On Blacking In America – v. To offend others by existing

The message written below is a response I wrote to someone with whom I was engaged in a dialogue after we both read the same blog post where pastor, John Pavlovitz, made distinctions between white Christians who say they were “embarrassed” by President Obama, those who simply disagreed with him, and those who basically are conscious or unconscious racists who just had problems with a black POTUS.

Did President Obama really embarrass you?

In his response to this post, the person expressed that they were indeed embarrassed by President Obama and the way he ran the country, but that they “never noticed he was black”.  To which I responded that perhaps he may have missed the point of the article and suggested that race and party allegiance was very likely a factor for many people–many who I know personally. I even went so far to suggest that if Presidents Obama and Trump were to do a Freaky Friday and switch places, many of their constituents would still feel the same way about them solely based on race. Perhaps that was a little negative on my part but I have spent a lot of time in the trenches in this space.

In short, his response was that he hoped I was wrong and that he chooses to believe that the country as a whole has moved on from that kind of silliness where race factors into so much of their decision making. For a moment, I thought of ending our exchange there. I have met many white people with his same–possibly well-meaning–worldview. But, I decided to go forward under the assumption that he likely does not know very many people who experience the world in a way contrary to his own. I am sharing what I wrote to foster dialogue.

Hello Sir,

I don’t know where you live. And I am not qualified to speak for the whole country. Because you do not know me, I do not expect my word to weigh too heavily with you. So, I will just say that our current situation indicates people’s capacity to “believe what they want to believe”. What I can tell you is that I have literally had conversations with a professed white supremacist, served a declared racist in the hospital when a chaplain, had a woman come to my job to harass me wearing a “Happy Nigger Day” shirt on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and to a person each of them was a poor white Republican who likely had no idea what that means from a historical or political perspective. And yet, one of my closest friends from the military is a white Republican because he actually understood where his “values” emerged from and when presented with actual experience of others, he would listen and evaluate it.

He and I applied for the same company after separating from the service. I was interviewed in front of what was essentially a committee and was told I did one of the best interviews the recruiter had ever seen. My friend met with one person. He was undoubtedly impressive because he is a very intelligent person. He was made an offer. I was not. Before he even started there this guy actually told the company that they made a mistake in not hiring me and asked what it would take for them to consider me. They did not give him an answer that made any sense to him. So he decided not to work there either. Why? Because of his values that he believes and tries to live. I respect this man. He doesn’t say things like he doesn’t see color because he knows that would not be congruent with his experience. He just has a different idea about what the country needs to do to live into its highest potential. He’s accurately “embarrassed” by actions that run contrary to the professed values of his party.

I have been privileged–because I choose to listen to thought out points of view from people from a diversity of backgrounds–to know a few other people who live into their professed values. But, it is far too rare. I think this is largely because most people tend to live, move, and have their being in communities of severe homogeneity. And so they imagine they are having nearly universal experiences of the world, simply because they are basing their worldview on the limits of their exposure.

Since I don’t know how exposed you are to a variety of perspectives, the degree to which you give space for the thoughts of those with whom you disagree, or your capacity for cognitive dissonance, I am not qualified to determine how you came to your point of view that most of the country has moved on from the behavior you and I both agree is silliness. But I can say that two Christmases ago, a white woman harassed my daughter and I in a Target for no reason asking me if I was shopping and said she needed to get away from “these people” and that while I was on the Pearl Street Mall, I was followed by the police–again for no reason–as I followed my daughter to the splash pad. The officer just stood around me until he realized I was there with my daughter. All I did was “black” (v. to offend others by existing). I also have been stopped by the police at a STOP sign at night because he said if someone were in the crosswalk I may have been too far forward for the imaginary person. I can only imagine he let me go with a warning because my daughter was crying and saying, “Please don’t arrest me daddy.”

So while I agree that the behavior is silly, I can’t say that it is my experience that the country as a whole has moved on. And that to me is embarrassing.

Now Dear Reader,

What do you have to say?

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8 thoughts on “On Blacking In America – v. To offend others by existing

  1. Here is my raw reaction, which perhaps I should draft and redraft before publishing, but I will risk it.

    First off, I am sorry.

    Of course I am not sorry in the sense that I feel guilty that it was me who mistreated you or others like you, at least not in any of the instances you shared here. But sorry in that sense that the rules of the game, the society we live in constructs, are not fair. Sometimes they are shockingly unfair. And a lot of the time they are shockingly unfair AND I have no idea.

    As body cams on cops and cell phone cams and camcorders since at least the Rodney King beating video (but really Emmett Till’s mother effectively demonstrated it before all the videos) show us, STUFF happens, and often happens with impunity and incredulity that my ignorance about is just insensitive at least. And so I am sorry in that sense – at least.

    Secondly, I care. I want to see things change. I want to be part of the change. And yet I benefit from the broken system frequently, and find it hard to care enough to sustain worthy changes. And I am talking about my own weaknesses, at this point.

    I TRY, and this is not bragging, but I try to give wide berth to black voices. Wide berth at least. And I try to listen too. Not enough, I could do better, but I would be lying to say I don’t try.

    I face some confusion sometimes. Honestly, and I don’t know how to sort it out. There is not a monolithic black voice. To my ear some black voices capitulate. Some are running around saying MAGA. Some are critical, but prudent. Some are desperate and reactionary. Some are methodical and pointed. So there seems to be a variety there to hear from. And I am only one man, so my single opinion wont change much, but its a start and it is the part I have sway over.

    My family is made up of various colors, mostly white that I am in contact with, but not at all only white. In fact, my house is filling up with foster/adoption kids who currently are all brown and make up half the occupants. I have one black stepson who is grown now and lives away from home. A few years ago, he almost got busted by the cops in a minor offense, that if I had been able to advise him, I would have told him to say hands up don’t shoot. Even as a white man, if I were in that position, that is the course I think I would have taken. He chose to run. They did not catch him… I am thankful, considering he ran, that they did not. I have a black step sister and black friends with whom I spend TIME out and about sometimes. I have seen insensitivities some of my friends and family suffer. SOME TIMES.

    I too have experienced situations that were very similar to facing racism. I have been harassed by law enforcement multiple times, one time it got a bit hairy. (I will tell it upon request) I recognize the value in such experiences for giving me insight, and yet I also recognize the limitations in them and the possibility of overly identifying them with racism beyond what the similarity can actually bear. And that is a judgment call, I think, but a phenom is there.

    I wish I could just “wave a wand” and fix it. Short of that, I wish I could ask forgiveness and get absolution. But all that wishing isn’t doing much.

    I do wish (and if I have missed this somewhere and you could point me to it, that would be appreciated) that someone with a voice of some authority on this stuff would outline the map so that people like me could get a better handle on it. On just where we stand and the kinds of things we might do the move the needle on the meter a bit.

    Here’s what I mean by confusion…

    My grandmother was a “good hearted bigot” as my Dad says. She had a heart for numerous minority peoples in the community – is noted for having raised a huge fundraiser for the Navajo orphanage when the church failed to support it way back in the 50’s. And the community I come from had the proverbial token black family or two, and she cared for these individual people on some occasions too, but didn’t hesitate to use the epithets up to and including “The N-word” for the very people she cared for as she subtly kept them at arms length… careful, it seems, not to overly tarnish her whiteness.

    I read and hear people talk about blacks who chafe at the kindness and charity of whites who have this kind of mentality. Thanx but no thanx. Only if I am desperate… and then only maybe.

    Grandmother was not a hater. She would not participate in hate crimes or condone them, but her attitude was not as equitable as I might wish.

    Point being, there seems to be gray area in the racism. Haters? No. Insensitive? Yes… sometimes and may not even know it.

    Its why I wonder if I shouldn’t redraft this. If I read my own words very carefully, will racial insensitivities reflect back at me? Will I even see them? And if I don’t see them but you do, do I say you are reactionary or fair and balanced?

    Where is the acceptable road map for this stuff? Does it matter that we create it? Will it help?

    I want it to help.

    I read the books, watch the movies, share stories with friends and family, watch the documentaries, and soak in the headlines night after night.

    I was working in law enforcement a couple years ago. Blue lives matter to me. But black lives matter to me too. I see the difference, but I am confused when I see a black brother/sister in blue or when I see these two phrases pitted against each other. But I get it. Blue lives harass black lives. Sometimes blue lives shoot black lives in the back, and thank God for the video captured on someone’s cell phone or else I would just believe the blue life who lied to save his own bacon!

    How do I sort this out? Where do I go to get the sorting done that will actually HELP the problem?

    I care. I am not perfect, but I care. And the suffering is real, real and terrible. And my black family and friends can’t go get a hair cut and look the part and then be okay after that. No, one a lonely deserted highway after dark when the cop with a gun and a badge pulls you over and says, “You look a little lost” it’s fight or flight or die. And he really could be just a bozo trying to be nice, but probably not. And unless there is that cell phone video, and unless it captures the whole story, then this blue life is going to have all the credibility to tell his version of events after the fact, and the black life is going to have to get through this the best he can, and IF he succeeds, will get to face this possibility again on the way home tomorrow night. And its ALWAYS ;there ready to go wrong at anytime.

    But I care.

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    1. Hi Agent, I think if people just live into their own authentic experiences, that would go a long way. So many of us just go with what we’re taught or told. We don’t question the validity of the idea that we have to inherit the stories of those who came before us. That goes for everyone. I try not to carry the weight of the experiences of my parents or grandparents. I am informed by them. But I do not base my relationships on them. And yet, I have had people act out the racist narrative of this country toward me. But even then, I can’t hold it against everyone. And at the same time I can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. However, what I can say is it has also been my experience that if people just talk to one another and listen to one another space gets created. And in that space, I believe many people find mutuality. I’ve been in several conversations with people who have different perspectives than I do. And not found that if I listen with the intent to have common ground, I find it. It sounds like you do the same thing. Our country has a long way to go. But, I do admit that it has come some way as well. Just not as far as some people might imagine. I appreciate you. I read many of your posts. Keep doing you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What do I have to say?

    Well, to start with, I barely managed to keep reading after you spewed the anti-White “unconscious racism” shibboleth, I managed to though obviously, else I likely wouldn’t be commenting in this fashion if at all.

    But, on Obama – There was little – not none – racism involved in disliking him as POTUS, but his race was involved in that dislike. What most disliked about Obama beyond even his poor performance was that he was elected solely because he was a Black, first in the Dems’ primary and then in the general election. Most also disliked that he could do no wrong in the eyes of the Left and the media, again because he was a Black. And finally, the Left – not the Blacks so much in my experience – made out that ALL dissent against him was based upon racism. And then there was his association with Sharpton (Something that the Blacks in my neighborhood (Redford-Stuyvesant) even shook their heads at).

    As for the rest – It’s easy to cry racism if you’re a Black but there’s normally other, sometimes related, factors involved. Why would I hire a Black if I’ve a similarly qualified White, since said White doesn’t have an entire industry ready and willing to claim racism if I fire him or fail to promoted him – or even require him (in some areas) to dress in a manner consistent with my business norms?

    And then there’s broader issue of conflicting cultures, with the Left always siding with Black Culture. It’s not, no matter how loudly certain sorts complain, racist to dislike or distrust someone who is presumed to be part of a culture that is offensive and antithetical to one’s own culture.

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    1. Hi there, I read your comment and decided to go ahead and approve it since you put so much work into it. However, I am slightly confused. I do not recall nor did I see the words “unconscious racism” in the post. Nor did I say anything that was anti-white. I only responded to someone’s statement that they chose to believe that the nation as a whole has moved on from racism. That has not been my experience.
      Perhaps there are places in America where there is no racism whatsoever. But I have not been to those places.

      You say that I came off as anti-white. That was not my intent. I said that one of my closest friends is a white Republican. Perhaps that was racist of me to point that out. But my point was that I do not think that white Republicans are monoliths because that has not been my experience. But, it has been my experience that uninformed or misinformed white Republicans were the people who perpetrated overt racism toward me. Does that mean that every poor white Republican is a racist? Most definitely not. Just like not every poor black person is a Democrat and anti-white. My grandmother was black, poor, and a Republican. She raised me on Republican ideology. But, she based her thoughts on what she believed to be family values and fiscal responsibility. The Republicans of this time do not seem to align with her ideas.

      I will also admit that I have some family members that were adamantly against President Obama and were in love with President George W. Bush. They’re black. I don’t agree with them and feel that they have bought into the idea that white people are superior and subconsciously want to distance themselves from false notions of blackness perpetrated by a several hundreds years smear campaign on people of color. But that’s their right.

      Since I don’t know you any more than I knew the other person, I responded to, I will just assume that you are a person doing the best you can to make sense of the world just like the rest of us. So I bless you on your journey. At the same time, I looked at your blog briefly and feel that some of the ways that you are trying to do that are very dismissive of other people’s existence or experience. It seems women most especially. But I’m sure you have people in your life who support you and agree with you. So I guess you serve your audience.

      I do agree with you that some liberals are quick to call people racist just for disagreeing with people of color. Sometimes they are right. And sometimes they’re not. I’ve had to correct a few people myself who have done that supposedly on my behalf. But, the fact remains that this country was structured on racist foundations plain and simple. A people cannot commit genocide and mass kidnap and enslavement and then blame the people that they harmed who all happen to be people of color and not give off the sense that they may just be a little racisty. But hey, the mind is a powerful tool. We can convince ourselves of damn near anything.

      Love of God to you.

      Peace

      Like

      1. I may have conflated posts.

        But…In my experience, most cries of racism are just anti-White racism themselves. And yes, your claim of having White (Republican is redundant since there are NO White Democrats in my opinion) was racist…but funny and and appropriate, hence not wrong.

        But then, I’m a Southern White man with a Aunt Jemima wife (Your kind’s terms, not mine) and more than a bit sick of Blacks and their Democrat enablers crying racism when the issue is the vile, self-destructive culture your kind built for yourselves after you “won” the Civil Rights era.

        As far as I’m concerned, America is and was meant to be a White Homeland. But I DON’T GIVE A FUCKING SHIT about your ancestry. Just be / act like a normative, i.e., White, American and I’m on your side.

        But, of course, I’m racist.

        Like

        1. Wow man. You are an interesting being with a mindset I won’t pretend to understand. Are you saying that you have a black wife? Is that what you meant when you called her Aunt Jemima? By the way, I would never say such a thing. Do you really think that one person represents a whole group? Do you represent every white person? I don’t know man. I am curious why you would read my posts and share what you’re sharing? I hope it isn’t to make me angry because I’m really just cracking up laughing.

          It’s like you’re saying all of this stereotypical racist stuff, but at the same time you seem to be a contradiction of the very things you’re saying. Especially if you have a black wife. If you do, does she laugh at what you say too? I do hope your wife is black because that would be amazing for you to say that you’re a racist Southern white man who thinks America is a White homeland but you have a black wife.

          God is so wonderful and ceaselessly creative that I imagine that this might very well be the case. I know this other Southern white guy who seems a little racisty but he is married to an African woman who always puts him in his place. I don’t know how they got together but I love seeing them. I call them “Hope for the World”. Are you also “Hope for the World”? Please say you are. I will be very disappointed if you write back and say your wife is white. BTW, I’m sorry if someone called her Aunt Jemima. That sucks. Y’all must really love each other for you to see beyond your differences and not try to change each other. HOOZAH! Peace be with you.

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  3. I just received the following article(?)/essay(?) via email from my dad. I do not know where it originated. Seems to dig under the skin, alright. I am looking it over and taking it seriously. Thought, after our conversation a few days ago, that I should send it on…

    God bless…

    Here it is:

    Inspired by Nathan Kennedy’s fantastic blog post, “7 Reasons Why LGBTQ+ People Don’t Want to go to your LGBTQ+ Affirming Church.”

    Many progressive churches speak out about their support for Black Lives Matter, they issue rebukes against racist and inhumane government policies such as the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican/American border, and they advocate for a more equitable and just social safety net.

    Yet despite their advocacy, many progressive churches remain predominately white, heteronormative spaces. Many members and denominational leaders in mainline and progressive churches acknowledge that their churches are incredibly white and that to survive, more diversity is needed.

    Yet those discussions have not led to any concrete results. Progressive churches may believe they are doing everything they can to attract people of color but the reality, many churches continue to be unsafe spaces for people of color.

    Why?

    Complaints with no action

    I can not count the number of times I have had conversations with white progressives about racism within the institutional church. At first, I am left feeling buoyed and grateful that there are white people who understand that things need to change. But overtime, that joy and sense of belonging soon turns into betrayal as I realize that most white progressive Christians are interested in complaining but not doing the hard work of changing.

    They have no qualms about me blasting the church for its adherence to white supremacy but when I begin to take action-they immediately pull back.

    This often occurs in the context of hurt white feelings. When a person of color begins to actively challenging racist constructs in an attempt to move the conversation from talking to action-white people get their feelings hurt and when this happen, white progressives immediately begin to backtrack.

    It’s not cultural-it’s racism

    Many mainline churches have congregations in rural areas. These congregations are often small and struggling as poverty, opioid addiction, and numerous physical and mental illnesses ravage the community. These are very real and serious issues. Those in rural areas have unique challenges that differ from their non-rural counterparts.

    Moreover, there are some differences between regions of the US. Calling soda, “pop” or “soda” or “coke” is one rather small and silly example of these differences. Yet to lay the blame on “cultural differences” when a black/brown person from a non-rural area, discusses their experiences of racism is a form of minimization.

    It is a passive aggressive way of telling black and brown people that they are over-exaggerating to every perceived slight. Additionally, the “cultural” explanation ignores the vast amounts of black and brown people who do live in rural communities. When rural communities are discussed, the experiences of white people are centered.

    White people will never understand

    I study non-state and state violence yet no amount of academic research or interviews will allow me to actually experience the pain and suffering of those who have been injured by terrorist attacks, or seen family members killed by drone strikes.

    Until I experience those events myself, I will never truly understand the trauma and sorrow that survivors and victims of state/non-state violence experience. That does not mean I should not continue my academic studies in this area, but it is a reminder that I cannot try to implement myself into their stories.

    Likewise, white people will never understand the daily pain and trauma black and brown people experience on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if you are married to a black/brown person. It doesn’t matter if you gave birth or adopted a black or brown child. It doesn’t matter if you work every day serving the black and brown community- you still benefit from white supremacy in ways that your spouse/child/clients do not. This is not saying that you do not experience pain or sorrow.

    Of course, white people suffer from depression, addiction, poverty, injustice, state oppression, etc but there is a level of suffering and oppression that is unique to black and brown people that white people in the US do not experience. If a black or brown person is relaying an experience of racism, it is not helpful to claim, “well I know how that feels.” And then proceed to mention an instance where your feelings were hurt.

    Again this is an example of white people centering their own feelings at the expense of black and brown people. Yet there is this resistance to openly acknowledge that perhaps, white people, no matter how progressive, do not know what it is like to be black and brown in America.

    White supremacy is at the heart of White institutions even progressive ones

    White supremacy is the belief that white people are better than non-white people and that white people and their needs are much more important than the lives and needs of black and brown people. Now, white progressive will understandably protest that they reject white supremacy. When they think of white supremacists they immediately think of Donald Trump, Richard Spencer, Breitbart News, etc.

    However, while white supremacy and white nationalism can go together, it is possible to hold white supremacist views without being a white nationalist. White nationalists believe that the US is only for white Christians and all other people are at best second rate citizens.

    Most progressive Christians are not white nationalists

    But they continue to act in ways in which the consideration of white people-their feelings, their lives, their experiences, is of much more importance than the narratives of black and brown people.

    For instance, many white progressives value white feelings more than they do the pain and suffering of black and brown bodies. White progressive Christians claim to advocate for social justice and have no qualms about calling out racism in politically and religiously conservative/fundamentalist circles, and sometimes they might be willing to say that other progressive churches struggle with racism, but when it comes to confronting their own racism, they get offended.

    In fact, they become incredibly angry and defensive when a black/brown person points out that they are in fact, behaving in ways that are contrary to their so-called progressive Christian ideals.

    Instead of changing, progressive institutions subject black and brown people to gaslighting-a form of abuse with the aim of minimizing or even flat out denying the lived experiences of black and brown people. My favorite tactic is when white progressives throw the issue back in the face of black and brown people and claim that we are unwilling to accept criticism or that we are not understanding the specific context of a particular church.

    It is great when progressive Christians are willing to advocate against racist and oppressive state policies and they are willing to chant “Black Lives Matter” but that in and of itself does not mean that black and brown people will be comfortable attending predominantly white progressive churches, especially when our voices continue to be ignored or when we are police toned in order not to hurt white feelings.

    Progressive congregations need to have frank conversations about the way they continue to benefit and uphold white supremacy

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    1. Thanks for the article X. I get what the author is saying and have been on the receiving end of these mostly unconscious tendencies. Sometimes it weighs on me working in the capacity that I do. At the same time though, I find myself wondering what we might do with this awareness. I’m inclined to see awareness as a beginning point and not simply “how it is”.

      I live everything they described. And honestly, my present existence is very lonely. I literally know no one in my circumstances. But that’s why I commune with God in all of this believing that God is the connection in all of this and can help us move into a new way of being human where the need to be understood completely by other human beings who clearly don’t have the capacity isn’t an excuse to bolster division.

      I don’t think calling a thing out causes it or makes it worse. What it can do is help us figure out what needs to be done–if anything. There is little difference ultimately for calling out the challenges of progressive Christian Churches without coming up with a solution. Hurt feelings sometimes are the gateway to greater understanding.

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