The Roanoke Times, in there article, Our view: Sweet Briar does what it wasn't supposed to do; it reopens quotes a banner welcoming students back to Sweet Briar College saying, “This is going to be a legendary year.” They note that in other years, this would seem just sloganeering, but this year at Sweet Briar is going to be legendary. It already is legendary.
For those who missed my previous blog posts about Sweet Briar, this was the women’s college in Virginia whose board of directors voted to close the school last spring. It was cited as another casualty of changes in higher education, where liberal arts, and women’s colleges just aren’t valued as much anymore. Yet not everyone shares the same view about the value of women’s colleges and liberal arts education and a group of alumna and other concerned people gather, and fought successfully to keep it up.
Yes, this is going to be a legendary year for everyone at Sweet Briar. It is the spirit and attitude that we should be encouraging students with. It makes me think of how leaders in Hartford welcomed students to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School
The group — Hartford businessmen, lawyers, community organizers, city politicians, artists, neighborhood dignitaries, a police officer in uniform — erupted in cheers and whoops for Jamar, giving the boy high-fives and handshakes as if he were LeBron James being introduced at Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
I hope it will be a legendary year for those students in Hartford as well.
All of this provides a stunning contrast to how freshman women were welcomed at Old Dominion University in Virginia, 200 miles east of Sweet Briar. The Sigma Nu fraternity there made national news, when their activities were suspended after putting up banners saying “Rowdy and Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl is Ready for a Good Time.”
In all the discussions about charter schools, high stake testing, and so many other educational issues today, we tend to overlook the educational culture and climate. Sweet Briar College in Virginia and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Hartford get it right.
“This is going to be a legendary year.”
On Facebook, I shared a link to an article about protestors claiming to represent the #BlackLivesMatters movement who disrupted an event where Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak. I spoke about the article in terms of transformation:
As I read the article below, as well as comments from many friends, I remembered this:
"the biggest lie told by people like me to people like you at election time is that, 'If you vote for me, I'm going to solve all your problems.' The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands, not mine." - Howard Dean, 2004
And so I ask, "Where is transformation taking place in the 2016 election?"
Currently, there are twenty-eight comments on the post, representing many different viewpoints, yet it feels like almost none of them are confronting the underlying question of personal transformation. What does it mean to say, “you have the power?” What is this power we have, and how should we use it? I am reminded of the cartoon where the politician ask, “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. Then, he asks, “Who wants to change?” and no one raises their hands.
I’ve often heard preachers pray that their words might distress the comfortable and comfort the distressed, and I think this is an important part of the discussion. It feels like some Bernie supporters are comfortable talking about economic justice. Perhaps they come out of the #Occupy movement. They seem to believe that the economic populism of the Sanders campaign will bring not only economic justice, but racial justice. People standing up and saying, “No, that is not enough” is distressing, the sort of distress a preacher might hope to bring. Economic populism, especially economic populism that asks little of anything other than the 1%, is not enough. We must all work together, making sacrifices, that there might be real, economic, racial and social justice.
A common response to “#BlackLivesMatter” is “#AllLivesMatter”. I’ve often had discussions with people for whom #BlackLivesMatter is a very important hashtag. They see #AllLivesMatter as a cop-out, a means of avoiding, or even denying that for too many people in power in our country, black lives do not seem to matter. This has played out in the comments on my Facebook post, and I return to distressing the comfortable.
To those who are comfortable saying #BlackLivesMatter and uncomfortable with those who would water it down to #AllLivesMatter, please listen. Saying #BlackLivesMatter is very important. However, there are times when saying #AllLivesMatter may be what is needed. I have relatives who are white law enforcement officers, relatives that have jumped to the defense of officers involved in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I have relatives posting racist comments about our President. I probably even have friends that agree with Donald Trump in his dismissal of political correctness. Most of these people are not able to hear the message that #BlackLivesMatter. Trying to get them to admit that #AllLivesMatter, and not just #OnlyMyLifeMatters is a major battle. From what I hear from Trump and his supporters, it seems like too many people in our country don’t even believe that #AllLivesMatter. To them, all that matters is themselves. We need to reach people where they are at.
Yet to those who really do believe that #AllLivesMatter, and cannot bring themselves to say #BlackLivesMatter, we must also distress them.
One person commented, “I am so absolutely sick of BLM. ALM!!!!!” I, too, am sick of having to say #BlackLivesMatter. I wish I didn’t have to confront people with the truth that for too many in our country, black lives do not seem to matter. That too many people in our country are unwilling to look at systemic racism, or at their own unconscious racist attitudes. We cannot simply switch to #AllLivesMatter to be more comfortable.
In that discussion, I responded, “Recently, three friends have lost their sons. As I grieve with them, I talk about how their sons’ lives mattered. I could say that all lives matter. It would be true. It would also be very disrespectful.”
#IsaacWasHere. One of those sons was Isaac. His mother has fought hard for social justice. She also fought hard to start a family. I imagine if I scrolled back far enough in her timeline on Facebook, I would find some very important posts about #BlackLivesMatter, but now, all I see is grief. I cannot being to say how wrong it would be to respond to #IsaacWasHere with #BlackLivesMatter. Both are true, but responding #BlackLivesMatter in this context would be so wrong. Responding #AllLivesMatter to those fighting for racial and social justice in the wake of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Charleston, the list seems endless, is just as wrong.
#IsaacWasHere. I have said his name. I will also #SayHerName. More accurately, I will say the name of one of one victim of police brutality against women. Sandra Bland. Hers is not the only name. In a recent faith study group, one of the women, a woman of color, with a strong voice, a Sunday school teacher, spoke about her fears. She could easily see herself in Sandra Bland’s situation. Others said that things like that happen in the south, but not here in Connecticut. This led to a discussion of policing in East Haven. This is not just a problem that happens somewhere else. It happens in our own backyards. We were discussing the Psalms and what our responsibilities are in proclaiming The Word of The Lord. To me, I return to Psalm 19:14
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
To my friends of faith, I challenge you to pray this before each comment you make online. I find it a hard challenge to keep this in my mind as I read what others post online.
I am uncomfortable writing all of this. I hope others are uncomfortable reading this. If we want justice, if we want transformation, we need to get out of our comfort zones.
On Facebook this morning, The Rev. Shelley Best asked the questions, “I'm not sure why this documentary was so controversial? Is talking about whiteness as difficult as this documentary says it is?”
I’ve missed the controversy, so I watched the first few minutes of the documentary, and skimmed a few articles about it. The first I came to was, Why White People Should Not Watch the MTV Documentary White People.
Willa Paskin writes, “I think this is a pretty great idea for a documentary that was a little too remedial with and gentle on, well, white people.” Later, she says, ‘Vargas approached the material as though he imagined he were speaking to white people who had thought about race almost not at all”.
Perhaps Slate’s television critic lives in a world where white people have been thinking about race, where white people say Sandra Bland’s name, where people understand the politics behind the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.
However, I find Vargas’ view of the world much more realistic. I work in a world focused on cultural competency and addressing health disparities, but when I go home at night, when I go to Church on Sunday, when I ran for State Representative, I did all of that in a world much closer to the world Vargas sees.
Erica Williams Simon had a different take on the documentary in her article in Upworthy, MTV decided to make a bunch of white kids talk about whiteness. And it may have helped them
She commented about Vargas responded to certain people talking negatively about “minorities”. “The gentleness and ease of it all disturbed me.” Yet later, when she described reactions to the documentary, such as when “a 19-year-old white college freshman who said her school is extremely racially segregated, earnestly asked, ‘How can I join conversations about race at school and on Facebook and say what I think without silencing other important voices?’”
She ends off with “If, with all that in mind, it takes MTV, an empathetic journalist, and the right amount of gentle awkwardness to give them a peek into the reality of whiteness, it just might be an all right place to start.”
In a similar vein, Spencer Kornhaber’s article in The Atlantic, White People 101 has, “MTV’s documentary points out some facts about race that might seem obvious until you realize that for many Americans they’re not.”
So, let me go back to Shelley’s question, “Is talking about whiteness as difficult as this documentary says it is?” I’m not sure that Vargas’ ultimate goal is to talk about whiteness, it is to address racism. So, rephrasing Shelley’s question, “Is talking about addressing racism as difficult as this documentary says it is?”
It struck me that perhaps talking about addressing racism is similar to talking with kids about sex. I remember in high school classmates, talking about sex would say, everyone’s talking about it, but nobody is doing it. It was probably a truism which the few sexually active students in my school rolled their eyes at, but everyone else knew was pretty true.
When you get right down to it, talking about sexuality with kids can be daunting. You can be afraid to say something embarrassing, something wrong, you may be afraid to admit your own sexual inadequacies, or sexual desires that are based on your own desires for gratification and not on mutual respect. Yet sex can be wonderful and is crucial to the survival of the species.
Sound familiar? Perhaps it provides a helpful way to think about talking with addressing racism in America today.
Years ago, Kim got me a shirt for Christmas or a birthday that said, “I get my news on twitter”. I would wear this to journalism conferences and it would always start a lively discussion. These days, there isn’t much new to that. On Facebook the other day, a friend shared a link to a story, How Facebook and Twitter Became Your Newspapers citing a Pew report, The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook.
These days, I get my news from many sources. I often click on links, and then leave the tabs open to come back to later when I have time. Unfortunately, I’m often very busy and the number of tabs grows until I need to clean things up.
Today was one of those days. As I read through the tabs that were open, it seemed as if there was some greater narrative there, which I’ll try to explore by looking at some of these links.
A good starting point is UMD 'tragedy of the commons' tweet goes viral. A friend shared this link on Facebook and I reshared it with this introduction:
I think the interesting question is not why the professor did this, but why it went viral. Does it say something about the 1%, about the current crop of GOP candidates? Something about the current state of our society, that this has struck a chord? #ChooseTwoPoints
I receive fourteen comments and twenty people shared the post. To me, it comes down to some key issues. Many of the GOP candidates seem to be focused on Ayn Rand’s virtual of selfishness, believing that it is better for everyone to grab as much as they can. The tragedy of the commons illustrates why this does not work.
Another link I had open was David Brook’s, Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White. He writes, “I think you distort American history” and goes on to present a vision of American History from the wealthy white male perspective. I imagine many of my friends interested in historiography rolling their eyes at what Brook’s is saying. To me, it relates back to the tragedy of the commons. Brooks is unwilling to accept that by grabbing all he can, he is in fact making things worse for everyone. He doesn’t want to hear that. Instead, as I commented on a friend’s post about the article, “Brooks op-ed reminds me of a four year old when told something he doesn't want to hear. Brooks just uses fancier words to scream out "La La La La La, I can't hear you!"” I understand the needs of papers to have short headlines, but it seems that a better title for Brook’s article would be Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While being a privileged rich white male unwilling to look critically at himself.
Another article that fits into this larger narrative is For the sake of the gospel, drop the persecution complex.
So what I’d like to suggest to my fellow Christians is that perhaps taking up the cross means laying down the persecution complex. A spirit of fear and entitlement does more to obscure the gospel than elucidate it.
Brooks, and conservative Christians seem afraid to live out the Gospel of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Instead they complain bitterly, perhaps even calling it persecution, if they are asked to make room for other people’s beliefs.
Perhaps some of this relates to the issue of climate change, and the bigger issue it represents. Two of the articles I had open were We should all worry about Climate Change, study reveals and Does Climate change Influence Death Rates in the U.S?. Is climate change an illustration of tragedy of the commons? What sort of response are Christians called to make to climate change?
Yet two of the articles I recently read seem to do a better job of relating our lives to God. They don’t directly relate to the tragedy of the commons, but indirectly seem to fit quite nicely. One was by a high school classmate, Saying Yes. Another blog post that caught my attention was Leaving a light on.
I should also do an inter-faith shout out here. As the month of Ramadan comes to an end, I think about a video a Muslim friend shared, Mercy Like the Rain.
One other link that I had open was the Poets and Writers database of MFA programs How do we write about The Tragedy of The Commons, Climate Change, and Faith in the Twenty First Century?
Recently, I shared a picture on Facebook, which suggested the correct Christian response to different people depending on their gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, whether or not they had a substance abuse problem, etc. The correct Christian response for each was to love them.
One person responded with the old saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” to which another person replied that this is too often just an excuse to hate the sinner.
From my days running for office and working in social media, I’ve started trying to focus on Psalm 19:14 whenever I speak
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I’m normally one to avoid confrontation, but I’m balancing this out with the confession:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
What about the sin of being the bystander that doesn’t speak up, sinning against God for words left unsaid?
One of my Facebook friends posted a link to a rant about Dukes of Hazzard being canceled from TV Land. I don’t have any opinion about Dukes of Hazzard. I think I saw part of an episode once, many years ago, and found it about as interesting as all the other stuff I chose not to watch on television. In my mind, it seemed like a financial decision. Airing Dukes of Hazzard creates an image of TVLand that they may not want, and that may not be helpful in attracting advertising revenue.
Yet my facebook friend who shared the post, lumped the issues around the Confederate flag in with this. He applauded a friend of his who is flying a Confederate Flag in East Haven.
What is the right response in a situation like this? Do I simply walk away, perhaps unfriending him? Do I say something? If I do, how do I say it in a way that he will hear, that loves the sinner, and hates the sin?
I ended up thanking him for sharing let everyone know his opinions and suggested that I, and others, would keep it in mind if we ever needed services from his company. From the stuff he posts, I didn’t suspect he was a Christian, so I thought responding with free speech and Adam Smith’s invisible hand would be more effective.
He unfriended me. However, his friend, who posted about flying a confederate flag in East Haven, changed his avatar from that of a confederate flag, to something less offensive.
Did my comments contribute to him rethinking how he presents himself? Were my words acceptable in the sight of my Lord?
I don’t know. It is a hard thing to work out. Yet it seems important to speak up against the sin of racism, especially when the sinner is not aware of their own racism.