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Category Archives: Race Relations

I do my best thinking while mowing my lawn (in my humble opinion). A few days ago was no exception. I was thinking about the film, “Get Out” – a 2017 American horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele. In particular, I was thinking about the auction scene where a white audience was bidding on black bodies to acquire and to exploit (just Google, “Get Out Auction Scene”). Then my mind took me down another corridor to something that a speaker said that explains something I unconsciously do (correction: something that many African American parents unconsciously do). This speaker, Dr. Joy DeGruy, said this while speaking at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) during a Black History Month event: “our ancestors often denigrated their kids in order to deter a white slave master.” What did she mean? When a white slave owner spotted a young vibrant and strong African American male, the mom might quickly say, “He is shiftless, lazy, and irresponsible.” She was publicly denigrating him to deter the white slave master from taking and exploiting her son for his financial benefit/gain. Sometimes this worked; many times it didn’t. When people praise my son, I often quip, “He is a knucklehead.” Although I say this with some humor, this practice, nonetheless, is a form of denigrating him. Again, I thought about the film, “Get Out.” In this film, Black bodies are kidnapped and their brains are swapped for the brains of white folks because the involuntary Black donor possessed some skill or ability.

This film communicates at least two important facts: (1) there has been abuse and exploitation of the Black body for centuries (today it takes the form of police brutality, mass incarceration, etc.); and (2) no one served to denigrate the Black brothers and sisters in this film to deter a white person from taking and abusing their black bodies.  In other words, justice was absent. This film eerily imitates the existential reality of many Blacks today. (This film made an impact on me as you can see and I viewed it in March 2017.)

 

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Victoria is a single mother of a precocious 10-year-old little girl, Brandy.  Victoria is an African American professional and a natural leader.  Brandy is a Girl Scout.  And although she is in the minority, she enjoys being a Girl Scout immensely.  As a single mother, money is tight for Victoria.  So, when the Girl Scout Troupe Leaders, who are white, organized a Girl Scout-mother trip out of town, Victoria had some questions about the registration fees.  No matter how calm and collected Victoria was, the troupe leaders seemed to be upset, bothered, and offended that Victoria was asking probing questions about the trip fees that seem a bit excessive.  These questions were first posed in writing, via an email, and then in public, because Victoria’s email went unanswered.  After asking the same probing questions in public, white mothers who looked on and listened in, later approached Victoria and whispered, “We were wondering the same thing about the fees.”  Quickly responding, Victoria, asked her fellow mothers, “Why didn’t you speak up?” Now, that’s a fair question.

Paige is a high profile professional and a bona fide leader.  It is because of her leadership savvy and acumen that she serves as the board chair of a very prominent board in the city.  It is a very prominent board because it is comprised of some influential people.  Like Hilton is a high profile name across the nation, some who serve on this board have high profile names in this particular city too. One such person is Mr. Wright, an elderly white man and a wealthy business owner.  When the topic of immigration, and the border crisis, came up, Mr. Wright perked up and started spouting untrue rhetoric about immigrants such as, “They are rapists. They are criminals. They want to take our jobs.” Paige, who is African American, gently and respectfully, said to Mr. Wright, “I encourage you to do your own research and not believe the sound bites you hear about immigration.” After the meeting adjourned, many of the white board members approached Paige and whispered, “Thank you for saying that to Mr. Wright; I was thinking the same thing.” Paige thought to herself, “Why didn’t you speak up?” Now, that’s a fair question.

These are two instances where whites are afraid to challenge other whites, in public, who have some measure of agency and responsibility.  In both instances, an African American female spoke up.   Thankfully, these African Americans spoke up; however, in both instances, these ladies were left out on a limb by themselves.  I am certain this happens with African American and white males too.

However, the burning question is, why don’t whites speak up and challenge other whites in public? Do whites not speak up because it will be viewed as betraying one’s tribe?

I was privileged to be interviewed by my colleague and brother, Denis Haack, Co-Director of Ransom Fellowship on that topic that continues to live on, “race in America”.  Article is here. I am looking forward to the day when we are not discussing race so much but rather, celebrating race!

One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.

I enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) in Shawnee, KS.  Relations have not been pleasant between the African-American community and the police (especially, white police officers) so I enrolled to get an inside perspective or view. I wanted to entered their space or go to their turf. I have completed three (3) weeks at the academy. This is what I have learned thus far:

(1) These men and women doing the presentations, many of whom are police officers, are human beings; and they appear to be genuine and normal. Some of the guys are goofy (my kids charge me with being goofy too).

(2) I am clearly outnumbered in two ways.  Not only am I the only African-American in the class but most of the students are pro-police.  Their positive bias clearly shows; and my cynical bias clearly shows.  However, one of the officers, after class told me, that most whites are pro-police but they cannot tell you why or they have not been very thoughtful about it.  This same officer told me that he is glad I am in the class and that I am asking the difficult questions.  For example, this same officer fields and investigates complaints against officers. I asked him, “how can you be objective when you are biased (he told us that he thinks their police department is really good)?”  His response, “I am almost, always correct or objective.”  I literally laughed out loud at that response! Another classmate asked, “are there more ‘checks and balances’?” I was happy to hear that this officer that evaluates complaints does have additional ‘checks and balances.’ This same officer that evaluates complaints, that can range from an officer being rude, not completing a report, etc., told me after class that he has grown to be a bit more compassionate.  I told him, in turn, that I am cynical because of the ugly history of white police officers and the black community.  He understands; in fact, he recognizes that we, as a nation, have not dealt adequately with the aftermath of slavery. He also admitted that his worldview was at one time very narrow because he lived in a white bubble. I was happy to hear that he began reading about the history of America; and his personal awakening that relationally, blacks and whites did not get off on the right foot, occurred when he was 40 years of age (he is now 52 years old).

(3) These men and women are witnesses to some horrific crime scenes. On the first night, the chief told us that earlier that day some of his officers had found a 3-week old decomposed body. At the break, I asked, “after seeing such things on a routine basis, do your folks get counseling?” He said, “it is mandatory.” And their psychologist decides if the officer is ready or not to return to active duty.

(4) This particular police department has been doing training on race and biased based policing since 2007 (seems to me that it should have started sooner?). And race and biased based policing training is required annually. Again, I am the only African-American in the class so it was a bit satisfying for this white presenter to share with the class some of the foolishness they have to put up with. For instance, the radio dispatcher received a call one night that “two African-American men, who did not live in the area, were walking in the neighborhood.” Some of my classmates thought that was absurd! I said “yes” to myself.

(5) The reason why one may see more of a police presence in a geographical area is because criminal analytics and analysis has shown that these are high crime areas – speeding, burglaries, etc.

(6) There seems to a correlation between holidays that occur on the weekend and alcohol usage and the occurrence of more crimes. Domestic issues typically occur at higher rates around the Thanksgiving Holiday. An officer said he wished that most holidays occurred on Wednesdays and not the weekend.

(7) Generally speaking, the Shawnee Police Department enjoys the benefit of cooperating witnesses.  One officer lamented the fact that their neighbors, the Wyandotte Police Department, does not enjoy such a luxury.

(8) Police officers’ loyalty and camaraderie to each other is quite obvious.  Police officers, from other states, will travel to attend the funerals of slain police officers or officers who die in the line of duty.  And in many instances, those attending do not know the deceased officer on a personal basis.

(9) Force, used by the officer, must be “reasonable”.  The landmark case Graham v Connor (1985) established the rule of ‘reasonableness.’

(10) Police officers can use deadly force to stop a threatening action. They have been trained to aim at the largest mass of the human body – the chest. And they have been trained to aim for the head too (think Michael Brown).  I asked, “why not go for the leg to disable the person?” First, the audience (mostly white) chimed in, and grumbled a bit about this suggestion. Second, another officer said if a bullet hits a certain artery in the leg, a person can bleed to death.  Another officer said, “this is not TV.” I said to the presenting officer (after class), aiming for the chest will likely kill a person and he will never have a chance to change or turn his or her life around.” Oh well.

(11) A police officer cited some of the unintended consequences of wearing body cameras.  One example he gave was finding a unconscious naked woman in a bathtub; that footage will be recorded for perpetuity.  So, I asked about his views on conceal and carry. While he agrees with the right to bear arms (Amendment 2), he also laments the unintended consequences associated with conceal and carry.

(12) These guys and gals must make split second decisions.  For example, one officer gave this illustration (based on an actual case in Arizona): imagine a man with a baby hoisted over his head.  He charges a police officer while threatening to throw the baby to the ground. Should the officer shoot the man or should the officer use deadly force?

(13) Several of the presenters are quite negative toward the media which regularly reports a “white police officer shooting an unarmed man.” (Think Tulsa. I know this was on the presenter’s mind.) One officer clearly ‘tipped his hand’ and illustrated his negative bias of the media.  “The media is all about ratings,” one student said out loud. After class, this same officer admitted to me that there are certainly legitimate cases where officers do get it really wrong.  I brought up Eric Garner and Rodney King as examples.  I said to him, “I know sensationalism is a driver for the media; however,  I wish you had said that during your presentation.”

Many scenarios were role played out at Class #3 around when deadly force should be used or not used. For example, what if a distraught husband comes out of a house with a hand gun pointed to his head while charging a police officer, should the officer use deadly force and stop the threat? If a police officer is being choked from behind, should the officer use deadly force? After these role plays, I raised my hand and said, “my respect for you guys has increased.” For about deadly force, see www.policefoundation.org/general-resources/use-of-force-infographic/.

 

During a recent stay at a hotel in the Midwest, I peeked out my window and I noticed a car trunk was open.  (The car was a very nice Black Cadillac). I thought nothing of it and resumed typing again on my laptop computer.  I took a short break and noticed that same car trunk was still open.  So, wanting to be a “good neighbor,” I called down to the front desk to alert someone but the line was busy; I retried calling the front desk after a few minutes but to no avail. Not to be deterred and denied being a good neighbor, I grabbed my plastic hotel door key and took the elevator from the third floor to the lobby to alert the clerk.  When I got to the front desk, there were two African-American men laughing it up with the white male hotel clerk (apparently they knew each other).  I told the clerk about the car trunk being open and because it was cloudy outside this could be trouble if the trunk was not closed.  One of the African-American men quickly said, “we can’t do that anymore.” He spoke in hidden code but I knew exactly what he meant.  This hotel was in a predominantly white area and an affluent area at that.  Translating this hidden code for those who don’t get it, this African-American brother was saying this, “I am not going to take a risk and close the car trunk because of where we are.”  You see he did not want to be seen closing a car trunk to a car that did not belong to him because if anything came up missing…do you get it, I get it.  I painfully get it. It is hard being a ‘good neighbor’ in a racialized society.

Postscript. Someone closed the car trunk and it did not rain.

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old little African-American boy, was shot and killed by an overzealous police officer in Ohio.  Rice was playing in the park with a pellet gun but when the officers arrived, protocol apparently was not followed (see http://tinyurl.com/h42y2ud). That is, he was not told to drop his weapon or get on the ground, etc.  Rather, within seconds of arriving on the scene an officer shot Rice in his abdomen. Young Rice, along with his dreams and along with his contributions to our society, died the next day.  The Grand Jury did not indict the overzealous police officer who killed this precious imago dei bearer.  However, I have great hopes for the church in America because after all God has ordained three human institutions for the sake of human flourishing: the human family, the civil government and the church.

As 2016 approaches my hopes for the bride of Christ in the upcoming new year are quite simple: 1) I hope there will be no more deaths like Rice in 2016; 2) I hope that the church in general and the white church in particular will wake up and see incidents like Rice not as a “racial issue but rather as a human issue” as friend and brother, Bryan Berry put it (we all share a common humanity with the likes of Rice); 3) I hope that the church will wake up and lead reform of the criminal justice system and actively, civilly and loudly speak out when injustices occur; and 4) I hope those in the church with privileges – which includes all of us – will use those privileges for the common good or for the sake of human flourishing for all.

A dear friend, Rob Burns (follow this dude) asked me to chime in on these questions: 1) why do white people misunderstand black rage and 2) what are some practical steps to begin understanding? Here are my thoughts:

  1. The white experience is normative in American society. That is, look at most TV commercials, magazines, and even blank picture frames and what do you see? happy white families and people. Visit many Walgreens or CVS stores and the hair products assume a white customer base. These are the things non-whites notice but whites are fairly oblivious to. And I think ‘white as normative’ is also assumed or subconsciously assumed by white church folks. Because the ‘white life is normative,’ what African-Americans are doing in Ferguson must seem like senseless to many whites because this is not their experience.
  2. A black life in this country is still viewed quite differently than a white life. Two examples will suffice. Scott Turow in his book, “Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty” (2004) states explicitly, that a white life in the criminal justice system is viewed more valuable than a black life. And two, believe it or not, we all make unconscious associations at an instance because of the way we have been socialized in this country – e.g., ‘white is good and black is bad.’ Readers should review the results of the recent Black-White Doll Test. The test was first conducted in the 1940/50s by Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark to study children’s attitudes about race. What is startling is that even black girls and black boys associated the black doll as ugly and the white doll as pretty. Even more troubling is that the test was repeated by Kiri Davis of Manhattan’s Urban Academy in circa 2005 with nearly the same results. I encourage folks to take the Race IAT which “measures our racial attitude on an unconscious level – the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think.” (See Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” pp. 84-85. Find a computerized IAT at www.implicit.harvard.edu and look for the Race IAT).
  3. Going forward I will repeat what I have said before:
    • A. Our minds and our hearts need a major overhaul – I believe if you take the IAT you will see that;
    • B. The church – as a redeemed society – must be leading the way in fighting for social justice, the reformation of institutions, living out Galatians 3:28, and truly acting as their brother’s keeper. Margaret Mead and James Baldwin met for the first time on the evening of August 25, 1970 and engaged in a “Rap on Race.” Baldwin said this, “the salvation of America lies in whether or not it is able to embrace the black face” (“Rap on Race”, p. 77) – so the question is for the church, can it embrace the black face as his or her neighbor?;
    • C. Whites must begin to invite blacks to participate in their significant events – weddings, funerals, picnics, family vacations, etc. and;
    • D. Those with privileges need to ask, “who is not benefiting from this service or institution like I am and ask why?” If person with privileges would investigate the answer to this ‘why’ question, he or she might understand why African-Americans are so cynical, angry and bothered.

As a Christian, I think 3A-3D is what concrete acts in keeping with genuine repentance looks like. (Note: Dr. Anthony Bradley should be credited with 3C).

Michael Brown is an African-American male; Darren Wilson, the sequestered police officer who killed Brown, is a white male.  In our current context, this forces the discussion topic to be about ‘race relations.’ In other words, this incident between Brown and Wilson has forced St. Louisians and yea, citizens of this great country to grapple with race once again.  One thing is certain: we don’t live in a post-racial society.  In fact, many scholars have noted that race relations are bit more strained because Obama is in the White House. Just ponder the irony of that statement: a Black man is in the White house and yet race relations are a bit more strained in this country.  Back to this statement: this incident, whether folks want to admit it or not, has forced us once again to grapple with issues related to race.  For instance, what comments have you spoken in your heart (in secret) or out loud about the recent events in Ferguson, MO?  Here are some comments that are unhelpful:

  1. “Brown deserved what was coming to him. He was better dead than alive.”
  2. “All white police officers are racists.”
  3. “All white people are racists.”
  4. “All blacks are shiftless and lazy and simply want a hand out.”
  5. Comments beginning with “those people…
  6. “Dang, what’s the big deal about an African-American male being killed?”
  7. “Blacks are animals and uncivilized.”
  8. “All white police officers are trigger happy.”
  9. “This ain’t my problem.  I got mine, you get yours.”
  10. “It is best that they stay there with their kind; and we stay here with our kind.”
  11. “I have a black friend.”
  12. “Those people have gotten themselves into this fine mess.”

 

Here are some comments or reactions or responses that are helpful:

  1. “Race is a social construct.” And as such, we need to seriously ‘deconstruct’ and put it back together again.
  2. “Whites in general have good relations with white police officers; why is it so different with blacks?”
  3. “I desire for the sake of all human beings that true truth will emerge in this case as this is the pathway for justice to be achieved.”
  4. “What could I do to serve this family and the Ferguson community and the police?”
  5. “A mom and dad have lost their son (they cannot fuss at their son, they cannot hug their son); we should mourn with this family.”
  6. “What privileges do I enjoy that I might share with the underprivileged?” Or “what social capital can I share with those on the fringes of society?” “How can I use my advantage to give others access to opportunities?” [Most blacks are not looking for an easy way; but rather access to opportunities.  A fellow white female engineer once to me, “Luke, you are different.” I replied, “I am not different, I only had opportunities that many blacks were not afforded.]
  7. “Is there something about regularity of such encounters between blacks and white police officers that warrants my dutiful investigation?”
  8. “We must allow the justice system to do its due diligence.”  I, for one, don’t want any short cuts.
  9. “Everyone is my neighbor.” (The Christian is to love his neighbor as himself.)
  10. “I need to take time to listen to the stories of others and not paint all people of a particular race as the same.”
  11. “We must denounce criminal behavior such as looting and rioting and those who wish to disobey the curfew.”
  12. “This young man, like all people regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. is part of one human family.”  We are brothers and sisters!  The Black-Eyed Peas (now considered ‘old school’) recognized our familial connection in their “One Tribe” rap song.  Consider these lyrics (my commentary is in bold type).  According to this multi-ethnic quartet, We are…

 

One Tribe [=one human family], one time, one planet, one race
It’s all one blood, don’t care about your face
The color of your eye or the tone of your skin
…….
I don’t need no leader
That’s gonna force feed a
Concept that make me think I need to
Fear my brother and fear my sister [Fear keeps us at arm’s length from our neighbors who are different than us]
And shoot my neighbor or my big missile
If I had an enemy to {enemy}
If I had an enemy to {enemy}
If I had an enemy, then my enemy is gonna try to come and kill me
Cause I’m his enemy
There’s one tribe ya’ll

………..
One love, one blood, one people
One heart, one beat, we equal
Connected like the internet [what happens to you affects me and vice versa]
United that’s how we do
Let’s break walls, so we see through
Let love and peace lead you
We could overcome the complication cause we need to
Help each other, make these changes
Brother, sister, rearrange this [we are brothers and sisters]
…….

A side bar: for Christians reading this blog, the ‘bar is set a bit higher’ for us because: 1) an implication inherent in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the mandate to cross uncomfortable boundaries and this includes racial boundaries.  And 2) the church, as a ‘contrast society,’ is suppose to be leading the charge of modeling what ‘supernaturally restored relationships’ look like.  Atop of the list is supernaturally restoring race relations.  This means all races need to reach beyond the borders and build relationships. (See Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality where he talks more about how the way Christians live is actually an apologetic; and Michael Goheen’s A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story where he discusses the church as a ‘contrast society’). And finally, I am very fond of Dr. Hans Bayer, New Testament Professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. He said once, “live life from the end of the story.” What’s going to be true at the end of history when Christ makes all things new and sets up His kingdom here on earth? This new kingdom will be multi-ethnic!  So, as Christians, we are called to make this a reality now to give others a foretaste or preview of that heavenly reality at the end of history!  What a challenge but what a thrill and privilege to get to know someone who does not look like me.

 

 

 

 

I once worked for Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO).  I relocated to Kansas City, MO (my hometown) in June 2014 after a great and satisfying stint at LU.  I was the Chair for the Christian Ministry Studies (CMS) Department and an Associate Professor.  Also housed in the same school (the School of Human Services) was my Criminal Justice (CJ) colleagues.  My former students know that I am the inquisitive and curious type!  Thus, do I have a lot of questions for my CJ colleagues or anyone in the Criminal Justice arena.  For instance, since Wilson clearly had the advantage (he had a gun and allegedly Brown did not), couldn’t Wilson had shot Brown in the legs to slow him down or to demobilize him (if indeed Brown was charging Wilson)?  Death is final! Given the deep seated and lingering distrust of the police by the African-American community, is “Race Relations in America” a standard part of the curriculum in undergraduate programs or at the police academy? When it comes to the criminal justice system, is it true that a white person’s life is more valued than that of a black person’s life as Scott Turow asserts in his book, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty? Is it true that “firing 6 shots in a 3-4 second time frame is standard”? as a Facebook friend discovered while talking with his officer friend? What protocols or standards did Wilson obey and disobey? What is Wilson likely going through? Is he having sleepless nights? Will he carry any guilt for this killing?  Why do these encounters keep happening between white officers and black men? Two answers I suppose: 1) I am guessing there is a shortage of black officers? And 2) sadly and statistically, blacks commit more crimes.  See Shelby Steele’s The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, Rodrick Burton’s The Moral State of Black America and  John McWhorter’s Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America for proof of this unflattering commentary and reality.  But then we need to ask why do blacks commit more crimes than whites?  For starters, see  http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2014/08/a-white-cop-black-kid-and-crime.html?m=1. I am convinced that once we answer this ‘why’ question, we will understand why we repeatedly end here (clashes between the black community and the police; we have been ‘here’ before).  Once we answer this ‘why’ question we can begin attacking not the symptoms but the root causes that lead to these unwelcomed  and often deadly rendezvous between black men and white police officers.