A letter to my white son

I started writing this letter to you just after Mother’s day. And suddenly three months have gone by and you’re almost sitting up and rolling over. That’s just how things go, I guess. Somehow, too, in the same space of time we’ve gone from a police shooting to white supremacists marching in public. That’s also how things go, I guess. 

You arrived just in time to make me a mother for Mother’s Day.

Scrolling through twitter on the Thursday before Mother’s Day, and wondering when you would decide to be born, I saw an announcement for a Mother’s Day March to the Dallas County Courthouse, organized by Mothers Against Police Brutality.

I didn’t go to the march, because you were born the next day. About the time the mothers were marching up the courthouse steps, demanding justice for  15 year old Jordan Edwards, who had been killed by a police officer in Dallas the week before, we were walking down the steps of a Texas hospital to take you home. Continue reading

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The Gospel as an antidote to white fragility

When it comes to talking about race, white people often feel defensive, angry, and afraid. White people can completely shut down because conversations about race or privilege are so uncomfortable. A researcher named Robin DeAngelo calls this “white fragility“. In a conversation with Sam Adler-Bell, she describes why white people completely shut down:

For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.

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 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? 🙂 

Listening. Really, really listening.

The historic AME Church in Charleston where the shooting took place, (courtesy of CNN.com)

The historic AME Church in Charleston where the shooting took place, (courtesy of CNN.com)

I had an English teacher in high school who made us do listening exercises and not just speeches in English class. “We’re training kids to talk,” he would say, “and there’s too many people talking in the world, and very few people who are trained how to listen.”

I’ve heard that in the Isreali-Palestine negotiations, before anyone actually comes together to sit down at the table, the negotiating team first has to so thoroughly understand their opponent’s position that they’d be able to convincingly present their case. “We can only start talking once we really understand each other,” they say.

And so this is what I’m asking my white friends, especially my white friends who follow Jesus. I’m asking that we listen.

When headlines happen that involve the deaths of black Americans, before we speak (or before we don’t speak) can we listen to what our black friends are saying? Can we first see what this means to the black community? Followers of Jesus are encouraged to put into practice Paul’s words, “Do good to everyone, especially those who are your brothers in Christ.” When a black man dies, and it’s splashed all over the news, can we listen to what our black brothers in Christ are saying about it, and let that be the lens through which we view the situation, before we add on our political interpretations and agendas? (Check out rapper Lecrae’s op-ed on perspective here).

When a  white guy kills a bunch of black people at a historically black church, can we listen to the meaning that our black pastors are ascribing to this event? When they talk about how this reminds them of the Civil Rights era, and how that terror is still very real today, can we listen? Can we listen when they say they feel angry at how the white church was silent about the Ferguson shooting? Can we try to understand why they would feel that way? Before we jump in and talk about how our constitutional rights are being trampled by gun-control laws, can we at least hear where the plea for gun-control laws are coming from? Can we understand that history shows pretty clearly that if the federal government hadn’t stepped in, it might have been 1995 before black people could vote safely in many Southern states, and that for many black people, the federal government is an ally, not an enemy– all because they can’t trust the people in their own neighbourhoods and districts to vote in ways that lead to black lives flourishing? I’m not asking you to agree, I’m asking you to listen. And to listen in order to understand.

I’m asking us white Christians, who are really good at giving talks to girls about dressing modestly and inconveniencing ourselves out of love for our brothers with the clothes that we wear, to start giving talks about issues that matter to our black brothers. Taking down the Confederate Flag is exactly the same argument as the modesty argument. It might not be a big deal to you, as a Southerner, it might be your right to fly it, but as someone who cares for your black brothers and sisters, will you inconvenience yourself and take it down out of love for them?

In South Africa, can we find ways to listen to the black people in our lives—and make a space that is comfortable for them enough to share? Too often when interact with black people, we do so in a way that does not afford them the power to really say what they think. When we tell a race-based joke, are our black friends laughing because it’s funny, OR because they know if they told you it makes them uncomfortable you wouldn’t listen but would tell them to get a sense of humour and stop being so sensitive? When we ask a black collegue’s opinion, have we created an environment where they can really share and be heard, or do they need to tow our party-line? Can we listen to our black friend’s interpretations of the news before we jump in with our own agendas? Can we invite their criticism? Can we ask them to let us know when we’re being offensive, or pushy, or insensitive? In our churches, our workplaces and our dinner parties, are we listening to black voices?

And because I hate reading things like this that don’t have any practical applications, here are a few concrete ideas:

In the USA: 

  • Watch this series of 8 TED talks on race and racism in the USA. If you only watch two, make sure it’s this one about 3 things we can do to get over our internal bias (it’s super funny, too!) or this one, that discusses the criminal justice system.
  • Here’s a reading list that was put together to help people understand the context around the Charleston shooting.
  • Join a church or civic organization that is not predominantly white, and get involved. Join a choir, or a prayer meeting. Put yourself in places where you can have black leaders in positions of authority over you so you can listen and learn.
  • Change your neighborhood.
  • Get a different newspaper, or magazine subscription.
  • Take a course on African American history.
  • Take a course on African American literature.
  • Ask your black friends about what they think and really listen.

In South Africa;

  • This TED talk about bias is American, but the concept still applies in a South African context.
  • Join a church or organization that is not predominantly white, or seek out leaders in your denomination who are not white and be mentored by them.
  • Change your neighbourhood.
  • Take a course on black South African history and literature.
  • Read this series of blogs on race and South Africa by Brettfish – he gets some great guest posters of all races to weigh in, and as a white South African male, hearing his perspective and his journey of wrestling with race and privilege is super helpful.

Black friends, both in South African and the US, what are some things that you wish white people would do to listen better? 

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.  🙂

Exploring white privilege: Guest Posting at Irresistibly Fish

Brett Fish has some great conversations about white privilege happening over at his blog, you should definitely check it out! One of the big things that is coming out of my research is that a key catalyst for helping white people in South Africa move from a position of apathy (or an inability to even “see” racial privilege) to being active about racial justice is other white people who challenged them to start thinking differently. Which is why what Brett is doing is awesome. So if you’re curious, skeptical, or if you are already passionate about racial justice and want to learn more, head over! (Recently on Irresistibly Fish, Nkosi shared some of his views on what white people can do to help make South Africa a more just society, sparking a great conversation. And oh, one of them was pay your domestic helper a living wage… that sound’s familiar? :D) 

As a lot of the white privilege literature and conversation comes from an American context, I shared a few ramblings about what I have noticed in the South African context– the biggest thing being our perception of loss can blind us as white people to the privilege that still exists for us in this country… but that doesn’t change the fact that we are privileged. Here’s the start,

I’m a target of crime. I have to leave the country in order to find work.  I do not have leaders in government who are my race. When I’m stopped by a cop, they most likely do not look like me. I’m not privileged, I’m a victim.” 

These are some of the sentiments that I’ve heard (explicitly or implicitly) and read as I’ve talked with people about the topic of my master’s research, which includes issues of white privilege. Peggy McIntosh wrote an article called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she lists all the unrecognized benefits she has as a white person living in America. At first glance, it’s hard to tell if these benefits come from a history (and present reality) that systematically privileges white people, or if they come from being part of a racial numerical majority. (I mean, obviously she’d be able to find band-aids that match her skin colour, if the majority of people buying band-aids have white skin).

To read the rest of this article, head on over

Subverting the empire with prayer and other whispers of hope

http://www.dirtyandthirty.com/hot-mama/hope-floats/

These past few months, I’ve been spending less time in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza and more time in the comfy suburb of Hilton… and it’s been making me quite bitter. For some reason, it’s easier for me to hang on to hope in Sweetwaters. There’s poverty, there’s suffering, there are things that make me want to cry, but you can see the Kingdom pushing through. The fieldworkers are there every day loving those kids, there are stories of changes, and even when it’s two steps forward one step back, there’s this feeling that you’re going somewhere. A feeling that God is here and things will change.

But I’ve been hanging out more in the world of Hilton (due to scaling back my hours at iThemba to work on my masters), which is just as sick and just as in need of redemption, but here it’s been hard to hang on to hope. It wasn’t bad at first. I was all fired up, ready to be a part of building bridges, ready to intercede, ready to see God change… well… everything.

And then it was the lead up to the elections, and whitefear was choking people’s conversations, and everyone was still thinking about how to protect their own interests, moaning about the government and longing for the good-old-days, and tightening the bubble closer around themselves.

And the stuff I was reading for my masters showed story after story of how verbally white South Africa has said yes to democracy and unity and reconciliation, but actually is still trapped by fear and prejudice and is even passing that along to their children. I went on holiday to the coast and the very kind Christian people who were letting us stay in their self-catering accommodation made racist comments. Then I read a report that proved that over 1/3rd of the time, black South Africans will be refused holiday accommodation on the KZN  coast, simply because they are black. And then all my readings were full of people throwing around big words like ‘transformation’ and ‘hegemony’ but after a while, they started to sound like they were just that—words—being used to publish papers, not to actually change anything.

And even the Christian community was stifling me with how dedicated it was to same-ness. How dedicated it was to being stuck in a rut, and being okay with that. How blind it is to how someone from another income bracket, another culture, another race, another family type, another sexual orientation might feel in their group. And I realized how entrenched all these things are, how stubborn, how deeply, deeply rooted. In Sweetwaters, I don’t have to have awkward conversations where someone assumes I agree with their view about how badly the blacks are running the country (usually veiled in nicer language than that, of course). What do you do in that moment? Sometimes I say nothing because I’m scared to rock the boat and I don’t want to offend them. But sometimes I say nothing because I literally do not know what to say—how can you let comments like that slide, but how can you address it when this poor person clearly just wanted to make small talk, and deconstructing the racism actually embedded in their comment will probably get nowhere. (And then sometimes I do say something, but come off holier-than-thou and alienate people even more, which is just completely the wrong way to engage people and I just make everything worse).

And so slowly paralysis set in. And prayers trickled off.

It wasn’t prayers for revival anymore. It wasn’t prayers that this insulated, inward-looking community would become a radical out-ward focusing light to their neighbours. It was just the occasional, “Oh Lord, help!” (And often in the form of  a sarcastic muttering under the breath after something I heard or experienced). I was Elijah saying, “Enough of this, God. Just take my life and get it over with. That would be much easier than this. I’ve been working my heart out for you, and your people don’t give a rip and now they’re even trying to kill me.” (Okay, okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it feels like it sometimes).

But God quietly whispers to Elijah in the midst of his anger and bitterness, he whispers gently that he’s not alone (in fact, there are 7000 others who love God, too), and there is still work to do.

And I’ve heard God’s whispers lately (when I’ve stopped ranting enough to hear them).

http://www.raisinggenerationstoday.com/reach-out-for-hope-by-stacey-thacker/

I heard him whisper in the all-Hilton church prayer meeting before the elections, where the body of Christ came together and prayed not for ourselves, and for our lives to be comfortable, but for justice, and widows and orphans, and hungry people, and servant-leadership.

I heard him whisper in our church small group, as we’ve been discussing Generous Justice, by Tim Keller, and how our small group and church and our individual lives can express the generous grace and justice of God.

I heard him in a woman who came up to me after church one day and said, “When you sing, I can see that you really are worshipping. Thank you. It moves me to worship him, too.”

I heard him when our small group pitched in to sponsor a child for iThemba kids camp.

I heard him in the burn ward of the hospital.

I heard him most loudly in this statement, made by the leader at the all church prayer meeting:

Prayer is a subversive activity. By gathering to pray, we’re making a statement. We’re saying we believe we have a God who can change things. We’re not okay with the way things are, and we’re subverting the empire by coming before the true King and saying, “Your will be done.”

And the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and said,

You don’t believe this anymore. You whiney Elijah, thinking you’re the only one left. You think this all depends on you. You think I’m sitting back and doing nothing. You think I don’t have power to change anything. You’re wrong. Join me, Steph. Get praying real prayers again, prayers that believe you’re talking to the one with ultimate power. Stop whining and subvert the empire with me.

This is MY people,

this is MY church,

and the gates of Hell

(and materialism, and self-centeredness, and prejudice and fear)

will NOT prevail against it. 

_____________________________________

So, what do you all do to rekindle your hope? What encourages you when hope runs dry?