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.
I wonder how many European Finance Minister’s said The Lord’s Prayer on Sunday
Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
I wonder how many went to churches sharing a common lectionary, where the New Testament Lesson was 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich…
For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
"The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little."
As I think about these, I think about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been raised. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. When he stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord[p] is upon me;
he has anointed me to tell
the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set oppressed people free,
and to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. While the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled, as you’ve heard it read aloud.”
Various friends have been sharing the link to the article, Black America should stop forgiving white racists, with its tag line, “Quick absolution does not lead to justice.”
Since I’m not black, I haven’t felt it was my place to comment on this, until I saw a friend share the link yesterday after President Obama’s Eulogy of the Rev. Pinkney, the same Eulogy where President Obama sings Amazing Grace to the chagrin of his detractors.
After watching parts of the Eulogy, especially where President Obama spoke about the forgiveness shown in Charleston, I added this comment to one of those posts:
Perhaps it comes from my white privilege, but I'd like to believe it comes from my deep abiding belief in God, that I have a very different view of forgiveness. The author writes,
"Yet, the almost reflexive demand of forgiveness, especially for those dealing with death by racism, is about protecting whiteness, and America as a whole. This is yet another burden for black America."
I do not believe this. I doesn't seem like President Obama believed this in his eulogy for Rev. Pinkney. For me, and I believe for many of my devout Christian black brothers and sisters, forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools, not of protecting whiteness, but of challenging it.
If the viral videos of Charleston after the murders had been of rioting instead of family members offering forgiveness, I don't believe we would have seen outcomes we have.
So, to the viral video of forgiveness, watch President Obama speak about this forgiveness: