You know I’m Not Racist, but…

A number of people I know (and love), as well as several folks who have commented either on my blog or my Facebook page, have recently said something to the effect of “You know I’m not racist, but…”

Let’s stop right there and think about this.

On the positive side, yes: I am certain all of these people view themselves as not racist, and try hard to not act toward people of color (or think of them) in ways that are racist or uncaring. This is a good thing. (And frankly, if they did otherwise, we wouldn’t be friends! ) But, as with all things, how we define our terms really matters. And so, are we all using the word “Racist” in the same way?

The answer is “No, we’re not.”

Now I could give you a long dissertation as to why I myself am not racist. I certainly have many reasons to consider myself better informed and sensitive to this issue than many of not most of those who share my skin color are.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true: all those years of experience and introspection have taught me that I truly am racist – and here’s why…

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I Slept Well Last Night: Reflections on My White Privilege

I slept well last night after having a peaceful, productive, day:

  • I puttered about in my vegetable and flower gardens.
  • I recorded a sermon for this coming Sunday’s Pentecost service, and conferred with our Church’s Senior Minister on some aspects of the process.
  • I did some research into what needs to be done for our church to re-open, and when that should happen.
  • I visited with my Mother, who lives nearby.
  • I went grocery shopping (a little frustrated because I can’t find my favorite Organic Fair Trade Instant Coffee anywhere).
  • Paid some bills.
  • I took delivery on a new lawn mower (to replace an ancient one that recently died).
  • I played with my son.
  • I made plans with my wife for tasks that need to be done in the next few days.
  • I did a fair amount of Facebooking.
  • And, at the end of the day, I spent some time watching Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” on streaming video.

In other words, I did nothing really unusual – at least not unusual for me in this time of the COVID-19 Shutdown.

Life continues – albeit at a slightly slower pace.

But consider the way the days and nights have gone recently for many of my friends, particularly Ministers, who are both Male and Black…

Continue reading “I Slept Well Last Night: Reflections on My White Privilege”

There But For The Grace of God Go I

Florida Governor Ralph Northam in Blackface,  1984There’s been quite an outcry against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), just as there was a couple of weeks ago against Florida’s Secretary of State to be, Michael Ertel (R). In both cases, both men – and both quite a few years ago – did some things that were at best ill-advised and insensitive at the time, and which are now seen (rightly) as very racist.
Both are examples of judgment being levied before the facts are known, just as we recently saw happen in the encounter of Covington Catholic High School Students with Native American activist Nathan Philips in Washington DC.
In looking closely at the careers of Governor Northam and Mr. Ertel, we see men who are very focused on a just and fair political system for everyone. We see men who have been taking principled stands against those who would undermine our political systems in the name of power and advantage.

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I’m Not Racist?

We cannot be our own judge.

“No, I am not a racist.”

Really?

The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless.  (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it!  But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)

Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view.  They are an expression of how we see ourselves.  And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life.  So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists.  We’re not misogynists.  We’re not bullies.  We’re not evil.  Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.

In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist.  That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism.  Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves.  We cannot be our own judge.

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Racism and The Star Spangled Banner

A great deal has been made in the last year or so of NFL’er Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem.  I thought it might be useful to understand some of the reasons why he does so.

For one, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner’s lyrics, was a slaveowner.

For another, read the original verses of the song for yourself, particularly the third and fourth verses…

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Misogyny in the IT World: a Rebuttal

The furor that erupted in the media this week in response to a Google employee’s manifesto that claimed women aren’t biologically suited for high tech careers got me to thinking, and reflecting, on my own 25+ years in the high tech world.

I began working on this post by trying to list all the female superiors, mentors, co-workers and subordinates I’ve had over the years who have had a positive impact on my own career.  But, that list quickly became quite long; and so I quickly set aside that effort.

Besides, while recalling my old friends and co-workers brings back many fond memories for me, it would be meaningless to you, the reader.  I also did not want to risk missing someone, and wasn’t sure how some of my long ago co-workers would feel to see their name popping up here without warning (or permission).  So, I’ll just say that I could not have been who I was in the IT world, and the man I am now, if it hadn’t been for them.  To each and every one of of them I give a deep and heartfelt (though anonymous) “Thanks.”

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The UCC’s Letter to Talladega College

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Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, President of Talladega College

Yesterday while I was leading my Church’s Worship Service, a member of our congregation asked me (during our “announcements time”) what I thought of the UCC’s recent letter to Talladega College, a historically Black College in Alabama that has been rebuilding itself after nearly failing a few years ago.  This letter challenges the school’s decision to allow their marching band appear in the Inauguration Parade in Washington DC on January 20th.  It seemed fitting to publish my thoughts here; expanding on the response I gave to her question.

Now, clearly the school’s decision is very controversial, given the incoming administration’s abysmal track record (to date) when it comes to social justice issues and policies.  However, Talladega College’s President, Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, defended the school’s decision saying: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade, … As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

In response to the college’s announcement, the leadership of the United Church of Christ, my own denomination, and which has been a supporter of Talladega College, sent a letter to the school questioning this decision and asking that they reconsider.  Several alumni of the school have expressed similar concerns.

This is an old, old argument: a new phase in the long battle between those in the Black Community who advocate a more accommodating approach in confronting racism and injustice in this country; and those who favor a more confrontive approach.  Both approaches are valid, and are part of a toolkit that encompasses a wide range of possible responses to racism and injustice that can (and should) be deployed.  (Though which is most appropriate depends upon the particular situation.)

I cannot speak to the specifics of this situation: I was not party to the decision process at Talladega, and have not seen the text of the UCC’s letter to the school.  However, I am deeply concerned by the UCC’s actions here.  What I do know is that Dr. Hawkins is no lightweight, and no stranger to tough challenges; and that we cannot dismiss his school’s decision, or reasoning, lightly.

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Sermon: Hope Amidst the Darkness

Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.

I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.

These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.

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Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

Is It Justice When We Do It Too?

Is the use of another’s history of oppression and dispossession as a means of promoting a cause we hold dear, in opposition to the clearly unjust and hurtful stance of those we see as opposing us, just? Do two wrongs make a right?

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This meme makes a valid point, but the map itself inflates the facts quite a bit, and is problematic in other ways…
Large portions of the area shown here were never part of Mexico, and most were actually administered remotely with no actual Imperial Spanish (and in some places/times French) presence “on the ground,” and were ceded to the U.S. in the first few decades of the 19th century.
Even so, it is true that the Texas Revolution, the war of 1845, and the Gadsden purchase reduced the land area the nation of Mexico to less than half of the size it had at the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1808.

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A Message for All Ages: “Blue”

In this message, I showed this two minute video: “Blue” by Tech Insider.

The video shows us that a word for the color “Blue” usually develops much later in most languages than do words for “Black,” “White,” “Red,” “Green” or “Yellow.”  So, the question is “Can people without a word for ‘Blue’ in their language actually see the color we know as ‘Blue’?”  The video answers this question by presenting convincing evidence that people have great difficulty in distinguishing Blue from other colors when they have no word for Blue in their language.

This suggests several things – any one of which would be sufficient for a brief “Message for All Ages” – pick the one that suits your situation best…

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Blaming The Victim

Claiming that our Christian faith is strong is a lie unless we put into action our belief that this nation must embody Christian principles in the governance of its people. Providing subsidies to help those who do not have the resources to begin building a good life for themselves on their own is a good place to start. Likewise, those who claim that this is a “Christian Nation” are deluding themselves if they allow our leaders to ignore and even demonize those in need.

21sun1-superjumboIn a recent Op-Ed piece entitled “The Crisis of Minority Employment,” the New York Times Editors make it clear that  Congress’s abandonment of subsidized work programs for minorities is not only a threat to the economic viability of our cities, but is also shortsighted – sacrificing the long term economic and social wellbeing of a large segments of our population with the excuse that we can’t afford it.  “…Getting jobless young people into the world of work is valuable in itself. Work reduces alienation, gives people a stake in society and allows children in poor communities to absorb the ethic they need to be successful.”

And they are correct: by shutting down such programs, Congress is abandoning its responsibility to provide for the common good – of all, not just for some.

The common complaint we hear from many – both in and out of Congress – who reject the idea of providing help to the poor in any form is that all “they” want is a handout.  The thinking is that somehow (because of the stereotype we have created in our own minds that they are uneducated druggies and street criminals) minority youth do not deserve our help.

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