Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 8): Unpack White Privilege

Obviously, people with white skin and White Americans have a huge part to play in how our country operates. The laws, the systems of our economy, the governance is largely controlled by White Americans. Our national institutional systems were created by White Americans to protect their economic privileges as they benefited from the oppression of Indigenous Americans and later, imported free labor from Africa. After Emancipation of Enslaved Black people, brutal efforts were been taken by White Americans to protect the legacy of power and privilege afforded by their tyranny. White Americans discriminated, lynched and unfairly incarcerated Black Americans in order to ensure their privilege and status was handed down to subsequent generations.

And so we arrive at the present moment. Death, destruction, lynching and unemployment of Black American are the systemic practices of a Racist foundation. The imposed condition of Indigenous, Black and non-white immigrant people in America is nearly invisible to White Americans. What is plainly visible to us collectively, is dismissed as an acceptable inheritance. To dismantle this oppressive system, White Americans must see there part in protecting, purveying and trafficking in White Privilege for personal gain.

Lesson 8: Read Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” with your family, Bible Study group, co-workers or reading group. Make a list of ways that you either participate in or witness White Privilege in your daily life. Work to eliminate these enactments of oppression and racism that hurt our society.

Consider how you can share this work to begin the healing of our society, and to make reparations to Indigenous people and Black descendants of American Slavery.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

excerpt from “The Will to Change” by Adrienne Rich

PART I

11/69-2/70

1.

We were bound on the wheel of an endless conversation.

Inside this shell, a tide waiting for someone to enter.

A monologue waiting for you to interrupt it.

A man wading into the surf. The dialogue of the rock with the breaker.

The wave changed instantly by the rock; the rock changed by the wave returning over and over.

The dialogue that lasts all night or a whole lifetime.

A conversation of sounds melting constantly into rhythms.

A shell waiting for you to listen.

A tide that ebbs and flows against a deserted continent.

A cycle whose rhythm begins to change the meanings of words.

A wheel of blinding waves of light, the spokes pulsing out from where we hang together in the turning of an endless conversation.

The meaning that searches for its word like a hermit crab.

A monologue that waits for one listener.

An ear filled with one sound only.

A shell penetrated by meaning.

For all the fallen angels of the Black Lives Matter Civil and Human Rights Movement of 2020, your life has meaning. You are not forgotten.

Modeling Courage: Colin Kaepernick’s Walk in the Footsteps of Great Civil Rights Agitators

Two years ago when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the National Anthem, there was a lot of disgust expressed by fans and opposers. Complaints ranged from bigots’ scathing label of “uppity negro” to the more benign statements such as, “There’s a time and place for everything,” meaning, “Not now.” These were nearly the same words that were used to try to quiet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and delay the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the issue of protesting on an NFL field, for any reason, is a matter of national debate, and a very timely one, given the state of our democracy. Most of this dispute comes down to race—the artificial categories designed to separate people and create a thinly veiled caste system in our society. None of this is new. Humankind has always been engaged in this brutal struggle for power. Fortunately, history has shown that the challengers to tyrannical rule often win though they don’t often reap the rewards in their lifetimes.

 

The story of Colin Kaepernick is so profoundly similar to the biblical tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that, for me, it is an inevitable comparison. In brief, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a huge golden idol and commands that when the music plays, everyone should fall prostrate before it and carry on with a spectacle. As with any self-adoring tyrant, the king imposes consequences for disobedience. He commands, “whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5-6). More concerning than the king’s edict is the response of his people: Like good Nazis, residents lined up to make sure none of the perverted rules were broken. Luckily, these concerned citizens reported Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the authorizes for not bending a knee at the appointed time, requiring the king to kick up the heat in the inferno, looking to make an example of the three men. (If this is beginning to sound familiar, you are paying attention.) Here’s where the miracle happens: Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego’s lives are saved though the lives of the soldiers who deliver them to their fate are not.

 

Okay, so maybe Kaepernick is not being thrown into a literal fire, but dismissing and preventing him from working in the NFL is equally severe punishment for kneeling when the authorities insist one stand. This is the strength of fear: It teaches other NFL players, and mere mortals, to comply or suffer a similar destiny. Kaepernick, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an unflinching conviction to stand apart for the sake of their beliefs. They did so even at the risk of great peril because the rules were unethical and wicked, and they made a conscientious choice to challenge the status quo.

 

This familiar rhetoric of oppression—appeals based on rewards, coercion and/or threats of violence are eerily similar to the current language of our president against Kaepernick and anyone else with a differing opinion. Essentially, Colin Kaepernick’s broken heart would not allow him to stand during the anthem. Wishing to protest gun violence against black men by leveraging his fame, visibility and power for the sake of others, Kaepernick silently bowed his head. His is a sacred endeavor worth our admiration and support, because what he does, he does for all of us. If sports leagues begin to fire black men for defiance, as the president and several other powerful figures suggest, we are witnessing a new form of discrimination and punitive blackballing; these are simply new methods of coercion and intimidation, designed to keep people from living with integrity and exercising their right to free speech. Were it not for Kaepernick’s courage, which was above all a deep compassionate wail against the extraordinary violence meted out to black men all over the country, we would simply go on, anesthetized to the plight of an entire segment of the population. Instead, the nation is discussing the issue every week, for hours.

mural136a
“Mural 136a” by Will Schmitz for Living Artist Project

At last, more NFL athletes are beginning to speak up. They seem to be reacting more to the attempts of the president to silence non-violent, peaceful protest than to Kaepernick’s original stance for social justice. Nonetheless, their actions serve as a show of solidarity and support for freedom. They seem to say that they are protesting because they are free. This is the life breath of America: Liberty. Throughout history, individuals like Colin Kaepernick have stepped into the bright light of public scrutiny in order to bring about change. Kaepernick’s necessary anti-collusion lawsuit seeks to reform the NFL’s ability to stifle a player’s individual ability to thrive. This is important for numerous black men, who wish to participate freely in sports and other forms of civic engagement without experiencing monetary repercussions. Let’s not make the mistake of minimizing the situation. Kaepernick’s case is clearly as much a civil rights case as Plessy v. Fergusson, Roe v. Wade or numerous other important cases that have been heard in the past century.

Without key individuals stepping forward to demand justice, the courts have historically remained deaf to cases that have later had far-reaching beneficial consequences for future generations. That’s why Colin Kaepernick’s early and consistent non-violent protest to relentless police aggression and fatal force against black men is of vital importance to our future as an open democracy. Like any visionary, imagining a better world, the bravery employed by Colin Kaepernick in using his body on the front lines of transformation is critical to altering our current trajectory. Kaepernick is using his status, voice and position to further the cause of justice. The ripples of his actions we are only beginning to feel.

 

 

 

The NRA’s Convenient Gun-Reform Policy

 

Let us recall the words of abolitionist Lloyd Garrison in this process of truth telling: “ I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.”

I just learned that the NRA’s current stance on gun reform is political far beyond the degree of merely upholding the Constitutional rights of Americans. In a landmark decision, led and advocated for by Ronald Regan, Don Mulford and the NRA, California changed the open carry gun law that had been in place under the Mulford Act in 1967. They did this only after the Black Panther Party started carrying guns in self-defense. By changing the law, the NRA worked strategically with state officials to limit the group’s ability to defend themselves. The Mulford Act changed the laws in order to directly disenfranchise Black American Activists, who were being lynched with impunity in the United States. In many ways, the Black Lives Matter Movement is a continuation of the work they started. (No guns, however.)

Read the history that the NRA has obfuscated from the public for the past five decades in The Atlantic’s “The Secret History of Guns.”

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Plus, here’s a photo of the only confiscated gun returned to the Black Panther Party by the Oakland Police. From the current OMCA Exhibit All the Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50

Well, why not regulate and uphold gun laws in this country so that we are all safer?

 

 

Why Should Black Lives Matter? by Ed Stewart

On my way home after church a few weeks ago, I stopped for a snack at the Arizmendi Bakery on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Behind the counter is a small chalkboard that usually displays a handwritten inspirational message, usually aligned with the progressive, left-leaning nature of the Mission District neighborhood. That day the message was: Black Lives Matter. And as an African American, I had to concur. Only a couple of weeks earlier, the nation had been confronted with a video showing the killing of an unarmed African American male who was shot in the back by a police officer in South Carolina, just the latest in the string of incidents that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

But others seemed perplexed by the message, to put it kindly. Specifically, two men standing in line behind me were engaged in the following conversation:

– Why should Black lives matter? I mean, of course they do, but why more than anyone else’s?
– I think all lives matter.
– You’re right! I think the sign should say ‘All Lives Matter.’
– Yeah, that’s what I would have said.

I discreetly turned around, pretending to look at the various baked goods on display beside me, but really seeking to find out just who could have been so oblivious to the context behind a phrase that has become its own Twitter hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

Behind me stood two young men, both White, in their late 20’s or early 30’s and dressed in hipster fashion (although only one sported the requisite amount of facial hair). In other words, these were exactly the sort of people one might expect to find standing in line for pricy pastries on a sunny afternoon in the Mission.

“A-ha,” I thought, “you’re the target demographic. And as for me, well…I’m just the target.”

I wanted to say something to them, to explain why their words troubled me. But what could I say? After all, I agreed with their assertion that “all lives matter” – and as a Christian, how could I not? Yet at the same time I was angered by the apparent ease with which they could disregard the silenced voices of those who tell us that #BlackLives MatterLess:

Oscar Grant. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Walter Scott.

While you may not recognize all of these names (and there are others I could add to the list), chances are at least one will cause you to pause and remember a headline, a video clip, a scene from a protest march in Oakland or elsewhere. But that day at the bakery, I knew that those names resonate with me for reasons that I feel intensely. Yet I couldn’t find the words to articulate my frustration to those two young men who had the luxury of insisting that all lives matter equally. Instead I left the store, wondering what could I say the next time I found myself in a similar situation?

As it happens, I got my answer the next day, courtesy of the New York Times. On April 20 the Times ran a story about a demographic study showing that among African Americans between 25 and 54, there are only 83 black men for every 100 black women. (For whites, by contrast, the ratio is 99:100 – in other words, near parity.) The “missing black men” are either in jail or in the grave, their early deaths often due to preventable disease or gun violence.

Add the numbers up, and 1.5 million men in my age cohort and racial category – a number equivalent to the entire population of Alameda County – have simply “gone missing.” These men were sons, fathers, and brothers. For the men, women, and children who loved them, no doubt their #BlackLivesMattered, until they were taken away from them.

As the Times commented in a subsequent editorial on April 25, this gender imbalance reveals itself in “lower marriage rates, more out-of-wedlock births, a greater risk of poverty…and by extension, less stable communities.” The surge in Black male imprisonment following the never-ending War on Drugs not only contributes the missing man problem, it has “stigmatized blackness itself.” And as Black men and those who love them have learned, that stigma yields consequences ranging from subtle discrimination in their day-to-day lives to death at the hands of the police.

Removing that stigma requires all of us, regardless of color, to confront our own internal racial biases as well as the structural racism that, at its worst, literally costs lives. But until we do, the burden of the stigma will continue to be felt most acutely by African Americans, who collectively remain vulnerable to the evils of racism regardless of any progress we make as individuals. And that, quite frankly, is why we must be reminded that Black Lives Matter.