Sadly, Being Nice Rarely Changes Things

While I’m usually pretty nice and well behaved here on my blog, it has happened a time or two in real life and on social media that I have been criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic and too provocative. The way I communicate has been called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. More than one person has tried to plead with me (or shame me) to tone it down. Typically they claim that no one will listen to me because I’m alienating people. Clearly, I have not found these arguments or criticisms particularly persuasive.

To demonstrate why, take a look at these fascinating charts:

Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of white people claiming that we have done enough to give blacks equal rights vs those who say that more needs to be done remained stable. Most white people had declared mission accomplished. But by 2015, the positions had completely reversed with most white people suddenly deciding that we needed to do more to give blacks equal rights. What happened? Well, Black Lives Matters happened. Conflict happened. Protests happened. Arguments happened. Roads were blocked, events were disrupted, people shouted and refused to back down. A few even set shit on fire.

Much like me, BLM was criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic, too provocative. They were called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. They were told that all they were doing was alienating people. Right wing media engage in a demonic smear campaign against them to make J. Edgar Hoover do a jig in his grave. The leaders of BLM, however, had studied the history of non-violent social change and they knew better than to give the calls to simmer down and be nice any credence. And for all the criticism and complaints, people’s eyes started to open and their minds began to change. Their denial became less sustainable. In a very short amount of time, opinions flipped quite dramatically.

You see, the idea that we can get people to change their minds about important issues, come out of denial and recognize the error of their ways through civility and dialogue sounds high minded and reasonable. Except reality doesn’t actually work like that. It could, if people were better at listening, less defensive and less invested in victim blaming. But they’re not.

Which is why it is both good and necessary that we have some people who are willing to be obnoxious, piss everyone off and refuse to back down. People who are willing to have people think that they’re a jerk and talk shit about them and say nasty things to them. And while not everyone can or should be that sort of person, I am quite happy to be one of those people at this moment in history. I get that at any given moment. I have a fair number of people mad at, disgusted by or appalled at me. That’s OK. I’m a mom; it’s not a novel experience for me.

Advertisements

Wait – I thought Racial Discrimination Was Illegal. Silly Me

Very early in his career, my (African American) husband was on a temp-to-hire job doing complex data analysis – something he excels at. He had a 60 day review which was outstanding and his boss commented on how quickly he was performing as well or better than long time employees in the same position. Typically the 90 day trail period they put new employees through was just to evaluate if they had the capability of learning how to do the work.

A few days later, someone left an extraordinarily racist cartoon of a “ghetto fish” on my husband’s chair at work before he arrived in the morning. While he was looking at it in shock, one of the other employees walked by, glanced at the paper and said, “that’s pretty funny” (as if he had already seen the cartoon). Then waked off.

My husband didn’t think it was funny at all and went to his boss to show him the cartoon and explain what had happened. The boss wasn’t alarmed in the least but just snorted and told him to ignore it. That evening, my husband got a call from the employment agency telling him that the company he was doing the temp-to-hire with didn’t need him anymore. That was all he was told – “they’ve decided that they don’t need you to return.”

At my insistence, he contacted an employment lawyer to discuss the situation. He spoke to two different people who explained that filing a discrimination complaint is a long, drawn-out process involving a review by the EEOC which must be performed before any lawsuit can be filed to attempt to address the wrong done. The lawyer for the person who claims to have been wronged typically works for little to no money upfront, so they aren’t particularly motivated to pursue individual cases with little hope of a large pay-out. They will take those small cases, but typically the company uses their lawyers to draw the cases out to the point that they simply aren’t worth it and the lawyer forces a settlement that leaves everyone no better off than where they started. Further, they explained, once it is known that you have filed an EEOC complaint or are involved in a lawsuit, it is almost impossible to get hired in the same field. (Lawsuits are public record and if the EEOC decides to take action on a case directly, they make a press release.) They recommended that my husband only file a complaint if he was already planning or prepared to change his line of work entirely or get training to do so.

After that, my husband only ever complained to management about racism in the workplace once. That was also early in his career when he was hired to be a manager of a small office and his employees left racist graffiti on his car and refused to attend his meetings. He was told to ignore it and give people time. Otherwise he just found ways to work around the racism he encountered. And years later, when he was in a position to hire someone, he was told that he couldn’t hire his chosen candidate because it was known that she had won a discrimination lawsuit against a former employer which allegedly made her a high risk hire. Confirming what those employment lawyers had told him. Imagine that – you get treated like shit, stand up for your rights and then become unemployable in some employer’s eyes.

So, that’s the state of our workplace anti-discrimination laws in this country. In case you were wondering why things aren’t better. (Don’t worry – there’s lots more where this story came from.)

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

Colonizing Cities for White American Jesus

No one likes to think of themselves as racist or prejudiced. Even the KKK denies being a racist organization. Which for some people just affirms the deeply held idea that there’s something wrong with people of color. If there wasn’t something wrong with them, people of color wouldn’t have so many problems now that racism isn’t a problem. How can racism be to blame when there are no more racists among us?

Of course, racism and the residual effects of centuries of being raped, robbed and pillaged continue to be an issue. If we’d ever like to get to the day when there really are no racists among us, we need white people to be a lot less clueless. Like, for example, we need for this to become unthinkable, particularly for Christians:

When I asked the white pastor of a large suburban multi-campus church to . . . reflect on whether he has earned the right to do ministry among the oppressed, he responded by saying, “Obviously, the pastors [of color] that are already in the community aren’t more qualified to minister in that neighborhood than I am. If they were, they’d have made a bigger impact by now. They’ve had their chance. Now it’s mine.”

Or this:

One older African-American pastor said he’s heard chilling reports of meetings, in which representatives from many of the suburban churches have gathered around a map of the city and marked each church’s “territory,” as if Buffalo was theirs to divvy up. The indigenous leaders were not invited to these meetings, nor have they been contacted by these churches. It’s as if they don’t exist, their churches don’t exist, and their expertise doesn’t exist.

Those quotes come from a really excellent article by Christina Cleveland called “Urban Church Planting Plantations” which ought to be required reading for every suburban pastor. And for you too. It’s super good.

I had heard talk of urban church planting and knew that most such church plants fail miserably. Often they become money holes for the church supporting them. Even relatively successful ones find that instead of ministering directly to poor, struggling communities, they are attracting a crowd that doesn’t actually live in the area the church is supposed to be ministering to.

In fact, the last church our family was seriously involved in was an urban church plant supported by a large, predominantly white denomination. They had a long history of working for racial reconciliation and so did better than most. They hired African American pastors and ministers who were at least somewhat familiar with the community. They were even paying for additional education and training to bring the pastors up to the denomination’s standards. But at the same time, we were driving 40 minutes each way to get there. Urban ministry is much harder than Pastor “It’s my turn” thinks.

Continue reading

The Real Reason the Term “White Privilege” Needs to Die

Want to start a fight? Put an honest white person and an honest person of color in a room together and tell them to discuss white privilege. “White privilege” is one of those phrases that means two totally different things to most white people and most people of color. Outside of colleges and and multi-cultural training seminars it is a complete conversation stopper that does nothing to illuminate anything and everything to sow seeds of enmity between races. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s a phrase that should be abandoned altogether.

“Now, wait a minute, Rebecca,” I can hear some of you saying, “you’re a white person married to an African American. You’ve even written a book which is enormously sympathetic to the perspectives and experiences of African Americans and quite critical of whites inability/unwillingness to deal with those perspectives and experiences. How can you speak so negatively of ‘white privilege’? Isn’t it just a reality?”

And that’s just it. If I as an extraordinarily sympathetic white person who can offer hundreds of examples of the ways that racism has affected my husband – who is just one man! – hear the phrase “white privilege” and get my hackles raised, then clearly there’s a problem. And frankly, I really don’t think that the problem is with me. The problem is with the language involved. Continue reading