Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Lesson From Ferguson: All Life is Valuable

It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and we still don't know what exactly happened. Witnesses say one thing; the police say another. Whatever it was that transpired, the black residents of Ferguson, along with a number of their allies, have responded with protests as they demand that local police share the truth. Local and state government has answered with an increased show of force as they seek to restore order in their community.

For many of us that are not black, we may have a difficult time understanding the anger that is behind what happened in Ferguson. We ask, "Why is the death of Michael Brown drawing so much attention?"

[Timeline: For a timeline of the events in Ferguson please click here.]

It could be that one of the reasons that what happened in Ferguson has so gripped the attention of the African American community is because, for them, this is not an isolated incident. According to a Pew Research Center study, 80% of African Americans feel that this case raises important issues about race. Only 37% of white people feel the same. For many black people, this situation brings reminders of a troubled history within this country and an uneasy relationship with law enforcement.

In just the past few weeks, at least a handful of unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police. So the anger that the residents of Ferguson are expressing is not solely on the behalf of the death of Michael Brown, although that is a big part of it. It is on behalf of all of the black men that have lost their lives unnecessarily at the hands of the powerful and privileged. It is on behalf of the all the black men that live their lives knowing that they could be mistaken for a criminal at any moment. It is on behalf of all the black mothers and grandmothers that stay up at night in prayer that their children will make it home safely. It is on behalf of our own humanity.

As new revelations have come to light regarding the incident in the convenience store prior to the shooting, we may be tempted to think that the shooting of an unarmed man six times is undoubtedly justifiable. But in a television interview from the other night, actor Jesse Williams offers another perspective on how this tragedy can be viewed. Here's the clip:


For those of us that are white Americans, it could be easy to ignore the events of Ferguson. In reality, many of us are doing just that. We turn our attention to other matters and don't concern ourselves with these things that take place in our own country because, well, we don't have to. When we look at this dead young man and the crowds of protesters, we don't see ourselves. We see someone else.

And this is part of the problem of living in a sin-stained world where the human tendency to value the lives of those that look like us over those that don't has been seen throughout human history. For those of us that are Christians, this should give us pause to look deep within our own hearts to examine the ways that we view and treat others in ways that devalue them as people created in the image of God.

What is going on in Ferguson matters because it demonstrates that we as a country still have a ways to go to achieve liberty and justice for all. I really don't claim to have the answers but I think listening and learning and praying is at least a good place to start.

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There are a number of Christian writers that have weighed in on this developing story. Please consider reading these posts for additional perspectives:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shedding Light On The Differences Between Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Photo Credit: Mike Hiatt
Here are some helpful insights from Marque Mathias Jensen on the unique differences on how we define race, ethnicity and culture:
"Here in the USA,  people often assume that the race of a person defines also their culture, ethnicity, and even class, this lie is the fruit of racism learned and internalized.   If instead, we see race as a social construct that only has the power assigned by society, we can begin to appreciate ethnic differences and culture uniqueness without allowing the lies of race to force us into making false assumptions. 
Our Latino American neighbors often have less of a problem with this as they know that a Honduran,  Puerto Rican, Brazilian or …  could have any type of skin pigmentation.   Ignorance that believes that race = ethnicity = culture,  is where conversations around these categories often become awkward and difficult. 
For example working in multi-cultural services in colleges I observed the following multiple times: 
The young student, who as an infant, was an adoptee into a wealthy European-American home, from, for example, Uganda or Korea. While the parents have usually tried and done their best, this student will often struggle with identity, and their peers struggle to know where they “fit” into the categories we’ve been trained to assign people. 
WHY? Typically, people would tend to visually categorize this person as: 
     Racially: Black, or Asian, and then assume they are also... 
     Culturally: African-American or Asian-American. 
But for this student, often raised in a small accepting community they are more aware that they are: 
     Ethnically: Ugandan or Korean, and having been raised in mainstream culture... 
     Culturally: European-American. 
For some reason we think if we can know what box they fit into we will better know, or not need to know, that person. 
It is proof that to some extent we have bought into the lie that one’s race tells can tell us something significant about a person. It is proof that we all have been impacted by racism, by benefiting from it or by internalizing it. 
However the lines of race, ethnicity and culture are blurry and frequently very imprecise. It is important to know the culture and ethnicity one identifies with, but will we allow people to define themselves, even when they defy the standard stereotypes? The cultures and ethnicities of our world are beautiful and complement each other in ways that can strengthen and expand us all, yet what happens when  no traditional category fully encompasses how they view their own identity?"
To read more of Marque's thoughts on this topic please click here.

(HT: Christena Cleveland for the link.)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Widening Gap in U.S. Between Older Whites & Younger Minorities

Photo Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões
From Don Lee of the Tribune Washington Bureau:
"As the U.S. population ages and becomes more ethnically diverse, the country is seeing a widening demographic gap between older whites and young minorities — a shift with significant social and economic implications. 
Non-Latino white Americans made up almost 79 percent of the country’s population of people more than 65 years old, as of last July, but the white share of residents under age 15 slipped further, to 51.8 percent, according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data released Thursday. 
By comparison, Latinos accounted for 7.5 percent of people in the U.S. over 65, but almost 25 percent of those under 15. The large population gains of Latino and other minority youths mean nonwhites not only will have more voting clout in the years ahead, but will also constitute the labor force of tomorrow. 
Yet this racial generational gap, particularly large in California and the Southwest, also points up the potential challenges as the U.S. relies on younger minorities to pick up the slack of an aging nation, including supporting social programs for a mostly white senior population. 
“What we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg as white baby-boomers continue to retire, and whites make up ever-smaller shares of the childbearing population,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed the annual census data on population by age and race. 
“It suggests that even greater priority should be given to providing these young minorities education opportunities and other resources to be successful as members of the labor force,” he said. 
The new census release shows how economics can drive population and migration trends. The nation’s foreign-born population grew by 843,145 people from July 2012 to last July, down about 5 percent from the previous 12-month period. The drop came mostly from Latinos, whose immigrant population growth has been overtaken by Asians. Part of the decline in the foreign-born Latino growth reflects demographic and economic changes in Mexico, said scholar Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda."
To read more on this story please click here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do You Know What Juneteenth Is?

Photo Credit: ניקולס
Today, June 19th, represents a significant day in American history. On this day in 1865, news finally reached Galveston, Texas that the Civil War had ended and that the slaves were freed.

Here is some history from Juneteenth.com:
"Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. 
However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. 
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question   For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory. 
General Order Number 3 
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with: 
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer." 
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. 
Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date."
There are some striking parallels between what happened on June 19, 1865 and the spiritual condition of many people today. It was in January 1863 that President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the Confederate. Their freedom had been granted by the man in authority to do so...but no one had told those in captivity.

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ made a way for us to have our sin forgiven and cleared a path for us to enter into a relationship with God. He has done everything that needs to be done for us to be free. But many people have not heard this good news. They need a messenger to tell them that they can be free if they place their faith in Christ.

Who can you help set free today?