Tag Archives: white privilege

Five Recommendations for Black History Month

As we continue to observe Black History month, here are 5 histories that have been the among the most compelling that I have read.

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson, tells the history of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the Industrial North in the decades following the Civil War. While full of well-documented history, she structures that history around the stories of three different individuals who migrated at different times to different places. Those family stories bring the history to life and make for a compelling chronicle of the northern migration, both the opportunities and the pitfalls.

The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward E. Baptist. Baptist writes a history of chattel slavery in the US from the perspective of economics and argues that the emergence of the US as a world economic power was only possible because of the tortuous institution of slavery. The expanding production of cotton in the 19th century brought prosperity not only to the owners of the land and production, but to northerners who invested in that production, not to mention others who benefited indirectly from the rippling effects of cotton production. Even the Industrial Revolution of 19th century England, centered in the milling of cotton and the production of clothing, would not have been possible without the whip-induced productivity of black slaves. “For what was done in the fields — specifically what was done to force enslaved people to create new ways to accelerate the pace of their own labor — shaped what was possible in the factory, the bank, the marketplace, and the halls of state. Invisible new financial wires bound the bodies of enslaved people to the dreams and desires of whose whose measuring eyes stared down women and men on the auction block and to those of investors around the world. Slavery rendered the United States powerful, its white citizens richer and more equal.” (p. 421)

Family Properties by Beryl Satter. Here you’ll find the well-documented history of the contract housing crisis in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960’s. Satter, who teaches history at Rutgers, does not, however, tell the story in the cold, distant tones of an historian. Her father was an attorney who represented many of the African Americans in their fights to keep their home. The dysfunction of the City of Chicago, is exposed, along with the realtors and property owners whose motive was money over people. Satter chronicles the breakdown of whole sections of the city. One of the chapters that I found particularly compelling was the one that told the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to the Chicago. He attempted to import strategies that were successful in the South to Chicago and got buried by the Daley machine.

White Rage, by Carol Anderson. I first learned of Carol Anderson through a powerful op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post following the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In this book, Anderson examines each historical era in the US since the Civil War and tells the story of how the white privileged, institutional structures of oppression have denied economic opportunity to our African-American citizens. She terms “white rage” that reaction of white people to the advancement of people of color and in that reaction, the inevitable move to derail their advancement. This book was compelling in laying out the ongoing systematic structures of oppression.

The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter. On its surface this seems like an odd choice for Black History month, but stay with me for a moment. Here, Painter documents the development of race theory as a real thing, and in particular the notion of American whiteness. Race is not based on biology, but on a sociological construct that is meant to privilege white people and oppress people of color. She provides numerous illustrations through history of how white people have constructed notions of race for a variety of social, economic, and political gains. Read this book for a full scale debunking of the myth of race and of the devastation that such myths have unleashed on those whose skin is not white.

What books of Black History would you recommend?

God Is in Charge?

nightbeforedawnLet me get rid of the question mark. That was just click bait.

God is in charge.

I have no doubt of that truth. I’ll stake my life on it.

But I’m not sure it means what we think it means. For the people around me — white, middle and upper middle class church people — what I hear when I listen between the lines is this: “Oh, yes, this election is disappointing, (or for some, encouraging) and there may be some things happen that I don’t like or that I will disagree with, maybe even some things that will be inconvenient for me, but it will all come out in the wash. It will be fine, because after all, God is in charge.”

That sentiment itself is privilege. Sure, it will probably be fine for me and people like me. But there’s a whole lot of people who are at much greater risk this morning than they were yesterday morning, at least if the president-elect chooses to keep his xenophic, homophobic promises for the privileged.

To all the people out there who look like me, can you imagine what it would have been like to wake up this morning Muslim? Or Mexican? or LGBQT? Or any of the other people who have been demeaned in this campaign? Imagining that things will be all right is a luxury that none these, our siblings, are afforded.

And there’s more. Believing that God is in charge has never meant that we can escape the consequences of our active participation in or complicity in evil. To target and implicate as terrorists an entire religion is evil. To act on the premise that women are objects for the sexual gratification of men is evil. To refuse to welcome to the stranger is evil. To treat LGBQT persons and their intimate relationships as if they are not as fully human and therefore not valid is evil.

Got any notion what happens when God’s people are participants in or complicit with evil?  If you need a review, read through Isaiah again or Micah or Amos, or, for that matter any of the Old Testament prophets. Oh, God is in charge all right.

I think it might be time for the church of Jesus Christ — dare I say the white church? — to put on some sackcloth and ashes. There’s enough sackcloth to go around for those who wear blue and those who wear red. Because this isn’t about party loyalty; this is about being honest about who we are as a people. And the evil to which we have become complicit. It’s time for a gut check about what we mean when we confess “Jesus is Lord.” Maybe a little sackcloth and ashes could bring the freedom that would empower us as church to do better. To live as if we truly are the body of Christ. To take the ethical implications what has too long been a privatized faith and live it as if we really believed it.

Whether we do or we don’t, God is still in charge. It just might not mean what you think it means.