Pick My Turkey Trot Playlist!

Last month, I ran a 10k. I crowdsourced my playlist on Facebook and Twitter. I tried to incorporate every suggestion I could, which meant against my better judgment Chris Tomlin and Sisqó’s Thong Song made the playlist. Of course I got more musical suggestions than the amount of time it took me to run 6.2 miles (1 hr, 56 seconds), but I had fun seeing what people suggested.

Turkey TrotGuess what? I’m running another race this month, an 8 mile Turkey Trot. I’m going to earn my dinner this Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) and I’m looking for some new playlist suggestions. Though this time I am going to be a little more discerning about which songs make the final cut. So if you want to help me pick my playlist, here is the criteria for which songs make the final cut:


  1. 8 miles! I do run this distance or more regularly, but this will be my longest race to date, Songs that reflect on going the distance, or this distance specifically would be great. (e.g. Eminem’s 8 mile).
  2. This for Thanksgiving. I am going to eat too much later that day and the meal itself can provide inspiration for songs or artists in my playlist. For example, a rousing edition of Turkey in the StrawDreams by the Cranberries, or Let’s Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas. Any other suggestions? You could make me do the Mash Potato.
  3. Giving Thanks! The theme for the day is being thankful! Do you know a good running song that reflects thanksgiving or gratitude? One of my favorite running songs that fits this theme is God is Good by Northern Ireland, Christian Artist, Brian Houston. I need more music like this!
  4. Music which honors First Nations/Indigenous people groups. November is Native American Heritage Month. In the American iteration of Thanksgiving celebration, we remember the Wampanoag tribe who helped the pilgrims survive the first winter at the Plymouth Plantation. We also remember the troubled racial history of Colonial America and beyond. Cheryl Bear’s Road to the Reservation and Frank Waln’s AbOriginal are already in my playlist. What other suggestions do you have?

I’m doing this for fun and don’t really care about how long I take running the race. So if you have a good song that meets the above criteria, I’ll probably take it, even if it isn’t a “running song.” Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.  Be creative!





Wyt(sma) Privilege: a ★★★★★ book review

Recently a friend and mentor, who is a person of color, posted on social media of a recent invitation he had to explain white privilege. To white people.  My friend is a justice advocate, an activist, and well-known Christian leader. He declined the invitation to write about something he doesn’t have. He decided instead to spend his creative energy supporting leaders of color instead of educating us white folk.

4482But Ken Wytsma, on the other hand, is uniquely gifted and qualified to describe white privilege. He is a pastor in Bend, Oregon, president of Kilns College (where he lectures in philosophy), an author of several quality Christian books, a father of four, and founder of the Justice Conference. He is also pretty darn pasty white. He was asked by Helen Lee at IVP to write a book on White Privilege that would help bridge the gap between those on the forefront of race relations and us white evangelicals who are only beginning to awaken to our racist history (3). In response to both her request and a couple of recent examples of racial bias (in the media, and against folks he knew personally), he wrote The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. Wytsma probes the reality of privilege and race, theology and justice and the responsibility of the privileged.

In Part 1, Wytsma reviews the history of race and racial attitudes in America. He describes immigration policies which favored white Europeans, the history of racism in European thought, slavery and Jim Crow, law enforcement practices (e.g. how the War on Drugs disproportionately attacked communities of color), and how urban development has reinforced modern segregation.  He offers a pretty solid analysis of America’s racial story—how we got here and how people of color still are affected by ongoing systemic injustice.

Part 2 brings this American story into conversation with our theology and the values of the Kingdom of God. Wytsma challenges the church’s silence about race and the status quo and calls us to more prophetic engagement (94).  He describes how justice is integral to the gospel of Jesus and his cross, and he challenges our transactional and individualized view on faith and spirituality (and the ways privilege plays into it).

In Part 3, Wytsma discusses how white Christians can become more aware of their implicit racial biases, make space for diversity in sharing power and laying down our privilege. This involves intentionally listening and making space for the other, lamenting our troubled history, confessing, and beginning the hard work of dismantling privilege.

This is the fourth book I’ve read from Wytsma and thus far, I think this is, without a doubt, his best book. He discusses the issues of race without making himself the ‘expert’ and without offering pat answers to tough questions. Wytsma gives space for the complexity of race and privilege:

Everyone wants to think they have a good understanding of race. We often treat it like a yes-or-no category. Are you a racist?  No. Therefore, are you good with race? Yes. The problem is, it’s not a yes-or-no category but something with a hundred layers of nuance. . . . As a white man writing a book on privilege, I’ve had to admit from the beginning that my understanding and knowledge of racism end when conversation turns to the firsthand experiences of people of color. (132-33).

Growing up, I wasn’t aware of how I benefited from privilege and all the ways that communities of color were affected by institutionalized racial bias and ongoing systemic injustice. I’m still learning, mostly because I have friendships with people of color that have opened my eyes to some things I may not have otherwise seen. But I have other friends and family which are unaware of the dynamics of privilege and race (either through willful ignorance or because their social circles are almost entirely white). Privilege is at play in American race relations. Opportunities that have been afforded us white guys have not historically, and are not, even now, extended to people of color. We can’t dismantle privilege if we aren’t able to name how it has penetrated our culture and the church. Wytsma does a wonderful job confronting our troubled history and faulty theological assumptions.

This is a short book (only about two hundred pages) so therefore unable to say everything that needs to be said about race and privilege. Wytsma addresses dynamics between whites and blacks most directly, and touches on the Native American/ colonial experience (with a nod toward the late Richard Twiss). He deals with how white privilege affects other minorities more tangentially (i.e. the experiences Latinos and Asians are not in sharp focus here). This isn’t a criticism so much as naming the limits of what Wytsma is able to accomplish through this book. I’d also note that this book is more conceptual than practical, aimed at enlarging our understanding of racial dynamics more than providing a road map of what to do about it.

Everybody I know values diversity and multi-culturalism until it costs something. We love when minorities come to our (mostly white) church, but often we demand minorities change and conform to our way before they really belong. Dismantling Privilege involves real partnership, listening and sharing of power.  It means listening to and sharing in the burdens of those who have suffered discrimination and shame. It means to change. I recommend Wytsma’s book for anyone interested in moving beyond how the dynamics of racism affects us, to effecting real change. All royalties from this book go to The Voices Project, an organization working to empower voices of color.  I give this book Five stars ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Toward Particularity and Beyond Whiteness: a ★★★★★ book review

Racism is real. We have a troubled racial history (slavery, Jim Crow, internment camps) and a troublesome current reality (i.e Police shootings, the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, arcane immigration policies, the political legitimizing of white nationalism, etc).  Nonwhites are routinely “objectified, marginalized and destroyed.” Against these historic and current trends, can we ignite our Christian theological imagination to re-image racial reconciliation and resist the hegemony of whiteness? in A Theology of Race and PlaceAndrew Draper, founding senior Pastor of Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana and Visiting Theology professor at Taylor University argues a counter-imagination to contemporary racism is possible. Surveying the works of J. Kameron Carter and Willie James Jennings, Draper shows how their reading of Christian tradition, liberation theology, cultural and religious studies, and their parallel critique of virtue ethics, reveal an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ resists the contemporary racialized imagination.

9781498280822You may be suspicious, as I am, of a white guy’s analysis of two preeminent African American theologians (I say this as a white guy also concerned about racism). But Draper did not embark on this project in a vacuum. He is mentored by a prominent African American  Bishop and pastors a church that strives to be diverse at every level of leadership (3). So while Draper’s perspective is no doubt colored by white male privilege (as mine is also), he intentionally has put himself in contexts where his assumptions and prejudices are challenged and he tries to put into practice the ecclesiology of joining he is advocating for. I think it is also significant that Jennings, one of the theologians that Draper profiles, gives a glowing endorsement of the book for the ways Draper takes seriously the problems inherent in our racial imagination (back cover).

Draper’s introduction begins with a reflection on Travon Martin’s shooting by George Zimmerman and what it reveals about the ways the sociopolitical nature of whiteness is maintained. Secondly, he surveys other popular Christian and theological approaches to race, before signaling the insights of Jennings and Carter’s Theological Race Theory and giving a brief overview of the book’s structure.  In the first two chapters, Draper examines Carter, the next two chapters focus on Jennings. Draper’s introduction and his conclusion are where his own theological voice is best discerned, as he devotes the body of the text to describing Carter, Jennings and the thinkers they each interact with and critique. His conclusion examines the implications of an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ and suggestions for practice.

Chapter one discusses Carter’s critique of race in the religious academy. After providing a brief summary of Carter’s Race: A Theological Account, Draper examines his interaction with various thinkers. Carter attacks the “false category of ‘the blackness and whiteness created,’ which he reads as being no more than a settlement with whiteness”(35). But Carter’s resistance to these labels is not a “neo-Gnosticizing claim of colorblindness.” He attempts to hold in tension people’s various cultural identities without succumbing to ‘an essentializing or reductive impulse” (35).From Albert Raboteau, Carter draws insights from the theological anthropology of the Christian East and the counter-narrative of the African American experience. From James Cone, Carter discovers language for liberation and an analysis of how whiteness abstracts and undervalues particularity (49). However, Carter critiques both of these thinkers for their failure to transcend the binary of race (Rabateau for his historiographic method and Cone’s failure to move beyond racial reasoning). Carter is more critical in his reading of Charles H. Long. Long sees the problematic nature of race but his analysis is stunted by the philosophical framework of Enlightenment thinking (71).

In chapter two, Draper contrasts Carter’s theology with his teacher, John Milbank’s virtue ethic. Carter critiques Milbank for the British Imperial and Kantian undertones to Radical Orthodoxy, though his own theological project bears some methodological similarity to Milbank:

Carter presents his divergence from Milbank by implicitly and proactively aligning Milbank’s incipient Christology with the rationalized Christ-figure of Kant’s modern religious project. At the same time, through his use of Raboteau, Carter has invoked a counter-narrative of antebellum black voices that he reads as most authentically embodying the narrative of Israel. The counter-methodology bears similarities to Milbank’s theological program(94).

Carter reads Kant’s Aufklarung as providing the philosophical frame for colonial and subsequent racial imagination. Jesus’ Jewish particularity was jettisoned by Kant in order to present Christ as the ‘ur-human’—a rational figure of moral religion—recapitulating Christian thought forms through Western rationalistic, cultural expression(99). Milbank, by contrast, envisions a ‘virtuous elite’—chivilerous heroes, pastors, and Platonic shepherd guardians. Draper observes, “Neither the Kantian or the Milbankian Christ is Jewish in a significant way. In other words, a particularity of Jesus is underemphasized in order to assert his universality” (107).  Carter sees this discomfort between white and non-white bodies to be at the root of both Kant and Milbank’s projects. Thus, much of Milbank’s attempt at theological recovery is seen as an attempt to reassert European, Western tradition, in the face of multiculturalism. So while Radical Orthodoxy attempts to dismantle the Enlightenment and Modern project, Milbank’s racial assumptions still rest on its colonial assumptions. Draper closes the chapter with an analysis of Carter’s reading of Maximus the Confessor, showing how the task of theology needs to move beyond elitist and supersessionist modes and move toward mutuality and inclusion of marginalized communities (143-44).

Chapter three and four examine Jenning’s theology. As with Carter, Draper begins with Jenning’s principal work, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. He then examines Jenning’s use of insights from cultural studies, particularly through the writings of Jose de Acosta, Gones Eanes de Zurara, Olaudah Equiano and Bishop William Colenso. These four thinkers are utilized by Jennings to expose ‘the imperialist grid’ of early modern Theology (27, 149). Jennings locates the trajectory of their thought within a narrative of ‘distortion, disconnection, and hope,’ through the particular story of YHWH’s redemption and the particular body of Jesus. Jennings posits a ‘Christology of Joining’ and contrasts it with the supersessionist, translation model, exemplified by Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls (which have the side-effect of introducing non-white persons to the ordo of whiteness) (27).

In chapter four, Draper examines how Jennings’s project critiques the virtue ethic of Alisdair MacIntyre, and Stanley Hauerwas’s appropriation of MacIntyre. Jennings’s critique of MacIntyre supplants theological history with classical Western history, “What is at stake is not simply a particularity and certainly not the dialectic between the particular and the universal, but the scandal of particularity” (231). Draper shows where Jennings traces through MacIntryre’s After Virtue colonialist assumptions to produce a eurocentric version of the Great Tradition (i.e. his characterization of Cook’s views of Polynesians, and subsequent appropriation of ethnocentric language). Hauewas, for his part, more satisfactorily incorporates biblical accounts of virtue and offers a critique of Constantiniansm; however, to the extent that Hauerwas reenacts “the ethical voluntarism” of MacIntyrian ethics, he is implicated in the same critique:

Hauerwas remains one of the contemporary thelogians who has most complelling [sic] reminded the church that faithfulness to her Lord means resisting violence and Empire. However, his MacIntyrian tradition of virture has limited his recognition that, since the colonial moment and its attendant supersessionist imagination, violence and Empire are fundamentally racialized realities. It has also limited his recognition that these racialized realities are strenthened by theological accounts of Western virtue. While Hauerwas’s account is to be be preferred to Milbank’s and MacIntyre’s, traditions of Western virtue extend the tragic legacy of reflection on the “other” characteristic of theological currents at the “dawn” of Western expansionism. (262-63).

Draper contrasts the Aristoliean-Thomist approach of MacIntyre with the theological anthropology of Barth and Bonhoeffer. He argues that Barth’s ontology resists essentialism and that God is not known in his eternal essence, but through ‘his acts in history.’ “That is why for Jennings (as with Barth), the church is not so much an invisible mystical union with God as it is visible, particular identification with others in the body of the Jewish Jesus” (249). It is in inhabiting the particular story of the Jewish Messiah presented in scripture that Barth and Bonhoeffer were provided the wherewithal to resist the racialized theology of the Third Reich.

Draper offers a meaty engagement with both Jennings and Carter and their interlocuters. In his conclusion, he examines how their work present an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ with implications for practice (eating together: an end to ‘hosting’ (as a “we feed the world” approach), a rethinking of place as particular and shared space,  a move toward mutual participation, and multidirectional proclamation. This doesn’t mean that the church does not have anything unique to say or offer but it does mean that the incarnational witness of the Word  , as presented in the thought of Jennings and Carter, point us to a more thoughtful and humble mode of Christian mission. Ethnocentricity and paternalism have too often characterized missiology. We are ripe to relearn a few things. Particularly challenging is how a missiology of translation (a la Andrew Walls or Sanneh) poisons the well by transmitting colonial concepts of whiteness instead of incarnational faith.

Jennings and Carter see the underpinnings of whiteness in the colonial era and the philosophy of Kant and the danger of a supersessionist reading of the gospel, where Israel’s particularity is replaced with a vague occidentalism. Draper demonstrates well how much the wider culture and the church imbibed the racial assumptions we’ve been bequeathed. This is evident in Jennings and Carter’s interaction with Virtue Ethics. Milbank critiques the Enlightenment and modern Liberalism while internalizing its non-particular (and vague) theological assumptions. MacIntyre and Hauerwas offer a critique of modern morality and civil religion but their project rests on Lockean and Eurocentric assumptions. Personally, I have a greater appreciation for virtue ethics than Draper has (96).  I especially love Hauerwas. Yet, I think Jennings’s critique of Hauerwas sticks (as opposed to shallow critiques which just saying Hauerwas is unrealistic and disengaged).

Thinking theologically about Race is important. Race may be a sociopolitical construction with Colonial and Kantian roots, but minorities continue to be hurt by our shared, and inherited racial imagination in the West. I found Draper’s discussion of Carter and Jennings both challenging and suggestive. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in mission, ethics and race (which should be everyone). I give it five stars ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from Wipf & Stock in exchange for my honest review.

10 Reasons Why You Should Read “Embrace”by Leroy Barber

This is not an unbiased review. Leroy Barber is a friend and mentor. I have come to trust his insights on mission, justice and racial reconciliation. When I heard Leroy was writing Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, I knew I would like it. And I do! If you want an unbiased review (because you think there is such a thing) look elsewhere. In lieu of that, here are 10 reasons why you should read Embrace:

978083084471510. Leroy knows what he is talking aboutEmbrace shares Leroy’s own experience as a pastor, urban minister, and community developer. The things this book exhorts us to— a lifestyle reconciliation, a heart for justice, and a commitment to love the other—are things Leroy tries to live out every day. He knows what he speaks of and he speaks with integrity.

9. Leroy is gracious. I don’t love others the way I ought to as a follower of Jesus. There are people, left to my own devices, I would avoid. I don’t measure up to my best ideals. Listening to Leroy, I don’t feel judged, but invited to live a better life—a riskier, sacrificial life, with a lot of pain and hardship, but better. This call is full of grace and compelling!

8. This is an important book because some of us live in Babylon. Leroy opens up about his own experience of following God’s call from Philadelphia to the South (Atlanta) and later Oregon. These new cities were Babylon to him: a place of un-belonging and where he experienced abject racism. I know the New Monastics talk about ‘relocating to the abandoned places of Empire.” Leroy talks about inhabiting  an antagonistic empire and seeking God’s shalom for the city we’re in. For those of us in Babylon, life is difficult but we are still called to embrace the place we’re in.

7. Because left to our own devices, we all have people we’d avoid. There are lots of things which keep people apart: race, religion, socio-economic status, etc.  Leroy’s encouragement to us is to learn to love the other: to not just retreat to our ‘in group,’ but to seek out relationships with people different than us. This isn’t just so we can help them and feel good about how amazingly loving and bighearted  people we are. As we seek out the people who are different from us (or difficult for us), and build relationships with them, we are enriched and our perspectives of the world are enlarged. Our own prejudices and privileges are challenged by learning to love well in relationship.

6. Diversity is a mark of God’s radical shalom and we all need to be more diverse than we are. Generally, we all like the idea of multiculturalism until it gets sticky. White churches welcome minorities but expect them to conform to their dominant church culture. We have similar expectations when we include different cultural groups, classes, and generations. We love the ones we can assimilate and ignore the rest. Leroy invites us to to a deeper communion where we honor the mutual image bearing of those who are different from us:

Our greatest danger as a church and believers is that we don’t actually see all people as made in the image of God. This is an immoral practice and it has ruined how people view Christians in the world. That Sunday mornings are segregated is no big secret; we’ve heard it over and over. For the most part our actions don’t seem to be changing. Worship and its lack of diversity is a joke. What kind of God are we representing? I don’t think we really care that we are segregated. We can quote Scripture of love and grace and yet be as divided as we are—this is the influence of Babylon on the people of God, not the people of God influencing Babylon (90).

5. God’s call for Justice begins where we are but then calls us outward.  Leroy will tell you that his cleaning up the basketball court in South Atlanta was so his own kids could play. But the whole neighborhood benefited. Caring for his own kids ‘became the natural way of justice for all kids.’ (101).  Leroy illustrates well how small acts of justice begin close to home, but because we are called to follow the God of justice, we are continually called to name injustice wherever we find it and stand with the oppressed. Sometimes ‘Justice’ seems like too big of a category. I like Leroy’s exhortation. Justice begins where you are and then wherever God takes you.

4. Because forgiveness and selfless love is the call. Injustice happens. People get hurt and killed. Leroy encourages us to follow the way of Jesus in loving our enemies. He talks about Dylann Roof being forgiven by the family of the fallen members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME church and our call to embody this sort of selfless love (109-110). Leroy doesn’t pretend this an easy commandment especially for those who have experienced profound trauma. I respect that Leroy never makes light of the pain and trauma which some people have faced (including himself), but still exhorts us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

3. Because you shouldn’t be happy with the status quo. Prejudice remains a major problem. Racism is real. The marginalized suffer. The refugee is rejected and regarded with suspicion. Foreigners, immigrants and resident aliens are maltreated and abused by the system. Our world is divided and divisive. We need more of God’s shalom!

2. Because Leroy is a great storyteller. He tells the story of his own journey into racial reconciliation: relationships forged, hurtful conversations and difficult times. He tells of learning to love the other. And he shares the story of friends and fellow justice advocates as well. Leroy weaves this in with the narrative of Scripture. Telling God’s story he explores the story of Patriarchs and prophets and Jesus. If there is anything that makes this book compelling, it’s the stories.

1. Because  yes, Black Lives Matter. Leroy spends his last chapter addressing myths and misconceptions many people have about the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a fitting end to this book because all along Leroy is calling us to stand against injustice, care for the vulnerable and love the other. There is systemic injustice which the Black Lives Matter movement has called our attention to (i.e. unjust police shootings, mass incarceration and lack of legal representation of Black men, etc).  Still many (white) evangelicals view the movement with suspicion. Leroy invites us to lay aside privilege and Embrace the Other as we seek to love and listen well.

Note: I received this book from the author in exchange for my totally biased review. five stars: ★★★★★

The Write Man Was Convicted: a book review

Shaka Sengor was guilty. He killed a man in cold blood during a dispute over a drugs. He was convicted of murder in the second degree and went to prison for fifteen to fourty years. For much of his sentence he was not a model inmate. He had a botched escape attempt under his belt. He spent time in solitary (the hole) for assaulting prison guards. But during his nineteen years in prison he was transformed through reading, spiritual practice, and ultimately by writing his wrongs:  practicing the cathartic self reflection of journaling, writing fiction and letters.

27297084Despite Sengor’s guilt, don’t think for a moment that he wasn’t a  victim. Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison tells the story of his childhood, his experience of abuse, and his broken home, and how he was seduced into the drug trade. It also tells the story of the anger and fear he felt when he was shot as a seventeen year old and the lack of compassion he experienced from physicians and law enforcement. The experience made him afraid and angry enough to carry a gun. At nineteen, he killed a man aduring a drug transaction (Senghor was a crack dealer).

The injustice Senghor faced inside Michigan’s prisons is harrowing. He was the victim of systemic injustice and racism from prison guards. He witnessed the horrows of prison rape. He participated in violence. He experienced the psychological wounding of four-and-a-half years in solitary confinement after he assaulted a guard (his confrontation with the guard was a n0-win-situation).

Ultimately this book is a story of hope. Senghor comes to own his past, and the things he did wrong. He doesn’t make excuses for himself, but sets out to make amends through writing, community activism and mentoring youth. He finds love with an ctivist he begins a correspondence with. His transformation began mid-way through his prison sentence when the godmother of his victim wrote to him asking the why question. Senghor wrote back his regret and she forgave him. That began a correspondence (described in the prologue and afterword of this book). That set the stage for Senghor to grow and change.

I like memoirs and this is a good one. It is a compelling story. I recommend the book, but issues caution to readers which would be disturbed by violence (and language). Some of the events described are ugly: rape, feces fights, violence, abject racism. This may be difficult for some readers to take. Other books, such as Michelle Alexander,s The New Jim Crow or Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy tell the tale of of our broken legal system. This is an insider’s experience. I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Democracy in Black: a book review

In the tradition of Cornel West’s Race Matters, Eddie Glaude, Jr’s Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul offers an incisive critique of contemporary American society and the ways it perpetuates injustice toward the African American community. Glaude is the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies and chair of the Department of African American Studies.

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

Weaving his own story  and experience throughout his analysis, Glaude begins by recounting his time in Ferguson during the non-indictment of Darren Wilson.  He describes, also, how the sub-prime lending of the nineties, had a particularly devastating effect on African American people. Gaulde concludes that the violence against the Black community, the lack of economic aide for African Americans, and discriminatory voter identification legislation are evidence of the on-going white supremacy of our country. By this he doesn’t mean abject racists in white sheets burning crosses but a value gap where “no matter what our stated principles or how much progress we think we’ve made, white people are valued more than others in this country, and that fact continues to shape the life chances of million of Americans. The value gap is in our national DNA” (31).

Glaude argues that  this value gap is maintained by racial habits of all of us. For example, there is still discrimination against African Americans in the workforce when assumptions are made about an applicants qualifications are made on the basis of race. The exact same resumé with the name LeKeisha on it, or the name Lisa are viewed differently(58). [I worked with a community development organization in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, and had African American friends who struggled to find jobs based on being from that zip code]. But even if there was no active discrimination against African Americans they still would not be afforded the same opportunity. Careers and job opportunities often come through our networks and Black Americans do not move in the same social circles as White Americans. Glaude observes, ” Seventy-five percent of white Americans report that their social networks are entirely white” (58). This is one example but American racial habits are pervasive:

We are all shaped by racial habits in some way or another. They are as natural to America as apple pie and fireworks on the Forth of July, and come to us as easily as the words we’ve learned since we were on our mother’s knee. In this sense, racial habits are our inheritance: they contain history of white supremacy that has shaped and continues to shape this country. There are millions of accumulated decisions that make inequality an inextricable part of what it means to be American. If we are to undo them (at least some of them), something dramatic must happen. (64).

Another evidence of white supremacy is the presence of white fear. Glaude shares how he, as a well dressed, educated Princeton professor being seen as a threat by a Princeton collegue’s wife in the university parking lot. He shares another tale of discrimination from his son. But his evidence for white fear isn’t just anecdotal. He cites news stories, articles, and studies about how white Americans (and even African Americans) view black people as a threat. This is evidenced by the sixty percent of working-class white Americans that “believe discrimination against whites is a worse problem than discrimination against blacks”(87)! Also by the way politicians on both sides of the aisle, including President Obama, invoke the idea of black criminality in their rhetoric(89-90).

Glaude examines the way in which politicians and leaders invoke the civil rights story and the narrative of racial progress as a way to excuse themselves from making systemic changes that promote justice and true democracy. Martin Luther King’s legacy is co-opted as an example of equality and shared opportunity and an example of  the American dream. However:

It is always a particular version of Dr. King–the King of the March on Washington who dreamed, not the radical King who marched with garbage workers or understood the connection between the evils of poverty, racism and militarism or called attention to the fact of “two Americas.” This whitewashed King often gets in the way of frank and fearless discussions of black suffering, because his words , in the hands of far too many, are used to hide racial habits and sustain the value gap. (96)

On this score, Glaude criticizes both republicans and democrats saving some of his ire for Barak Obama’s betrayal of Black liberalism (see chapter seven).

While the facts of race relations in this country are pretty grim, Glaude closes his book on a more hopeful note. He calls for ‘a revolution of value’ which would change how we view government, change how we view black people and change how we view what matters, ultimately, as Americans (184).  Government ought to be concerned with the public good and  the care for the vulnerable (185-97), African Americans need to be seen and valued ever bit as much as White Americans are (198-202), and we need to subvert the dominant narrative of American exceptionalism:

We have to tell better stories about what truly matters to us. The kind of stories we tell reflect the kind of people–the kind of nation–we aspire to be. Bad stories, like bad habits, typically correlate with bad people. So better stories are needed to change the country. Americans have to challenge directly the idea that we are “the shining city on the hill” or “the Redemeer Nation.” We have to release democracy from the burden of American exceptionalism. To do this, we have to tell stories of those who put forward a more expansive conception of American democracy. (203).

One sign of hope that Glaude names comes from his observation of the Black Lives Matter movement.  The charismatic civil rights leader is a relic of a bygone era. The new movement “insists on the capacities and responsibilities of everyday ordinary black people and urges them to reach for a higher self even in opportunity deserts. Those deserts are fertile ground to be politically creative” (227).

Continue reading Democracy in Black: a book review

MLK Day and White Privilege in the Church

image-adapt-960-high Each year on Martin Luther King Day, I  read or re-read something from his writings.His earliest autobiography, Stride Toward Freedom, is one of my favorite books. It tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Strike and MLK’s rise to national prominence. Strength to Love reveals King’s thought on Civil Disobedience and non-violence. Where Do We Go From Here?his final book published in his lifetime, provided insight into how to continue the work of justice. Beyond this he has many charismatic sermons and speeches. The Martin Luther King Research at Stanford University has  an extensive collection of his papers. Yet it is his King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail that I turn to again and again (follow the link above to read it online).

In this letter, King responds to criticisms from white clergy members, that his actions in fighting for racial equality was ‘unwise and untimely.’ King defends his tactics and timing and gives a theological grounding for civil disobedience. He urges his fellow pastors to join in the fight against racial injustice. Throughout, he has some strong words about white privilege that are unfortunately still relevant, fifty-three years later. Here are a couple of quotations: Continue reading MLK Day and White Privilege in the Church