Anticipation

Anticipation involves eagerly awaiting that which promises to be remarkable. The last few weeks have been filled with nail-biting anticipation as election results were being revealed. This year of Covid-19, economic uncertainty and racial tensions has been a rollercoaster we never signed up to ride. Many of us are looking with anticipation to a new year, desperate to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. 

Over the next few weeks, Christian churches all over the world will enter the Advent Season. Advent, also a time of anticipation, allows us to consider three things. First, we consider the anticipation of the birth of a child, a feeling to which many parents can relate. However, this child was also eagerly awaited by a handful of people who understood and believed the words of the prophets. For them, Jesus represented the fulfillment of God’s promise. For us, Jesus represents the light in the darkness, God’s affinity with the poor and suffering, and the end of the separation between humankind and God. Second, Advent celebrates a living God concerned with our day to day endeavors – a parent/protector, friend, and comforter. Jesus Christ in the now symbolizes an openness of love, faith and joy; and an urgency to be God’s only hands – seeking out and caring for those in need. And finally, Advent anticipates Jesus’s return, a time of peace and justice, when all pain and suffering are in the rearview mirror. 

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we will all have to celebrate Advent, Christmas, and perhaps even Easter remotely. However, with this crisis comes the opportunity for more people to participate in worship services –creating unforeseen possibility for new connections. If you are “unchurched” – one of millions of American Christians who do not regularly attend church services – you can participate online during Advent this year as a way to feel connected (or reconnected) to a community. All of us can use this time as an excuse to be less rigid about the meaning of Advent and embrace this spirit of anticipation! Ask yourself, “What makes me feel hopeful?”, “Can I clear what I don’t need – namely, regret, fear and an unforgiving spirit – from my heart?”; and, “How can I bring a little light into the lives of others?” 

As the days get shorter and the weather colder, we will spend more energy managing the darkness. Driving around, I draw inspiration from the Christmas lights that brighten our city. Jesus is the light that cannot be vanquished by darkness. Spend time anticipating the hope and promise, love, and light in the world during this Advent Season. 

Image by Jeniffer, Wai Ting Tan from Pixabay

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Be safe out there! – GA

The Cheese Stands Alone

As Americans, we all need to be on one side – with Donald Trump standing alone.

When Donald Trump was hospitalized for COVID-19, I found myself praying for his health and wellbeing. And, it did make me feel more than a little uncomfortable. His callous disregard for life and his willingness to draw out and publicly beat “low-hanging fruit,” should make me feel compassion for his many, many victims – and (perhaps a little) for those who support him, and maybe his wife and kid, instead of having concern for him. But, I cared, in spite of myself. His soul is a bottomless pit of emptiness. And because of that, I feel sorry for him. I can’t help it.

There is also a part of me that really needs this man alive, whole and healthy for the election. I need to believe that no matter what our differences may be in this country – that only a small sliver of the people who live here want to go through four more years (four more minutes) of a Trump presidency. I want to look back at these four years as a blemish on our country and not a sign of who we really are.

I no longer believe that there are “two sides” to our predicament. We should all be one side – one country – united in our repudiation of this man and his grift, nepotism, arrogance and crass behavior. We no longer have allies in the world and our weakness is making us vulnerable. I have come to value having a difference of opinion with people – on gay rights, on abortion, on race, religion – you name it! Never have we had to be threatened with death because we do not agree. The president of the United States said in so many words that those of us who live in “blue states” – that our deaths from COVID are inconsequential. Why? Because we didn’t vote for you? What about all those folks out here who did vote for you? No, there is just one side.

Donald Trump took the Republican Party down the drain with his behavior. I hope that they take this opportunity to cut him off and reclaim their party. There is no need for the party of small government to be saddled with racism – there are (or at least there were) many Latinx and Black Republicans. The Log Cabin Republicans are an LGBTQ affinity group! I don’t agree with their views, but I guess I get it! The party had an opportunity to go with the times – embrace diversity, bring in some women leaders. Instead, there was a push to return to a fictional time when America was great – great for a few and not for us all.

I am seriously hoping that once we are out of this dark moment, we become a country where the popular vote wins, and more and more people become Independents up and down the political spectrum. Can you imagine living in a country where the strongest candidate with the most votes becomes the president? What if we made every effort to make it easier not difficult (or impossible) for people to vote? I wouldn’t mind if politically, the pendulum continues to swing left and right like it once did – the fights for women’s rights, racial equity, LGBTQ+ freedoms and the rest keep us young – I think that’s an important part of who we are as a nation.

Donald Trump is openly stealing money from the American people, wantonly causing our deaths and lying to our faces. As Americans, we all need to be on one side – with Donald Trump standing alone. This election needs to be an utter and complete rejection of Trump and all he stands for. We’ll pick up the pieces, go back to our corners, and live to fight another day.

– GJA

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Stay safe!
Vote!

A Vision of Love

Indeed, as a black taxpayer, I feel like I am paying wolves to hunt me.

After moving to Buffalo, I made a set of new friends. Each is an activist driven by vision. One works with men of color to relinquish patriarchy, and another is focused on strategies around food waste and sustainability. One of my friends once talked about infusing love into the prisons and the other is helping churches become a refuge for migrant families. Being with people with vision has filled me with a desire to create a social justice vision for each cause I hold dear. I admit that I can get bogged down in fighting against what is wrong now, instead of imagining a future worth fighting for.

Someone gave me the phrase “peace in every body”. And, I may hitch all my future vision-making to that one statement.

Tonight, I want to imagine what a society would be like with policing organized around creating peace. Simply rehabilitating individual “bad cops” or even lots and lots of police through training wont matter at all if the criminal justice system remains unjust and unregulated. Like pouring new wine into old wineskins, we can’t simply rehabilitate police officers, we would have to change what we are and are not willing to tolerate in terms of policing, sentencing, bail, incarceration and the whole lot.

That said, I want to take it a step back to say that the cruelty, the violence and the humiliation we are seeing on the part of police officers within the black community are not aberrations of policing. These things are what policing is designed to do. Policing in America is primarily focused on the protection of property. Specifically, police work to protect property from black people. Even when the property (a nice car, a home in a good neighborhood, the public park) is public or is owned by the black person him/herself. For example, in the 1990’s police officers tended to pull over black men in nice cars using the justification that the car was most likely stolen. In a perverted way, white womanhood is also considered property or at least as a thing that needs to be protected from black men – an idea that was born in slavery and portrayed poignantly in the film “Birth of a Nation”. This idea has been perpetuated through time. It explains why so many white women have become empowered to call the police on black people to control their behavior. And it is the reason so many police officers answer that call. Thank God for cell phone cameras.

When Americans talk about being in a “safe” or “family-oriented” neighborhood or a “good” home, they mean they live where they predominately see white people. People of color (some who live there and some who do not) are routinely harassed in an effort to control and monitor their behavior in these spaces. Keeping black and brown people “in their place” then becomes the most important goal of everyone in the community in direct ways (through police harassment or brutality) or through the use of proxies (through behaviors of civilians like following, staring, using harassment or slurs, reporting people to ICE, or calling the police).  Way across town, the racial segregation is largely maintained through violence – even if you cannot see or do not witness the violence directly. In addition to walling people in through limited opportunities, diminishing job possibilities, low-quality public transportation, food deserts, poor schools, slow emergency response, and etc.; police officers create and maintain a line – a perimeter – around these spaces. And they watch and terrorize the poor and people of color to keep them from disrupting white comfort by straying too far from home. Even though you may not be able to see the line, the people who live in these communities know where it is and what it means.

Here’s the problem. Racial profiling does not keep crime from happening. Simply collecting black people who might break into your home won’t prevent someone from breaking into your home. In many ways, the false sense of security one feels from living in segregated communities, may make certain people more vulnerable to intra-racial forms of violence and abuse.

Back to the job of vision-making. What if policing put people over property? If necessary, I suppose, wealthy people could provide protection for their own property, and not rely on the tax payer to fund these efforts. Indeed, as a black taxpayer, I feel like I am paying wolves to hunt me. What if police were here to “protect and serve”? What if they could step in and protect people in domestic violence situations or rescue children from harm? What if they worked with communities and not against them? What if they had to live among the people where they worked? What if they met up with people at church, community outings, or at the bar? What if their children went to the same schools? Could they then tell the difference between George Floyd the funny, supportive, loving father/uncle/friend and George Floyd the “thug” who needed to be snuffed out face down on the street. Would closeness help people see the humanity in others?

Forgive me for making this gross over-generalization, but it seems that when women police, they tend to be better able to connect with people. Can we find ways to make space for more women in police forces? I don’t mean to get all Judeo-Christian on the topic either, but what about the concept of being a servant-leader? Nurses, doctors, teachers and many other professions require the kind of service that Jesus discusses where you show up to the job with of a sense of sacrifice and humility. Sometimes doctors may get a big head in their careers, but for the most part they are driven by a duty to heal. Is a career as a police officer drawing young men who once felt helpless and bullied? Can we find ways to help young men in general feel empowered in ways that are not focused on domination and control?

As social services and the safety net for the poor erodes, police are called on to do things that are clearly outside their purview. Could police officers partner with mediators, clergy or community activists? Every problem cannot be solved through force and incarceration. As we become more and more scared of each other, city budgets go into police departments and the militarization of police equipment while draining the resources for drug rehabilitation, mental health resources and summer youth employment. Some cities are trying to divert nonviolent offenders, especially young ones to alternative programs; however, these efforts need to be supported by police departments in order to be effective. The lives of police officers as well as the health of society are at stake if we do not make real structural changes.

Even as I am making the argument against training away racism from individuals, I do believe that police officers like anyone else in a service position, need to be reviewed and held accountable.

When I studied the sexual abuse of male children for a book project a number of years ago, I came across a study about clergy abuse. They found that some child predators “hid beneath the cloth” – meaning that they sought out careers as clergy so they could abuse children without being held accountable. For decades, the Catholic church simply moved abusive clergy around to different churches – often in inner cities – to hide the crimes of these men. Similarly, white supremacists and hate groups recognize that police officers who kill black people are not held accountable. These groups have been actively recruiting police officers and some members are becoming police officers. How many police officers are going to work everyday itching for an excuse to abuse, terrorize and murder black people? The thought that even one of these violent deaths was about an ideology rather than an escalation of events, terrifies me the most. We must hold police officers accountable and work to root out the infiltration of hate groups in these departments.

Anyone, regardless of their career choice, who kills an unarmed person, should be convicted of murder – just like everyone else who commits murder. If we cannot as a society stomach putting police officers who kill unarmed people in jail, they should no longer receive a pay check or pension from the city – and they certainly should never be allowed to hold a gun again. Police accountability keeps us all safer. Prosecutors, DAs and others often find it difficult to convict their friends, but I also believe that juries made up of good-meaning people with implicit racial biases are also to blame. We need to establish community boards made up of people from the communities where the police serve. These boards should be responsible for holding police officers accountable. I would think that police officers themselves would want to be at the forefront of culture shift and social change in criminal justice. Justice-based policing would make their lives safer as well. Whereas, I can respect the need for solidarity among police officers, once someone acts outside of protocol and becomes a menace to the community, they should no longer be protected by a “blue wall”.

It is hard to find a vision for policing now that the George Floyd/ Black Lives Matter protests are still happening and feelings are so raw. However, now would be a great time to use all our collective energy and creativity to make change. Otherwise we will find ourselves back here again the next time the black community does not receive justice for the killing of a black man, woman or child.

– GJA

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Photo Credit –  King Walker stands in front of police officers and their supporters at the conclusion of a “Blue Lives Matter” rally in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 30, 2015. (Reuters / Jim Bourg) The Nation

‘electable’

It seems as if Michael Bloomberg is throwing his hat into the ring to become the 2020 Democratic candidate. This is coming after a lot of hang wringing about the candidacy of Joe Biden and this idea about ‘electability’ that just will not die. The Liberal media is concerned that even in the face of poll after poll showing that all of the top five candidates can beat Donald Trump in a general election – that Democrats should choose someone whose heterosexual, white, older, maleness will be more palatable to mythical ‘swing’ voters. There is a lot that bugs me about this idea, but I want to start with my observation of the race so far.

In the beginning, there were 20+ candidates, and the new regulations on how to get to the debate stages were a combination of the number of individual donors and each candidate holding a certain percentage of points across a number of polls. Joe Biden entered the race and remains in most polls as the front runner – not because of his policies or his performance or even (I would argue) because of his white, maleness, but because of the African American support for his connection to the first African American president. Name recognition and Obama-recognition. Bernie and Warren are wild, leftist progressives. They are older, but they have the strongest social media game, and their policy proposals and politics are attractive to those of us in the Twitter-sphere set.

Then, numbers four and five are a BLACK woman and an openly gay, young, white man. Kamala Harris was edged out by Pete Buttigieg only recently. I want us to take a deep breath and recognize that a Black woman held the number four spot for months and is still going strong.  As people drop out, the rest of the top ten include – a black man (Booker), an Asian man (Yang), a Latinx man (Castro), and two more women (Gabbard & Klobuchar)! This is a diverse, qualified and articulate collection of people.

The diversity of identity as well as ideology makes me wonder why we keep panicking and thinking the answer is to throw in a “moderate” white man with whom everyone can feel comfortable into the mix. To me, the diversity means that we are ready for something that reflects the Democratic party.  Many white, male and/or moderates enter the race with a focus on winning over or winning back Donald Trump’s base. Almost all of them have dropped out of the race and the rest have not made the top ten. We need to rethink this idea of electability.

We may not win working-class white votes in swing states or win over the Trump base, with someone who represents diversity and/or progressive politics; however, I know we will lose the election, if we don’t excite and energize our own base – a broad coalition primarily made up of young adults, working class people, women of color, suburban moms who are tired of gun violence and Betsy DeVos and the rest of Trump’s out-of-touch administration.

Joe Biden is fine. His set up as the presumptive best candidate is shifting as people get to know the others. And, that is okay. People are becoming undecided as they move beyond name recognition and into substance. This does not denote a crisis or mean that we need to beat back the bushes looking for other, more suitable candidates to get in the race at the 11th hour. That idea seems insulting and ever so racist/sexist/homophobic (i.e. – of course no one besides Biden can beat Trump) – and ever so offensive to “Uncle Joe”.

The good news is that our broad coalition makes up a majority of the country. The reason Republicans work so hard to suppress our votes is because they know when there is a large Democratic turnout, we win! We will vote and we will decide who we want as our candidate. Then, whoever wins, we need to put all of our energy into getting our folks behind that person.

I am scared … and you should be too!

I feel unsafe, because in my efforts to be in community with white liberals there is a silence when I try to voice my pain.

The morning after Donald Trump’s election was extremely dark and terrifying for me. I’d come to terms with identifying what I fear the most, and that is losing my freedom. And, because I believed Trump at his word, when he made his white nationalist promises, I believed I would eventually have to lose my freedom or even my life fighting what was about to come. On top of my short list were two things: military rule in inner cities and any “rounding up”, extrajudicial watching or mass detention of Muslims. I imaged myself chained together with other Christians outside of a mosque. I didn’t like the idea of pain being caused to others in my name.

What took me for a loop, and looking back now I am ashamed to admit I did not take seriously enough, was Trump’s constant rage and vitriol against members of the Latinx community. Those of us on ‘Trump Watch’ were being emotionally drained day after day by Trump’s gaffs and weird behavior, his constant lying and name calling, the rolling back of decades-long progress and the erosion of our democracy. So by the time my heart was broken by the audio recording of a little girl separated from her mother, I didn’t realize my resolve had already been crushed. And wasn’t that the point? Then, someone – feeling emboldened by Trump – decided to travel to El Paso and enact the largest mass killing of Latinx people in our time. And, we fear, this is only the beginning.

I’ve found myself frustrated with white liberals who have to say, “we are all immigrants” in order to feel anything about the situation. I am not an immigrant and I am not Latinx, but I do know what it is like to be hated by someone you haven’t met, just because of the color of your skin. I remember how crushed I felt when I was five years old, and the man from the Korean fruit market thought I was going to steal the orange I was holding. He didn’t know me, but he should have. This was my neighborhood and my mother and I shopped there all the time. I was a good girl, and everyone knew that. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see it. That pain stuck with me, and more than forty years later, I am still suspicious looking in any store – or really any time I am standing still in public.

I know what it’s like to feel hunted by authorities. After hearing the stories of Sandra Bland and India Cummings (a young woman with a similar story here in Buffalo), I am gripped with terror whenever I see a cop car. Black women are not shot like Black men, they are beaten and maimed and left to die in their cells because of a lack of medical attention. Then their deaths are called “suicides”. What matters most to Black women is our dignity, and so, that’s the first thing authorities will attack. For better or worse, Black women see attacks on other Black women as Russian Roulette. This time it was not me, but it could be my turn next. God help me, if I am ever the victim of violence. I will probably not call the police.

Listening to the testimony of Latinx people this week (those who are citizens of the U.S. and those who are not), they have been afraid to go out of their homes. Their stories made me reflect on my new desire to stay close to home. I don’t think I am afraid of being abused or killed. I don’t feel safe, because I don’t know which one of my neighbors, colleagues and friends support this madman and his agenda. The media would have us believe that Trump is only supported by uneducated, poor, white men; but building a 45% base is not possible with that group alone. We are told that people who want more conservative judges on the bench or other things, “hold their noses” and support Trump in spite of his racism. I no longer believe that. I’ve had to come to a harsh reality that most white people on some level must agree with Trump and that some would rather not have me – on their street, in their neighborhood or in my workplace. 

I feel unsafe, because in my efforts to be in community with white liberals there is a silence when I try to voice my pain. When we are at a table having a discussion, even my closest friends don’t seem to have my back. They are, in part, empathizing with the perpetrators in a way that makes them tone-deaf. It is silly to think that white anti-racist allies who are unreliable in conversations about race, will be helpful in our fight against white supremacy. The betrayal and the disappointment have made me want to walk alone.

Finally, the young white men who are being manipulated by Donald Trump, really are in a lot of pain. Our culture sets unrealistic standards for manhood and then prevents them from participation. The same economically depressed white communities where there are no jobs and few future prospects are the places with the highest rates of opioid addiction, mass incarceration and gun related suicide deaths. And yet, instead of hope, Donald Trump gave them hate. Love is natural and grows on its own; but hate has to be stoked constantly. Like the followers of Dr. Martin Luther King sat in churches together and sang spirituals to gain the courage to fight for justice; people who are working up the courage to turn hate speech into action are riled up at Trump rallies. Excitedly leading chants of “Build the Wall”, Trump puts a brown face on to their pain. Trump’s rise has been accompanied by an uptick in bullying and hate crimes, bomb threats, murders … and now, mass murder.

Black and Brown people are living in terror. I am afraid and I think we all should be. Silence and apathy won’t protect any of us from a mass murderer’s bullet. The time has come for us to resist the white nationalism of Donald Trump even if we are afraid. The key is that we fight as one.

N.H.I. (No Humans Involved)

Once you begin to see another person as less than human, it becomes easier to treat them in inhumane ways.

In the 1990’s, after the brutal beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles police, an African American scholar named Sylvia Wynter wrote an open letter to her white colleagues to explain the realities of black life in America. Her open letter explains that “a report by public officials of the judicial system of Los Angeles routinely used the acronym N.H.I. to refer to any case involving the rights of young Black males who belong to the jobless category of inner city ghettos. N.H.I. means ‘no humans involved.'” (p.42) Under the guise of a border crisis, President Trump and his administration routinely refer to the people coming across our southern border as “animals” or an “infestation”. Trump ushered in an American nativism which actively celebrates ignorance, heartlessness and cruelty.  His racist rhetoric gives our government agencies and their employees license to be cruel to men, women and children.

Many months ago, when I first heard the audio recording of a child being separated from her parents, I felt something break inside me. The feeling was devastating, but also familiar. At first, I thought it was connected to the time after Hurricane Katrina when we watched people stranded on rooftops begging someone, anyone to help. But that wasn’t it. I felt this way, when I watched the Twin Towers collapse on September 11th. I was witnessing something that was too horrendous to process. What kind of person could experience that cry in real time and follow through with his or her orders to separate that child? What kind of country do I live in where children can be separated from their parents over and over again, thousands of times? The kind of people are those who have been convinced that people who are coming to the U.S. are inferior and that cruelty will deter more people from arriving. And I live in a country where increasingly human value and dignity are only afforded to people who are wealthy and white.

In spite of all my awareness – because of my lived experience as an African American and as someone who has both studied and now teaches African American history – becoming aware of our government’s willingness to torture children has nearly broken my spirit. Children have been separated from their parents before and our country has abused black and brown people for centuries; however, there was something different about the glee and pride expressed by those in our government (most of whom have been terminated by Pres. Trump at this time), as they rolled out their policy. Later, I heard that many in the administration simply thought the American people wouldn’t care. They tried to pin the blame on the Obama Administration (and I get that they are not completely innocent); however, this new level of sadism has Pres. Trump written all over it. There was no plan to reunite these children with their parents, and no plan in place to house them. So, they incarcerated children, toddlers and babies. Baby jails. And, the administration tried and continues to try to hide the truth, and to move around and hide the children.

Children are dying, being abused, tortured, sexually assaulted and neglected. More will die. As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle try to work things out, people are tempted to demand better conditions for incarcerated children. The answer isn’t to make better jails for babies. The answer is not to incarcerate children at all. Don’t just keep families together. Keep families with children together OUTSIDE of prisons. Free these people so we can care for them after their long journey. I’m tired of feeling helpless, betrayed and angry. Aren’t you?

Thanks for listening.

– GJA

[I hear you saying, but Gabrie’l, U.S. children in our country are being separated from their parents and being incarcerated (I know they are) then let’s use this moment to address those situations as well. Where are the spaces where we can build coalitions? Let’s build them!]

Wynter, S. (1994) “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues” in Forum N.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century (http://carmenkynard.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/No-Humans-Involved-An-Open-Letter-to-My-Colleagues-by-SYLVIA-WYNTER.pdf accessed 7/19/19)

JR installed massive face of a child on Mexican side of US Border wall on September 2017. (Stolen from Google Images)

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Now that we are dismantling white supremacy, let’s get rid of rape culture too!

Over the past few years with the #MeToo movement and the revelations about clergy abuse, I thought our collective discussion about sexual assault had moved to an understanding of why it is difficult for victims to come forward, why it takes so long for people to disclose and why some never do. I was wrong. Now as accusers come out with allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, we are having to relitigate this issue all over again.

One accuser in particular is describing Kavanaugh’s participation in drunken/or drugged gang rape (or “trains”) happening at parties. They are not so much concerned about his participation per se, but rather they believe that something like this could never happen. And, especially that people of his social status would be engaged in behavior like that.

I realize that on the one hand are people who were either perpetrators, witnesses or victims of a train – each person with his or her own good reason for keeping this a big secret. I also realize that most people do not attend designer label private college prep schools and Ivy League colleges, so these stories most likely do seem hard to believe. I did attend these kinds of schools and so I do believe the women who have accused Kavanaugh of chauvinistic and violent sexual behavior at parties and in other settings. And, I am sure my fellow female (and brave male) colleagues are also being reminded of some of the darker aspects of our carefree childhoods.

I must also say that it makes me (and made me) so angry to witness the self-destructive behavior, violence and callous disregard for private property on behalf of many of my classmates, when I and my cohorts, those on scholarship and from the inner-city, had to be so absolutely perfect and driven at all times. I was not bullied by my classmates; I was bullied by lunch ladies, maintenance staff and teachers who thought they could harass me out a place they felt I did not belong. I was pulled into private meetings by administrators who gave me speeches about how I should just feel grateful that they have allowed me to be at their school.

When I attended Brown University, our black fraternities and sororities did not have houses on campus (… in fact, this is the case at most schools I have attended or where I have taught outside of the South). So, the black community on campus had their little social gatherings in the big halls on campus. We had a live dj and occasionally snacks or punch. What did we do? Dance. The campus police watched us like hawks, followed us back to our dorms and often harassed black males (students or not) walking around in the evening on party nights or not. In contrast, the white fraternities did have houses and they started getting totally wasted on Thursday night. The Providence EMT had to be called for one or more reasons on that side of the campus regularly. And, then there were the rapes! Things got so bad students began to write the names of male students who had raped them on the walls in the women’s bathroom. Y’all remember this? Google it …

My friend and I got a room together in Sophomore year in Brown’s last female-only dorm. Early in the semester, we received a notice that we would have to option to move to another part of the campus because the school needed to move male students into our dorm. These men had been kicked out of their frat house, because the EMT was called and a sixteen year old girl was discovered at their party. In response, Brown closed the house and dispersed the students into other dorms – including the one space women chose to live among other women. I get angry looking back on all this for many reasons. I think I understand why Brown thought sober black kids dancing feverishly to Bobby Brown music needed to be monitored and drunk, violent white kids did not. However, why weren’t more parents concerned? What about alumni? Deans office?

In any case, these experiences helped me understand the connection between white privilege and rape culture. Just this week, I found myself sitting around a table of progressive Christians having a conversation about this idea. We were trying to draw a connection between #metoo, stand your ground/#blacklivesmatter, gun control, mass incarceration and Colin Kaepernick. What do I see connecting all of these things? White Supremacy, White Supremacy and White Supremacy … What I said was that #metoo comes out of a message that says to white women, “If you want to belong, you need to stay silent about what we do to you!” Most lynching and over-policing happens out of a subconscious defense of white women from a black male rapist. A number of years ago, I brought this up in class at divinity school. Think of how white women spend so much time being afraid of black men that on one level they cannot form caring relationships with a whole class of people. On another level, white women are placing themselves at risk of being harmed by white male predators when they believe they are ‘safe’ just because no one black is around.

I explained that I see a profile of mass shooters as white, male and angry. We are a culture determined to profile African Americans, Latinx and Middle Eastern people, but we will not admit some simple facts about mass violence. How will we change things if we cannot face the facts?

White supremacy and rape culture go hand in hand, because white, male privilege allows white men (especially rich and powerful ones) to do anything they want without being held accountable. In fact, the damage white men cause is often blamed on the victims. Aida Hurtado talks about what she calls the “seduction” of white women into their own gender subjugation. Something similar happens with poor white men. Powerful, white men seduce white women and poor white men into a form of solidarity – even though a lot of what is happening only benefits those in power.

Finally, a disproportionate amount of sexual assault happens on college campuses. Sexual assault is a social crime – meaning that a lot of perpetrators like to rape people they are around every day. A lot of rape happens on college campuses because people are living in a small, somewhat contained community. Rape also mostly happens between people of the same race (this could also be a result of the way our culture is segregated). Even though people of color have made a lot of gains, white young adults are still in the majority on college campuses. My point is this. White college men routinely sexually assault women and are routinely not being held accountable for their crime.

I am choosing to believe the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh, and if you do too, you are seeing a pattern of behavior that was violent and unchecked in high school progress and evolve into rape and other sexual violence in college and beyond. This should chill your soul and make you angry. And, you should also understand that he is not uncommon. Kavanaugh came of age in a privileged culture which nurtures a rape culture and refuses to hold white males accountable while simultaneously using males of color as scapegoats.

Brett Kavanaugh and I are around the same age. Since we went to college a lot has happened including a lot of awareness and the creation of bystander trainings, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) on most campuses, and the #METOO movement.

This is the time to abolish rape culture in high school, on college campuses and everywhere else. In order to do that, we have to see the connection between white supremacy, racism and misogyny. The vision of a new world includes understanding the value of each human being and each of us holding ourselves and each other accountable when we harm someone else.

She refused to be consoled …

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled …- Matthew 2:6

“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office   … to intimidate and frighten…” – from a letter written by Coretta Scott King to block the election of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship.

This weekend, President Trump told us that he “hates to see” children being removed from their parents. You know who doesn’t hate to see cruelty towards babies, young children and their parents? … US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. He sleeps just fine at night. Jeff Sessions is using his power to seek and punish members of a number of vulnerable populations – the poor, the incarcerated, immigrants, transgender people – implementing the policies of the Trump Administration. He seems almost gleeful as he announces policies that will damage people’s lives. So much of what has happened over the past two years has caused me to cringe, but the separation of children from their parents at the border is truly breaking my heart.

To add injury to insult, this week Jeff Sessions quoted a passage from the Bible to demonstrate – I suppose – God’s acceptance of behavior that traumatizes children. You can pull Bible quotes out of context to support most things; however, sometimes it is less important to focus on what the Bible says and more important to focus on what the Bible means. I want to get into a lengthy discussion about the context of Paul’s letter to the Romans and how Sessions misses all this beautiful stuff about love by focusing exclusively on what Paul says about the law, or how people like Sessions make it harder and harder for those of us who want people to come to back to church and to embrace Christianity to make our case. Mostly, this is just bad theology. Who could believe in a God who wanted us to treat children and families in this way? If I believed that I worshipped a God who agreed with these ideas, I would hang up my hat. Fortunately, I do not. I believe that Sessions and his Evangelical supporters are wrong, very wrong …

Instead, today, I found myself thinking about moments in the Bible when people chose not to follow the law, when the law itself was unjust. In Exodus 1, the king of Egypt became concerned that there were too many Israelite people, so he tried to get rid of them through harsh, forced labor. When that didn’t work, he asked the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah to kill all of the male children born to the Hebrew women. The bible says, “but the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” When asked about it, they lied to the king saying that the babies arrived before the midwives could do anything about it. They decided to follow God’s law, because the king’s law was unjust. In another story, another king got the word that the Messiah was about to be born. King Herod sent out wise men to find the child in a plot to destroy Jesus. On the advice of angels, the wise men decided not to return to the king with the news. Like Shiphrah and Puah, the wise men decided not to follow the law in order to do what was right.

In our contemporary context, people did not obey the law when they coordinated the underground railroad, ran to freedom in the North or Canada or participated in overt and covert forms of resistance. There were laws on the books about slavery before 1776 when we began to see ourselves as a nation. Although slavery was legal, it was also inhumane and destructive. Laws kept women from voting, maintained segregation in public spaces and kept LGBT people from having equal rights. In the past as well as today, there are laws that are unjust and laws that maintain inequality and the status quo. It takes a considerable stretch of the imagination to believe that a portion of Romans 13 taken out of context means that God wants us to follow the law, even when the law is harmful to members of our community.

It is reprehensible that people would prey on the vulnerable and cause additional harm to children who are already traumatized. It is unforgiveable that these people would use the Bible to justify their behavior. Many are arguing that this policy is not even U.S. law, and it is certainly not God’s law. Jesus taught us about love of neighbor, mercy, justice and hospitality towards the stranger. Many of us have come to believe that the ‘end game’ of Christianity is not about an individual redemption, heaven vs. hell, and etc., but rather about a collective judgement. We believe that we will be judged by how well our society cared for the poor, the elderly, the children, the abused and the stranger.

Finally, Jeff Sessions knows that what he is doing to migrant families is wrong. Watch the video clip of him reading the Bible verse. He can’t even get it out without mumbling the words. All the people who defend what is happening, including President Trump, know this is wrong – no matter what they say to justify it. The world is watching us. God will judge us for how we treated ‘the least of these’.

 

Photo credit – ©John Moore/ Getty Images

 

#iamHarveyWeinstein

I want to start by saying that I have in the past and will again in the future – no matter what – believe women who say that they have been sexually harassed, abused or assaulted. NO MATTER WHAT! That’s just who I am. Now that the #MeToo campaign has taken off and high profile and highly visible men are being punished for their behavior, it seems like we are in a new era where women’s words are believed. Men are getting caught with their pants down – pun intended – and as well as being empowering, this time is also feeling sobering and very, very sad.

It is sad thinking that Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor, men I chose to admire, but didn’t really know, would hurt women. Learning about the accusations against Congressman John Conyers – founder of the Congressional Black Caucus – reminds me of the grief I felt after learning about Bill Cosby’s behavior.

I am glad we are having this moment, but in order for it to be more than just a moment, we are going to need figure out the underlying issues of workplace, sexual harassment and assault. My curiosity may seem insane, but I want to understand why exposing one’s genitals to a woman at work is a ‘go-to’ behavior for all these sexual predators. For me, being naked with someone is such a vulnerable thing. How is it that these men believed that they should expose themselves in a workplace setting? And, how did the men know it would be so effective in making women feel threatened?

If you have privilege, power and respect from the world for your gifts, what base insecurity is causing you to act out in this way? What is it about American workplace culture that would make someone believe it is okay to be naked at work, or touch someone’s body at work, or to assault someone sexually at work? As we are rounding up these men and punishing them, anyone who works in HR and ignored women’s complaints or uttered the words “Well, that’s just Charlie!” should be round up and shot.

I am also frustrated with the men who – when caught – act like they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong. These men threatened the people they harmed, enlisted the help of others (who were often also threatened), covered up their behaviors and lied, and lied and lied. They knew what they were doing. Also upsetting are the hypocrites who get together with the chorus to crucify those who get caught, when they know they are guilty of the same crimes. NBC and other corporations are heroes for quickly firing men who are accused of crimes, but what took them so long to take action? And, have they chosen this moment to act honorably, because of how good it makes them look? Do they really have a concern about women’s lives, or are they simply throwing those men who have been caught under the bus?

Finally, having spent a lot of time in gender-based violence focused, feminist circles, I have come to wonder why we always act like sexual abuse and assault are uncommon. With generally agreed upon statistics like 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual assault, why do we act like sexual violence is rare? Not normal, but also not rare. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also not rare. And just because it is trending right now, doesn’t mean this is a new phenomenon. Which to me means that there are a lot of Harvey Weinsteins out there. I wish there could be a social networking campaign where men who are sexual predators could come out as #iamHarveyWeinstein. I am torn about my idea, because I wouldn’t want these guys to have any sort of amnesty. But, so many of us have been made to feel like we are crazy, or mistaken, or alone. Wouldn’t it be nice to let go of the notion that only a handful of violent monsters act this way? Sexual harassment is common. So, therefore most men in positions of power must feel entitled on some level to exploit female subordinates in sexual ways. It’s sad and true.

In my quest to understand things, I still believe that the damage to the victim is the most important aspect of the issue. I just don’t think we will be able to change anything in a significant way until men get real about their insecurities and change their behavior. Stop lying and saying women are lying, or crazy, or simply misunderstanding what has happened (i.e. “dumb”). Stop getting into conversations about how hard it is to know how to act. I mean, you can’t even say hi to a woman without being accused of sexual harassment. Seriously! If we can get real for once, we may have the tools we need to make sure boys don’t act this way when they grow up, and that we can all live in a society that condemns this disgusting behavior in the workplace  and everywhere else. It is not really confusing to the people who use their power to abuse others, but things may be confusing to young men and boys. So, we need to stop sending mixed messages about misogyny and encourage attitudes of equality and respect for women and girls. Boys and young men also need to see men hold other men accountable for their behavior. This will go a long way towards real change.

Another Uppity Woman of Color

wilson

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson now joins Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Maxine Waters and others who are willing to say what others won’t about the behavior of President Trump. Congresswoman Wilson called out the president after he botched his call to the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson. In the following days, Trump explained that he did not say any of the things the Congresswoman said and then sent out his Chief of Staff John Kelly to wag his finger at her for speaking up. The problem with all of this blustering is that Kelly basically confirmed what the Congresswoman said. Kelly says, “Trump said it, and it was the right thing to say. The family just took it the wrong way.”

So which is it? Is it that she is lying or is it that he said it, and it was the right thing to say?

Liberal, white media immediately jumped on the bandwagon of ‘intentionality’. Their take was that Trump said something to this family and although he meant well, the widow, the rest of the family and the Congresswoman simply heard things the wrong way. And, shame on the Congresswoman for making this issue “political”.

On MSNBC and CNN in particular, we have heard story after story about white men speaking up about Donald Trump, calling him a moron, and questioning whether he is fit for office. When you Google “Trump” and “empathy”, you can see all the instances where these same journalists have wondered whether Trump actually has some sort of mental block making it difficult for him to say the right thing in any situation, ever. So why are we defending Trump’s intentions now?

My guess is that white liberals will pull rank and get behind anyone accused of racism by a woman of color – even if that person is Donald Trump. And the Congresswoman didn’t even mention race. The media is almost getting ahead of the curve, trying to shut her down, before she can even bring up the issue of racism.

We’ve certainly seen this before. This is from the Calgary Anti-Racism Education website – “I didn’t ‘mean’ to be prejudiced/racist, therefore it isn’t racism.” In discussions about the definition of racism, white people will frequently argue that a particular statement or action doesn’t constitute racism because racism wasn’t intended.” I think it is hard for white Liberals to indict another white person who seems to have simply made a mistake. The reasoning is that one might make the same mistake and have to endure the criticism of a Black woman – and that’s really, really uncomfortable. Rather, they will choose to excuse all behavior in others, in order to save face.

In a best case scenario of “Trump said it, but didn’t mean it to sound insensitive or offensive”, Trump wakes up the next day, realizes that the statements he made didn’t go over well, and goes back to the family (who mean so much to him), apologizes for how his statements were misconstrued and tries again. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have to do this because we have already exonerated him. President Trump has a well established track record of being insensitive and inappropriate and I am not sure why we are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt now. He certainly has not earned it!

On the other hand, Google “Trump” and “lies” and you will find New York Times, Washington Post and Politico articles which make me wonder why anyone would believe anything President Trump says. In my opinion, none of us should even consider what he is saying about the situation. What concerns me is that because Congresswoman Wilson won’t back down, he is continuing his attack and making it personal and ugly. And, I believe we are to blame for having certain instances where we refuse to hold him accountable for his lies and errant behaviors.

The more important question that seems to be coming out of all this is why these four young men were in Niger at all. Why did it take so long for Trump to talk about these deaths? When a reporter asked about making calls to the families, Trump decided to tell lies about Pres. Obama and Pres. Bush “W” to distract us. I think he had no idea he needed to call anyone until he was asked the question, and then did a botched job because he had to call all four families in a rushed way that day to save face. Maybe if things had been handled better, he would have done a better job connecting with a grieving family.

Finally, many in the media are being critical of Congresswoman Wilson, because she was so angry with President Trump. But, a lot of us are very angry. Can you blame us? In a disgusting abuse of power, Donald Trump sent his VP to a football game to protest players taking a knee. And, this following Charlottesville where he had to be forced to say something disparaging about Nazis and White Supremacist groups (remarks which he quickly recanted and continued to double down on the idea of good and bad people on both sides). He has yet to say anything about what the young men are protesting. No one in his administration has said a word about the killing of unarmed Black men. In fact, whenever he talks about law enforcement he talks about promoting violent treatment during arrests,  increasing protection for police officers and the militarization of inner cities.

During Trump’s ongoing war against NFL players (who are mostly African American), he completely ignored what was going on in Puerto Rico. When Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz spoke out on behalf of her people, practically begging for water, food, gas and other basic needs, he called her names and described the Puerto Rican people basically as ungrateful and lazy. Later, FEMA Director Brock Long said that he had “filtered” Mayor Cruz and chastised her for making this issue “political”. Criticizing people of color for “making issues political” seems to be the newest tactic in passive-aggressive race-bating.

President Trump’s distraction over the NFL may have also clouded his judgement about telling the nation about these four men in Niger back when it happened – 12 days ago.

Jemele Hill, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and now Congresswoman Frederica Wilson are telling it like it is. It is time for us to stop picking and choosing who is allowed to be critical of President Trump and the mess he is making out of our democracy, and to focus on the real issue at hand. We need to resist this saber rattling President and stop being so afraid to hold him accountable for his behavior.

Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you.
Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time – If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one. The truth is still the truth. ~ Gandhi