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The Gift of Diversity

Diversity scares people. Diversity also encourages people to celebrate prematurely.

People enter diverse settings and walk on egg shells. No one wants to ask the hard questions or have the difficult discussions. Isn’t it enough to be thankful that we can sit in a room together, some might ask.

Diversity for real?Like a Benetton commercial, we imagine that simply by holding hands and smiling with each other we have achieve the Dream of reconciliation. And these symbolic gestures become the extent of our work. The reality is something to which we turn a blind eye.

Diversity is often a gift that is wasted

Diversity gives us an opportunity to show our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s easy for us to “love” those who look like us. Jesus Himself tells us this. The real challenge of Christianity is to love “the other.” Diversity gives us a chance to work at loving the other deeply and truly. Diversity helps us to have boldness before God when we die.

We are on this journey together and must find a way to make it, together. I’d love to travel this journey with you. I’d love to have you travel with us on this journey.

Listen here to hear what the Word says about the gift of diversity:

Walter Scott, Clarence Habersham and the Problem of Black Avoidance

The realities surrounding Walter Scott’s murder are horrific. Not simply because a Black man was shot in the back by a police officer, but because of the evidence of a cover up to protect the officer. You know it as the “Thin Blue Line”: the bond where police officers protect each other no matter the costs. We all know about that blue line. Black and Brown people certainly mistrust that blue line, knowing that the system will protect and serve itself even at the expense of Justice.

That frightening reality was brought into focus when Walter Scott was murdered and a video surfaced showing the beginnings of the cover up to turn the murder into another story of self-defense, where an officer “feared for his life” and fatally shot another unarmed Black man. But what made this time so much more troubling was the presence of another Black man, a police officer, standing by and participating in the betrayal of Justice.

A Black man stood by and let another Black man die!

Clarence Habersham #BlackLivesMatterPeople want to know how Ofcr. Habersham could stand by while Walter Scott bled to death. They want to know how Habersham could lie about performing life-saving measures on Walter Scott. They want to know how Habersham could ignore what we all saw: Michael Slager seemingly planting a taser on Walter Scott. But I want to wonder something different.

Clarence Habersham is no different from many of us

Clarence Habersham did no different from what many of us do everyday: turn a blind eye to injustice and even participate in a cover up in order to protect our own self-interest.

Think about it. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have all turned a blind eye or a deaf ear when we’ve seen something oppressive or offensive to Black people. We have all went along with something we should have known was wrong, in order to be a “team player.” We have all stuck our heads in the sand and “stayed in our lane” in order to maintain or advance our position, even if to the detriment of another.

Now, maybe we didn’t literally watch another man die and do nothing. But, I’m sure you’ve all had the White person ask you: “was that racist?” And even though you know the statement or action was offensive, you respond: “No,” or “it wasn’t that bad.” Think of the many Board Room decision, legislative initiatives, water cooler conversations and casual discussions where something was said or done that made you cringe but you bit your tongue and toed the line…going along to get along.

Many of us have stood by and let another die!

But it’s easier for us to single out Clarence Habersham because what he did was so exceedingly egregious. It’s easier for us to point the finger at him, for there is no escaping his cooperation with injustice. It’s almost comforting: for while we point at him, we pat ourselves on the back telling ourselves “at least I’m not like him!”

But he exists because we exist. Clarence Habersham is just an extreme example of who we are: a silent people, willing to cooperate and capitulate to injustice if it will preserve our own skin. And as I consider that truth I’m reminded that “he who wishes to save his life will lose it. But he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospels will save it.”

See no evil #BlackLivesMatterAre you trying to save your life by seeing no evil, hearing no evil and not speaking about evil? Are you turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the offensive practices done and said in your presence? Are you rubber-stamping oppression because you don’t want to risk losing your position or standing?

It is true: as inhumane as Michael Slager’s actions were, the outcome might have been different if Clarence Habersham had risked his position behind the “Thin Blue Line.” But he didn’t, and now his cooperation is even worse than the murderer’s actions.

What “Thin Blue Line” are you standing behind? And, are you willing to risk your standing behind that line for the sake of what’s right?

Why I Cheered for Jameis Winston

It’s cool if you’re not part of the experience…my intellectual/theological musings. For those who might have to endure my thinking in person, it’s not so easy…I know; I’m sorry. I love you all!

Florida State v. AuburnFor some reason, things are always deeper than they need to be for me. But, maybe they are as deep as they really are? Hmmm…Yet, sitting here watching this BCS National Championship Game between the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles I can’t help but consider why I’m compelled to root for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

I mean, I always have to have a reason for why I’m doing something. Everything just has to have meaning. #MercyLord. Yet, I have no horse in this race. So, why indeed do I care?

I read friends postings saying they could never root for the Seminoles because the ‘Noles were a rival team to their school. And, in a sense I guess it should/could matter to me. I mean, I graduated from the University of Maryland and the Terrapins are in the ACC with the ‘Noles. Yet, I am not inspired to any allegiance to the University of Maryland. So, I’m not drawn to support Auburn. However, I’m not even moved to allegiance for the ACC. So, that doesn’t move me to support FSU.

I just ended a Vestry Meeting early because a member of my board attended Florida State! I can dig it…she was also an athlete there. So, I can understand and happily oblige. Then, some have considered rooting for Florida State because they’re from Florida. That too makes sense: support the home State. Yet, although I live in Florida I am from the Virgin Islands. We have no professional team. So….?

Jameis WinstonWhy do I root for Jameis Winston?

I used to loosely follow sports. I follow it even less now. I’m not a rabid fan. So, it’s not even my interest in Jameis Winston’s skill set. Frankly, I don’t know what his skill set is. This is the first time I’m seeing him play…and even still, I am writing this blog post as the game is playing. So, that tells you how much attention I’m paying to Jameis’ play. (I just had to stop to watch this FSU Kickoff TD return…sorry, I’m back.)

So, why do I cheer for Jameis Winston?

I’ll be honest: I thought I was cheering for him because I “always support the Black quarterback.” #TomJoyner Then, I realized both teams have Black quarterbacks. This is ¡no bueno!

Yet, I realize why: and it’s all connected…connected to Society and to Faith.

I remember when “the cloud” surrounded Jameis Winston after the false allegations of sexual assault. I watch ESPN daily…bout the only news, besides Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, that matters these days. And, one commentator (it was probably Ray Lewis) asked the question: when will it be enough? What will Jameis Winston have to do in order to shake the cloud of something for which he was never even charged?

And, that beloved is the cost of being a Black male. It seems there is nothing you can do to shake the stigma of Black male identity. Even when you’ve been wrongly accused, the stain of the crime continues to follow. How much must be done…how long must we endure in order to clear the stain of someone else’s false impressions of our character and worth?

Yet, despite the image some wanted to cast upon Jameis Winston’s character you couldn’t help but be drawn to his character. You couldn’t help but see a certain depth of spirit within him. People wondered: how does Jameis Winston remain upbeat?

Famous Jameis HeismanSo despite the drama that crossed over from ESPN and reached the national network evening news, Jameis Winston was vindicated and there was no basis to charge him with a crime. Yet, despite his astounding numbers, there was question as to whether even false allegations would prevent him from claiming NCAA Football’s highest individual honor. He went on and one the Heisman Trophy. Jameis Winston is the Heisman Trophy winner (“who had to face sexual assault allegations”). And that question remains: what more must he do to not have those false allegations brought up every time?

Even as he approached the BCS National Championship Game, people wanted to challenge his character and mettle. Yet, his spirits remained high.

We flash to the game – which is now over, and Jameis Winston faced an adversity many thought would break him. Yet as his coach, Jimbo Fisher said it best: “Jameis Winston struggled for three quarters…” But in the fourth quarter he played big.

And when he finished shining, he was still smiling. So they asked: who helps you stay in such high spirits? Jameis Winston’s response: no one but God Almighty.

Jameis Winston ChampionThere: it is…that’s why I rooted for Jameis Winston and I’m happy he won. Because despite all the turmoil and adversity, he still stayed strong. And it wasn’t that strength upon which America’s “rugged individualism” is built. It wasn’t the strength of that typical one who becomes callused in their very soul…those who’ve forgotten what it is to feel and to love.

So, I cheer for Jameis Winston. Because he had the strength to persevere not just in bodily achievement, but first in spirit. And by his perseverance in spirit he was able to conquer the giants (and Tigers) in his way.

What are the tigers in your way? There will always be haters. But, how will you respond to those haters? When the vampires come to suck your blood, will the cross you bear actually protect you? Or will it cause you to buckle under the pressure and fall in the face of those who plot against you?

Jameis Winston stood strong. He held his faith and kept his joy, knowing the realm of the spirit to be greater. So, stand strong young brother! Take courage and keep your joy. Your name is clear, where it matters. Who cares what the haters say?

#EmancipateYourselfFromMentalSlavery

What if Jim Crow didn’t Die in the 60’s?

What if Jim Crow didn’t die in the 60’s?

[amazon_link id=”1595586431″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The New Jim Crow[/amazon_link]That’s the question you come to grips with when reading Michelle Alexander’s first book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  Written for the children and grandchildren of those who lived, fought, died and survived the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950’s, the 1960‘s, and the early 1970’s, this book challenges those of us who feel we’ve “arrived” to question the notion of a “Post-racial America.”

In [amazon_link id=”1595586431″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The New Jim Crow[/amazon_link], Ms. Alexander gives an historical account of America’s love affair with systems of racial control and their importance to the American economy.  From the Institution of Slavery to Jim Crow Segregation to Mass Incarceration, Michelle Alexander demonstrates how the idea of racial caste did not die.  Rather, the way caste was implemented and maintained was tweaked in order to better fit the changes in Society.  As Ms. Alexander says:

The fact that some African Americans have experienced great success in recent years does not mean that something akin to a racial caste system no longer exists.  No caste system in the United States has ever governed all black people; there have always been “free blacks” and black success stories, even during slavery and Jim Crow.

Rather than being satisfied that racial caste has ended, Ms. Alexander argues that “it may have simply taken a different form,” and that mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex comprise the new front in the Civil Rights Movement.  There are several comparisons to highlight her claim:

  • “More African American adults are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850…”
  • Legalized discrimination that exemplified both Slavery and Jim Crow are a reality for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.
  • Despite the fervor behind reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act and vigilance against voter disenfranchisement, “Felon disenfranchisement laws have been more effective in eliminating black voters in the age of mass incarceration than they were during Jim Crow.”
  • “The combined effect of race-based peremptory strikes and the automatic exclusion of felons from juries has put black defendants in a familiar place – in a courtroom in shackles, facing an all-white jury.”

Worst of all, Michelle Alexander asserts that “…mass incarceration defined the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals.  That is what it means to be black.”  This is proven by the endless bent of black culture – depicted by music, sports, film and reality TV, and enacted on inner city streets – to prove its toughness.

So what if Jim Crow didn’t die in the 60‘s?

What do you think?  What are your initial reactions to these comparisons?

If you buy these comparisons then the idea of a “Post-racial America” is only a myth.  The enduring struggle for Civil Rights becomes a tangible one that moves away from the nostalgia of the historical Civil Rights Movement and beyond a simple protection of Voting Rights and clamoring of our bourgeois notions of disparity (mine too).

The claims made in The New Jim Crow are well-founded and tough to dispute.  Yet, the work is heavy on the facts and data.  At times, it is too academic.  Moreover, the issue being dealt with in this work is tough to stomach.  It is hard to accept that living with all the opportunities that we (I, myself) have, there could still exist a system of racial caste right beneath our noses!  Because of this, The New Jim Crow can be difficult to read.  Honestly, it took me a couple months to make it all the way through (I was still in Seminary at the time and still reading for my classes…don’t judge me! :))

Despite the difficulty of facing the material and the heaviness of the facts and data, The New Jim Crow is extremely informative and eye-opening.  Ms. Alexander has strung together the facts in a very compelling and revealing way.  The title is bold and you might wonder: “Is the comparison to Jim Crow a valid one?

It certainly is valid, and if you doubt that then I challenge you to read this book.  What if Jim Crow didn’t die in the 60’s?  What if we are still living with a veiled system of racial caste?  Can people who love Justice afford to take that chance?  What do you say?