Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all.

A picture of a moving walkway at an airport

We know that lynch mobs are unreasonable. Two grown men coming together to beat and kill a black 14 year old boy because they think that he whistled at a white woman. That is unreasonable.

If you look at the actions in the Tamir Rice case, they all seem so reasonable especially when the situation is uncertain. You see a kid playing with something that looks like a gun, it might be a toy. You are uncertain, but it’s reasonable to call the police just in case. You’re a policeman responding to reports of someone with a gun in a public park. You are uncertain about whether this person poses a threat, but it’s reasonable to think that he might. You are on the grand jury, and you’re uncertain about what role race played in this shooting, and what the police officer perceived. So you come back with a judgement that the policeman acted reasonably.

Beverly Tatum, in her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria: and other conversations about race uses the metaphor of a moving walkway at an airport to describe the way racism (and other systemic problems work). If you are on a moving walkway, you can choose to walk forward, or you can choose to stand still, whichever of those choices you make, you end up moving in the same direction, and ending up at the same place. In the same way, racism and other systemic sins are self-sustaining, and you can chose to be overtly prejudiced, or you can choose not to be. In either case, the systemic part of “systemic sin” means that our perfectly reasonable choices bring us to the same place as the unreasonable choice of bigotry. With dead children, and no culpability.

The only choice, if you don’t want to go where the moving walkway of racism is taking you, is to turn around and walk backwards. To be a little unreasonable about racism, to be anti-racist. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech he made in 1963 had a specific word he used for this type of unreasonableness, ”

In case you can’t hear the speech above, here’s the relevant excerpt from its transcript

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

I don’t know what it looks like in your context, but my hope for you is that you will also be maladjusted to these things. Maladjusted enough that you will choose not to simply be satisfied with the reasonable.

Photo Credit: markhillary via Compfight cc

Paying to ignore race

Black and white photo of a woman covering her eyes

Over the last couple of months the dynamics of race and racism have been important topics at colleges and universities across the United States, so it was interesting to see this opinion piece posted by Inside Higher Ed

“Yet these realities were too much for the administrators to handle. They were not ready to hear the truth. Hence, the report we furnished the institution was never publicly disseminated, as originally planned. Several students of color whom we interviewed contacted us months later asking where the report was because they never saw it.

The sad reality is that the administrators at this university paid us an enormous sum of money to remain in denial about its racial problems. This had happened to us before and has occurred again” – Inside Higher Ed|Paying to Ignore Racism

One of the difficult things about caring about racism, sexism, classism, etc. is that you’re likely going to be confronted with the realization that you’re not innocent of the creation of the problem you’re trying to eradicate, or that your guilt is greater than you realize. If you’re not prepared for that, you’ll probably find yourself in the same position as the administrators in this article.

Photo Credit: mellyjean via Compfight cc

Living in the Tension: Columbus Day, Native Americans and a non-innocent history

Given all the Columbus Day posts I’ve been seeing in my friend circle, I figured I should resurrect this one from an earlier version of my blog. At this point, I was in my final year of seminary and regularly having my mind blown by various things. Justo González’s work was one of those things, and when Columbus day came around I posted this.

Last quarter I read Justo González’s Manana, and in it he talked about an idea that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since, the idea of a non-innocent history.

As a society (possibly as Western society, but I suspect elsewhere as well) we want to see our history as innocent. That our ancestors who struggled, fought and died, struggled against evil, fought for justice and died in a noble sacrifice. History is written by the winners, and we want to believe that the good guys won. We want our history to be innocent. But history is rarely innocent, and Columbus is a particularly powerful example of that for those of us who grew up in the “New World”.

In 1492, the legend goes, Columbus bravely set out from Spain, to do what had never been done before. He set out to defy commonly held beliefs about Sea Monsters and the flatness of the world and sail west to India. Christopher Columbus had reason on his side, and traveling further than anybody had traveled before, he discovered the resource-rich lands of Caribbean Islands, and the American continents. We learn this legend in schools, we learn that we owe what we are today to Columbus’ bravery, ingenuity, and drive to explore. It’s a good history, an innocent one, but it doesn’t stay that way for long.

We learn that the continent wasn’t “discovered”, but that were several civilizations that had lived here for thousands of years before Columbus’ arrival. We learn that these explorers delivered smallpox infested blankets that decimated these civilizations with disease. We learn that the new European settlers tried to enslave those who were already here, that they stole, or took land by force, desecrated that which the pre-existing nations considered sacred, and imported countless numbers of human slaves to these continents like herds of cattle. Our history is no longer innocent, but blood-stained.

So what do we do with this history? There are two responses that are common and, in my opinion, flawed. The first response is to ignore it. It’s in poor taste to mention those who may have suffered, and whatever evil might have been done. If this is our history, then it must be told innocently. The second response is to reject it. This history is corrupt, it is evil, and therefore I will only speak of it to condemn it, and I condemn it often. There is no good here. I believe that the ignore response and the reject response are flawed because they both stem from the same desire, the desire to see ourselves as innocent. We are connected to our history, so we believe that if we can either whitewash that history so that the history is innocent, we will be too. Or if we loudly and strongly condemn the history that is non-innocent, we can separate ourselves from it and maybe even atone for it, making ourselves innocent once again. The problem is that neither of these change the past, and like the prophet Isaiah, we find that we remain non-innocent persons, living amongst a non-innocent people.

Ultimately, I believe that, we can’t create our innocence through our own effort. We must admit our non-innocence and seek grace, not the sort of grace that says “it does not matter”, but the type of grace that looks hard at what has taken place and in spite of that, gives us a second chance, a chance to get it right.