Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.

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