Day 17: Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}

 

By Tasha Burgoyne | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

(This post first appeared on Tasha’s site Coffee and Kimchi in July of 2016, but is still very relevant now. She shared it with me recently and agreed to republish it in this series. Be sure you head over and check out her site!)

My Existence: Formerly Against the Law

50 years ago, the country I was born in had laws in place to prevent my birth. With a righteous-sounding title like “The Racial Integrity Act,” racism was formalized and normalized in the United States of America, and up until 1967 there were still 15 states that had anti-miscegenation laws.

Miscegenation means, “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.”  Does that make anyone else want to cringe? So, it was illegal for a white person to marry a non-white person.

The first time I read about The Racial Integrity Act of 1924, I cried. Evil, oppressive and dark, the laws were similar to the Nuremberg Laws in Germany, “laws to protect German blood and honor,” that led to the Holocaust itself.  Some of the very same ideology and blatant racism was written into the American laws to “protect whiteness.”

I find it ironic that some of America’s beloved Hollywood films throughout history have made a point to further vilify some villains on screen with thick German accents (and this still happens today). Yet, America had Nazi-like laws in place long after the Holocaust.

It wasn’t until June of 1967, because of Loving vs. Virginia, that the Supreme Court decided to remove all existing laws that prohibit interracial marriage. My parents were married in 1971 in California. While it had been legal in California since 1948, it’s hard for me to comprehend that in many states, just 4 years prior, my parents’ marriage would have been illegal.

Can you imagine for a second what it feels like to know that there were laws in your own country to prohibit someone like you from existing?

100% Both

As a mixed person, I am not one or the other; I am both. 100% both. I have spent time wishing I was one or the other. I have spent years ashamed of one or the other, or the fact that I was both.

Today, I refuse to linger in that division. No matter what laws have been removed or put into place, and though progress has been made, reconciliation is the only thing that I believe will bring true, lasting change. In the simplest terms, reconciliation starts with moving towards different in honesty and humility 

As a mixed person, my own personal reconciliation has had to begin with moving towards the different inside of me.

This takes on even more significance when I consider that mixed race individuals are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. How will we model reconciliation for future biracial generations? What example will they give an even more mixed generation that follows them?

After the horrific events that took place in our country last week, I realize that I am no expert on racism. I can’t speak to the black experience as if I know what my African American brothers and sisters have long endured because of institutional racism. However, I can speak-up for the value of life and the fact that black lives have been under attack and oppressed by systemic racism for as long as our country has had a history.

I can’t speak to what it must feel like to be a white police officer in our country, working under the weight of reverse racism. However, I can speak-up against reverse racism and the fact that it has attacked our nation by taking the lives of those who serve Americans in one of the most courageous ways. What I have personally experienced as a biracial Asian American pales in comparison to these recent heart-breaking tragedies and the people connected to them.

But here’s the thing. What took place this past week isn’t a new thing. The evil of racism has been here, laying right under the surface of everyday life, kept alive in part, because so many of us avoid moving towards different and the responsibility of reconciliation.

I have been told that I should just let little things go when it comes to racist remarks or incidents. People have said “most aren’t that way,” or, “they didn’t really mean it like that,” as a way to brush off seemingly little offenses. I have tried those responses and I wish they worked. They don’t work. Brushing things off in order to avoid the hard work of reconciliation feeds and waters the thick, growing weed of racism.

A “good” kid made slanted eye faces at me when I was little, and an entire generation later, my 2nd grader tells me that this has happened on his elementary school playground. I am not sure what hurts me more: my personal memories of a classmate pulling the corners of his eyelids back and laughing, or hearing that my son has experienced the same thing.

I have heard careless comments about the foods I grew up eating, foods that come with the stories of my mother’s upbringing and culture.  I’ve watched people turn their noses up in disgust at particular Asian foods until it became trendy; those same people later ended up in watered-down “ethnic” restaurants taking selfies, while remaining blind to and unapologetic for their duplicity.

I have tried to understand how white (and Christian) friends can laugh while watching A Christmas Story and claim it to be their favorite Christmas movie, when it has a deliberately racist scene in it. I was introduced to this movie at a church youth group gathering of all places. Did you know that the Asian actors in the Chinese restaurant scene didn’t even know they would be singing mispronounced Christmas carols? Asian Americans are not a comedic prop for the larger majority of Americans.

It wouldn’t be right if I just listed the racism I have experienced from the majority white culture. Other Asian Americans have told me that I’m not a real Asian. I’ve been uninvited by a group of Korean Americans because I couldn’t speak Korean. And beyond our country’s borders, I have seen racism between a lot of different colors. In Asia, I have been told that I am too dark-skinned to be Asian. And when I was 7 years old, my sister and I were spit on by a group of teenage boys on a sidewalk in Seoul, because we were mixed.

Facing Racism and Choosing Reconciliation

Racism is everywhere. Even in me. I have seen it in my own thoughts, in my silence, in my reasons and in my own words. Until you and I are willing to face and admit our part in keeping racism alive, it will continue to linger and lay under the surface in our hearts, families, communities, churches and future.  Do not believe the lie that racism can be covered up or contained. Do not believe that by segregating ourselves, we will stay safe and keep our hearts sanitized from the sin of racism.

As a Christ-follower, ignoring and avoiding the broken place of racism isn’t an option. As an American mother, I refuse to model silence, fear and separation. I intend to make it a priority to teach my sons what it means to stand up against racism and move towards reconciliation.

As an adoptive mother, I refuse to raise my Korean daughter with the marching orders to assimilate and keep the majority or minority boat from rocking. I intend to teach her to celebrate and move towards the different in her own identity and in the world.

As the daughter of a white man and wife of another white man, I will not encourage reverse racism as an acceptable or better form of racism. As a follower of Jesus, I am committed to move towards the different because Jesus modeled this.  Not only did Jesus choose a minority and oppressed people to be born into and live among, He consistently moved towards different in his day. He has promised that he is preparing a place for His people: a global and colorful people of every nation, tribe, and language.

If God wanted us to be colorblind, he wouldn’t have created the visible beauty and diversity of color among us.

 He made us to notice our racial differences, celebrate our racial differences, see and worship Him TOGETHER in those differences.

 

About Tasha:

Tasha is a wife, a mama, a hapa and a french fries connoisseur.  She’s a writer and a dreamer, a coffee-drinker and a kimchi-eater.  She was made to walk where cultures collide on both dirt roads and carefully placed cobblestone streets.  Jesus is her heartbeat. Follow her on:  Her Blog | Twitter | Facebook

 

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.

 

Day 3: My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves–31 Days of #WOKE}

Last year, at the age of 37, in spite of living and working among other races for my entire life, I finally noticed the racial divide.

As a child of the 80s, I was taught that talking about race was impolite; it meant you noticed differences. We say, “We’re all the same, after all—on the inside. Isn’t it better to be ‘colorblind’?”

But ignoring race is like sidestepping the gigantic crack in the sidewalk of society and history. We try and tiptoe over it, or worse, we pretend it doesn’t even exist.

Of all whites, I should have known better, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a person of color in my life.

The first boy I ever liked in kindergarten was black. I nearly followed him into the boys’ restroom one day. When I described him to my mom as having dark skin, she asked, “Is he black?”

“Of course not,” I said. “No one has black skin. He’s brown.”

In middle school, I rode the bus for an hour, either way, to attend school in the projects because our county in Tampa, Florida, was one of the last to integrate schools.

My midwest Christian college was majority white. Some black students were browsing in the bookstore once and the cops showed up. Someone assumed they were there to shoplift.

In college, I spent six months in Uganda and lived with an African family in a village. I often confounded their assumptions. “I didn’t think you people did things that way,” they’d say. To them, I was America. More than once, I was asked if I knew President Bush.

After college, my first teaching job was in the inner city of Chicago, in North Lawndale, at a 100% African-American school. I asked my students if any white kids ever attended there. “I think once … maybe,” they replied. I got so used to seeing black faces that I was shocked by my whiteness when I saw myself in the mirror during bathroom breaks.

I lived in China for five years. For the first three, I was one of three white faces in a city of 60,000. Many people wanted to be my friend. I understood it was because I was white. I humored them, telling myself I’d be more accepted if I learned Chinese. So I spent hours studying until I was fluent. But even then I wondered about my friends’ motives in spending time with me. I wished I could look Chinese.

After China, I taught at a small private Christian school in Chinatown in Chicago. Six out of eleven students were boys. Only one of those boys was black, the rest were Asian and white. One day all the other boys showed up at school with their backpacks full of clothes for a sleepover at one of the boy’s houses for his birthday. Guess which boy wasn’t invited …

To not notice race is to not notice the way clouds affect the shifting of light in the sky. It is to pretend you don’t feel the rain pelting the hood of your coat or soaking into the hole in your boots. It is to ignore reality.

And yet somehow I still believed we were living in a post-racial, inclusive, equal society.

Continue reading at SheLoves Magazine.

Wake Up, White Church

Wounded, the Body of Christ walks with a limp. In the United States, our black and brown brothers and sisters are suffering, so the evangelical church–the whole church–should ache with pain. Five generations of so-called freedom have not erased fifteen generations of slavery.

It’s time for the white evangelical church to notice.

I was stunned by these tweets from people of color in the wake of the election in November:

Yolanda Pierce @YNPierce Nov 8: White evangelicals: you’ve decisively proven that you love your whiteness more than you love your black & brown brothers & sisters in Christ.

Soong-Chan Rah@profrah Nov 9 White evangelicals, you could have stood up and said that following Christ and the body of Christ is greater, but you chose to pursue power.

M.DivA@sista_theology Nov 8#ElectionNight taught me that white evangelicals will NOT be denied their privilege. They will trample the cross to hold onto it.

Leslie D. Callahan@fifthpastor   Nov 8 By the way, white evangelicals I see you. I see your racism and sexism. I see your repudiation of the very values you said matter.

Nicole Chung@nicole_soojung Nov 8 This is white people. White people voting directly *against* their neighbors, their friends, some of their family. It’s a vote for violence.

Jamil Smith@JamilSmith Nov 8 Manhattan, NY I knew my country hated me. But this much?

Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network told The Atlantic: “The vast majority of white evangelicals with whom I interact are on board and want to see a more racially diversified and unified church. However, when that same constituency overwhelmingly supports Donald Trump, I feel like they haven’t understood any of my concerns as a racial minority and an African American.”

Over the past year, God has taken a tiny fissure in my awareness and cracked it open into a growing knowledge of the pain experienced by people of color today. I’ve immersed myself in stories via podcasts, books and articles. I’ve intentionally followed as many people of color on social media as I can and sought out friends who are people of color.

Because of this newfound sight, I dreaded attending church the Sunday after the election. Instead, I downloaded sermons. Of the four sermons from white pastors, each spent two minutes talking about the election, only to carry on with their regularly scheduled programming.

But the sermons by black pastors I downloaded? Most scrapped their plans and devoted the entire service to preaching on the sovereignty of God in these uneasy times.

The fact that white pastors did not have to talk about race following the election is an indicator of the privilege inherent in white evangelical churches.

Ignoring the Ache

The western church loves to compartmentalize. We talk about “our ministry” and excuse ourselves from the table of other ministries we may not feel passionate about. But listening to a wounded brother or a sister in Christ and trying to love them better is not a ministry, it is a call for every Christ follower.

The Bible says if one member suffers, all suffer together and if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV). We are all connected, but as the white church continues to ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters, we become numb to their pain until we no longer feel the ache.

Advocating for the security, equality and respect of our brothers and sisters in Christ is not an option; it is a mandate from Jesus Himself.

True Jesus-followers

In Mark 12:28-31 “one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 

 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters–treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated–we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus.

I’ll be honest. I’m still grappling with my own latent and blatant racism. When I see several black men loitering around a gas station, without even thinking, I say, “This is a bad neighborhood.” I feel uncomfortable watching the TV show The Man in the High Castle where the Japanese have taken over the U.S. and white people are subservient to them. I expect I will be treated fairly if pulled over by police. I can live in a white bubble if I choose to. But the more I listen and learn, the more I realize we are far from living in a post-racial society.

I believe Jesus wants racial justice and radical change to begin with the church. The church is for healing, reconciliation, listening, learning, lament, growth and transformation. Yes, it is a place for studying the Bible, but many churches worship the letter of the law instead of worshipping Jesus. We dole out the minimum amount of love in order to achieve the maximum amount of comfort.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Is it enough that we do not murder our neighbor in such a way?”

The answer is profound:

“No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves,1 to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them,2 to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.3

Are we protecting our brothers and sisters of color from harm as much as we can?

The church should be the place where people of color feel the absolute safest. It should be a place where we can delight over our differences because we each reflect a facet of the Imago Dei. It should be a stunning picture of heaven on earth.

But it is not. Right now, people of color do not feel safe with their white sisters and brothers in Christ—and that’s a problem for the entire church, not just the few who feel “called to racial justice.”

Many young people are walking away from the church, longing to shed the baggage the term “evangelical” now carries. The white American church is in danger of becoming so irrelevant, self-absorbed and legalistic it will continue to lose members of the congregation who recognize society as doing more to help people than the church is. It’s time for the church to wake up.

So what do we do?

Mostly, we shut up and listen. At first, at least. Michelle Higgins says, “Without humility, there is no solidarity.” We first take the posture of a learner.

We can seek further education individually or as groups. We form book clubs, start prayer groups or attend conferences. We find friends who look different from us. We partner with black churches to meet for meals, holidays or special services. Church leaders can prioritize having people of color on staff and on stage, regularly listening to their heart and voice.

I believe a movement is stirring.

African American sister Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge to Racial Unity, a group that focuses on bridging racial divides. It grew from 900 members in July of 2016 to 10,000 members in February of 2017. After the election, Latasha tweeted:

Tasha@LatashaMorrison Nov 16 many POC have been disheartened at the looking away of many White evangelicals. I’m encouraged by those choosing to stand. #bethebridge

White people are beginning to “get woke.”

Nothing New for POC

Our country is spinning wildly and church itself is a dizzying experience. It’s tempting to walk away. But ironically, the greatest solace I’ve found is from my sisters and brothers who are people of color. Why? Because this is not the first time many of them have felt out of control, afraid or had their voices suppressed. These tweets testify to this:

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer Nov 16 For some of us, the terror began long before Trump’s rise.

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer  Nov 16 And so, this feeling of insecurity isn’t new, it’s just more pronounced.

The Sunday after election day, African American Pastor Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship shared a sermon entitled “In God We Trust.” In it, he acknowledged that “there wasn’t a divide made, there was a divide that existed prior to this election. It just exposed this divide.” He said, “Sometimes you need for something to happen on earth so that you can look up to heaven.” And “There is nothing that sneaks past the fingers of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.”

He described November 9th like this: “The clouds were still there. I still had mobility in my limbs. I was able to breathe. I blinked my eyes and I looked … and I said, ‘Hold on, you mean to tell me that this election didn’t stop the universe from being held in its place?’”

He continued, “This election did not move anything.”

Yes, God is in control, but the white evangelical church still has work to do. We need to open our eyes and acknowledge that all is not as it should be. In an age where truth is seen as “alternative fact,” we must advance toward, not away from each other. We are not whole until we suffer together.

White church, it’s time to wake up.

***

1 Matt. 7:12; 22:39; Rom. 12:10
2 Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:36; Rom. 12:10, 18; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8
3 Ex. 23:4-5; Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21 (Prov. 25:21-22)

 

Be sure to sign up for email updates, because you don’t want to miss this:

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

Beginning March 1st, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

"If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters--treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated--we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus." --Leslie Verner

 

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

#GetWoke and #StayWoke

What does it mean to be “woke?”

Many people in the United States are experiencing a second sight, sometimes defined as being “woke.” In The Calling podcast, social justice activist Michelle Higgins says, “Woke-ness is a journey. It is saying ‘I’m done being blind’ or done saying ‘I’m sleeping on the whole truth about my community.'”

Maybe you read, watched and listened through the previous list of resources to educate yourself about race issues.  Or maybe (hopefully) you sat down over a cup of coffee with a friend who is a person of color and listened–really listened–to their story. Your heart is cracking open and you want to learn more.

Here are some additional resources I’ve come across in the last six months since publishing the first list. I listened to the podcasts and read the articles, but am still working my way through the books, though they all come highly recommended. This list is far from exhaustive (and mainly based on recent events, not historical documents), so I hope you will add your own ideas to the comments section of this post. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to find new people to follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Podcasts:

The Calling

Michelle Higgins: “I Am a Worshipper” First and Foremost

How ‘Colorblind’ Christianity Broke Propaganda’s Heart

Jemar Tisby: It’s Never Too Soon to Talk about Race in Your Church 

 

Code Switch: Race and Identity (NPR)–various episodes

 

Epiphany Fellowship (Pastor Eric Mason)

In God We Trust (First sermon after the election)

#Woke Church Series at Epiphany Fellowship:

#WokeChurch

#WokeChurch: It’s Time for the Church to do Something

#WokeChurch–Lamentations 3:1-18   (the pastor provides a time for African Americans in his congregation to lament)

#WokeChurch–Jesus on Justice

 

Facing Ourselves

Are All White People Racist? (No. Well, Kind of. Let Us Explain.)

 

Fresh Air (NPR)

How the Systemic Segregation of Schools is Maintained by ‘Individual Choices’

 

Faith Conversations with Anita Lustrea

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Justice and Reconciliation

 

Faithfully Podcast

Will Christians Ever Get Race Relations Right?

White Christians, the Confederate Flag and the Civil War

Black Lives Matter, the Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel

 

A Mom’s Missionfield

A Sweaty Conversation about Racial Reconciliation: Retha Nichole and Emily Thomas

 

On Being with Krista Tippett

Vincent Harding (Civil Rights leader)–Is America Possible?

Isabel Wilkerson (author of The Warmth of Other Suns)

Mahzarin Banaji–The Mind is a Difference-Seeking Machine (on implicit bias)

Eula Bliss–Let’s Talk about Whiteness (refers to her article, White Debt, for the New York Times Magazine)

 

On Ramp: Two Christians Talk about Race

All of these are fantastic and only about 15 minutes long. So far, Shane Blackshear and Kerri Fisher have broadcasted episodes on privilege, stereotyping, diversity, implicit bias, levels of racism, lasting impacts of Jim Crow & slavery, and white supremacy. Find them all here.

 

Pass the Mic (put on by Reformed African American Network)

Defining White Privilege

Defining Systemic Racism

Roundtable: How to Be a White Ally

(And so many others)

 

Shalom in the City

Megan Tietz (on intentionally sending children to failing schools)

 

Truth’s Table–Coming this spring! (Hosts Michelle Higgins, Dr. C. Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan)

 

Village Church

Justice and Racial Reconciliation panel (following July 2016 shootings)

 

Video:

Verge Network 7 Part Series on Racial Justice (includes interviews)

What Dark-Skinned People Will Never Tell You (5 min.)

13th Documentary (now on Netflix)

 

What does it mean to be a white ally? Here are 80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

Articles from the Web:

Talking to Our Kids about Race:

Children’s Books to Help Talk about Race with Kids  from an Alabama Public Library

What White Children Need to Know about Race, by Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli for the Independent School Magazine

5 Ways Parents Pass Down Prejudice and Racism, by Danielle Slaughter for Huffington Post

18 Children’s Books with Characters of Color, by Joanna Goddard for her blog, A Cup of Jo

55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at Here Wee Read Blog (and another great list from the same site). Follow her on Instagram for more great book ideas.

 

In the Church:

An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church, from the Black Girl in Your Pew, by Ilesha Graham for Huffington Post

Watching 81% of My White Brothers and Sisters Has Broken Something in Me, by Yolanda Pierce at Religion Dispatches

38 Resources to Help Your Church Start Discussing Race Today by Missio Alliance

 

White Fragility:

The Sugar-Coated Language of White Fragility, by Anna Kegler for Huffington Post

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People about Racism, by Dr. Robin Diangelo for The Good Men Project

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears, by Jennifer Loubriel of Everyday Feminism

 

The POC Perspective:

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, by Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times Magazine

A Letter to My Son, by Rev. Otis Moss III for Huffington Post

Lacrae: Humility is the Key to Understanding Race Relations: Guest Essay, by Lecrae for Billboard

My President Was Black, by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Washington Post

30 of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016, by Zeba Blay for Huffington Post

 

Take Action:

6 Things to Do When You Live on White Island,  by Leslie Verner at Scraping Raisins blog

25 SOLUTIONS for Police Brutality, by Shaun King

Life After ‘The New Jim Crow,’ by Brentin Mock of Citylab (an interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

5 Actions White Educators Can Take to Help Make Schools Anti-Racist, by Jamie Utt for Everyday Feminism

 

Race and Trump:

Trump Syllabus 2.0 by N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blaine (an actual syllabus of a course that explores the foundations of “Trumpism”)

 

Websites:

Barefoot Books: Diverse and Inclusive Books

Faith for Justice

Reformed African American American Network (RAAN)

White Allies in Training

Sign up to receive a free weekly newsletter from The New York Times on current racial issues.

[Join BE THE BRIDGE Facebook Group if you haven’t already!]

News, Politics, Pop Culture Sites with a P.O.C. focus

Blavity

Black Politics

Good Black News

VSB (Very Smart Brothas) Washington Post says about this site: “Very Smart Brothas has emerged as a stream-of-consciousness sounding board, an expletive-laden fuse and an absurdist inside joke.”

Books:

Nonfiction:

America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Let Justice Roll Down

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times

Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right

Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America

Fiction (great for book clubs):

Americanah

The Bluest Eye

Brown Girl Dreaming (YA book)

The Help

Homegoing

Interpreter of Maladies

The Invention of Wings

Invisible Man

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Kitchen House

Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Underground Railroad

 

People of Color to Follow on Twitter
(*also on Facebook):

*Ahmed Ali Akbar

BJ Thompson

Charles M. Blow

*Christena Cleveland

*Deray McKesson

Drew G.I. Hart

*Eugene Cho

Eugene Scott

Ilesha Graham

Jemar Tisby

Lisa Sharon Harper

Michelle Higgins

*Shaun King

Soong Chan-Rah

*Ta-Nehesi Coates

*Traci Blackmon

Tyler Burns

Velynn Brown

Yolanda Pierce

***

We are on a journey towards greater “woke-ness.” As allies, partners and justice-seekers, we do well to heed the words of Rev. Traci Blackmon:

“… the invitation to the ally is always to follow the leadership of those who are at the center of the pain. Understanding the situation is not the same as owning the story.

The story matters. And choosing to work toward liberation of any kind requires a commitment to support the narrative of the ones who own the story. The role of the ally is not to lead or to fix. The ally holds the story and amplifies the voice of the story teller.

The ally:

  • Shows up to listen, not lead.
  • Follows the directions of those at the center.
  • Uses privilege to point the spotlight in the direction of the pain.
  • Uses power to disrupt oppression.
  • Does not expect to be tutored on what is easily learned.
  • Knows that the moment is not for them, yet the Movement is about us all.”

 

There is more to learn. Our responsibility is to listen, educate ourselves, dive into the pain and speak when our voices can amplify the narrative of our hurting brothers and sisters. Peace to you on your journey to #staywoke.

~Leslie Verner

 

Check out the first list of resources:  70+ Race Resources for White People

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

80+ MORE RACE RESOURCES for white people

Book Discussion Questions for Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This is the true tale of an African American lawyer in the south fighting for the rights of death row inmates who were unjustly incarcerated. Stevenson illuminates the racial injustices that are happening not during slavery or the Civil Rights era, but RIGHT NOW.  It proves that we are not in post-racial times, but still living in the midst of rash injustice. This is the best book I read in 2016 and should be on your list of must-read books.

Discussion Questions:

(This is a very flexible guide for a book club to use as a spring board for discussing the book Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. They can be skipped and discussed in any order).


1. How did you feel before you read this book?  How did you feel afterward?

2. Describe the author’s style.  Was it effective?

3. What was most shocking/sickening/saddening/surprising for you in this book?  Why?

4. What did you want to know more about?

5. Discuss some of the most memorable stories from each of the groups mentioned throughout the book: African American men, women, children, mentally ill, disabled, drug convicts.

6. What stood out to you most about Walter’s story?

7. In what ways did Mr. Stevenson himself experience prejudice?

8. What are some of our state laws about incarceration?  How can we find these out?

9. What can we do personally to make a difference?

10. How does Mr. Stevenson’s race impact your reading (and his writing) of this book?  How would it have been different if it had been written by a white man or woman?

11. Would you recommend this book to others?  Why or why not?

***


(You are welcome to use these for group discussion, as long as you attribute Leslie Verner.)

If you have read the book, I would love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments section! 

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Related Post: An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer

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6 Things to Do When You Live on ‘White Island’

Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe. Let’s call it “White Island.”

Imagine you live on an island. Your island is small, but secure, and you have everything you need to survive. You have as much contact with the mainland as you want, but can switch off communication at will. You also have the freedom to leave the island to travel to the mainland if you wish. Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe.
Let’s call it “White Island.”
White Island is my home right now. My city is 93% white, the ten churches we have visited since moving here over a year ago have been 99% white and all of my neighbors are white. I am a stay-at-home mom of three children, four and under and never truly need to leave a five mile radius from my home unless I choose to. My portal to the outside world—the mainland–is a Smartphone with apps to read the news, listen to podcasts and stay in the social media stream. But that device also has an “off” button.
I can ignore the fact that there is a mainland if I choose to do so.
This is where many white people like me live. And when the news of the happenings “out there” on the mainland begin to disturb us, we simply shut down our portals for a little while so we can move on in peace with our quiet lives on White Island. We have the luxury of an “off” button.
But those who do not dwell on White Island do not have that privilege. They cannot tune out or turn off the news because they are living it.
I never realized I lived on White Island until a friend brought a black baby from the mainland to live on the island with us. It was only then that I realized her non-white son was treated differently than my white children. Soon, I began to stop tuning out and start tuning in to the pleas of those on the mainland. They had been calling out for a long time, but the stations I had frequented weren’t picking up their cries. It wasn’t until I began dialing in to different sources that didn’t originate with White Island that I began to hear a broader range of messages.
I cannot get off of this island right now. But that doesn’t mean I am powerless. And it doesn’t mean I must live in ignorance of the mainland. So what can those of us who feel stuck on White Island do?
1. Listen and learn.
Before we speak or act, those on the mainland have asked that we research the problem—with humility. Michelle Higgins said in a recent podcast that “Solidarity looks a lot like humility.” Our black sisters and brothers want us to get buried in their history, pain and struggle before we emerge. They will respect our silence at the beginning as we step down from our leading, teaching, and lecturing and take a seat in the row of desks for a while. So sit down, listen, take notes and do your homework.
2. Find friends who are different from you and visit the mainland.
We will live in greater solidarity with others as we notice that those who are different from us are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Tears, rage and joy are part of humanity. We will see this as we enter life with someone who is different from us and perhaps begin to empathize. Do you attend a gym, take your kids to a park or work with someone different from you? Don’t be weird, but do be intentional about pursuing a friendship with someone who doesn’t live on your island.
3. Move off the island.
Most places in our country have the coloring skills of a five-year-old who is content to keep solid colors in the lines of the coloring book. It’s time to develop our skills as an artist and dabble in the magnificence of a mixed pallet. This may require that we make plans to move off White Island all together. Find a diverse school for your children to attend, visit a new park, or look for a new church. Research the demographics of a neighborhood before buying a house and be intentional about seeking out diversity.
4. Use your platform.
How many lives do you, your spouse or your kids touch in a day? Who is in your square you interact with on a daily or weekly basis? What do you talk about? How can you cast light on topics some prefer to keep hidden in darkness for fear of offending? How can you use your voice in your particular slice of life to speak out and speak up for those who don’t have a voice?
5. Drench your everyday world in color.
How many people of color do you come across right there in your home? If you are a parent, do your children have books, dolls, decorations or games with people that look different from them? What about you? How diverse is your social media feed? What steps can you take to diversify your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds? Who can you follow who will give you a fresh perspective from the mainland? If you are a reader, how many books have you read by people of color this year? Do you watch T.V. shows or movies or read magazines featuring people of color? The mainland is always reading about and watching stories of White Island, maybe it’s time for us to branch out.
6. Don’t tune out or turn off.

We on White Island must resist the urge to close our portals and pretend the problems on the mainland don’t exist. Yes, sometimes we need to step back, catch our breath and live small. But sometimes we need to gather courage and make space for the pain of other mommies, daddies, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters to hurt our hearts. Sometimes we must open our eyes even when we may prefer blindness.

***
Related Posts:

70+ Race Resources for White People 

The Ugly Truth about Diversity

I once was (color) blind, but now…

An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer  

White People Are Boring

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Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe. Let’s call it “White Island.”

An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer

The crowd leapt to their feet as Mr. Stevenson took the stage.  He hadn’t even opened his mouth, and had already received a standing ovation.

Why?

Because this man’s story opens blind eyes. 

In his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson shares about his experience working with men, women and children on death row. I have met more than one person who, after reading the book, looked down at their feet and, with tears in their eyes, whispered, “I didn’t know that African Americans are still treated this way. Until I read this, I didn’t realize.  But now what do I do?”

I had a similar response after reading Just Mercy this spring.  In fact, I was so moved by Mr. Stevenson’s story that I hauled my 12-day-old newborn across town to hear him speak a few weeks ago, frantically taking notes with one hand while nursing with the other.

The audience was made up of mainly white people over 50, though college students and a few people of color were present as well.  Across the aisle sat a man in his late 20’s with long hair, loose-fitting clothing and bare feet.  Beneath his chair was a cardboard box that was forced closed, leaving me wondering what was inside, though I forgot my curiosity as Mr. Stevenson began speaking.

He was as powerful a speaker as he is an author and he seamlessly wove stories, statistics and inspiration into a flag of justice that we almost felt strong enough to help wave as we exited the building at the end of the night.


He shared four things we could do to improve our capacity to change the world right where we are:

1. Get closer. 

“Get proximate to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance.” He expressed that we are too comfortable and do not see injustice because we are not close enough to see it.

2. Change the narratives that sustain inequality and injustice. 

“Fear and anger are the essential ingredients of oppression.”  He gave the example of calling drug addicts “criminals” and alcoholics people with a “disease.”  He said that these narratives are what imprison the downtrodden and empower the privileged.

3. Stay hopeful.

“Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.”  In spite of all the dire examples of vast injustice in the world, Mr. Stevenson also shared many inspiring stories of hope as he has worked toward change.
 
4. Be willing to do uncomfortable things.

“We have to judge ourselves by how we care for the poor.”  He said that this action point requires intentionality because our default is that we choose to be comfortable, but perhaps we need to move more into discomfort.  

He also spoke about how he has come to the realization that as we acknowledge that we ourselves are broken people, we will find that we have much more in common with the poor than we once thought. 

***


After his talk, Mr. Stevenson took questions from the crowd.  I was surprised when the man across the aisle from me padded up to the front with his cardboard box, setting it down by his bare feet as he waited patiently for his turn at the microphone.  When Mr. Stevenson turned to him, the man announced that he had gotten out of jail a week prior and that he wanted Mr. Stevenson’s help in going to the Supreme Court to fight for laws that would allow him to sleep outdoors.  He talked for a long time and I could tell that the crowd was getting fidgety.  He was taking up precious time for other more relevant questions.  I half expected an usher to quietly stand next to him and give him the signal that he was talking too long.

But instead of ridiculing him or rushing through his answer, Mr. Stevenson responded with humility, grace and respect.  He listened to this man’s story and said that he was absolutely willing to represent him.  While the rest of us were inwardly scoffing, Mr. Stevenson practiced what he had just preached and offered the man something the rest of us weren’t willing to give: dignity.

I was humbled and convicted.

In myself, I saw the Pharisees of Bible times, urging Jesus to move on and not stop for the lepers calling out His name, the woman kneeling to touch his cloak or the children hugging his knees. I saw myself looking for the high profile poor instead of noticing the needy right in front of me.

It is easy to say that we want justice for the poor as long as it is convenient and comfortable for us.  But when we become aware of our own powerlessness, judgment and prejudice, we want to hide away in our safe suburbs and write a check from a distance.

How far do you live from the poor, homeless, sick or oppressed?  What would it take for you to move out of your comfort zone into proximity of those you say you would like to help?

As a person who feels very insignificant in this season of life as far as world-changing goes, I walked out of that auditorium with a greater desire to not just notice injustice, but make practical moves towards the oppressed.  When we make decisions over the next few years about where we will buy a house and which schools we will choose to send our children to, I hope that we will not continue to hide away under the umbrella of “safety” or “good schools.”  Instead, I hope for the courage to live in such proximity to my suffering neighbor that I cannot ignore their cry any longer, because they will be right in my backyard.

***

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Related Posts:

70+ Race Resources for White People 

I Once Was (Color) Blind, but Now… 

When You Can’t Quit Your Job
 

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