Two Frameworks

Y’all know I typically preach nuance. This moment, however, allows us a glimpse of two pretty clear-cut foundational frameworks for white folks about racial injustice right now.*

1) a commitment to keep humble, keep learning, keep using that learning to do more effective anti-racist work internally, relationally, and systemically, and keep at it.

A person with this framework can be anywhere along a spectrum of knowledge and prior commitment, from just now realizing that white supremacy is a real, ongoing, pervasive evil in our society to embodying a long history in the struggle for a better world.

2) a belief – sometimes consciously affirmed, sometimes more subtly lurking in the subconscious – that one knows what there is to know, has done the necessary work to arrive at that conclusion, and is satisfied with it and one’s own place within that knowledge construct.

A person with this framework can also be anywhere along a spectrum of knowledge and prior commitment, from openly committed to a white supremacist ideology to long involved in the struggle against it.

For those of you who aim to fall into the first category of praxis, I invite you to reflect on what you do to keep from getting set in your ways or complacent in your learning and actions.

Do you know that this process of learning can be intrinsically life-giving for you and for others, even as it confronts great historical and contemporary sorrows? I assure you it can be.

For folks who fall into the second category – there is another way. Please know that – and know that if you’d like to orient yourself toward it, there are lots of folks who will be glad to walk with you with love on that journey.

Amen

* (I believe this categorization holds true for a lot of other differentials of power and oppression as well, including economic position, gender, (dis)ability status, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious identity, and so on).

Beyond Saying “Black Lives Matter”: the Application of Anti-Racist Learning

Knowledge of the history and present of enacted white supremacy is important.  Many of us white folks neither learned this in our formal education nor recognized it as a part of our lived reality. 

That reading circles and task groups and Sunday School classes are studying White Fragility and How to Be an Anti-Racist and I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness is a really good thing. The COVID era’s surge in online webinars and panels has also created new accessible forums for learning and engagement – and those are amazing spaces for hearing new perspectives.

This knowledge changes us, right? 

Then comes the process of really making that knowledge our own – integrating it into our understanding of the world – by putting it to use. 

We put it to use in our own thinking, in our conversations with others, and when we show up to protests. 

But we also must put it to use by engaging with applied, structurally embedded inequalities to help create change. 

This is the long haul of dismantling white supremacy – and it’s a great blessing to be able to do that work. 

I am a big fan of engaging with that work through grassroots efforts, so I’m going to name some groups working on those issues in Alabama. If you are not in Alabama and need help finding local efforts in your area, give me a holler. 

This is long-term, necessary structural change work. 

None of us can do it all. All of us can do something. 

Death Penalty – Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty

Environmental Justice – GASP, PANIC, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, Alabama Interfaith Power & Light 

Medicaid Expansion for Increased Healthcare Access- Alabama Arise 

Arise is also a great source of information about and advocacy space for tax reform, public transit, and other significant statewide policy issues. 

Land Tenure – Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust

Immigrant Detention – Shut Down Etowah

Payday Lending – Alliance for Responsible Lending in Alabama 

Restorative Justice & Prison Abolition – When We Fight 

Voter Engagement/Voting Rights  – Woke Vote, League of Women Voters of Alabama (and its local chapters)

While we’re here, check out the policy platforms at the Movement for Black Lives. If you are relatively new to anti-racist work, this may feel like a lot to take in. Take a deep breath and ease your way through it with an open mind. This is what meaningful anti-racist structural change looks like. This is what a more just world looks like.

Let’s make it happen – together.

Support Amazing Grassroots BIPOC-led Organizations

These are human-scale, grassroots, BIPOC*-led (and mostly black-women led) organizations doing vital work on the ground in under-resourced communities in Alabama without tons of institutional support. 

(*BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – this term helps to avoid the erasure of Indigenous Peoples)

These are real folks doing the work of real equity and justice every single day.

Please, please support them. 

Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust
paypal: dynamitehillclt@gmail.com

Fountain Heights Farm 
paypal – https://www.paypal.me/MDVillanueva

No More Martyrs
donation page – https://www.givelify.com/givenow/1.0/MzIxODk=/selection

TAKE Resource Center 
donation page –https://www.takebhm.org/donate

Yes, I Have a Therapist 
paypal – https://www.paypal.me/YesIHaveATherapist

Our Firm Foundation
donation page – https://www.ourfirmfoundation.org/donate

Be a Blessing Birmingham
paypal – https://bit.ly/2ZZcvSY

Black Belt Citizens 
mail a check to
Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice
23355 County Rd 53
Uniontown, AL 36786

Literary Healing Arts Foundation
Cash App $salaamgr

People’s Justice Council 
https://www.thepeoplesjusticecouncil.org/donate

Margins: Women Helping Black Women 
donation page

GASP – not BIPOC-staff-led, but majority POC board. Funnels resources directly into Collegeville/Fairmont/Harriman Park – https://gaspgroup.org/support-gasp/

Offender Alumni Association
https://www.offenderalumniassociation.org/donate

Birmingham Bail Fund –
UPDATED – centralized link
https://givebutter.com/NobodyLeftBehindBailFund

White People and the Appropriation of Black Uprising Spaces

While we’re on the subject of uprisings, rebellion, and riots, let’s talk about white folks hijacking – at least in part – the current action in the streets of our cities:

Have you seen the video footage of #UmbrellaMan, the masked white man who instigated some of the first damage in Minneapolis, even as black protesters discouraged him? There are varying reports and speculation as to who he is (freelance agent provocateur, undercover law enforcement, white supremacist, or anarchist), but any which way this video is clear.

Speaking of anarchists, I have friends who are anarchists. Some are even Christian anarchists (and a compelling argument can be made that Christ himself was an anarchist). I don’t classify myself that way, but there are plenty of good people who do. My sense is that much of the amazing COVID-era mutual aid going on around the country is being done by anarchists. That is certainly true locally (h/t Birmingham Mutual Aid).

However, the small subset of white anarchists who violently escalate black protests to further their own political ends – further endangering black lives in the process – are exploiting black people and the cause of black liberation. This adds them to a long list of other white folks who exploit black people.

White anarchists who want to support the current uprising need to take their cues from black folks. If there are aspects of their agenda that do not coincide with the stated needs of black folks on the scene, they need to save those for a different space.

Taking advantage of unrest is also straight from organized militant white supremacy’s tactical playbook. I haven’t yet seen trust-worthy onsite documentation of white supremacist violent manipulation of these uprising spaces, but it is certainly plausible that they could be present and active. EDIT – check out link to comments from MSP activists in comments.

If you’ve seen other ways that you think white folks are hijacking the movement or the moment, you are invited to drop them in the comments. I am aware that that charge could be labeled at me. To that I can only respond that my longstanding focus in all of my work is on information and ideas that may be helpful to people who are trying to engage with integrity around these issues – not an agenda about myself or any institution, even my church.

IMPORTANT NOTE: my argument here is also not about further militarizing urban spaces in response. I’m also not taking a position in favor or opposing urban uprisings. My point is about white people not taking up space – and not taking violent actions – at the expense of black agenda, leadership, and bodies, whether that’s intentional or collateral damage.

I also would like to help people who are not familiar with contemporary anarchism to understand that it is no more a monolith than any other political movement – so it’s better neither to have a knee-jerk reaction to the term, nor to group all anarchists as the same in method or commitment.

This is the 3rd post in a series today – and an ongoing series that can be found under the tag race.

Power, Community, and the Politics of Kinship

On one of the grassroots Live feeds last night (and I can’t remember if it was St. Louis or Atlanta because I was watching several at once), a young black woman spoke of how good it was to be out in the community, caring for one another on the streets and letting their voices be heard – not only by those in power, but also by those around them.

There is power in community – and it was a joy to be in (careful) community with some friends at the White Birminghamians for Black Lives vigil yesterday.

We gather for justice – and to make a statement about vitally important issues. That’s the primary point.

But we also gather in support of one another – in solidarity, kinship, and friendship.

Weaving the bonds of community – acknowledging and manifesting the reality of our interdependence – is a key function.

When we can do that in person, it’s an extra blessing.

But we also do that work online all the time as well – and especially in this time – and that makes it even more accessible to people who can’t make it in person (which is any of us at any given time).

One additional note of awareness: caring relationships in community are built upon truth, mutuality, and an awareness of differential power.

So if you are white, realize that it takes time and repeated demonstrations of humble, genuine commitment to create trust in relationships with Black, Brown, and other folks of color – and they may still never fully trust us. That has to be okay. We have given them every reason not to trust us. We need to continue the diligent work of being trust-worthy anyway – and without having to get public or private credit for us. The responsibility is on us.

This can be hard. We want people to like us (I certainly want people to like me) – but “us” is always present in the context of broader cultural conditions. We best deal with that through our awareness of it, not by pretending it’s not there or ducking the responsibility.

And of course that matrix of power persists in all of our relationships – straight folks with LGBTQ+ people, affluent folks with poor people, people currently without disabilities with disabled folks, cisgender people (straight or LGB+) with trans people, and so on.

Just as there is intersectionality of marginalization, there is also intersectionality of privilege – and each of us needs to be aware of the power we wield.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be real kinship and friendship across differences, but it does mean that when we have power we need to be aware of it and bear the responsibility of being and ever-more becoming trust-worthy.

Doing that self-work is a part of how we care for our neighbors – and a part of how we continually build those communities of solidarity, kinship, and friendship.

Amen

This is the 2nd post in a series today – and an ongoing series that can be found under the tag race

On White Folks and the work of #blacklivesmatter

I’ll be sharing several thoughts today – and the ones in this post are particularly intended for us white folks, though of course the post is welcome for all:

1) being able to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a critical step.

2) one next critical step is to be able to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and then NOT adding ‘BUT’ followed by any statement about riots or nonviolence.

If our responses don’t contribute to empathy, respect, and an understanding that the expression of rage has a historical and present-moment foundation, then it’s better to keep it to ourselves – and keep listening to black folks around us and black media sources so that we keep learning.

We know the black community is not a monolith – but we can let black folks hash out the politics and meaning of the riots without imposing our judgments. We can work on our judgments instead and keep educating ourselves. Finding a black voice that agrees with us does not count as enough.

We have more important work to do than condemning riots (more critical steps), such as . . .

3) check out the advocacy actions assembled by Judy Hand-Truitt. These can be done by people anywhere –

4) It’s a GREAT time (all the time) to materially support black- and other POC- led organizations. I’ve mentioned some already in past posts and will add another post today with more ideas.

5) Check out Rev. Dr. Dave Barnhart’s wisdom about white folks and policy. He and I both will have more to say about policy matters in the days ahead, but this is a great focus.

6) We can keep listening, keep educating ourselves, keep offering witness and engagement with other white folks who are willing to listen – and keep strategically disrupting the illusion of consensus among our alllivesmatter or nobodyslifereallymattersbutmyown circles of white friends.

Each of us has to figure out how to do that well – and where it’s even possible. We’ll always have to pick our battles, but that fact shouldn’t allow us to abdicate from engagement entirely.

7) Figuring out how to be and act anti-racist is an ongoing, life-long active process. It never ends, but that also means that it offers constant possibility for learning and growth and becoming a better person. It is transformative. It is hard. It is vital. And it is blessing.

May we actively participate in our own transformation and in the transformation of the world around us.

Amen

This is the 1st post in a series today – and an ongoing series that can be found under the tag race.

On Listening While White

I believe that the first call upon those of us who are white is to listen – with humility, without condemning – to the expression of black rage in this moment.

None of us knows what it is like to be black in America.

Not a one of us.

There is much work to be done to address the terrible inequities that give rise to that rage.

We will do that work better if we begin by listening before we speak and before we act.

None of us does that perfectly, but all of us can keep doing it better.

We also can do a better job of listening to the fact that black people are made not only of righteous rage, but also of creativity, joy, love, connection, and meaning.

In other words, black folks are fully human, created in God’s image.

Understanding that is critical work in resisting the impulse toward dehumanization as well.

Here are three organizations doing vital work on the ground in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Freedom Fund
Black Visions Collective
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Supporting such efforts in a tangible way is also really important right now.

If you do not have access to a range of black voices to inform your listening, message me and I will share links to some of the public voices that I listen to and learn from.

There is much more work to be done, but the very first work we must do today is not cause more harm.

Amen

Sleeping Gods, Sleeping Demons

I pledge allegiance
to the economy

to the Economy
that hides
behind the flag

of any given
nation

like the
stars and
bars

Oh. Wait.

like the
stars and
stripes

like somehow we
care for people
and rocks and
birds
and trees and
corn and
bread
instead of

for the Dow
for the dollar

for what does,
by chance,
that flag stand for?

I pledge allegiance
to the shred
of privilege

I might find here in
the land of
the free
market.

I pledge allegiance
to the proper
wealth of the
high and mighty
who bought low
and sold high

brought low,
sold high

and who sold
out

the rest
who live
and breathe
and matter.

White Supremacy as a Demon

My kind of theology doesn’t talk much about demons.

I am much more comfortable with an intellectual analysis of problematic systems. I tend to carefully examine all of the constituent historical pieces that, put together, cause such prevalent harm in our society – and I can rationally explain how each of us is bound up in those systems, for some by choice and for many of us unwillingly, but inescapably.

But in reading this morning about the terrible killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was targeted for #joggingwhileblack in Brunswick, GA . . .

and in thinking about how the federal government is ready to dismantle the COVID task force now that it’s clear that the virus’s primary class of victims are black and brown (or elderly or imprisoned or disabled or otherwise considered disposable in a profit-focused society) . . .

and seeing the video of a black woman slammed to the floor in a local Walmart for non-compliance with a mask ordinance (yes, by a black officer – but we are well aware that the system weaponizes people of color against one another) (and yes, people should absolutely be wearing masks, but non-compliance is widespread and the escalation captured in that video cannot be the answer) . . .

it sits on my heart that white supremacy is a demon.

It is our country’s dearest demon.

It is pervasive and powerful, but it does not have to be.

The problem is that we are much more inclined to exercise it than exorcise it.

As a nation – and as individual agents of white supremacy – we owe due repentance as an active material and spiritual practice.

We have to commit – and indefatigably re-commit – to exorcising white supremacy from our own souls, from our relationships with one another, and from our systems of governance, commerce, and culture.

To do otherwise is to assent to the flourishing of evil – and while I know there are people who gleefully traffic in venality – no one I know – none of you out there reading this – wants to be a perpetrator of evil. I know I don’t.

White supremacy is a demon. It’s a demon when it’s polite and subtle. It’s a demon when it’s seductively comforting. It’s a demon when it’s happily bloody from terrible enacted violence.

White supremacy is a demon.

It’s our demon.

Amen

Rep. Ilhan Omar and the Same Old Questions

I’ve been pondering what to say about the recent/ongoing controversies around the president and Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The problem is that there’s really nothing new to say. These are the same old questions of power and ethics.

However, the lessons remain important – and never more so than during Holy Week, so:

The critically important voices of women of color are massively underrepresented in public discourse in our culture. May we listen and learn from them, recognizing and respecting that those voices are particular rather than monolithic.

White imperial capitalist patriarchy perpetually reacts with violence to challenges to its ill-gotten hegemonic power. The intensity of reaction generally mirrors the intensity of the perceived threat. This power is unambiguously harmful to people and the planet.

Cultural pluralism is one of the greatest gifts of life in the contemporary United States. In that context, religious differences ought to be a site of blessing and respect. May we who are not Muslim hold Muslims in our hearts as our friends and neighbors.

Our lives are suffused with holiness — of time, place, and being. We must actively, daily choose to grasp that reality, to live that way rather than drowning in the transactionalism of contemporary society, that system of dominance that reduces all worth to that of economic production and consumption.

Let those of us who claim an ethical principle of living, rooted in religious faith or not, do our best to embody compassion, justice, respect, and love in ways that reject exploitation, dehumanization, and commodification of all living beings and the whole of Creation.

That is the work of living in this age.

We do this work and walk this path together.

Amen