It Happened to Them: Reflections on Charleston

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, it is probably fairly reflective of your own perspective. I do have far-right and far-left friends, but I know they come from a nearly-all-white point of view. We love to share blogs written about race… by our favorite white bloggers. There is room for this – especially when they are confessional – but if you have only read about race from white voices, you have not read enough.

What I’ve listed here is a list of posts and pieces written about race by people of color. Because of the current events, they are primarily African-American. The title of this post is a play on the popular “It Happened to Me” posts, in which bloggers write about their personal experience with a given topic. But now? It’s not about me.

You might not agree with every word, and that’s fine. I can’t say I agree with every word of all these – but that isn’t the point. It isn’t our job to disagree right now; it’s our job to LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. There is a wealth of helpful writing online – sometimes we just have to look for it.

Bree Newsome Speaks Out: Bree Newsome is the activist who scaled a flagpole to remove the flag of the Confederacy. “It is important to remember that our struggle doesn’t end when the flag comes down. The Confederacy is a southern thing, but white supremacy is not. Our generation has taken up the banner to fight battles many thought were won long ago. We must fight with all vigor now so that our grandchildren aren’t still fighting these battles in another 50 years. Black Lives Matter. This is non-negotiable.”

Essay Series on What it Means To Be Black: They are adding a new piece every day for the next 10 days. I’ve looked through some of their past pieces as well and plan to start following this outlet. Also, spoiler: “What It Means To Be Black” is NOT contained to “the color of a person’s skin.” Blackness is much more than skin color, which is why being “colorblind” is not only impossible; the attempt is inherently dismissive of an entire culture and experience.

Last Battles: The Confederacy’s Final Retreat: Jelani Cobb is a writer for the New Yorker who writes on matters of race frequently. “We have for decades willfully coexisted with a translucent lie about the bloodiest conflict in American history and the moral questions at its center. Amid the calls last week to lower the Confederate battle flag at the state capitol, the defenders of the flag averred that it represents ‘heritage, not hate.’ The great sleight of hand is the notion that these things were mutually exclusive.”

Why Young Black Men Can’t Work“But a growing mound of research gives the lie to the notion that black men who fail in the modern economy have brought it upon themselves. Rather, it’s increasingly clear that they have instead been locked out of the male-tracked, skilled labor jobs that, for better or worse, still make the difference between poverty and working-class for many families. Even when accounting for failed personal responsibility, more and more research suggests that white men with similar backgrounds–without a college degree, and even with a criminal record–find far more opportunity than their black peers. One pre-recession study in 2003 even found that white job applicants with criminal records are more likely to get called back than black applicants with identical resumes and no record.”

What I Need You To Say Right Now: This is a uniquely Christian perspective, written by an African-American woman married to a white man. If a title like “Why Young Black Man Can’t Work” seems a bit much for you right now, I recommend starting here. I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.  Like Jesus reconciled us to the Father- it’s a painful process.  A denying process.  A humiliating process.  But a Kingdom process, nonetheless.  “I’m listening” says, “yes, I have an opinion and yes I have strong feelings, and yes this makes me feel more than a little helpless, but I’m going to press into this specific pain and listen.”

The Only Logical Conclusion: “[When] the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing embedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.” This is also written from a Christian perspective, to the white church.

The Salt Project’s Strange Fruit: This 11-minute video just won an Emmy! Two ministers tell the story that inspired the song “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday.

Let’s Not Forget Northern Racism: “That kind of white supremacy is furtive, not fiery. It happens behind desks, not under hoods. It is maintained by bureaucracy, not violent threat. The story of our two Americas, that is to say, is bigger than bigots. It’s also about African-Americans being denied opportunities even when there are no so-called bad guys. Racial inequality is often reinforced by organizational practices and government policies, such as exclusionary zoning, that lack discriminatory intent or at least provide plausible deniability for it…. It’s also effective.”

I started this post by mentioning Facebook, so I’ll add that there are ways to change this. For starters. like and follow Colorlines and Michelle Alexander (the author of The New Jim Crow) – read the stories they post, follow those they recommend.

If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments!

White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

Yesterday I was in the car with my kindergartner and my first grader, driving home from school. They were telling me about what they had learned in school about Native Americans, given the quickly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Ransom, my kindergartner, made a passing comment about how there are no Native Americans around today. I said, “Well, that’s not true. There are Native Americans today. Most of the time they wear clothes like the ones we wear. Sometimes on the reservations they do dress in traditional ways.”

This led to a further conversation about reservations, Native Americans, white people, slavery, and the early days of our country. We talked about how we, as a country, have not always treated people nicely and made good decisions. We talked about how white people made Native Americans leave their land and claimed it as their own.

We pulled into the driveway, and as he was getting out of the car, Ransom said, “I sure am glad I’m… (pause)… not one of those guys… I’m glad I’m not a Native American. Or a slave.”

    He’s glad he’s white. Those are the words he was looking for and couldn’t find.

At first, it caught me off guard. This is the LAST thing I want my kids to think – that, somehow, being white is preferred over being a person of color.

And yet, the truth of that statement struck me as profound. He’s glad he’s white, because – at five years old – he recognizes the position of privilege he has and did nothing to earn.

And when we start to recognize the privilege that we have because of the color of our skin, we acknowledge the ramifications of that privilege on others.

 

We recognize that, when we don’t get pulled over because of the car we drive and the color of our skin, someone else is getting pulled over, because of the car they drive and the color of their skin.

We recognize that, though life isn’t necessarily easy, though there are always obstacles, there are more obstacles in the path of a person of color.

We recognize that we have an inherent trust in police officers and the government based on our experiences, but many people of color do not share those experiences.

We recognize that the system works for us, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.

 

I’m thankful that my five-year-old is glad he’s white, because that gives me hope that, as he gets older, he’ll continue to recognize his privilege and be an advocate, both by using his voice and – even more so – by listening to those with experiences different from his. Pretending every person has the same access to resources and opportunities accomplishes nothing but intensify the access of the privileged. If we continue to do this, today’s 5-year-olds of color will grow up in a world no more welcoming and equal than the world of their parents and grandparents.