdom and not just experience, we need more than the introduction to crossing culture. We learned basic skills, personal awareness, history, and biblical basis for these items a while ago. We need deeper theology on multi-ethnicity. We need resources that move us from cross-cultural competency to cross-cultural proficiency.  We have to learn and re-learn topics like “Be Angry, But Sin Not: Righteous Anger at Injustice,” “Seeking Peace and Justice, Not Silence,” “Caring for Your Soul Before, During, and After the Next Unarmed Shooting,” “Preparing for the Next Hashtag” (i.e. the Asian American community with #whitewashedOUT) and “Voices from the Margins” (i.e. learning past and present perspectives from all ethnic groups). We need deeper study of history and theology to keep our hearts soft and hopeful as we proclaim the gospel in a broken and hurting world we are continue to cry from the margins that our lives, our history, our stories, our voices matter.

When the conversation is white-centered, it omits the diversity of ethnicity and perspective in the room, which again forces other people to wait for the dominant culture to recognize what it has been living for decades and in some places centuries. When we as people of color don’t continue to grow in our own cross-cultural skills, we will end up like Chris Rock at the Oscars: defending your own tribe by offending another. When we honor all the ethnicities in the room equally, we remove the historical supremacy and inferiority society imposes. We call out each others strengths, discover the sins within our own ethnicity, and by the power of Jesus we tear down our idols–but that happens when we are equal at the foot of the cross in word and deed.

 

The Future: White-Centering Multi-Ethnic Conversations Won’t Prepare Us for What’s Coming

causalityWe are approaching a turning point in both the U.S. and the world. Studies have revealed that by 2046, there will not be a dominant ethnic group in the U.S. Racism and cross-cultural incidents have happened since the founding days of our nation. Social Media for the first time in history has given a strong voice to the margins that is raising awareness of these issues in incredible and unpredictable ways. If the conversation remains white-centered, our multi-ethnic churches and organizations will begin to decline because it will not prepare our white brothers and sisters who want the education and experience to lead in the 21st and it will harden the hearts of people who witness Christians consistently and deeply miss opportunities to declare and model the gospel of reconciliation who can no longer wait for change that is too long delayed. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” There are too many deferred hopes and sick hearts in the church because are avoiding and misaligning our theology and witness on multi-ethnicity. There will be cross-cultural conflict in the world. It should not be at the same level and remain unresolved in our Lord’s church.

In Acts 6, one ethnic group of widows complains about being overlooked when resources are being distributed in the church. The church leaders recognized these errors in their leadership and decide to turn over the whole responsibility to the marginalized group—Stephen and the crew all have Greek names. They made an incredible statement by giving up some power to the powerless and demonstrating faith that the previously oppressed would not become oppressors.

To my knowledge, that has never happened in any major and lasting capacity in any context, especially Christian context, in the U.S. The people at margins have been given seasonal influence, but not power. Our voices are elevated in times of crisis, we are asked to take pictures to display unity, while leaders temporarily change behavior but not structure–and we walk in circles, having the same conversation every few years. People of color are given a seat at the table but not the resources to do the actual work of justice. As a result, we simply have a closer view to see the decisions made that marginalize our people. We don’t want to just be in the room. We need the freedom to rearrange the furniture, too.

It is interesting what comes next in Acts: persecution and the spreading of the gospel. I think God in his sovereignty didn’t allow the church to received increased persecution until they were unified across ethnic and cultural lines. The world needed to see people of various ethnic backgrounds unified and preaching the same message. They need to see us live out the gospel before they believed our preaching it.

We must have a diverse center, a broader conversation about race, ethnicity, and theology at centers on the gospel and affirms and displaces all cultures equally. If we cannot love each other as the Lord created us to be—ethnicity and all—how then will the world know we are His disciples?

Making it Practical

  1. If you’re white, find a person of color with whom you have a relationship or can build one, and listen to their stories and experiences. Don’t rationalize, attempt to clarify, or defend actions that have offended the person. Take a listening and learning posture, and believe what the person is saying. This will take courage, and there may be points of offense on both sides. Give some disclaimers up front, “I may say the wrong thing, so let’s help each other, because I want to learn.”
  2. If you’re a person of color, start looking for and reading voices from the margins. Howard Thurman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil, Rev. Dr. Virginia Ward, and others have been water for my beautiful godly black soul.
  3. Everybody find someone who doesn’t look like you and listen to them until they are finished speaking. Don’t stop at Awareness. Take Action. Become an Advocate for someone at the margins. Enter into their story. Share their joy and burden of being who they are, where they are.

 

Final Thoughts

This was originally one long post, but a good recommended I turn it into two. Again, please check out the disclaimers below to get the context of the content of my words. I believe the gospel of Jesus is the only hope we have in this world. I believe it is truly possible the people of God to be ethnically and culturally reconciled to each other. Like the Psalmist, I want to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). I don’t write these things from a place of bitterness or hatred of white people, my people, or anyone else. I write these things because, quite simply, I care. As someone who lives at the margins–or perpetually as a guest in an evangelical world and organization–I also have the blessed burden of being a bridge-builder. No one volunteers to be marginalized. We got pushed there, a long time ago. We didn’t get into this mess on our own, and we cannot get out of it on our own. In the same way white culture and a contaminated gospel divided us, so too will take a posture of humility and grace of all cultures and the Christ-centered gospel to unify us. It will take celebrating the ethnicity and culture God has given to each of us, owning the sins of the past, and genuine repentance in the present, in order to press toward the future.

We have been here before. Ask any of elders in Black and Latino communities. They will tell you “Ferguson is Watts,” “Trayvon is Emmett Till,” and so on. God exists outside of time and He is not in a hurry. He will keep us in a holding pattern as a church until we reconcile not our way, but his way. It is Christ’s goals through Christ’s methods, and what was his method? I’ll end with the words of Philippians 2::6-8, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

When the powerful give up power that was never theirs, the powerless are bestowed the dignity they were meant to have only then will we begin to look more like that image in Revelation 7:9 where all God’s people are together living in harmony with each other. If we don’t, God will pass the responsibility on to our children–much like it has been passed to us.

 

May we be the people of God as He intends us to be. Let’s not pass this debacle on to our children. 

 

Now is the time.

Sean M. Watkins
@seanisfearless

Why Conversations About Race and Ethnicity Must Stop Being White-Centered: Part 1–What It Is, What It Isn’t

white-pivilege-cardIf you are a “woke” person of color or a white person who “gets it” (i.e. has not just cross-cultural experience but wisdom where even people of color consider you an ally and advocate), then you’ve been there several times. I know I have.

The last few years I have been invited repeatedly to check out a new book, YouTube video, training, sermon, blog post, podcast, and/or conference that is going to focus on race and ethnicity. The net is cast wide in preparation. There will be diverse speakers, breakout sessions, and attendees. The resource is hyped! You’re told, “This will be the game changer.”

The overwhelmingly majority of the time, I am given a very basic overview of race, ethnicity, and crossing cultures told primarily from a white perspective that that is taught as though it is meant for a primarily white audience. I start reading/listening, and it becomes clear that this resource is white-centered. (White-centering occurs when topics that relate to diverse contexts are limited to focus both from a white perspective and taught as though the audience is white.) I am invited to individually consider my own ethnic identity and journey of crossing cultures and presented with a few tools in my interactions with people of color (i.e. “lean in,” “engage,” “point people toward hope,” “acknowledge you hear and stand with people of color”)…even though I am a person of color. There is an omission of historical, legal, and systemic oppression of the past and present which has present day implications on the socio-economic, political, educational, professional (both for and non-profit), denominational, and theological landscape of the West—particularly the United States. There is silence or bad theology around the biblical basis for ethnicity, multi-ethnicity, ethnic reconciliation, and justice at personal, church, city, and national levels. There is not a theological interpretation of how the secular land in which we live and the Christian church to which we belong have both succeeded and/or failed in these areas. The conversation isolates the issues to our present context, as though our present reality is detached from the previous generations and has no implications for the people coming after us. As a result, there isn’t a clear call for actionable steps for anyone in the room which will ultimately result in the same cycles of marginalization repeating themselves in the next four weeks, four months, or forty years. White staff who are new to the discussion walk away encouraged and affirmed, while experienced white staff and staff of color walk away with what my mom used to call “rocks in their jaws”—hurt, frustrated, and disappointed.

Before you jump to the comment section below to rebuke me, let me give a few disclaimers about this post and the one to follow it Wednesday.

Disclaimer #1: We Need Conferences that are White-Centered.
Please, don’t misread me. We do need conferences and resources for our white brothers and sisters who are at beginning stages of understanding race and ethnicity historically and theologically. As a result of being in the dominant culture, many white people are unaware of their own culture and how to navigate this terrain. We especially need those resources for our white brothers and sisters in places where they are called into cross-cultural leadership. That is a benefit of white privilege—that someone can go years without these issues crossing their minds. We have pastors and presidents, judges and teachers, parents and missionaries that never reflected on their ethnic heritage or of the people they are serving in various capacities. There are numerous white people who ask regularly for resources, trainings, books, etc. and we need items that are white-centered because they serve people coming from and ministering in that context. We need to do a better job of giving them practical application at the conclusion of the resources we present to them, and the resources that are coming out are a great first start.

Disclaimer #2: I am not advocating for Black-Centering to replace White-Centering.
If you serve in a context that aspires to be multi-ethnic or multi-cultural: everyone needs to equally experience displacement. Again I say: everyone needs to equally experience displacement. Too often when we approach these issues, Western Christians will tell people of color false statements like: “Jesus was colorblind” or “We are one human race and your identity is Christian.” If these statements are true, which ethnicity or cultural values will we adopt? As people, we will create some system for us to work/serve together. If we tell people of color their ethnicity doesn’t matter to God, we are actually saying, “We are all going to assimilate to White Western American Christianity,” or more basically, white-centering.

Disclaimer #3: Our ethnicities are a gift from God.
One of my seminary professors said it best a few months back. “We see diversity from the very beginning of Scripture. God made different types of plants, trees, fish, animals, and different ethnicities within the human race. Diversity has never been a problem to be solved, but a song to be sung.” God’s intent from Genesis was for people to “fill the earth” with His image. Our intentional God knew we would move to different corners of the world, creating customs, languages, and culture. That picture in Revelation 7:9 is an incredibly diverse picture of “every tribe, nation, and tongue,” which means we can visibly see our differences. It is our differences with unity under the banner of a resurrected Savior that is worship to God and a witness to the world.

That image is distorted, however, when we center the conversation entirely on one racial class. We cannot continue to have multi-ethnic conversations be white-centered for three basic reasons: the past, the present, and the future (the focus of Part 2).

Disclaimer #4: It’s Not Your Fault, But It Is Your Problem.
Knowing our history does not mean we assign blame to anyone. This is not an invitation to pronounce guilt and shame on white people or to arouse anger in people of color. As people of God and people of color, we draw hope from history. It is a reminder of how far we have come that gives us the courage to move forward. At the same time, we must resist the Western ideology that our present generation is not connected to previous generations. The move of God in our generation is directly connected previous and future generations. If this wasn’t true, then Jesus would need to die every 40-50 years. We inherit the blessings and the burdens of the previous generation. We are not starting any conversations, but merely continuing what happened before we got here and will go on long after we are gone. Legalized slavery and oppression of the past is not the fault of anyone living today, but if you are committed to ethic reconciliation: it is your problem. To ignore the past is to ignore the history of the people we are inviting into our multi-ethnic churches and organizations.

Disclaimer #5: Assimilated People of Color Cannot Be the Only Litmus Test for White-Centering.
Another false start on progress that occurs when race and ethnicity conversations are white-centered is when we have people of color who have largely assimilated to the dominant culture as primary contributors to whatever resources or content distributed. There are tons of resources on high/low identity in ethnic groups that are expounded upon with greater clarity than I space for in this post. This is not an assault on anyone who assimilates to whichever culture they choose. However, what too often occurs is that a person of color who highly identifies with the dominant culture is chosen to represent their ethnic background. If we limit ourselves only to the perspective of those who have adapted and adopted to the dominant culture, it will negate—and in many cases undo—the progress we hope to have. There must be an invitation to people of color to be mentors that will reveal not affirm our blind spots.

Making It Practical.

  1. Do a Survey of Your Context. If you’re writing books, leading seminars, presenting sermons or workshops on multi-ethnicity, ask questions diversely to discover if you are white-centering. If you’re unsure, ask the margins. They will tell you quickly. Listen to them, learn from them. Remember, the goal is not to dismiss white culture, but to create a place that is equally affirming and challenging for all ethnic groups.

  2. Stop White-Centering Multi-Ethnic Resources. Get mentors of different ethnic groups. Share power, the microphone, and the levels of displacement equally in the room. As in Acts 6, look for diverse people “who are full of the Spirit and wisdom” as these issues are not easy to discuss and we need people who will speak truth to human power, rather than pour salt in open historic wounds.
  3. Start Equal Levels of Cross-Cultural Displacement Today. Mark 1:15-16 reads, “‘The time has come,’ Jesus said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’” The Common English Version translates late this as, “Now is the time.” My friends, now is the time. Let’s not wait another forty years before we have Gospel-centered theologically sound discipleship around multi-ethnicity. Now is the time to ask the difficult questions, to hear difficult truths, to break bread across ethnic and language barriers. Now is the time to be the church our ancestors in the West should have been for our children who are coming after us and most of all as ethnically diverse image-bearers of our great God.

Sean M. Watkins
@seanisfearless

Batman v. Superman: Miscarriage of Justice

There are three elements to interpreting superhero stories.

hook-core-valuesFirst, there is the core of the character. These are the foundational principles on which the character was originally intended and designed by their creators. Spider-Man will always revolve around the motif, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Superman will should always “stand for truth and justice.” Wonder Woman was created to embody compassion and justice, to heal the hurting world which had fallen off the rails. The X-Men work out their issues in and save a world that “fears and hates them.” These are core elements that cannot be changed. To change them is to change the character.

comicbooks

Second, there is what I will call canon. In the geek world, this would be all issues of the comic books over the years—with a few exceptions. The comics that were true to the core of the character, we call canon. If it forever changed the character (i.e. death of a loved one, new power introduced, etc.), it is canon. (If it is really bad, the writer is fired and the heroes wake up from a dream where all that bad writing and story is erased.)

page_corevalues_bgThere’s core, canon, and finally, culture. By culture, I mean what is essentially our present reality, the real world. When comics were first introduced, the culture of 1938 was multi-faceted. World War II was looming, the Great Depression was raging, segregation was still very legal, very few women were allowed to work, and people overall needed hope.

Enter the Heroes.

Superman, followed by Batman and all the others that followed, shaped the culture. They brought their core, told through canon, and renewed hope in society. They catapulted you to a world where truth and justice were not merely discussed, they were embodied and defended. Evil could be named and arrested—but never killed because even the villain’s life was seen as valuable and capable of transformation. People have and continue to fall in love with heroes from then until now…

…But a lot has changed since 1938. Not all of it has been good. While history has seen the end of segregation, the start of the end of oppression of women, and other changes, we have also seen the culture begin to shape the heroes. In an effort to make the heroes more “modern” and “realistic,” the core of the characters has needed to be changed. To maximize special effects, emotions, and to compete with other genres, we loosened the reigns of the morals of the heroes. All heroes can kill now—not just the anti-heroes. They don’t save the city—they destroy them. The heroes and the movies do not bring hope, but rather are increasingly dark…because that’s what sells. That and an unnecessary and lengthy sex scene.

This is the gift and curse of superhero mythology. Superheroes can influence the culture or culture can influence the superheroes.

This is essentially my problem with Batman v. Superman: Dawn Miscarriage of Justice.

batman-v-superman-man-of-steel-justice-league-mixtp5p6wc94zi8jsewl8o30wi8kq7w9n5cose9cs8

Christopher Nolan brought us an incredibly dark Batman in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Superman, however, is not a dark character. He’s never been dark. He’ll never be dark.

Ever.

Even when his character creeps into darkness, Batman appears somewhere and says, “Hey, that’s my job.” They balance each other out when they appear together. Zack Synder, in his attempt to update the character to fit the culture of today’s movies, has dishonored the core of Superman. He does not bring hope that Superman is supposed to, rather he is a weapon of destruction. Every city that has appeared in a movie with this Superman has experienced medium to major annihilation (he literally raises insurance claims every time he lands somewhere to help). This Superman is hated by most, manipulated often, and changes his mind like a shifting shadow. He does not stand for anything.

batmangunBatman, the guy whose parents were killed with guns, doesn’t use them, period. “What if” versions do occasionally, but that is not his core, nor is it canon. Ben Affleck does a really good job with the duel identities, but make no mistake, this was not The Dark Knight or “The World’s Greatest Detective.” Instead, we meet a billionaire who is afraid of an immigrant who literally shoots first and asks the worst questions later.

Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman: I am in love. Best part of the movie. She embodied the mystery, elegance, class, sophistication, and compassion Wonder Woman’s core…and then switched to Xena: Warrior Princess fighting-mode in two seconds. Bring on her movies. She is going to shine.

I’ll refrain from commenting on Lois (i.e. her unnecessary three rescues and gender offending comments which are not true to her character) and Jimmy Olsen (yes, he’s in the movie for 30 seconds).

Justice LeagueUltimately, apart from the depiction of the characters, there are two things that disturb me most. First, the formation of the Justice League will not have at it’s core the hope, humility, and purity of heart that Superman has. There’s a reason he’s at the center of all the posters, and it’s not just because he can beat all of them.

I love Batman. Truly. As a character, he’s superb! But you don’t build a team around the guy that operates in isolation. You build the team around the hero who breaks necks has a core worth following. Batman fights for justice, but he doesn’t stand for it. Everybody runs from Batman except Commissioner Gordon. People used to run toward Superman because he is the change he wishes to see in the world. Superman brings hope to Metropolis and to the Justice League. Now, however, the character that operates out of shadows and secrecy, the one who landed on killing Superman without being a true detective and now feels guilty about it, will be the one to round up the team.

I think not.

The second thing that disturbs me—and definitely most of all—was the growing motif of the death of god and man as his replacement. The people called Superman a “false god.” Lex Luthor mentioned “killing god” every time he spoke. Batman’s fear of the being with the “power of a god” is what led him to try to kill Superman. Once Superman is out of the picture, Batman—who had a bizarre resurrection opening scene—is now in front.

The origin story of Superman is that he is a type of Jewish Messiah, and there are subtle overtones everywhere. Batman was created because it was thought Superman wasn’t relatable to common people—while billionaires are—with the hope that people could see they don’t need a savior. They can save themselves.

With more money and more technology comes the facade of power that enables you to stand up against and even replace the ones—The One—who came to save.

That’s what disappoints me about Batman v. Superman. It is not merely a dismissal of the core of the characters, an incomplete assortment of their canon, but that these heroes aren’t allowed to influence the culture, but rather the culture is influencing them.

We’re suppose to want to live in a world with these heroes. They are supposed to be the dawn of justice.

That is not justice.

Not justice that I would want.

 

Sean M. Watkins
@seanisfearless

The Fire This Time: Young Faces, Old Rage

In recent weeks I have had a series of conversations with close friends of varying ethnicities about the trauma of 2014-2015 and the condition of our souls as are two months into 2016. There seems to be two main commonalities among many of us: spiritual fatigue and prophetic rage.

Spiritual Fatigue. Unless you’ve been in the Fortress of Solitude or brooding in the Batcave the last 18 months, most of us are aware of the heightened racial tensions in the United States. Our elders and most marginalized ethnic minority communities would say the tension has always been there. Social Media is just providing a voice for the unheard. I was not prepared for the toll all those shooting deaths would take on my soul. It wasn’t merely the unarmed shooting deaths have worn on us. Those by themselves are quite common and quite painful. It wasn’t the lack of indictments in most of the cases. It wasn’t my Christian brothers and sisters that had proclaimed a gospel of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation but were largely unaware of the racial tensions in the country, the facts and frequency of shooting deaths, their surprise at my pain, or confusion as to the purpose of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

It was the cycle continued over and over again.

Shooting death. Vilification of the deceased—child or adult, innocent, suspicious, or guilty—in the media every time. Silence or quick prayers of forgiveness and fingers pointing towards progress. Anger that my community is unable to see the bigger picture. No consequences for law enforcement. No systemic changes.

Rinse and repeat.

At 33, there are spiritual disciplines I have learned to practice to give life to my soul and maintain my connection with the Lord. But this…this is something different. This was hearing messages of hope in a constant newsfeed of perpetual injustice that was largely ignored and overlooked by Christians across denominations and ethnic backgrounds.

The conversations we’ve had to have to raise awareness about the issues…the requests for pastors and spiritual leaders to theologically interpret these events as colorblind sermons are proclaimed Sunday after Sunday…it is just exhausting.

To be a part of the body of Christ is to be a part of…well, a body. When one part of my body hurts, I do something about. I take medication, I exercise/stretch, I go to the doctor. I don’t ignore it. But that’s what largely happened the last 18 months—an avoidance or ignoring of one of the largest elephants ever to sit in the living room. By the time some people started to respond, the damage had already been done.

Trust had already been broken because of silence, inaction, and delayed action.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Silence-Quotes

As more time progresses, I am increasingly becoming aware of a need for deeper spiritual roots because, while the world does not surprise me—it is fallen—my Christian, bible believing, bible proclaiming, mission focused, champions of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation have grieved me deeply. There have been calls for patience, celebration of progress, and numerous laments but little action, minimal acknowledgement of what progress has not been made, and no calls for repentance.

I have watched too many of my white friends vacillate between Scripture and privilege, and several of my friends of all ethnic groups—including some white ones—grieve the church’s commitment to lead in fear of the past rather than with repentant humble courage towards the future.

Which leads to the prophetic rage…

Prophetic Rage. Has anyone noticed this generation of millennials is turned all the way up? I mean there is a level of rage in them—in us—that is surprising. You would think we were slaves or experienced segregation or had family members assassinated during the Civil Rights Movement. There is a level of rage at the stagnated leadership of political and spiritual leaders that comes randomly through the generations—for Black people, it’s 50-year increments following the end of slavery (1865, 1915, 1965, 2015). That rage, however, is not limited to our ethnic borders. The Asian American community has become a surprisingly loud and public ally during this tumultuous time. The Latino and Hispanic community has consistently come to be ally against injustice with the Black community for decades. As always, there’s a remnant of our white brothers and sisters that—if I am honest—get to the protests before we do. It’s not as many as are portrayed…but we see you.

But that rage is strong…and it isn’t subsiding. Is it misdirected emotion? Is it youthful confidence? Is it emotional responses without cognitive evaluation of the facts?

I don’t think it’s any of those things.

I think it’s the ghosts of America’s past. There’s spilled blood on the ground in our country, and like Abel’s after he was murdered by Cain, it cries out from the ground. We underestimate the spiritual dimensions of injustice in America and especially as Western Evangelical Christians. That’s what makes it prophetic rage for many—not all—of us. We don’t want to burn down the house—but we do see a few tables that need to be flipped over immediately!

God may forgive sin, but rarely does he take away the consequences of our sin. There has been and continues to be a glossing over of the injustices committed in American history, from Native Americans, to Mexicans, Africans, Chinese, Japanese, the list goes on. Winston Churchill said, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.”

America has written her history and theology as though she is the hero of the story…all of them. There have been one or two apologies, but again, my hope is in Jesus and his church. It is the broader Christian community in the West that believes it can be disconnected from the sins of previous generations, dismiss present injustices as isolated misunderstandings, and there be no consequences.

The blood of our ancestors is crying out both from the ground and from the heart of God. The God of the Bible is the God of the oppressed. In every instance of oppression in Scripture, there were consequences for the oppressor. Sometimes they came in a day or a week, or 400 years later, but the Lord always settles accounts.

Our rage is prophetic because while we are to be salt and light the country and ultimately the world, the North American evangelical church could be infinitely more than the shell of what it is now.

It’s interesting to what pastors and Christian historians discuss or ignore what’s happening in the country now. In the Scriptures, God has his people repeat events until they learn from their mistakes. With all of our books, theologians, conferences, churches, and sermons, we seem to be unable to move forward when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity. What will it take for us to move from prophetic rage to awareness, acknowledgement, and genuine repentance?

I hope it happens in my generation because we all know God cheats. He exists outside of time.

If we are unwilling to learn the lesson, he has no problem waiting to see if our children will.

 

Sean M. Watkins

Michelle Higgins and The Pharisee in Us

I love February. It’s a great month. First off, I get paid sooner—it has less days. It is also Black History Month for many people and many of the days ahead will center on remembering the past and celebrating progress of African Americans. For me, February isn’t just culturally affirming but it also marks the month when I return to the gym. I take January off from 24 Hour Fitness because I know it will be filled with people who are committed to getting in shape this year. The place is always packed in January, filled with people living out their New Year’s resolutions. However, I know from experience by the time the Super Bowl is over—the first week in February—the gym will be spacious again. The fire, energy, and commitments held at the beginning of January are more often than not gone one month later.

black-lives-matter-going-deeperIt’s been a little over one month since Michelle Higgins pulled “a Dr. Brenda” [Salter-McNeil]—walking on stage at Urbana singing an old Negro Spiritual. One month since she [and other platform speakers] spoke daring, bold, and prophetic words that we will be talking about for years to come…but where are we one month after this prophet of the Lord—who did not come in peace—stepped up to the microphone in the evangelical world and rattled our comfortable and complacent cages? I want to share a few thoughts on her message and what it means as we move forward into 2016 as evangelical communities of faith.

What We Saw This Past Month

We saw this past month as Michelle Higgins’ character was called into question by Christians and non-Christians, where her message was reduced to ad hominem, attacking the person rather than hearing what she had to say. Her message was largely dismissed for a couple of reasons: 1) It was political and not biblical because she didn’t start with a passage; (Whatever passage she would have chosen, I submit would not have been enough to calm the responses from her message…more on that in a moment.) 2) As educated theologians, we have an ability to affirm truth without applying it. Too many evangelical organizations spent the past month affirming themselves as though they have solved systemic issues around race and the promotion and retention of staff of color rather than repenting of broken methods of leadership and organizational structure. We watched as her illustrations on adoption, LGBTQ community, and #BlackLivesMatter were misinterpreted and magnified into affirmations of violence against police, abortion, and promoting division. We even watched as her life was threatened on Social Media platforms.

We also saw parts of the broader evangelical world publicly thank InterVarsity for having the courage to say and do something most seminaries and churches are not: preach from an open bible and an open newspaper—something the theological and secular world both need to see. We also saw those same organizations who affirmed a hermeneutic that speaks to the reality of the #BlackLivesMatter movement also—to my personal pain and shame—still misinterpret the movement and communicate their allergy to anything that dehumanizes police—which is not a goal, value, or communicated ideal anywhere in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. I’d also add it’s been very painful watching the evangelical world attack the movement because of a hypothesis #BlackLivesMatter is against the police.

It is not.

635773394288048502-1020733044_politics-protest-black-lives-matter2It is against the killing of unarmed Black men and women. Have one or two people in moments of passion said derogatory things against police? Yes. Do they represent the broader movement? No. However, if there is a standard that one person on the margins speaks for the whole group, then it also means Donald Trump speaks for all of America, Stacey Dash speaks for all Black people, and Ted Cruz represents the broad concerns of the Hispanic community. If there are exceptions for comments made by public figures, why not for people crying out for justice?

Our struggle to understand Michelle Higgins’ message, whether we agree with it or not, speaks of a broader problem in the evangelical world: a consistent inability to hear and respond to the cries of the marginalized.

What Story Will You Tell Begs the Question, “What Story Have You Heard?”

The theme for Urbana 15 was, “What Story Will You Tell.” As I wrote in another blog post, “Why Michelle Higgins Matters,” telling a story means you’ve heard a story. It is not just, “what story will you tell,” but “what story have you heard?” Specifically, we want to tell THE STORY—the good news of Jesus to this broken and hurting world. That implies we have seen and heard the pain that exists in this world and we, therefore, know how the Good News is actually good news to people. Even more as Christians, we believe the Scriptures are our lamp and our light. Scripture should affirm and afflict us. It should comfort us and convict us.

My evangelical brothers and sisters, when is the last time you heard the truth from the Scriptures that hurt? That you flat out disagreed with? That hit us at our places of comfort and convenience? I cannot remember a time I have ever enjoyed hearing the truth that hurts! One of my mentors in the faith often says, “People need to walk out of our churches mad at us sometimes. They need to walk out almost enraged. ‘How can they say that to me?!’ That’s what we see in the Scriptures. It happened often when Jesus preached. It never happens in our churches.” People loved Jesus’ healings but his words were sometimes harsh. He was not concerned with our happiness but our holiness. Last time I checked, we were all sinful, so at some point, Jesus ought to say something we don’t like. If he hasn’t in a while, I’d question if we have been listening to him.

The truth is not meant to always feel good and encourage. Scripture teaches us, corrects us. If Patrick Fung and Francis Chan taught the Scripture, Christena Cleveland brought the statistics, should not Michelle Higgins give the testimony of the reality of marginalized black people in America? I know some donors across evangelical organizations have pulled their support because of Michelle’s message. I also know, as an evangelical black missionary, there are donors who will not support me solely because of my ethnicity and my commitment to address these issues. I have witnessed it personally, first hand, and so have my friends. I am saddened our community has lost financial support because of a message that addressed #BlackLivesMatter. I am even more grateful that for a brief time the broader evangelical world got to experience what it is like to be a person of color where your funding is impacted by issues associated with your ethnicity—or your stance in the conversation.

The Pharisee in Us Will Pick What We Protest

Throughout the gospels, the Pharisees clearly have a problem with Jesus and his ministry. One of their biggest issues him is his view of the Sabbath. Jesus is always doing something on the Sabbath. In Mark 2, the Pharisees protested because the disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath. “This is unlawful,” they said. So, Jesus got up, went in the synagogue, and asked if it was lawful to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Their response? Silence. So Jesus heals the man. What do the Pharisees do? They leave the synagogue and plot how to kill Jesus…on the Sabbath.

Recap: Pharisees said it’s unlawful to pick grain on the Sabbath. They are silent when asked about healing a man on the Sabbath. They go out and plot to kill Jesus on the Sabbath.

Too many times in the Evangelical world, we pick what we protest. We are up in arms about grain being picked, and we are silent about withered hands. The responses were wide and varied to Michelle Higgins’ message. For all of the feedback that was against her message, her delivery, her style of preaching, we have yet to say anything/do anything/deal with the issues of injustice she raised. We have critiqued and debriefed her message. We have yet to address the issues she raised.

When the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite emerged because of the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees for the second year in a row, there was a swift apology from the president and a few days later they produced practical steps to increase diversity, both in ethnicity and gender, among future voters. This will no doubt also impact selection of actors for films.

When will that happen in the evangelical world? How many more messages will we need to hear that tell us our funding models our broken, we are struggling to recruit and retain staff and students of color—especially from the Black and Latino communities as well as First Nations people. How many more times will some of our white brothers and sisters say, “Yes, I agree! I want to learn, grow,” but we don’t create, offer, and evaluate job performance on cross-cultural competency? The evangelical world has been in a holding pattern since the 50s and 60s. So much effort is spent on idols of intellectualism and idealism, but despite all the books written and degrees conferred we are still fighting the same Goliaths of funding, supremacy, and privilege. In Scripture and in life, the principle remains that God does not release us to move forward until we learn how to respond when he is speaking. He has been speaking for decades about racism in the country and in the church, but we continue to negate the messenger right along with the message.

The Pharisee in Us Will Point Out the Sin of Others and Omit the Sin in Ourselves

The Pharisees were livid at Jesus his disciples picking grain and Jesus healing on the Sabbath. It was a violation of their most sacred law. How did they respond? They violated that same law by plotting his death that same day. We are quick to point out the flaws, points of tension, and theological differences we have with #BlackLivesMatter. We aren’t so quick to point out the sin in ourselves around race and ethnicity.

Michelle Higgins was right when she said racism is “the side-piece or part-time love” of America and Western Evangelicalism. Look at the lack of diversity in leadership, funding, promotions, materials/resources, how cross-cultural competency is not an evaluative mechanism for effective ministry. Our evangelical seminaries still teach patterns of thought from prominent racist philosophers and theologians of centuries past (Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, and Jonathan Edwards come to mind immediately.) I am not saying we re-write them out of history but if we have to take into account if we are going to study ethics and theology written during racist time periods, we must acknowledge they will reproduce that same method of thinking in us if we don’t evaluate them correctly.

If we are going to be allergic to abortion, disagree with the #BlackLivesMatter movement because we can’t see a biblical basis, we have to also be allergic to racial injustice that is happening on a national scale here in America and in the evangelical world. Our tolerance for injustice is what produced the movement to begin with. As Christians, we are the light of the world. We are not called to criticize the darkness, but shine out light and eradicate the darkness in the name of Jesus.

What Will They Say About Us 40 Years From Now?

Tom Skinner. If you haven’t heard the name, please google him. He was a prophetic voice in the 70s and 80s as he called the North American Christian community to consider the application of the gospel through the African-American experience. His messages from Atlanta and Urbana 70 are still referenced today.

Many people are saying the same about Michelle Higgins. Both Tom and Michelle were not received well when they spoke their prophetic words. What’s interesting is how similar there messages are: hear the cries of injustice from the margins and do the work of justice. Like it or not, Michelle said some things that go unaddressed in the evangelical world—well, the mainstream evangelical world. Now what? There is a window when our response is relevant, timely, prophetic, and potent. When we miss that window, we lose momentum. Similar to the weeks after all conferences, we need follow-up to ensure we live out the gospel we confessed a few weeks ago.

What will they say about us 40 years from now? When delegates arrive for Urbana 55, will we still being asking the same questions? Will we still be asking the evangelical world to pay attention to race relations in the country as they affect our churches, our donors, our students, and our campuses? Or will we invite another speaker into our space who says what it is common on the margins but a complete surprise to the center?

Making It Practical

Awareness. Listen to Michelle’s Message again. Who is speaking (where is she coming from), what is she saying, and to whom is she speaking? Are there other Christian communicators of color you can listen to? Are they saying similar things? Check out the Black Lives Matter website. Like Nehemiah, don’t rely on second-hand information. Learn how and why the movement exists. Discover for yourself what it stands for, what you agree with and disagree with apart from news soundbites taken out of context

Action. Everyone dreams of changing the world, but no one dreams of changing themselves. Before Nehemiah set out to build Jerusalem, he didn’t just lament, he repented his sins, his family’s, and the sins of his people. What are the ways in which you have been apathetic, silent, or absent around injustices happening here in the United States?

Advocacy. I don’t agree with everything in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but I do agree with their core message: my life matters. We as Black people don’t need to tell each other that. We need non-Black people to tell other non-Black people. You may now that, but I ask, have you told anyone? If you don’t believe it’s necessary, turn on the news. There will be another shooting of an unarmed person of color in the United States in the next 26 hours. They need your voice before they lose their lives.

 

Sean Watkins
@seanisfearless

 

The Myth of Martin

2016-01-18-1453130532-1976774-MartinLutherKingspeakingMartin Luther King Day for 2016 has come and gone. Given the current racial tensions in our society and the reinterpreting of history, it’s always fascinating to me to see how Dr. King and his dream are remembered—perhaps this year more than most recent ones. I watched as people of all walks of life, economic statuses, levels of leadership, and faith backgrounds posted their favorite quotes, new memes, commitments to reconciliation, and celebration of Dr. King’s dream. We are witnessing a retelling of history where Dr. King is heralded as a hero and national leader in America. We have forgotten that while he is accepted widely today after his death, he was thoroughly rejected in life. It was Dr. King who warned America of the dangers of “white power” and “black power” and was labeled prejudice and an “Uncle Tom” for it. It was Dr. King who asked Black people not to become violent in their protests and quests for justice and was booed in some cities towards the end of his life. It was Dr. King who wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to a group of white Christian pastors who asked him to both not come to Alabama and cease involvement in the Civil Rights Movement there. It was Dr. King who spoke out against the Vietnam War. None of these items are mentioned when remember Dr. King—sorry, Rev. Dr. King. He has been reduced to a dream, a myth, a larger than life character and not the Baptist preacher who served as one of God’s prophets to a racist, segregated society. As we enter 2016, there are a few myths about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that must be clarified, not just for his legacy, but for our future as a society.

Martin was More than a Dream…He was a Man.
His famous “I Have a Dream” speech is regarded as one of the most famous sermons ever given. Robert Abernathy, after Dr. King’s assassination, had a stone engraved which quotes Genesis 37 and the story of Joseph, “Here comes the dreamer…let’s kill him and see what becomes of his dream.” After that message and long after his death, Dr. King is regarded for his dream. He dreamed of a diverse world of equality, a world where character and not skin color were the tools for evaluating a person. However, he was more than a dream.

He was a man.

timthumbHe was arrested—numerous times. He was hated by many white people in the United States—including white Christians. The Black community was not one hundred percent unified behind him. (It was only less fractured than it is today.) He did not make substantial amounts of money and therefore had significant financial hardships, had his life threatened daily, and eventually was killed for the dream he dared to tell us about.

He was a man with a fire inside of him to speak boldly and prophetically into communities, churches, and a country that were satisfied with the legal oppression of multiple groups, and the supremacy of one. He was a man that wanted to eat wherever he wanted when he got hungry, go shopping in any mall when he needed clothes, and sleep in his choice of a hotel during difficult travel seasons.

He was a man who had lived in an oppressed society. His was the dream of a man who could be free in the waking the world.

Martin was about more than Non-Violence…He was about Justice.
fee620f476cdf80ca2b50f48537f284cDr. King is the go-to Christian Black leader whenever there are racial tensions and/or riots in society. Everyone quickly finds a non-violent quote from Dr. King and calls for peaceful protests. What is omitted from historical memory is that Dr. King didn’t advocate for non-violence for the sake of non-violence. He was advocating for justice, and non-violence was the method through which he called for marginalized, oppressed Black people and their allies to fight against injustice.

There was a time in the United States when my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and every generation of my family in this country were not seen with or treated with dignity. They weren’t allowed to walk through the front doors of buildings, eat in restaurants of their choosing, have access to proper medical care, or receive a quality education that would prepare them to lead in and leave their mark on the world. There was (is?) a time in America when police could kill unarmed Black people in America without consequence. There was a time when Black people were the last hired and first fired. There was a time when some Black people in America could not vote and other Black people had nothing for which to vote.

America’s history of slavery, segregation, economic exploitation, and mass incarceration of Black people is appalling. It is not shameful for Black people to acknowledge our ancestors were slaves. It is shameful that there were systems and people who unapologetically benefited from slavery. These systems of oppression extended beyond chattel slavery to the Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Indigenous peoples to our utter historical horror and shame.

MLK2-cc_notfreelance

Rev. Dr. King did not call simply for non-violence. He called for the destruction of systems of political, economic, social, and systemic oppression through non-violent disruptive means. It’s heartbreaking to what people and systems delay change while inviting peaceful demonstrations. (Dr. King also said “Justice delayed is justice denied…Wait too often means never.”) The truth is a peaceful demonstration costs no one in power anything. However, when Blacks boycotted the bus system and other big businesses that overlooked the unheard, that’s when legal and social change came.

We should pursue non-violent avenues of justice, but not because it keeps everyone calm. We pursue non-violent means of justice because violence begets violence and as people in the subdominant group, we are outgunned, outnumbered, and out-resourced. Non-violence exposes the evil and sin in our oppressors, whereas violence exposes the evil and sin in us all.

Martin was more than a Civil Rights Leader…He was a Christian.
There are quite a few statues of Dr. King around the United States. The two that are the most striking to me are the one on campus at the University of Texas at Austin and the one in Washington, DC. The one at UT has Rev. Dr. King in his preacher’s robe, holding a bible. In both sovereignty and irony, Dr. King’s back is to the university and his hand is reaching out to East Austin which is predominately African-American (although that is currently changing because of gentrification). The statue depicts the reality of Dr. King: he was a Christian, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus which called for food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and dignity for all life on earth—including Black lives—this was his message. The statue in Washington, DC is devoid of any Christian references. He is depicted as an American leader who was widely accepted in the country and it omits the core component of his life: his faith.

Martin-Luther-King-I-Have-A-Dream-Speech-1

As a Christian, I am ever committed to not just accomplishing God’s goals, but to pursue them using God’s methods. If we pursue God’s goals without using his methods, it leads to anger, burnout, hubris, and the idolatry of self. It will lead us as Americans as it relates to our donors and not the Divine, especially in our churches and parachurch ministries. If I pursue God’s methods but I do not have God’s goal in mind—the establishment and expansion of his kingdom—then I become useless to the Lord. I am salt without flavor, a light with deep darkness. I can speak in different languages, have numerous seminary degrees, have the deepest theological and epistemological frameworks, I can give away all my money, and even suffer for the sake of the gospel—but I won’t have love.

And God is love.

We are called to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). That call only becomes difficult when my goals and methods don’t align with the Lord’s.

It used to be strange to me that Christians were so divided on issues like segregation and racism in the United States 50 years ago. However, as I look at the appalling silence of Christians today around issues of injustice in America today, including but not limited to all the components that led to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement beginning, it is no longer a surprise. What I have seen from too many of my fellow Americans and too many of my fellow evangelical Christians is that if it does not affect me on a personal level, then it is not worth paying attention to. If it’s a story that is not common to my experience, then not only do I have the right to not believe it, I can also dismiss it.

Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was more than a myth. He was a child of God and preacher of the gospel of Jesus and, for a brief time, he proclaimed that good news on the earth. It wasn’t regarded as good news by everyone who heard it, only those who dared to make his dream their dream and ultimately, to make that dream a reality.

50 years from now, I suspect the laws in the country will have changed again. Crime will still be illegal and the guilty will be punished. I hope that law enforcement who break the law will also face penalties to which they are called to enforce. I do think there will be a re-telling of history that the #BlackLivesMatter Movement was this beautiful, peaceful, well received national movement that helped reshape America into a brighter future. If I am still kicking, I will be good and old, but I will remember the movement the same way I remember Dr. King—not as a dream, but as a man who so desperately believed in what God said he was, he was willing to fight politicians and pastors, critics and fellow Christians until the vision God he saw in the Scriptures was the reality our children live here on earth.

 

The App

  1. Read Why We Can’t Wait by: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. Ask an elder, preferably one of color or one who has been displaced, what it was like to witness the Civil Rights Movement. Ask them what are the similarities of then and today. (If you can’t talk to the living, read their words. Google Howard Thurman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisolm).
  3. Ask yourself, “What story have I heard” about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Begin the journey on discovering if the story you know is the story of what really happened.

 

Sean M. Watkins
@seanisfearless

Why Michelle Higgins Matters

I love a good story. The best ones are filled with action, suspense, drama, and a dash of romance. We love stories. TV Shows, movies, novels, comic books, reminiscing on old times with friends…we love good stories, both to hear them and to tell them. However, most of the stories we hear have a happy ending. The hero saves the day, the guy gets the girl, good triumphs over evil, but the real world is often not like that. There are far too many places where there is injustice rather than justice. Far too many places where schools are pipelines to prison rather than environments for higher learning and critical thinking—primarily because of a lack of resources. There are far too many cities where people are afraid of the police rather than grateful they are there to serve and protect. Far too many places where stories are often told, but they are only one part of the story.

The story of Black people in America is rarely told. My story is rarely told. The theme at Urbana15 this year is, “What story will you tell?” I’d like to ask, “Which story have you heard?”

At Urbana 15, Michelle Higgins told my story.

We got an invitation to step into a Black church December 28th. Michelle Higgins, an educated black woman in an interracial marriage with bi-racial children, stood in front of 16,000 people and many more watching at home and told the painful story of what it is like to live at the margins in America as Black people. She shared about the implications of colonialization from the West, from Eurocentric explorers to Christian missionaries. She confronted the evils of white supremacy and their far reaching implications from history into our present society. She shared about our tendency to spend money on the things that matter to us in different parts of the world—even if that means ignoring hungry, poor, and ill in the cities in which we live. (There is nothing wrong with caring for places overseas, but not if it comes at the expense of people across the street.) In short, she summed up the confluence of events that led to #BlackLivesMatter being birthed.

Imagine watching the news and hearing about an armed gunman with criminal history robbing a bank and is killed by law enforcement. Imagine hearing an unarmed man is also mistaken for that gunman, and he too, is killed. Imagine your nephew, your brother, your husband, your son is mistaken for that gunman and they are killed by law enforcement. If someone you know and love was wrongly convicted, condemned, or killed, it would produce a different type of fire in us to see justice done. If the law is broken, there are consequences. If innocent people haven’t broken the law, but are still being killed, we should—and hopefully would—find that offensive, yet we do not. There is no fire, no call for justice, but silence and acceptance. The debates rage if the punishment fits the crime, but no one is commenting when there’s punishment without crime.

Yet, it happens every day. From the Charleston Nine to John Crawford, there have been too many instances in the last year, and even more over the last few decades, where unarmed Black men and women have been killed without provocation or consequence. #BlackLivesMatter is not a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for criminal activity. It is a desire to see justice be lived out in our society.

I remember a 16 year-old Ethan Couch, the son of a wealthy white family in Texas, got drunk, lost control of his vehicle, and plowed into a group of people. He killed four and injured nine.

He was sentenced to therapy.

Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old boy, was playing with an air gun in a park.

He was sentenced to death.

No one said a word to him. No one offered this 12-year old boy first aid after he was fired upon.

I remember that when I have been stopped by a police officer, I have been asked for my license, proof of insurance, if I have any drugs or weapons in the car, and if they have permission to search my vehicle. The last time I was stopped was because I had a “delayed turn signal.” (I was waiting at a red light, and did not put on my turn signal until the light turned green, which is not illegal.) Most of my white friends don’t get stopped by police because of non-illegal activity. I doubt if they have been asked if they have weapons or drugs in the car. It happens regularly to me, to my people. It’s a part of my story.

Winston Churchill said it best, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.” The story being told in America is only one part of the story. We often only hear the story of the survivor, and the survivor is often the person from the dominant culture. The deceased can’t tell their story, and the story we tell about the deceased is sometimes even more offensive.

In Genesis 22, God calls for Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It’s a story of tremendous faith. Abraham waited one hundred years for a son and that son was the key to God’s promise. Isaac had to have to faith that despite the circumstances he saw and experienced, his father would protect him. (It’s also a story that’s a bit frightening if you are a son—who wants to be killed by their dad?!?) God stops Abraham at the last moment as the call was really a test of his faith. There is a ram that is randomly stuck in a bush that is sacrificed in Isaac’s place. When this story is taught in churches and ministry contexts around the country, it is taught from vantage point of Abraham and/or Isaac. It is never taught from the perspective of the ram.

Not theologically but culturally speaking, Black people in America are the ram. We are killed while others live. We are killed while others forget. We are killed while others ignore. We are killed while others are unaware. We are killed while others learn but do not change. The ram is trivial in the text. It is a means to an end, an expendable commodity.

I am not an expendable commodity. My people are not expendable commodities. We have been made in the image of God and are worthy of that dignity being bestowed upon us—yet, it is not.

If you think I am making it up, google another Isaac. His name was Isaac Woodard. He was an African-American World War II veteran, who was returning from the war, and while he was still in uniform was arrested the police for no reason, was beaten so badly it left him permanently blinded, and like John Crawford some 70 years later, there were no consequences.

His story has been told, but most haven’t heard it.

I know there will be pushback from Michelle Higgins message. Some people loved it (I am in that camp), others have questions. Some heard hot button topics like “abortion” and blacked out, preparing a defense for their stance on the issues.

I would like to invite us to hear a story we may not be used to. It’s a story with similar dates and times, but the viewpoint is different. We may be surprised to hear what is happening at the margins in our society, mostly because we haven’t heard stories from the margins, because we have not been taught to listen to those stories.

So, again, I ask, “What story have you heard?” Listen to my story, our story. The cup of endurance and silence from marginalized people in society has ended.

There is another story. It’s a good story, often told, but rarely understood. The gospel of Jesus is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of our Lord undoing the curse of sin and evil in our world, reconciling people to himself and each other. The gospel of Jesus does not omit the past or avoid. If the gospel did do that, we wouldn’t even refer to the gospel or the bible, as both tell the story of past events. We recognize the gospel story shapes our present and impacts our future. If we truly believe the gospel, if we truly believe Jesus came to set the oppressed free, then our response cannot merely be avoidance or silence. We must respond as believers. We must listen to the marginalized, the oppressed, the overlooked, and the unheard. In the Scriptures, when someone screamed for help, the crowd ignored them and told them to be quiet. Jesus saw the disruption, the disturbance. He changed the perspective of the crowd, and he healed the person. If we follow Jesus, we must listen to the cries of the people who chant “Black Lives Matter.”

They are asking for our help.

I am asking for your help.

Making It Practical

  1. Apply Christena Cleveland’s message to us at Urbana. “When someone says, ‘My life matters,’ our response should be, ‘Tell me more.’” Have listening, rather than rejecting posture, when hearing people’s stories.
  2. Awareness, Action, Advocacy. Many of you may need to raise your awareness of what is happening in society today. Tons of information is available to us. Learn your history, my history, our history. Learn the whole story. Discover what action steps you want to take (authors like Brenda Salter-McNeil, Christina Cleveland, Tom Skinner, Carl Ellis, Howard Thurman) have wrestled with data and given actionable steps. Please, please, advocate for us. Urbana 15 Worship Leader Erna Hackett said it best, “Black people don’t need to tell each other their lives matter. They need non-black people to say each other black lives matter.”

I implore you, when you see that phrase or hear someone chant, “Black Lives Matter,” don’t merely pictured a troubled ghetto youth, a caricature from Law and Order, or a slanted depiction from Fox News.

Picture me.

The cry for Black Lives Matter is a cry for my life to matter.

It isn’t just any story.

It’s my story.

 

Sean M. Watkins
@seanisfearless

 

Ferguson, Part 3: Power and Privilege Among Evangelicals

Good Ole American History
We Americans take great pride in our history. I remember learning about the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, and great presidents like Abraham Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys. Slavery and Civil Rights were also included in one quick chapter, with references only to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Apart from those two, most of the people that were impactful to US history were white—or so I was taught. Middle and high school history books continued the typical American narrative, celebrated Dr. King and his leadership as though the country was always in support of him, championed our great nation for its desire to end slavery. A few books mentioned American slavery not being that bad. My freshman year of college at the University of Texas at Austin, my history professor literally said in class, “Black people were better off as slaves; they received housing, food, and care.” She recanted very quickly when she saw the rage building in my eyes and the eyes of my black classmates.

Learning about Black History in America
That rage was building because what I learned in history class and what older Black people told me didn’t align. It is incredibly interesting that there are radically different interpretations of history. Granted, history is not a record of everything that has ever happened, but rather a record of the major events that changed the course of humanity.

Winston Churchill remarked years ago, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.” It took me a few years to wrap my mind around white supremacy and white privilege, but the way in which we tell history is a very clear example. From the founding of the country, right up until the present, most of it is told from the dominate culture perspective. This would be perfectly fine if people from other ethnic groups weren’t also writing, or if the dominate interpretation of history included the ramifications of colonialization (read destruction of pre-existing communities), but it doesn’t.

American history is told from a privileged perspective, and so is much of Western evangelical theology.

Learning Christian Theology Mirrors Learning American History
I was raised in a Black Baptist church. It introduced me to the Bible, and the God of the Bible. The people looked like me, sang songs that resonated with my soul, and served as a model for Christian community. When I came to college, and my faith became serious. I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship through a Black student chapter, and I eventually came on staff with IV, but through it all, I have noticed something wasn’t right.

Words like “evangelical,” “theology,” “ecclesiology,” and “eschatology” were being passed around as common as conjunctions in sentences. At first, I thought I simply needed to learn the language of the faith or the organization. (That Black church I grew up in was big on discipleship, evangelism and missions but they didn’t use the language my InterVarsity peers were using.)

I felt compelled to learn “theology,” so I started reading. Recently, I enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary to enhance my theological framework…and it happened again.

Every single theologian we are reading about is white.

Not just white, white and male.

My Christian theological education is mirroring my education in American history—it’s consistently and mostly told from the perspective of the dominate culture, which sadly automatically means the marginalization of people of color. I am a firm believer in learning from people who are different than myself—I think that’s true wisdom. However, I am perplexed when theologians of color are omitted but [racist] writers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel are mandatory. “Negroes are inferior to whites,” and “the human race is perfected in whites” are recorded beside their philosophy and theology, and they are not alone. I have asked in my professors about racism in theology and their responses have been largely the same, “Yes, much of Christian theology has been written from the perspective of white men, and we need other voices.”

With the exception of James Cone—and even he is presented with disclaimers—theologians of color are largely omitted. It’s odd that Black people, Black Christians, Black Evangelical Christians have been largely dissatisfied with the responses of evangelical churches and ministries not just around Black Lives Matter, but racial disparities throughout the United States. One could argue the theologians we study largely didn’t address race and ethnicity in their times which is probably why evangelicals don’t know how to respond to issues like immigration or #BlackLivesMatter. Phrases like “controlling the narrative” or “that’s your perspective” sometimes are true and can be helpful, but too often are really attempts to influence what information is presented in order to give the false appearance that legitimate progress has been made when in reality, we have only made behavioral changes, not addressed systemic issues that have lasted for generations. That’s power (determining who will be heard and who will be silenced) and privilege (being able to live in your own world without having to interact with any sub-dominate groups).

Enter Ferguson, Missouri.

Being a Western Evangelical Means Being a White Man
While in Ferguson, attending the National Black Scholars Gathering, for the first time in years, I found myself in a room largely of Black Christian theologians. Most of them had Masters, Doctorates, and/or PhDs from evangelical institutions, and several taught at evangelical seminaries.

I decided since InterVarsity paid for my trip, I wasn’t going to throw them under the bus. I am paying Fuller Seminary, so I decided I would toss them out there to see what happened. I explained to a panel of five Black evangelical seminary professors I just completed my first year of seminary, was learning a great deal, and while the classrooms were diverse, I was confused by the lack of diversity in theological authorship. “One could easily conclude that Black people have not written theologically given most of their writings are not included in our course syllabi,” I said. “However, this room is filled with Black theologians with doctorates and PhDs. I know you all have published books, that’s what you do—you write. Help me understand why there are so few authors of color presented in Evangelical circles.”

The answer from the panel of professors floored me.

Young man, the goal of being an Evangelical in America is to turn you into a white man…Keep in mind the source material. If the authors we are called to study wrote without consideration of ethnic groups around them, then it stands to reason the foundation of Western Evangelicalism is devoid of diversity intentionally. You are assuming Black scholarship does not exist. It does exist, however, as is the case with Black people, our perspective has been dismissed as irrelevant.

The panel of five one-by-one began to share what it was like attending evangelical ministries and institutions where diversity in authors was minimal and that after they graduated, they had to de-colonize their minds and contextualize the gospel they had spent years going to school to learn about. There was common agreement that the Black church has its roots in evangelicalism, but that evangelicalism today has been hijacked by Western ideologies that seek to colonize rather than contextualize people—and avoid discipleship around ethnicity at all costs, especially in the dominate culture. The group went on to say becoming a white man wasn’t meant to be bad, but rather the end result is a lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the diverse issues around us.

American History and Western Evangelical Christianity are largely taught by those in power from a perspective of privilege. If people are not able to assimilate to this model, they are pushed from the mainstream to the margins. This is also evidenced by the lack of diversity in our evangelical organizations and seminaries around the United States. The struggle to recruit and retain people of color reflects the systemic issues of minimizing different voices that have existed since those African slaves appeared off the coast of Virginia in 1619. Theologians of color exist. They either are not being hired or they don’t want the job.

The Great Reverse Migration
I have noticed a recent trend with my Black Christian friends. They are starting to leave behind those die-hard dreams of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation that they learned from dominate culture evangelical settings. Let me rephrase, they aren’t leaving those dreams behind, but the interpretations of those dreams they have been taught. They are leaving large dominate culture churches and ministries that have multi-ethnicity as a value as long as it means diversity in the room and not how we live out the gospel. They are returning to Black churches, frantically searching for Black theologians or any theologian that has written from the perspective of the marginalized, oppressed, or forgotten. They are searching for communities that care about “the least of these.”

Getting Practical:

  • Read diversely. Check out: Howard Thurman, Carl Ellis, Tom Skinner, Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Jacquelyn Grant, Russell Yee, Gustavo Gutierrez, Charles Christian, and Daniel White Hodge for starters.
  • Listen diversely. If God is birthing a heart in you for multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation, listen more than you speak. Listen to the voices that are not at the table, and the voices who are leaving the table.
  • Accept change in one of two ways: repentance of previous behaviors and systemic issues or abandon the goal of racial reconciliation. This emerging generation is serious about changing oppressive structures and systems. We must change/repent, not simply apologize for benefiting from the broken systems in place.
  • Pray like crazy. God’s kingdom to come, His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Sean
@seanisfearless

A Response to Dr. Ben Carson’s Misfire on #BlackLivesMatter

Dear Dr. Carson,

Thank you immensely for your taking the time to write a response to Black Lives Matter protesters around the country, and specifically to young ladies that disrupted Bernie Sanders’ speech not too long ago. While you are running for president, it does send a major signal—a good signal—to us millennials that our leaders are not so far removed from the real world that they cannot speak to the realities many people struggle with day to day. You are campaigning to demonstrate you can lead the nation, and it means a great deal that you can demonstrate concern on our segment of our society. As my elder, I am grateful for the perspective you bring and I am always willing to listen to and learn from those who have gone ahead of me.

However, Dr. Carson, respectfully, I disagree with your editorial published by USAToday. It concerns me greatly that as a presidential candidate and as a person of color in the United States you would categorize systemic issues the Black Lives Matter Movement are seeking to raise as merely the results of self-inflicted suffering through action and inaction. While I do not agree with everything the protestors are saying or doing, they do have my attention and—for the most part—my support. While they may have your attention, I do not believe you understand where they, where we are coming from. If you will permit me, Dr. Carson, I’d like to respond to your “concerns.”

First, you state “the notion that some lives matter less than others is meant to enrage.” I do agree with you: it should enrage. It has enraged African-Americans, people of color, and our white brothers and sisters every week we see an unarmed Black person killed at the hands of law enforcement around the country. It has enraged the African-American community for centuries. (Dr. King said it best, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” Now is that time, Dr. Carson.) That anger, however, is not “distracting us from what matters most.” Rather, it is unifying us. Have you ever stopped to consider why so many people across ethnic, geographic, and socio-economic lines are rallying together around the country and even the world? People are disgusted to learn that after all these years, the complaints and fears African-Americans and so many people of color have been raising are true. Not just people of color, but people at the bottom of the socio-economic latter. It isn’t “a notion” that our lives matter less.

They simply do.

We are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, and convicted with higher sentences than our white counterparts. There are numerous news reports, Justice Department results, and personal videos on Google that show law enforcement using every possible tactic to safely disable someone of the dominate culture but engage lethal force when in proximity to a Black person. Again, this isn’t a notion. It’s a statistical fact.

Second, you state “unjust treatment from police didn’t fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness.” Again, you are right. Police didn’t create ghettos, slums, and impoverished neighborhoods. The United States government did that with its legal marginalization of people of color and housing discrimination laws for almost a century. That happened then. What’s happening now is gentrification in those inner city neighborhoods, the militarization of law enforcement to govern those same neighborhoods, and the building of bigger prisons that are privatized—which requires high occupancy to yield high profit. Guess who your police officers have been trained to target? People living in those same neighborhoods. What police are doing is helping to maintain the hopelessness in the hood—outside the hood as well. I agree that not all police officers are bad and not everyone in the hood is innocent, but it is difficult to have hope when you are routinely stopped by law enforcement looking to get promoted rather than serve and protect you and your community. It’s difficult to maintain hope when investigations reveal police officers and judges have illegally detained, arrested, and wrongly convicted innocent people. Watching friends and family who are innocent until proven guilty–excuse me, guilty and rarely proven to actually be innocent in life or after wrongful death—can erode hope every quickly. Hopelessness comes when you are evicted from the only house your family has lived in for generations by descendants of the people that forced your family into that neighborhood in the first place. Hopelessness comes when you are

My mother is 70, a few years older than you. She had a drug addiction, but she fought it vigorously and won. She also taught me the value of education. Like you, I have seen drugs and heard gunshots, and like you, I made it out of the hood. But the difference between the two of us is I didn’t forget where I came from.

There are people living in the inner city. Not statistics, not menaces to society, not lazy individuals (about 47%) looking to live off of the government, but people. People who want an education, a higher paying salary, benefits for their families, and they want to have peace in their minds that when a cop pulls behind them, they won’t end up dead for failing to use a turn signal. I think perhaps in your attempt to demonstrate your “blackness,” or your life in the hood, you may have forgotten to practice some humility whereby you listen to the concerns of the people in the streets rather than merely diagnosing their behavior as cause of their problems. Library cards alone cannot combat systemic issues. Michael Brown had a high school diploma. Sandra Bland had a Bachelor’s degree. Both are gone.

Now, Dr. Carson, for your points:

– Let’s head down to the board of education…and tell them we will give them more government funds than we do to militarize the police! Please don’t place the blame for “destroyed black lives” solely on our teachers. They work hard, Dr. Carson. Many of them don’t make enough money to pay all their bills—including their undergraduate debt from the degree which enables them to teach. Perhaps you should head over to Washington and ask our elected officials to raise teacher’s salaries and grants given to provide a better quality of education for kids.

– Let’s confront the entertainment industry…specifically the owners and presidents and CEOs of companies in the entertainment industry. Sex sells in our society today, Dr. Carson. It is sad, but true. Yes, gangsta rap does negatively portray Black men and women, however, since we make up less than 15% of the population, it is impossible to conclude Black people—or supporters of the Black Lives Matter Movement—are responsible for this and that our lack of attendance in the theatre can transform this issue. Perhaps you could use your influence to ask the entertainment industry (that includes producers of movies, music, and television shows) to write characters and hire people of color to star in roles where they aren’t holding a gun and a bag of weed.

– Let’s go down to city hall…and ask for cross-cultural training for law enforcement. I grew up in 3rd Ward in Houston, Texas. I went to Ferguson for the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. I was stopped a few months back by a police officer for a “delayed turn signal” whereby I didn’t have my turn signal on the entire time I sat a red light. He then asked me if I had any guns or drugs in the car—I didn’t, by the way. Most people in the hood aren’t afraid of their neighbors. We are afraid of the police. Hopefully, that’s the message you want us to say at City Hall.

– Let’s go over to the crack house…wow. Wow. You’re a doctor. You know better than this, Dr. Carson. Are you not taught that addressing the behavior, the issues on the surface will not lead to long term change? Yes, tear down the crack house, but before you get back in your luxury car with a smile of victory, ask: Why do people in urban communities turn to drugs? What are they attempting to escape from? What environmental issues have led them to conclude drugs is their only means of coping with their lives and the world? While you are wrestling with those questions, go over Washington, D.C. and ask our elected officials to end “The War on Drugs,” or better yet, restore it towards its original intent, rehabilitation of drug users rather than lining the pockets of the wealthy.

– We should go to Washington…to ask why the war on poverty failed. Was it because the money wasn’t present or because the money was given to the wealthy who were supposed to create programs to help the poor but instead kept it for themselves? I encourage you, with humility, to question the people the programs were intended to help before you gut them completely. Perhaps the problems can be solved at the top without harming the homeless, the poor, and the food insecure at the bottom.

– We should talk to the Democratic Party…and them how so many people of color have consistently voted Democratic over Republican. I am a Christian. I don’t affiliate with either party. There are elements of both I agree with, and others I am completely allergic to. It is clear, however, the Democratic Party at least sees the poor and people of color. The Republican Party does not.

– Finally we need to go over to the Republican Party….and ask them to come into the 21st Century. You currently have presidential candidates that think women need to stay home and raise babies. You have candidates that struggle to acknowledge racism still exists in America, and Fox News only affirmed that asinine assumption by asking one question about Black Lives Matter during debate. Your front runner, Donald Trump, has managed to offend women, Mexico and the Mexican community in the U.S., African-Americans, and every other marginalized group. With every racist and sexist comment he makes, he gets further ahead in the polls. It seems to me, Dr. Carson that while you are using stereotypes to define the problems in the Black community, your friend, Mr. Trump, is using similar stereotypes as his presidential campaign.

I am surprised your critique of the race issues in the country lie largely in the actions and inactions of poor people and people of color. I hope you will take the time to listen to our concerns before you make comments this offensive again.

I fear if you aren’t willing to listen to us now, there may be a peaceful protest headed your way, at least to get your attention.
Sincerely,

Sean Watkins

@seanisfearless

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,829 other followers