Why sometimes an African doctor is better than an American one

Omalu_Picture_(7).jpg

wikipedia

In 2005, Dr Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian doctor living in the US, published a paper about a degenerative brain disease. This disease was causing serious personality changes, violent behavior, memory loss, and even suicide. People— famous people— were exhibiting these horrendous symptoms for years, but no doctors had published papers or studied it enough to come up with a cohesive theory of how these symptoms were connected.

Why?

The famous people exhibiting these symptoms were American football players. Continue reading

Easter Sunday (or,Ta-Nehisi Coates, Miroslav Volf & NT Wright have a conversation about bodies)

We are back again. This time it’s very early, and the sun is rising. And the kindly looking bishop takes the pulpit.

“Our scripture reading for today comes from the gospel according to John: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Bodies matter. Disembodiment is evil. But we are people who believe in resurrection. Because Christ is raised from the dead, we believe that all will be raised. Resurrected to judgement or to eternal life. What I do in my body as a white person matters. And what happens to a black body matters. There will come a reckoning. Continue reading

Good Friday: The Day God Dies (or Ta-Nahesi Coates, Miroslav Volf & N.T. Wright have a conversation about bodies)

We are all gathered in a small chapel for our normal good Friday service, the candles are lit, the incense is ready, but then Ta-Nahesi Coates stands up in the middle of the service, faces the congregation, and begins to speak:

“When a black man dies, everyone wants to talk about forgiving the killer.They want to weave his death into some kind of higher meaning, some purpose. But I don’t believe in God. I believe in bodies. When I sat in the church Prince’s funeral, my black friend who was rich, well educated, whose mother had groomed him for Yale, when I sat there I couldn’t see a higher purpose in his death. Continue reading

On Corporate Confession: A Prayer for Black History Month

Over Christmas break, I was drinking coffee with two of my favorite people in the world (who actually had never met each other). We only had an hour, so there was zero small talk and we went straight to the good stuff like the role of women in the church and diversity and reconciliation and these pressing issues that keep us up at night. At one point we were talking about reconciliation in the church, and black lives matter, and why our white churches can’t/aren’t doing anything on this issue. And at one point I said something like,

“The white church’s problem is we see everything as individualistic, and so we think if we’re individually nice to the black people we know then we’re loving our neighbours and everything is fine. (Like this study pointed out). But if the problems are bigger than that—if they’re structural, if racism is more about a system—it’s harder for people to grasp that.”

Continue reading

Conversations on Privilege with Brett “fish” Anderson part 2

Conversations on privilege

Today we’re continuing this conversation on privilege with Brett! Check over here for part 1.

How do you feel about the idea of privilege now? 

i find it so frustrating seeing people who don’t ‘get’ it. Partly because i feel like i have to some extent ‘got’ it for a while now and been talking and writing and engaging with it for so long and so it always surprises me when i come across people who react so negatively to the idea of it. i completely believe that for the most part people have a wrong understanding of the concept of white privilege when they get so defencive. Feel bad for being white is the message they hear. White guilt is another one. You are bad because you have this white privilege thing is another.

Continue reading

On Labels & Learning

on

Mmm, yes, canva good job on changing my text alignment.

I’m thrilled to welcome Brettfish to the blog space for the next little while to share his story of wrestling with the concept of privilege as a white South African guy. Brett is someone who is helping the white community in SA start to have conversations about race and privilege, and does a great job sharing his platform with thoughtful South Africans of all races in discussing this topic. I’ve learned so much from his posts, and even had the chance to do a guest post for him at one stage. With all that’s going on in SA right now with the #feesmustfall campaigns, there have been a lot of questions and conversations about privilege springing up. I think Brett’s story is a great place to start if you have questions about all this “privilege” stuff.

But before we jump into Brett’s posts, I want you to hear this. Because I think you won’t be able to hear anything unless you know this, and know it deep, deep in your soul:

You are loved.

Continue reading

The Weird and Wonderful of the Interwebs this week

I have a couple of guest posters coming up who are going to be sharing about hospitality. But in the mean time… there’s just too much stuff I’m reading these days to keep to myself. So welcome to the weird and wonderful of the interwebs:

The American Race clicks:

Race Bias in Photography: There was this 5 minute video on film processing that was sent to me by a photographer friend. Did you know that the chemical processes used to develop color film were created in order to make white people skin tones look good but just made black people skin tones look one, pretty uniform dark brown? The color-tests they were using to check their processes were of a white person (another example of how white = “normal”, but actually white isn’t normal). And they only started correcting this in the 1970’s when chocolate companies and wood furniture companies complained that the photographs of their products weren’t looking that good? WHAT?!

If you’re confused about Black Lives Matter, and think that it’s exclusive, or leaving people out, and that maybe we should talk about #AllLivesMatter, this article does a really good job explaining why Black Lives Matter is important. AND, how as Christians, when we say things like #AllLivesMatter we’re hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ, not helping.

“What, on the surface, “All Lives Matter” attempts to communicate – that is, we all matter, we all have value, we are all of the same race, all human, all the same color on the inside – actually accomplishes the opposite. Instead of bringing ALL lives together, “All Lives Matter” is, in essence, attempting to erase the experience of the black community. In saying all lives matter, you are choosing to ignore the lives that are not being valued now.”

-Lindsay Wallace, “Light Breaks Forth” blog. “Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter.  

And then there was finally an amazing speech by someone in government about the major issues that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is seeking to address. Yay to Elizabeth Warren for talking about broad policing reform to protect both police and the people they are interacting with. If you’re interested in signing a petition calling for some of these concrete reforms to our policing and criminal justice system, check out the Black Lives Matter movement website.

“We’ve seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air — their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protesters have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets,” Warren said. “And it’s not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church [in Charleston, S.C.]. We must be honest: 50 years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.” – Elizabeth Warren in the article by the Washington Post


The South African Race Clicks: 

On the #IamStellenbosch campaign fail. In response to some of the recent protests and calls for certain symbols of colonial oppression to be removed (as well as calling for a more Afrocentric syllabus, among other things), one university tried to start a campaign to promote unity and break down stereotypes. Students were supposed to hold pieces of paper sharing a fact about themselves that broke a racial stereotype. Great idea? Except… not. This article explains why. It’s full of a lot of big words like hegemony, sooo, it might not be your cup of tea. But the title of the article sums it up well: #IamStellenbosch: Non-racialism, and feigning a perfect society. Basically, the author argues that this campaign is silencing the actual inequalities that still exist, and the ignoring the fact that race still has “currency” in South Africa– it does matter in our interactions, in who are friends are, where we live, in our syllabuses, when we look for jobs, or spend our money, or get pulled over by the police. And when we argue for color-blindness and enforce a narrative that “race doesn’t matter”– we’re just conveniently propping up the white (rich/capitalist/whatever you want to call it) status quo.

Oh wait– silencing? That sounds a lot like the #AllLivesMatter stuff that’s going around in the states. See– connections!! And plenty of food for thought.

“The #IAmStellenbosch campaign is microcosmic mimicry of the reckless, offensive and violent way which the Rainbow Nation project attempted to feign a perfect society.”

““Non-racialism” is the new magic cloak whiteness wears to disguise itself.”

Also, I LOVED this post on how we celebrate Heritage Day in South Africa by Peter Ruddock over at Vapours in the Wind. He argues Heritage Day should be a time of introspection and embracing all parts of our heritage and past: the messy parts, the privileged parts and the painful parts.

“Now there is something wonderfully communal and unifying about the braai, and traditional outfits reflect something important about culture, so I do not object to them per se. But I remain concerned that by celebrating only in these ways, we have reduced entire cultures to costumes and what it means to be South African to a spicy sausage.”


The South African and American Race Clicks Collide!

And THEN I read THIS article, shared by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which was talking about the removal of Confederate symbols in the USA (in this instance, he’s talking about Memphis, but with all of the #takedownthatflag stuff going on, it relates to Confederate symbols anywhere). The author compared it with the #RhodesMustFall campaigns on university campuses in South Africa. I like that he highlights the need to think about the meaning of these symbols and be willing to listen to people and wrestle through the issues. However, he slightly touches on, but doesn’t delve into the idea that it’s easy to make a symbolic gesture and say the past was unjust… it’s a little harder to make changes that affect present injustice. 

To make the process more constructive, there must be a more thorough and honest look into the past and its effects on the present.That includes acknowledging the pain caused by symbols of oppression and the disadvantages and attitudes that linger from that era. Dismissals of the relevance and legitimacy of that pain with statements like “let’s move on” or “you can’t change history” only make productive dialogue more difficult.

“Rhodes Must Fall”and Memphis’ Confederate Monuments


On Social Justicey things:

I loved this article on the refugee crisis and our limits of compassion by Ebony Johanna. I mean, it’s a pretty tough article, but she sure speaks truth! Definitely worth the time to head over to her blog and read the whole thing!

Have our hearts become so hardened, our humanity so compromised that we cannot recognize that of another unless we, with our eyes, see that they are dead? I hope not. But the current reality does not allow me to imagine another scenario. We do not seem to move unless blood is spilled, we do not seem to care unless the target of our affection is not breathing. We do not care about babies until they are aborted, black lives until they are dead in the streets, the lives of women until they have no more voice, refugees until they are drowning in a sea of forgetfulness. Our compassion towards each other begins and ends in death; with such a distorted perception of care, how can any of us truly live?

And now a HAPPY one! You know I like complaining about how people are presented in a lot of community development/ international aid fundraising campaigns, right? Okay, so how cool is it that when the UN announced their new global goals for sustainable development, they made this video by Africans, for Africans, featuring African artists? Africans are a part of bringing sustainable development to Africa, this isn’t just something that people in the West dream up and then fly over to implement, despite the picture that most big-name charities present. Also, I like that they portray urban culture and technology use– two other things you don’t often see in presentations of Africa. I’m sure someone more cynical than me can find plenty of things wrong with it. But hey, as things go, it’s pretty good.

Plus, it’s a catchy song,even if it’s cheesy propaganda. 🙂


And finally. I have to share how PROUD I am of myself for successfully making Peppermint Crisp Pudding for Heritage day with only ONE of the same ingredients that the original recipe calls for. Yes. I did it.

Here’s the ingredients: whipping cream (=same), coconut biscuits I found in the Mexican aisle (instead of tennis biscuits), Andes mint pieces (instead of peppermint crisp) and the BIG one: Sweetened condensed milk (instead of caramel treat). I boiled the tin of condensed milk for 2.5 hours using these instructions, and turned it into caramel treat. It worked! Best dessert ever.

FotoPeprCreated

The problem we all live with

By Norman Rockwall

By Norman Rockwell

I wasn’t going to post this week, because we’re in the process of moving in to our new apartment in Texas! Yay! Expect to hear lots more “y’all” and twanging in these posts in the future. But, I just had to share this, briefly. 

This one is for the Americans. I just listened to this story on NPR. Sometimes people ask me, “But what about poor white people? You make it sound like all white people are privileged, but there are lots of black people that are richer and have better lives than poor white people.” There are poor white people. True. But.

Here are a couple quotes that blew my mind from this podcast, which talks about the school district in Ferguson:

  •  “In the Saint Louis area, nearly 1 in 2 black children attend schools in districts that performed so poorly, the state has stripped them of full accreditation. Only 1 in 25 white children are in a district like that. That’s 1 in 2 black kids, 1 in 25 white kids….”
  • “Of course, there are poor white children in the Saint Louis area, but they live in mostly middle class areas. So they aren’t attending schools as terrible as Normandy (Michael Brown’s school). In Saint Louis, poor white children are twice as likely to go to good schools than black children of all incomes”.

And that’s the kicker. There are white poor people. And life is hard if you are poor, no matter what your race. I do not want to undermine that. But when it comes to a lot of things, it’s not only about income, it’s also about race. A lot of poor white people still experience aspects of white privilege, ranging from big to mundane. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

  • going to better schools with better teachers
  • knowing that when you’re walking into a store, you won’t be followed or suspected of shop-lifting
  • being able to wear sweatpants without being worried that people will think you are a thug
  • being called back for interviews and given the benefit of the doubt in job hiring (this article references a study done in 2000 that showed when people were obviously qualified or unqualified for a job, there was no racial discrimination, but when the qualifications were fuzzy, participants were nearly 70% more likely to recommend the white applicant than the black applicant).
  • being more likely to get off with a warning than being convicted (see The New Jim Crow).

And not only in the present, but historically, too. For example, Polish, Irish, Italian and (enter European ethnicity here) immigrants were all discriminated against when they first came to America. Many of them took low-paying factory jobs. Many of them had to work very, very hard to make ends meet. But, the book “How the Irish became white” explains that one way all of these immigrant groups eventually became accepted into main-line America was through discriminating against black people. Kind of a “You rich white guys think we’re bad? Well, we’re not as bad as them.” Some of the worst violence against black people at the turn of the century in the North (don’t just blame it on slavery, y’all) came from the poor working class white people. Managers would discriminate against hiring black people, and would go for the immigrants instead. So just because your grandparents didn’t own slaves doesn’t mean that your history is free from racial privilege.

We have made so much progress in the past 150 years. We have, we really have. We don’t have to claim that things are as bad today as they were during the Civil Rights era. Things are much, much better. But imagine the outrage you’d hear if we had a stat like, “In this area, half the poor girls are in a failing school, while only one in twenty-five poor boys are in a failing school.”  

I mean, we’d be put on UN watch-lists or something. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Okay, I probably am. But still. Listen to the podcast. It put a human face on a really big problem. And I might have cried at one point. Can you tell I cannot endorse this enough? 🙂 

Pea Soup and Brene Brown

Read the book. It's way better than the movie.

Read the book. It’s way better than the movie.

I always picture “shame” like the pea-soup green fog that descends on the town of Chewandswallow in the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 

It kind of rises up inside of you and hovers around you like an icky blanket and of COURSE every rational human being would want to avoid it. You’d be crazy not to.

I want to avoid it. Even just writing that sentence makes me want to hide under a blanket or take a shower. Shame is just such an icky feeling.

I want to avoid it so much, that sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to things that are true. If I feel like some part of what that person is saying somehow implicates me, my armor goes up and I try to run away as far as possible.

Especially when it comes to conversations about race. If there’s one thing that no kind, decent human being wants to be called, it’s a racist. (There are some other people out there who maybe wouldn’t mind being called a racist, but that’s a whole different story). In the US, we immediately picture ourselves being lumped in the same category as the KKK, cross burning and all. In South Africa, we think of the atrocities committed under apartheid, the police interrogations, the shame of having the world hate us, and we want to flee the other direction.

We do not want to be called racist.

And I think that’s a problem. It’s not that we don’t want to be racist. We don’t want to be called racist. We don’t want people to think we’re racist. How much do we really want to be people who are not racist?

On the surface I always say, “Of course I don’t want to be racist! I’m not racist!” But I definitely want to avoid the horrible squishy feeling that comes up when there are conversations about privilege. And my built-in anti-shame mechanism can prevent me from hearing truth, because I can’t get past my own feelings.

And when I’m listening to black friends share their experiences of racism, or talking about some systemic injustice their dealing with, whether it’s in the academy, or in their interaction at a restaurant, I oscillate between two different reactions. On the one hand, the pea-soup-fog of shame is descending and I just want to cover my ears and run away. Or, I want to immediately jump in to the story and share some kind of anecdote that will completely disassociate me from “those” racist white people who are nothing like me. On the other hand, this disassociating myself from “those racist white people” is a process that requires some pretty crazy racist white people to exist. I need those crazy racists so that I look okay, and the focus isn’t on me. As long as there are still people who will kill black people in churches, no one is asking me hard questions about my unconscious biases, or the systems that privileged me. And I’m safe, because I can avoid shame for the moment.

But, there’s concrete evidence that shows white people in South Africa are still privileged.

  • In a 2006 and 2010 study conducted in KZN (controlling for class-based discrimination), almost 1 in 3 black people will be discriminated against in booking holiday accommodation.
  • White people continue to occupy the highest living standard measures in South Africa, (73% of white people are in the highest two groups, and none are in the lowest groups). (Institute of Justice and Reconciliation Study, 2014).
  • Black/African people make up 41.2% of the educated post-school population yet only 21.1% of managers are black/African. The percentage of black/Africans is even smaller in highest level management and CEO positions, where 69.2% of management positions are held by white people (a reminder that we white people are only 10% of the population). (Institute of Race Relations).

There’s hard evidence of racism in America today as well… evidence about how often black kids are convicted for the same crimes that white kids just get a warning for. Evidence about how the police treat people that they pull over. Studies that show there’s still discrimination in hiring and admissions processes. A history of racism that trapped some people in cycles of poverty and other’s in an upward spiral of privilege (but I haven’t just finished a masters in that, so I don’t have tons of studies at my finger tips. But you could watch this TED talk) that references several.

But as a white person, it’s really hard to hear things like this. It’s really hard to hear, because we have this pea-soup fog of shame that hovers around statistics like that, and since we don’t want to walk into that shame, we don’t want to listen to those stats, or hear those stories.

“That can’t be right!” our gut anti-shame mechanism tells us. “That’s only one side of the story. They’ve got to be slanting that somehow.”

Because if those stories and stats are true, it means that we’ve got to walk through that pea-soup fog. Because the truth is that I don’t have to let the shameful things about my heritage or my people group, or my social group define everything about me. But if I really want to be someone who isn’t racist, if I want to be for racial justice, then I’ve got to be willing to take the plunge to work through that process.

Even if it makes me uncomfortable.

Even if I don’t like what I hear.

I love Brene Brown’s stuff. She’s a shame researcher, but her focus is on whole-hearted living– connecting with others, having meaning, and being vulnerable. All the wonderful things that happen when we take a risk and step into discomfort and are willing to listen and grow.

(You should watch them all, but the link above is a FANTASTIC one on this topic. She’s so funny and I wish I was her. In this talk, in a side comment, she says that conversations about privilege are so difficult because of shame. But she has great comments about how to process shame, to be vulnerable, embrace discomfort and be fully alive).

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be blogging more about race stuff. And I’m inviting to you journey with me. Don’t let the shame– real shame, or the specter of shame- keep you from engaging. Be brave. Watch Brene Brown. Or at least read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  🙂