The trembling of the white establishment

Here’s a line from a song we sang yesterday: “When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death-knell ringing…” 

I think that’s what we’re really seeing in all these cries for secession in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Tyrants trembling, sick, fearful, acutely aware of their own pending (political) demise. Bill O’Reilly put it best: “The white establishment is now the minority.” To them, no longer being able to lord power over everyone else amounts to their own oppression. The fact that the face of power in the US is (still) brown, maybe because, by God, a majority of people WANT it that way, just reinforces that – and is utterly terrifying to them.

Obamacare and raising taxes on the rich ain’t the issue. The real issue is those faint death-knells ringing in the background, growing steadily louder as time marches on, signifying that the myth of white, middle-class normalcy is ending, and America is evolving into something other than a monolithic, assimilationist blob of red, white, and blue ca. 1950. We just may have to find a way to live together across difference, rather than (a) forcing sameness upon all, (b) excommunicating those who don’t agree, or (c) withdrawing, like unpatriotic cowards. 

In my humble opinion. 🙂:)  On a related note, read on for the sermon I preached yesterday…

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Power Over, Power Under

This past week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading everything I can  pertaining to the unresolved murder of Trayvon Martin.  I also delivered a sermon for our 10am service about the temptation to dominate. These are very interrelated, I think.

Power Over, Power Under
By the Rev. Thomas M. Ryberg

Text:  Luke 4:1-2, 5-8, 13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Are you satisfied?

My good friend, the Rev. Dominique Atchison, wrote an excellent post today on how Dr. King’s words and deeds have been “white-washed” in the progressive church lately. That is to say, his specifically racial critiques have been largely set aside in favor of more general social justice critiques, such as his anti-war stance and his work on behalf of the impoverished. Rev. Dominique sees, and I do as well, a way in which the apparent desire to make Dr. King’s words continue to speak here and now, ostensibly by elevating his non-racial positions, makes the assumption that his racial positions are largely outdated and no longer relevant for our consideration today.

As if by taking the “WHITE’S ONLY” signs off the pool house and the White House, we have truly ushered in a new era of racial unity and justice.

Sorry – that’s just not how it works. In her article, Rev. Dominique references some “other” words from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, ones you certainly won’t hear political conservatives appeal to in their efforts to twist Dr. King into an opponent of affirmative action. Check it:

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

And here, to my seeing, lies part of the problem: SOME of the things on this list are, in fact, over with. These days, we (mostly) don’t have segregated motels and hotels. And signs that proclaim “For Whites Only” – (at least overtly) – have been taken down. So it can be tempting to declare, as President Bush did, talking about Iraq in 2003, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” – as if it weren’t 2012 and we didn’t still have racial justice issues (or, for that matter, Iraq issues).

We’ve made some progress on the overt stuff, sure. And that should definitely be lifted up and celebrated. But what about the rest of King’s list?

  • Is police brutality against black and brown people over?
  • Are high percentages of black and brown people still living in ghettos, small and large?
  • Are people of color well-represented in public leadership roles?
  • And more basically – can any of us honestly say that we live in a time when “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”?

I don’t think we’re done yet. As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King today or any day, let’s please be honest about the fullness of his dream – that it was explicitly racial, because he lived in – and we still live in – a state of explicitly racial inequality. Let us give thanks for the great prophets of yesterday, as well as those today (you know who you are!), but let us critically examine their prophetic visions on an ongoing basis, lest we fall into self-deception about progress that actually has not yet been attained. As for the question, “When will [I] be satisfied”, today I will honor Dr. King by joining in his dissatisfaction, until justice, like water, finally rolls on down.

It’s not about the Constitution.

President Obama released the ‘long form’ version of his birth certificate yesterday.

He didn’t have to. No other president in U.S. history, or contender thereof, has been subject to the kind of xenophobic, racist, bigoted scrutiny that Barack Obama has. There’s no “you must provide a copy of the long form of your birth certificate to your detractors” clause in the Constitutional provisions determining eligibility for presidential office. But this foolishness has gotten out of hand, with four in ten Republicans believing that Obama wasn’t born on American soil, despite his having already produced a birth certificate – and an affidavit – to the contrary. So the president evidently decided, here ya go, crazies.

With the release of the additional, ‘somehow-much-more-convincing-than-the-first-one’ birth certificate, this non-issue can finally be put to rest, hopefully (right? right??). But while the additional documentation “solves” the issue for reasonable folks, it won’t solve it for those who can’t reconcile themselves to the reality of having a president whose race/cultural experience/multicultural upbringing makes him an exotic, perpetually-unknown, mysterious “other.” For those folks it ain’t about facts, proof, citizenship, good faith, logic, or any of that noise. To them, Obama is so clearly not-“American” that no matter what technicalities permit him to be the legal president, he just can’t be. There’s no possible way.

So, in the aftermath of new and improved proof that the president is a citizen, I feel just as unsettled about the reality of racism in America as before. I feel just as unsettled about the reality of xenophobia in America as before. I feel just as unsettled about the reality of religious bigotry in America as before, and I feel all of these things because throughout all of this we still are too cowardly to acknowledge the reality that racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry are at the heart of the “Where’s the birth certificate?” nonsense that has crippled our public discourse for years. And they’re at the heart of Donald Trump’s “where’s the report card?” nonsense, and probably at the heart of the next thing he comes out with too.

We need to start calling this out plainly. The endless efforts at ‘otherizing’ Obama aren’t about reasonable disagreement. Barack Obama is a American, a Christian, and our president. Refusal to believe that he is American – talking to you, 4-in-10 Republicans – is plain xenophobia. Refusal to believe that he deserved to attend the ivy league schools he excelled in – Donald Trump – is plain racism. Refusal to believe that he isn’t a secret Muslim – armchair warriors – is plain religious bigotry. I’m sick of standing by while xenophobic, racist, bigoted nonsense permeates our public discourse as if it were legitimate. It isn’t. It’s time for the media – or the rest of us in the meantime – to start calling things what they really are.

Update: A hard truth from Baratunde:

On hijacking the racial pain of others, or why we white folks need to stop thinking about “race issues” as if they were external from ourselves

Here’s something that just happened on Facebook. One of my friends, a woman of color, shared an article that named 10 Conversations the author wanted to stop having with white people. In response to her post, a white male Facebook friend of hers left a bunch of comments in which he shared personal experiences of having been the target of racial prejudice, and lamented the unfairness of people judging him just because he is white. And from that point, everyone, including myself, thus became engaged in an extended back-and-forth with this guy about his self-proclaimed victimization as a white man. He was able to do something I think happens quite a lot, which is when a person of privilege ‘hijacks’ a discussion which in some way calls out their privilege, changing the focus from the unfairness of the privilege, to soothing the feelings of those who are privileged. Which demonstrates how privilege allows us to escape from the implications on injustice.

Here’s the thing: white people should be processing our pain which stems from racism. We should certainly bring to light our feelings of sadness and discomfort and grief and shame and all else that dwells just under the surface of our white skins, sure as the nose on your face, despite our best efforts at suppressing all that shit. We should be processing these and other issues precisely because they get in the way of our relationships with people whose skin and privilege do not look like ours. We should process these and other issues precisely so that we aren’t inappropriately trying to process them on other people’s turf, or in the midst of other people expressing their pain.

We tend to do stuff like hijacking racial teachable moments because we don’t create these other, more appropriate outlets for this kind of racial processing. That stems from us thinking about race only insofar as it applies to others, but not ourselves.

Talk about it, white people. Don’t just horn in on other people’s discussions about race and racism. Let’s get together – on our own time – and let the whiteness tumble out.

Thoughts on Christians and Muslims

Some thoughts on the recent controversies between Christians and Muslims:

– Those who oppose the building of a mosque near Ground Zero are unwilling or unable to distinguish between different groups of Muslims. These extremists who want to burn the Koran are simply following that same sentiment to it’s logical conclusion: all Muslims are indistinguishable AND evil. This is precisely why we need a center for dialogue near Ground Zero.

– These so-called “Christians” who want to burn the Koran on 9/11 are no more Christian than those so-called “Muslims” who attacked us on 9/11 were Muslim.

– Christians must unequivocally support religious freedom in America.  That includes the right of a group of Muslims to build a mosque wherever it is legally allowable, such as near Ground Zero in NYC.

– Remembering how our Lord hung out with those who were stigmatized and was himself hated, blamed, falsely accused, and put to death by those religious and patriotic folks who feared him, Christians must unequivocally condemn bigotry whenever it arises at the state or local level.  We should be the first to condemn the slippery slope of anti-Islamic scapegoating wherever it occurs.

Glaring racism, then and now.

Did you know that people used to name their pets after ethnic groups?

Chalk Talk for Sunday Schools, by Harlan Tarbell

I just picked up an old book (1924) about drawings for Sunday School, and there it is right on page 30: a lovely story about two kittens, Snowball and N—-r. You see, one of them has white fur, and the other, black. I leave it to you to figure out which is which. Then I recalled that large, black dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild whose name was ‘Nig.’

So people used to name their pets N—-r. Wow! And that was once considered to be completely normal, even as today most people would regard it as blatantly wrong. By our liberated, contemporary standards, this crazy racism seems otherworldly, a totally alien thing that we clearly would never do now, right?

…And then I remembered all the mascots that are named after native folk, today, for the entertainment of the masses: the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and many, many more.

So on the one hand, naming personal pets after ethnic groups is totally wrong.

Yet, naming public pets (mascots) after ethnic groups is totally fine.

WTF?  No, it isn’t.