Day 22: Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2) {31 Days of #WOKE}

Nikole Hannah-Jones is my hero. Haven’t heard of her? Well, do any Google search including the words “school segregation” or “school integration” and you will likely find an article written by her.

The first time I heard of Nikole was on a This American Life Podcast called “The Problem We All Live With,” a two part-er about the benefits of school integration. (If you haven’t listened to it, please download it right now). Having grown up in an aggressive desegregation program in the public school system in Tampa, Florida, then teaching in the city of Chicago, I felt like someone finally outfitted my blurry eyes with the correct prescription glasses for my horrible vision.

I could see.

Since listening to that podcast and a few others, I have been on my own journey towards sight. But I recently heard her on another NPR podcast, Fresh Air, this time talking about intentionally sending her own daughter to a segregated school.

I surprised my family the day I heard that podcast. I listened while chopping apples for oatmeal while my husband got the children dressed.

“YES!” I yelled out. “YES!” ‘

“What?” my husband said, coming down the stairs with our two-year-old on his hip.

“This.” I said, pointing to the voice on my phone. “Her.” I pushed pause and hit rewind for the fourth time. You have to hear this,” I said. Nikole’s voice rang into the kitchen.

“And I say this — and it always feels weird when I say it as a parent, because a lot of other parents look at you a little like you’re maybe not as good of a parent — I don’t think she’s deserving of more than other kids. I just don’t. I think that we can’t say “This school is not good enough for my child” and then sustain that system. I think that that’s just morally wrong. If it’s not good enough for my child, then why are we putting any children in those schools?”

My husband looked at me quizzically. “That last part,” I said. “Listen again.”

If it’s not good enough for my child, then WHY are we putting ANY children in those schools?

***

My first year teaching, in 2002, I taught in a school that was 100 percent African American. The students there had no memory of a white student ever attending. When I taught there, I drove from the diverse north side of the city to the west side of Chicago, a neighborhood called North Lawndale with very few white residents. You can read about my first year teaching back on day two, but I ended up substitute teaching in a different school in the north side every day for two months after teaching in Lawndale. I eventually taught for four years in another north side school in a mainly white area.

Though I’d hardly call the north side schools flashy, I could see a marked difference in the amount of resources available to the schools who had majority white populations. Parents were more involved, more demanding and had a say in the governance of the school. They knew how to pull strings.

As a teacher, you feel trapped in the system. You work hard, love the faces in front of you and fight for justice in your small square. But as a (white) parent, I feel I am holding more of the cards. Now I can choose. Where do I want to send my children? How involved do I want to be in the school? What “rights” do I want to fight for?

I have the power to stay or go.

But I am not only a (former) teacher and current parent, I am also a follower of Christ. So in that way, shouldn’t my demands be different? Shouldn’t my view of my neighbor shift? Shouldn’t my faith move mountains and my love destroy walls?

Deep down, do I believe my children deserve more than other children? And if I find that voice whispering deep in my subconscious, do I have the courage to confront it and ask where it is coming from?

Things get real when it comes to our kids.

Here are some questions I’ve been grappling with lately:

Would I be willing to send my children to a failing school, trusting that they would get enough of what’s lacking from the ways our family would supplement their education?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school where they would be the minority (which will remain hypothetical in my case right now, since the city where we live is majority white)?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school in an unsafe neighborhood?

And if I answer “no,” to any of these, would I be willing to back up my answer with the Bible? Would I have the courage to ask “why” I wouldn’t be willing–from a Jesus-loving/following point of view?

I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective on all of this, so join the conversation in the comments section. I may attempt to address these questions in the days and weeks to come.

***

Here are some other articles by Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, for The New York Times Magazine (June 9, 2016)

Segregation Now, for ProPublica (fall down the ultimate rabbit hole and get lost in the comments on this one!)

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

A Fellow Failed Missionary {a review of ‘Assimilate or Go Home’}

As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance.Missionaries are the elite. Sometimes assumed to have the “highest calling” a Christian can have, they are asked to speak at the pulpit, gather small groups in crowded living rooms, share color-saturated slides of exotic peoples and lands, put out glossy monthly newsletters and receive money from well-wishers. They are the darlings of the church—proof that those sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings do, in fact, care about the lost. And at the very least, the pew-sitters go themselves for a week or two to sidle up to and admire the work these long-term warriors are doing on the front lines.


I should know.

I’m a recovering missionary myself.

So when I came across the work of D.L. Mayfield recently, I felt an instant bond and got my hands on her new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith as quickly as I could. I was not disappointed.

Having written for McSweeney’s, Christianity Today, Relevant, Geez, The Toast, and Conspire!, among others, Mayfield is an experienced story-teller. This, her first book, is a collection of candid, wry essays that illustrate her lofty aspirations to save communities of refugees she entrenched herself among in America. Though she does not berate herself per se, she humbly concludes each snapshot of her do-gooder attempts by admitting that the results were rarely as she hoped.  As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance. Instead of making converts, she was reminded of the impoverishment of her own soul. 

Through heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, stories, she begins to internalize the truth that Henri Nouwen proclaimed, that “When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs.”[1] Ministry as she knows it is turned on its head as she discovers that the person who most needs saving is herself.

***

As a person who was also “called to missions,” I lived six months in Uganda, taught in an inner city school in Chicago and served five years in China. I can relate to many of the struggles Danielle wrestles with in her book. Like her, as a teenager I drank from a steady stream of missionary biographies, impassioned sermons and pleas to be “sold out and radical” for Jesus (which always meant selling everything, rejecting white picket fences and secretly judging anyone else who didn’t feel similarly called). I did the Christian college thing, went to the hard places and tried to live the radical life. But then I was called somewhere I never intended to be: right back where I started.

It wasn’t until I returned to the “normal” life of the “uncalled” that I began to understand the extent of my own poverty as I no longer embodied the shiny Christian label of “missionary.” I was just me.

***

In a recent interview on the podcast, Relief, put out by The Englewood Review of Books, Mayfield states that her new goal in life is no longer to save the world, but is now “to save her own people, the evangelical do-gooders.” While the book spotlights her own misplaced motives, she indirectly points out the deficiencies in white evangelical Christianity that seek to be generous without the commitment of long-term relationship, hospitable without being willing to live among the poor or bold in evangelism without regard for the culture, language or background of those they are trying to serve.  

Assimilate or Go Home is a necessary read for any and all who aspire to be the “do-gooders” and world changers. Similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s fictional work about a bumbling missionary family in Africa, The Poisonwood Bible, I would venture to say that this should be in every do-gooder’s library as a study in humility and even, at times, a study in what NOT to do.


So in Mayfield, I’ve found a kindred spirit. She is another bent, broken, humbled and slowly maturing follower of Jesus who is realizing that the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way backward, and the way to life is through death–to herself, her dreams and her propensity to make herself the hero of her story.

***

“The Way of Jesus is radically different.
It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.
It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place.”[2]
~Henri Nouwen

***



[1] Nouwen, Henri. “August 19.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins, 1997. Print.
[2] Nouwen, Henri. “June 28.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins. Print.

~~~

Buy the book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and check out Danielle’s blog!

~~~

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21 Ways to Live Counter-culturally



After living in China five years, I came back to the U.S. drinking hot water, line-drying all my clothes, and being shocked that I was expected to wait in lines instead of moving as a mob as we did in China. But living abroad changed me at the soul level as well, so I didn’t want to jump right back into the same life I lived before.

 Lately, I’ve been brainstorming ways to live counter-culturally in our western culture of excess and materialism.

The following list is not meant to cast judgment (because the last thing we need is more guilt over not “doing” enough). But in grace, I want to invite you to intentionally consider ways that we can live more counter-culturally. I personally want to live according to the ideals of Jesus instead of just floating along in culture’s stream.

Here are 21 ways to live more counter-culturally with a few resources listed below some of the topics (not in any particular order). I’ll be expanding on many of these in the months to come, so be sure to subscribe to emails or follow me on Facebook or Twitter so you don’t miss out on the discussion!

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Buy second-hand clothes, cars, toys and furniture.




The True Cost, a documentary now on Netflix, revolutionized the way I think about my clothes.  Now I’m attempting to buy as much as possible second-hand. Here are some ways to do that (besides Craigslist or Ebay):

Clothing consignment stores (buy & sell): Once Upon a Child (kids), Clothes Mentor (women)

Online used clothing (buy & sell): ThredUp (women & children), Kidizen (children)

Article: 35 Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands that are Betting Against Fast Fashion


2. Prioritize getting out of debt.

Financial Peace University has many resources to help with this.


3. Have significantly less (or no!) toys.



Book: Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, has a great section on kids’ toys.

Articles:

“Why Fewer Toys Will Actually Benefit Your Kids,” by Joshua Becker

“Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (And Why They Won’t Get Them Back,” by Ruth Soukup (and her follow-up post one year later)


4. Live in a smaller home (and have kids share bedrooms).

Cheaper to buy, less to clean and maintain.

“Why parents are choosing to have kids share rooms even when there’s space, by Danielle Braff for The Chicago Tribune


5. Have just one car.

Not possible for everyone, but certainly for many!


6. Don’t just give out of your surplus (if you go to church, why stop at a 10% tithe?).

Ask yourself: Does my breath catch a bit when I give?


7. (Especially if you’re white) Educate yourself about the race problems in the United States.

As a very basic start:

PodcastBlack & White: Racism in America, The Liturgists

Book: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

Article: How White Privilege Affects 8 People of Color on a Day-to-Day Basis


8. Use your credit card like a debit card (don’t spend money you don’t have).



SNL skit: “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford” (with Steve Martin & Amy Poehler)

Articles:

20 Ways Americans Are Blowing Their Money (2014, USA Today)

2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study (referenced by Huffington post)


9. Have a routine of rest and Sabbath.



Scraping Raisins blog post: Sabbath Rhythms


10. Purge/declutter frequently.

Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (you can read my review here)


11. Avoid cable T.V. (especially commercials!)–or don’t have a T.V. at all.


12. Seek actual friendships with people who are different from you.

Scraping Raisins post: The Ugly Truth about Diversity


13. Read more books.



Podcast: What Should I Read Next? (Anne Bogel)

Blog: Modern Mrs. Darcy (Anne Bogel)

Site: Goodreads


14. Have personal and house rules about technology.

Scraping Raisins post: Overcoming Smartphone Addiction


15. Have an exchange student or international student live with you.



Here’s a post about our experience: When the Nations Come to You

16. Think about what you’re putting in landfills. Buy in bulk. Use reusable containers.

40 Ways to Go Greener at Home…Besides Just Recycling, by Tsh Oxenreider


17. Prioritize people.

Scraping Raisins posts: When I Forget to Notice People and White People are Boring


18. Be a front yard person instead of an inside or backyard person (get to know your neighbors).



Blogger Kristin Schlle set up a turquoise table in her front yard to build community in her neighborhood. You can check out her story here.


19. Be open to adopt a child, be a foster parent or join Safe Families.

Safe Families is a program some of my friends have done where kids live with you temporarily so they don’t have to go into the foster care system.


20. Sponsor a child internationally.

I’ve participated in Compassion International before, so I can vouch that they are legit. I also have relationships with an organization in Uganda called Focus that is doing really great work with college students and slum children in Kampala.


21. Practice hospitality and opening your home to others (even if it isn’t always pretty).

Check out If Gathering

~~~


Additional Resources:

Websites:

The Minimalists, The Art of Simple, Becoming Minimalist

Podcasts:

The Minimalists, The Simple Show (The Art of Simple), Shalom in the City

Books:

Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne; 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker


~~~


Which of these would you like to read more about? 

I have some ideas and research in the works, but would love to hear your opinions! 

~~~

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