This Makes No Sense to Me

There is this bizarre phenomena that I run into now and again where someone will respond to criticism of modern racism by pointing out that in the early to mid 20th century, the Democratic party, particularly in the south, was unabashedly racist and for a while even aligned itself with the Klan. Like I’ll bring up the fact that Trump was enthusiastically supported by white supremacists and someone will say, “the Democrats are the real racists. They were the ones who passed all the Jim Crow laws.” To which I respond . . . whaaaaaaa????

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history, it is quite true that the Democrats were, in the past, active proponents of racism and segregation. That all changed after the passage of the civil rights and voting rights acts in the 60s, of course. By the late 70s, Republican Ronald Reagan was campaigning using rhetoric about states rights and racist tropes about “young bucks” and “welfare queens” while Democrat Jimmy Carter was campaigning in African American churches. In the 1980 election, the people who used to vote for the racist Democratic party of the mid 20th century now voted Republican.

So what in the world do people who insist on responding to criticism of current racism by pointing to the Democrat’s history of racism think they are doing? What point do they think they are making? How exactly do they think I’m supposed to respond? I am deeply confused when people do this.

Do they imagine that I will be so shocked to hear that Democrats used to embrace racism that I will refuse to have anything to do with them and run into the arms of the party currently supported by racists in order to maintain my purity? Am I supposed to go easy on today’s racists because in the past they would have been Democrats?

I mean, back in the day, the Democrats were a big proponent of maintaining an agrarian society and distrusted paper money. The Republicans used to believe in a strong federal government and opposed states rights. Should we be trying to hold the parties to their original standards? Should I bring that history up when a Republican advocates for more control for states and a weaker federal government? If in 50 years, the Republicans are staunchly secular and the Democrats are highly religious, would it matter that in the past the parties were reversed? Does the label of Democrat and Republican have magic juju bound to it that transcends whatever the party is about in real time?

Can someone help me out here? I’ve tried asking these questions of the people who do this and, strangely, none of them have been able to come up with an answer that makes sense. And yet they keep doing it. I’m just trying to understand the logic here. Which, now that I think of it, is probably a mistake on my part. Sometimes the answer really is “because they’re morons.” It happens.

All People Are Real

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I have a dissociative disorder. A derealization disorder, in fact. Which means that when my dissociative disorder is triggered, nothing around me seems real. Sometimes things literally look like movie sets and sound stages to me. I can’t even watch movies when it’s bad because when everything already looks fake, bad acting takes on a whole new meaning. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s like being locked inside a glass bubble where sounds can get through, but they’re muffled and removed from much of their meaning somehow. I read an article about it once which described disrealization as the loneliness disease. Obviously you can’t connect with anyone when you have a hard time even seeing them as real.

Because my dissociative disorder started by the time I was 17 months old, I grew up with no conscious experience of being able to consistently see other people as real. I just assumed that this was what it was like to be human. It certainly explained the way people treated each other; if the people around you feel like objects, then you’re going to treat them like objects, right? But I knew that other people actually are real, even when they don’t feel real. And I knew what it was like to be treated like objects. I didn’t want other people to feel like that, so I decided that part of growing up and being fully alive must include learning to see other people as real rather than as actors in my environment.

Probably around age 11 I started just watching people, trying to imagine what it must be like to be them. I would watch the way they reacted to things and think, “why did they have that reaction and not a different one?” After I became a committed Christian in early adolescence, I became more intentional about it. I’d pick out people who seemed the least real, the most scary or the least appealing and think about what it might be like to be them. I’d look for things to love about them. In the process, I learned to see people as real. And to this day, whenever I notice that they don’t seem real to me anymore, I make myself really look and think about and try to imagine loving them.

Of course, I wasn’t diagnosed with the dissociative disorder until the summer of 2014, so I didn’t know that the rest of y’all didn’t need to spend nearly so much time thinking about other people in order to remember that they are real. Apparently it’s happens instinctively and unconsciously for some people. Who knew? Thankfully, I was motivated by the teaching to love our enemies and the least to really work at dealing with the problem. And then some, because I am an American after all. If a little is good, more must be better. Continue reading

Treating the Least Poorly Will Come Back to Bite You

The treatment which we as a society will allow the least to be subjected to will eventually become the kind of treatment we allow anyone to be subjected to. So even if you are completely convinced that the least don’t matter or wouldn’t be the least if they didn’t deserve it, it is to your benefit – and the benefit of those you love – to make sure the least, nastiest human on the planet is treated the way you want to be treated. Because if they’ll let those people over there be treated poorly, what makes you think someone dangerous won’t eventually find an excuse to treat you just the same way and get away with it?

Yes, there are heart issues and theological concerns which should be our primary motivator to care for the least, but Jesus’ teachings also have a hard boiled, practical wisdom to them which people often miss. One of the things I have found very interesting in talking with people who opposed Obama or supported Trump is that they have a perception that the way they are treated has gotten worse. Their health insurance became too expensive, their employer treated them like a widget, their industry had suddenly been destroyed by a change in rules or markets, their communities were being decimated by drugs, they knew someone who got railroaded by the legal system, so on and so forth.

It’s maddening to listen to these people. I can totally empathize with their complaints and want to be compassionate towards people’s struggles, but where the hell were these people when this stuff was happening to the rest of us? None of this is new. Where were they during the crack epidemic? Oh that’s right – freaking out about crack heads and calling for more police and jail time even as our mental health infrastructure was actively being dismantled.

My health insurance went from $650/month in 1999 to $1600/month in 2008 – before Obamacare was even a thing. Where were they when that was happening for millions of us? Oh that’s right – fighting healthcare reform tooth and nail.

Back in the early 90’s when rap artists were talking about police brutality, where were these people who now feel violated going through airport security? Oh that’s right – they were busy condemning the rap artists as outrageous and evil.

I could go on and on, but I suppose you get the idea. The very things that many have been blaming Obama for and which they use as a reason for their support for conman Trump are things that they turned a deaf ear, a hard heart and condemnation in bucketfuls to when they were happening to other people. And now the treatment which was tolerated for the least in this country is starting to catch up with them. And they don’t like it.

These folks unhappiness with the way they are being treated is understandable, if overblown in comparison to what, for example, African Americans and Native peoples have been dealing with. As many people have been trying to point out for, you know, decades even centuries now, life in the real world sucks pretty hard pretty often. So, to all the folks who failed to head Jesus advice to care for the least and treat your neighbor as you’d like to be treated, welcome to America 2016. We’re all ni**as now. And y’all just decided that we get to experience the version of reality where George Bailey was never born. Excuse us if we’re a little salty about it. We’ll get over it. Eventually.

That Time A Racist Killed My Husband’s Career

Well, maybe not killed, but definitely maimed. So what happened is once upon a time, a little over a decade ago, my husband had landed the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a upper middle management job with a Fortune 500 company. He was just past 30, but had worked his ass off, taught himself an unusually wide and deep set of skills and had a history of exceptional results for the complex projects he oversaw for his employers. Two different people who had worked with him had been contacted by the same recruiter for the position and they both told the recruiter about my husband. He was put through a battery of psychological testing, interviewed 6 times, including one interview with a panel comprised of the very highest levels of leadership at the company.

Within a reasonably shortish for these things amount of time, he was offered a position, despite not having the fancy degree it usually takes to land one of these spots. In this position, he would have the chance to orchestrate a drastic change in operating procedures and processes for the departments he was overseeing. (Complex administrative stuff which he had previously performed in much smaller, slightly less complex companies.) And do it in a way that was branched out seamlessly into every other department whose operations touched account management along the way.

He was put into a leadership development program the company ran, given a timeline for expected career development and asked to start and lead a new African American employee affinity group for the company. (They already had an affinity group for women, International and Hispanic employees, so they were running late on it. And my husband had just become the highest ranking African American man in their corporate history. So they were running behind.)

Anyways, it was a huge task with a huge potential for failure, but that’s also what huge opportunity looks like in real life. And my husband rose to it. He was able to implement a new data measurement program with help from IT within weeks and was showing demonstrable change in productivity shortly after that. He did everything he was tasked with doing, and beyond, in less time than they had planned on it taking. The results for the company included improved employee morale and retention, and saving them tens of millions of dollars within his first 18 months. His department went from being something intern and career development candidates avoided like the plague to one with a waiting list for the chance to rotate through. The restructuring he designed and implemented was repeated at another Fortune 500 company by someone who had been involved in the process. That implementation is now used as a case study in many Business School programs.

There were problems and setbacks, of course. And the environment wasn’t always great; women clutched their purses and backed away when he got on the elevator with them in the morning. The security guards would sometimes decided that they didn’t recognize him every day for a week in a row and stop him as he entered the building. (He got several reprimanded and at least one fired over this over the course of a couple years.) Some people were nasty. But it was a really good job and he was kicking much ass and taking many names.

On the home front, we were living modestly but comfortably in a cute little rental home in a nice area. I was homeschooling our two boys. They are both very smart, but they both had some unusual developmental issues along the way that made a normal school setting incredibly difficult for them. We finally had two working cars and would sometimes splurge to go to the theater or eat at restaurants with menus and cloth napkins. We took our first real family vacation together – a trip to the Black Hills. We had our third child, a little girl who, unlike her brothers, is the most normal child I know. Life wasn’t perfect, of course. Both of us were dealing with a lot of pressure and stress doesn’t often bring out the best in people. But we had a good life. And a good future.

Then one of the things which I can’t discuss owing to one of the confidentiality agreements I’ve signed over the years happened. And this employer became an ex-employer. I can’t go into details, but both of us fielded calls from people at all levels of leadership telling us that what happened was outrageous with a few saying, “I won’t say this if you put me on the stand, but just between you and me, this was the most racist shit I’ve ever seen.” Every phone call ended with the assurance that my husband was so talented and would be getting such good references from high level people in the company that he’d land on his feet in no time.

The incident ended the careers of everyone involved. There were demotions and removal of responsibilities and the whole 9. Except no one moved to undo the wrong. People were punished and I guess I’m supposed to find comfort in that. But nothing was set right for my husband or our family. These people’s actions were left standing.

And, as it turns out, when a 33 year old black man with 3 kids and another on the way leaves a really good job without having another lined up, it doesn’t really matter how great your skills are, how much you’ve accomplished or how gilded your references are, it’s not so easy to land on your feet. A few months after this happened, my husband took a contract position which required him to live first in Miami and then in Louisiana. Leaving me to care for three kids while pregnant with the 4th. We had been planning to buy our house when the lease was up that year, instead we ended up having to move because we could no longer get a mortgage. While I was pregnant and caring for three young children by myself. Two of whom were being homeschooled. It was great.

We paid to fly my husband all over the country to interview for jobs, but nothing ever pulled through. After his contract work ended, it took another 6 months to find his next job. In the 12 years since his employment with the Fortune 500 company ended, he’s gone through five employers and had a business go under. He’s worked very hard just to maintain a level of income similar to what he has making 12 years ago, but not been able move his career forward substantially. And of course, you can’t enjoy any financial stability when you are experiencing periods of unemployment that regularly. We went from splurging on the theater to heating bathwater on the stove because the gas had been turned off.

Thankfully, my husband’s been employed for the last 18 months by a company that I don’t want to fire bomb (that’s a first). They treat him well and openly value him as an employee and want him there. Like everything, it’s not perfect, but neither is it creating the sort of stress that is hard to shake at the end of the day. They’ve been good to him. And he’s skilled enough at playing the game that when someone tries to pull stuff with him, he can deal with it without exposing himself to blowback. And his boss notices when people aren’t listening or cooperating with him and addresses it from a performance stand point. So he actually has some protection. I am grateful for however long it ends up lasting.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very forgiving person. But if I were ever to run into the two men most responsible for what happened out in public, I would have a very hard time not spitting on them. I’ll keep working on it.

If you’re one of those people who believes that African Americans see racism as a serious issue because of the media, fuck you. And if you’re one of those people whose response to hearing about racism is to encourage people to let the past be the past and overcome your obstacles, just stfu, alright?

If God Wanted Trump In Office . . .

If you are one of those people going around claiming that Trump is God’s choice to run the country, you need to be crystal clear about what other people are hearing you say. You are telling people that God chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with white supremacists and against those who are subject to oppression, hatred and discrimination owing to who God created them to be. You are telling your minority neighbors that God cares more about American power than about their safety and well being. You are telling them that God picked sides and the side he picked is the same side that the KKK, Stormfront and other racist organizations stand on, not theirs. You are telling the world that God gave Trump a victory which was celebrated with Nazi salutes and calls of “Heil Trump” in a ballroom in D.C.

I totally get that most people who voted for Trump aren’t white supremacists. But the white supremacists believe that Trump speaks for them. They now believe that the country belongs to them and not to your neighbors who are not white Christians. One of their leaders is now advising the president elect. And you’re saying this is what God intended for this country. I mean, I’m sure that’s not how you see it. But you’re not the only one who matters around here, darlin’. You may have been able to write off and overlook the fact that white supremacists campaigned for Trump and view his win as a victory for them, but after surviving lynchings, torture, and oppression we can hardly imagine at the hands of white supremacists, your minority neighbors cannot be so sanguine about a white supremacists taking over our government.

Whatever reason you had for voting for Trump, you need to to know as absolute fact that you have contributed to causing the overwhelming majority of your minority neighbors and family to feel betrayed, unsafe and completely unloved right now. It doesn’t matter if you think this is valid or reasonable, it is reality. How you deal with that fact will reveal your heart, for good or ill. Do with it what you will. We’re watching. Don’t make it worse by pinning blame for your minority neighbor’s fears and feelings of betrayal on God. That’s evil from the pits of hell, pure and simple. Repent.

Just Define the Racism Away . . .

This morning on facebook, I commented on a post saying that we have not made nearly as much progress combating racism as we like to give ourselves credit for. One man responded by claiming (ie lying) that because of a disability, he had applied for government assistance. While there he saw a black family driving a luxury SUV get all the government assistance they needed but he was turned down for help because he is white. Another man included the phrase “ni**er loving ass” in his response to me. Both were arguing that my original claim was wrong. I’m 100% certain both would insist that they are not racist and have a special snowflake meltdown if you said otherwise.

Life in post-racial America; where you get rid of racism by simply defining it away.

The Fragility of Our Dominant Culture

True story: someone I’m connected with on facebook just posted an article claiming that “radical leftists” were guilty of shutting down discourse by insisting on trigger warnings, safe spaces and calling out micro-aggressions. I responded that this was bullshit. None of those things actually shut down discourse. People disagreed. I stood my ground. So the person who claimed that “radical leftists” were shutting down discourse decided that the conversation was too heated and deleted it. I believe that the word for this is irony.

15135763_10208953533409178_5817473775491816140_nOne of the things which has become abundantly clear is that there are a lot of people on the right, but also among neo-liberals who are engaging in heavy duty projection. They are the ones who can’t handle vigorous discourse and shut down at criticism or pushback, so they accuse others of doing so, for example. I mean, you will never find a bigger whiny special snowflake than someone who complains about political correctness. All you have to do is say the word “racism”  or call out intolerance and they melt down, claiming that you’ve make discussions impossible. Meanwhile, let a black person be told that they are pulling the race card or want to be given something for nothing and that same person will expect them to remain calm and composed.

What’s really happening here is that people who have previously been marginalized and whose concerns were ignored are gaining a voice. And it’s an uncomfortable, unfamiliar, challenging voice for those who are ensconced in the majority culture to hear. The impulse is to get them to shut up. To mock and marginalize their attempts to be heard and exert some influence on public discourse in ways that address their own needs. I’m sure that many of the people doing this have no idea that they are actually the ones who are trying to shut down public discourse because they’ve never considered that public discourse which includes and is mindful of everyone will look and sound different than public discourse they are used to.

The other dynamic which I think we’re seeing is that as those who have previously been marginalized push back against things which are hurtful and harmful to them, it exposes the fact that the dominant culture has been callous, cruel and completely unfair to many people. No one wants to think of themselves as callous, cruel and unfair, of course. But instead of recognizing that they haven’t done the work required to ensure that they aren’t actually callous, cruel and unfair, a lot of people just retreat into denial and scapegoating. They blame the person who brings their inadequacies to light for making them feel bad and become hostile towards them.

The discussion surrounding things like trigger warnings, political correctness, safe spaces, microaggressions and the like is extremely frustrating. People who oppose and complain about these things consistently show by their own words that they lack any actual understanding of the subject of their ire. But the good thing is that people who have been marginalized, far from being fragile children and special snowflakes are quite accustomed to dealing with and persevering through hostility and opposition. Once the dominant culture figures out that they are capable of doing likewise and actually engage with the issue like grown-ups, reality will win.

Enough Bigotry to Go Around?

Hey y’all! I just finished my fancy pants appearance on Moody Radio’s Up For Debate. (That I told you about yesterday which you would know if you had been paying attention. See the things you miss when you’re not paying attention?) Anyways, I will get the link to the show up just as soon as it’s available.

Almost immediately after the show was done, I got a comment from a listener which addresses a concern I really would have liked to address on the show, but obviously, we could only scratch the surface in an hour. I think it’s an important point, so I thought I would share the comment and my response with y’all. So pay attention! 😉

Dear Rebecca:

On the Moody Radio show discussion about Ferguson you mentioned how you had prejudices and biases of which you weren’t aware simply from growing up.  I agree whole-heartedly.  What you didn’t mention is that the same is true for the black community, the hispanic community, the Middle Eastern community and the Asian community.  We all have biases that we are taught as children.  I’m a law enforcement officer in Orlando, FL.  I have worked in the schools for more than 15 years. I encounter black kids and their families that have an automatic distrust and bias against me, simply because I’m white and a cop.  This is a bias the children are taught.  I also work in the parks of a private community which owns the parks.  Part of my duties are ensuring that those who are using this private park are residents or guests of residents.  My concern isn’t race, religion, or anything but whether the person is allowed in the private park.  In 18 years, I can only recall one instance when a white or hispanic person challenged me for doing my job.  On the other hand, I have had a 1/2 dozen black people insist or imply that I was checking them simply because they were black.  By the way, all but one of these folks were NOT residents and did not belong.  This is a racially and culturally diverse community and I have great relationships with young people and adults of all races.  Please acknowledge the biases taught to the children by both races.  Thanks and God bless.

-E

E, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would just challenge you to consider that because of the way race works in this country, that the sort of defiance, hostility and distrust which you encountered among African Americans has its roots in legitimate problems which we as Americans have never dealt with, much less solved. As a white person, my prejudices were shaped almost entirely by the media, my community and the rare encounters I had with African Americans who were serving me in stores and restaurants. An the other hand, my husband has a lived experience of regularly being mistreated, of being belittled, of being threatened, of being afraid which occurred at the hands of white people. His discomfort with and distrust of white people is fundamentally different from my own prejudices. While I might wish an African American person would process and deal with his experiences differently, I had no right to tell him or her that s/he doesn’t have a right to be uncomfortable and distrustful after all that s/he has experienced and continues to experience. Of course, my husband’s a mature, educated, spiritual man, so he isn’t going to start resisting authority, being rude or hostile simply on the basis of race. But it’s easy to see how someone in a less comfortable, less experienced position would walk around with a negative attitude towards authority (which has always been the tool by which abusive, oppressive laws and customs are imposed on African Americans, btw).
It’s interesting that you bring up working as a guard at a private park. When my husband was 8 his mother moved them from Texas to the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. As they were moving in, my husband noticed that the only playground was a set of swings on a blacktop surface. He asked his mom, “why did someone put those swings on the blacktop? Someone will get hurt if they fall off.” He says his mother bent down and spoke into his face, “honey, there’s something you need to understand right now. Nobody cares what happens to you here. If you fall of those swings and get hurt, nobody’s going to care. We might not even be able to get an ambulance to come and help you. You have to take care of yourself here because nobody else is going to make sure that you and your brothers and sisters are safe.” It was 1978 and she spoke the truth. Now, imagine living in a neighborhood where the playground is unkempt and potentially dangerous. And right near-by is a nice, safe, well equipped park. But you can’t go there. Because it’s not for you. It’s for the people who paid for it. It doesn’t matter that you and your family can’t dream of affording to live in such a place. Nobody cares about you and your problems. Put yourself in that situation and the hostility makes a bit more sense.
Thanks again for your comment!
Blessings,
Rebecca

Bring the Smelling Salts and Set Your Alarm Clocks!

So there’s this lovely woman named Judy who produces the radio show Up For Debate with Julie Roys on Moody Radio. And I think she might be slightly incompetent. I mean, I’m no expert in these things and I certainly can’t predict the future, but it seems likely that come Monday morning she’s going to be having a serious conversation with someone higher up about whether she has the judgment required to perform her duties. Why do I say this, you ask? Because the poor dear went and asked yours truly to be part of an hour long discussion on the church, race and Ferguson. And I, having a big mouth, lots of opinions and no qualms about taking advantage of dear Judy’s foolishness, said yes.

So, if you’d like to hear me engage in my usual tomfoolery (hopefully without the typos, grammar glitches and random gibberish that I like to sprinkle in my writing), tune in. It’s on Moody Radio from 8-9 am, central time, tomorrow morning. Program info and station information can be found here. And if you really love me, call in and gush about how amazing I am and how every good Christian should listen to everything I say. Depending on how it goes, I might need the help!

In all seriousness, say a prayer for me. Continue reading

Why the White Dude Crossed the Tracks

Back when I did prison ministry, we used to have this crazy old white dude who would come in to talk with the boys. He had a ministry working with gangs on the streets of Chicago. He had occasionally even managed to bring high up people representing large, dangerous gangs together to reach agreements which would reduce the levels of conflict, and therefore the levels of violence between them.

Youth for Christ, a national organization which includes Campus Life, City Life, and Juvenile Justice Mission, provided funding for his ministry by employing him between 1982 through 2008. Which is a really long, long time to be a youth minister. Most burnout within their first decade.

At the time I was involved with prison ministry, crime had just reached a 20 year high, and the problem was most acute in urban areas like Chicago with high density, segregated housing. There were some places that police avoided patrolling out of fear of being targeted by violence, so his ability to develop relationships and gain trust among the gangs was the subject of a lot of interest.

He was invited to speak to kids in prisons all over Northern Illinois and served as a youth chaplain for the Cook County Sheriff’s department. He made sure that at every step along the path a vulnerable kid was taking, he was there to tell them about Christ’s love.

The man’s name was Gordon and he looked like a comedy version of a used car sales man. Wore ill fitting and mismatched business clothes. Had a BAD comb over. He was in his late fifties when I met him. But I was 18 at the time, so he could have been my grandpa. If my grandpa were a used car sales man in the early 80s. Gordon had a way of talking that was slightly disjointed, but jokey enough that he kept his audience engaged. He came off as a bit of a fool, really.

But it was all very deliberate. Continue reading